Have you heard the joke about the woman who cut the end off her pot roast before placing it in the pan every time? When her husband questioned her about it, she couldn't explain the reason, other than that her mother used to do it. So she called her mom to ask the purpose of cutting off the end of the roast. Her mom didn't know either, except that her mother used to do it.
So the woman called her grandmother, and her grandmother explained, "I never owned a pan that was big enough to fit the whole roast."
I have a similar tale. My dad made pancakes every weekend when we were kids. At some point we started to help him, and one of the things I loved most was waiting until the pan heated up enough for a drop of water to roll around the skillet. Dad never explained why this step was necessary, however, so in my young brain I concluded that he did it because it was fun.
I followed the same technique until early in my marriage. That's when my husband freaked out about me turning on the stove beneath a skillet with nothing in it. "You should never, ever do that!" he insisted. And since I had no conscious rationale for doing so (other than the fun of watching a rolling drop of water), I stopped.
And that wasn't really a problem as long as I made pancakes in Teflon pans. When I got rid of Teflon, however, pancake-making became hit or miss for me. Sometimes I made perfect pancakes; on other occasions, they stuck to the stainless steel pan or completely burned. After more than two decades of making perfect pancakes, somehow I had become a failure at this task!
Finally, I decided that accepting my pancake failure was ridiculous, and I Googled "Pancake making in stainless steel" for help.
It turns out, my dad knew what he was doing! When you cook anything in stainless steel skillets (unless you're boiling or simmering the food in water or a sauce), you need to make sure the skillet is hot enough before you add anything (even oil) to the pan. How hot? Well, hotter than when a drop of water simply sizzles in the pan and disappears. Hot enough, in fact, for a drop of water to roll around the pan!
Only then do you add oil (if using it), and then let the oil heat a little as well (30 seconds to a minute) before adding your food. Now I am once more making perfect pancakes*, and cleanup is a cinch! And of course, since my daughter helps me now, I am trying to make sure she knows the reason for this trick.
*This works for scrambled eggs, too.