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Judging Pan Temperatures?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
In James Peterson's book 'Cooking', he states that many home stoves are capable of only reaching what would in a professional kitchen be thought of as a moderate heat. Therefore a recipe that called for high heat would be unattainable for many home cooks. (It's on page 3 "Assumptions > Equipment > Stoves".)

The oven top that I have now (domestic gas burners) is capable of producing far more heat than I've previously been used to. If anything I could sometimes wish that the smallest burner could be lowered further still. I had thought at least my largest burner would be easily capable of producing a hot pan, however I'd like to move past the point of assumption and enter the realm of understanding.

Is there a way of expressing 'Low, Moderate, Hot' in such a way that I should be reasonable able to judge/reproduce those respective ranges with a fair degree of accuracy?

  • For instance, are there particular oils whose respective smoking points closely relate to having reached one of those conditions?
  • I have a Tefal frying pan with the red thermo-spot which I believe when optimal temperature is reached, is intended to indicate a temperature of 190°C (374°F). Is it possible to say where this point lies in the range of Low/Moderate/Hot?
  • Does that water test where a small droplet of water retains cohesion and travels around the pan like a small ball of mercury relate more closely to a moderate or a hot pan? (sorry, I don't know what temperature this is achieved at).

Thanks for reading this far,
Andy.
post #2 of 8
Almost all home stoves produce plenty of heat for the operations which require high heat -- sauteing and searing.

The higher heat on restaurant stoves is partly used for getting pans to temp faster, and (sometimes) for cooking faster. However, the second means that speed has superceded control, and the cook must use special techniques to replace control. For instance, a home cook will leave a pan flat on the top to sear/saute a piece of fish in order to crisp the skin. A restaurant cook will hold the pan at an angle into the flame and spoon the oil over the the fish to try to get it to cook evenly. That's a lot of attention (and not a little technique, too) to invest.

It's a way of cooking that's slightly different but isn't superior to proper home technique.

Something else, a really big flame which extends beyond the bottom of the pan, and up the sides -- doesn't really do that much to speed cooking but it does a heck of a lot to get the outside of the pan really funky.

Your best measure of how "hot" your stove gets in terms of BTUs is your gas flow. The amount of flame the stove can produce is limited by the gas hook up, and home stoves are small compared to commercial stoves. If it's any comfort, a "hot" commercial-look residential will probably produce about 17 or 18,000 BTU, while a hot commercial top can produce around 30,000 BTU at the biggest burners, and even more at a wok burner.

BDL
post #3 of 8
Many home range tops(my Kitchen Aid 5 burner does) have adjustable dampers to either open or close the amount of airflow into the flame thus creating a higher temp and cleaner burn.

As far as getting higher pan temps, water boils at 212F (unless you live at a very hhigh altitued and then its a bit lower) and smoke points on oil are what they are. It may take a bit longer to get to the smoke point but I know my 20K BTU burners at home can get a pan hot enough to make soybean oil and thats about 500F. I would say that is hot enough to do just about anything you need in a pan.
Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
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Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
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post #4 of 8
If your looking for a new toy to play with you can get an infrared thermometer. I haven't used one of these before, so I can't tell you how well they work. You can pick them up for a price starting at $40.00 or so from Amazon. If you do order from Amazon be sure to get there via the link provided by ChefTalk.

good luck,
dan
post #5 of 8
The solution I use at home for that exact problem is setting a 2 or 4 qt pot in a dry cast iron skillet and placing that over my small burner as low as it will go and still keep the flame lit. It also reduces (not eliminates) hot spots. I've got an old white enamel Wedgewood from the forties/fifties(?) and have no problem searing, (although it does take about 20 minutes to boil 4 liters of water) -it's just about preheating the right pan for the job.
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nel maiale, tutto e buono!
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post #6 of 8
Re reducing heat on smallest burner to control simmer: 8 1/4" Flame Tamer / Simmer Ring

Not really. I suggest using the "low," "medium" and "high" marks on your stove's knobs as reference. That's what they're for. In fact, you'll find you do most of your cooking at low and medium-high. You'll use medium occasionally, and high for trying to boil large pots of water as quickly as possible -- and not much else.

Also, you don't want to use the smoke point during cooking. You want plenty of headroom beneath it. Smoked oil is unhealthy and nasty tasting.

This is a more complicated question than you think. The "optimal temperature" for sauteing and searing may well be 375F ish, but included in the amount of fire you need is "recovery time." Also included in the reality of cooking is preheat time. Most people find home stoves perform these tasks best at medium-high. Restaurant style cooking, as I indicated in my previous post, is a somewhat different matter.

Remember, you need more flame for cooking a load than for merely bringing a pan to temp. The trick is choosing a flame height with quick recovery time, but that won't let the pan get too hot. Again, medium-high with most stoves.

Water bounces and sizzles at a griddle temp of around 350F. This is on the high end of the appropriate range for cooking pancakes. That is, on most griddles, the first batch of cakes will cook too hot, until the load lowers the surface temp by a few degrees.

A better test for oil is the "shimmer test." With most suitable oils, the shimmer kicks in right around 365F.

BDL
post #7 of 8
A trick a lot of you oldtimers know. Save the tops of #10 cans. Put them on top of the burner. What this does is not lower the heat but disburses it ,so it is not hot in one spot and lower in another. It also keeps the bottom of the pot cleaner by eliminating the carbons thrown off by the direct flames of the burner.
CHEFED
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CHEFED
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post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 
Cheers all :), yes - using a diffuser of some type is a must, thanks for the great suggestions.

BDL, thanks for your pointers. I understand and appreciate what you've said about the heat needing to be responsive to demand. From what I can tell (based on your posts), my gas burners are more than able to respond as needed, and my original understanding around low, medium & high heat is enough for me to work with and build upon.

Thanks gonefishin, interesting to see what's available, I've even see a frying pan with a built in thermometer Mingle- Brands & Products.

Much to my own amazement, I have only just realised that one of the things that I love about cooking, is that although there's lots of understanding to be developed and senses to be calibrated, for the most part in my kitchen it is a case of batteries neither included or necessary.
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