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May 9, 2008 06:48 PM

Options for high heat searing on smoothtop

I've asked this here a while ago, but I'd like to get more opinions. I have an electric smoothtop stove and I want to sear steaks. I used to have an electric coil, so it was pretty straight forward: get a cast iron skillet, and crank up the heat.

Reading the manual for my finicky new smoothtop, I'm not supposed to use cast iron since it may damage the ceramic glass surface. I thought enameled cast iron might be the answer, but apparently they are not meant for high heat either. Furthermore, I came across posts that talk about the dangers of preheating on smoothtops due to the rejected heat causing damage. Ugh... I think I actually miss my ugly electric coils.

Fellow smoothtop owners, what do you do for high heat searing?

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  1. I had never used a smoothtop until we bought this place a few years ago, and had no instruction on what (and what not) to use on it, so I just use whatever pans I have.

    What I did notice pretty quickly is that different types of pans heat quite differently on it, much more so than on a gas or electric coil range. We have a lot of Le Creuset enameled cast iron, and they get VERY hot on this range - I don't dare turn them up to high even for steak, they'd burn the outside before starting to cook the center! At medium to medium-high though they do a very good job of searing steaks. You'll probably have to experiment a bit (and maybe burn a steak or two along the way) to figure out exactly what works on yours. Ours is a KitchenAid, by the way, with both radiant and halogen elements. The halogens heat up faster but otherwise don't seem very different from the radiant.

    1. Cast iron is made of lots of small iron and carbon crystals, which are quite able to scratch glass or hard ceramic. That combined with the roughness of the bottom of most cast iron and their weight means even a small movement of a cast iron piece on a smoothtop will likely make a few light scratches. Continued use will worsen the condition, weakening the cooktop and making it harder to clean.

      Now that said, when I had a smoothtop I wasn't about to give up using my cast iron, so I grabbed some 100 and 220 grit sandpaper and spent an hour sanding the bottom smooth. Then I seasoned the bottom and voila, no scratching.

      As to the heat issue, most smoothtops I'm aware of have temperature sensors that limit just how hot anything on the surface can get, thus negating the 'rejected heat' (or re-radiated heat) concens.

      So yeah, it's a bit of work, but if you like using your cast iron it's an hour well spent.

      4 Replies
      1. re: ThreeGigs

        Do you keep reseasoning the bottom? Whenever I used extremely high heat, the bottom would turn kind or orange (almost looks like rust). I assume that the seasoning would completely burn off.

        Another option I've been considering is buying one of those portable burners (Waring has a 1300-watt model that seems quite popular). I would use this whenever I want to use cast iron. But my only concern is whether or not I can safely use it on top of my smoothtop. I just need to do so it's directly under my hood fan (searing steak = plenty of smoke).

        1. re: spiffy_dude

          It's been a few years since I lived in the apartment where I had the glass top stove, but I remember the seasoning job on the bottom lasting longer than I thought it would. Then again, it only really 'filled in' the exposed pores, which was all I intended. I just wanted the bottom free of roughess so it wouldn't scratch the stove and cost me a security deposit. I also re-oiled the bottom before putting it away each time.

          A note though is that my cast iron pieces all have flat bottoms. I know some brands have a raised ring or downturned edge on the bottom, and those I'd be wary of simply because the reduced surface area contact would increase the pressure on the contact area and potentially lead to scratching, regardless of smoothness.

          I don't think any of the standalone 'plug into the wall socket' burners would be suitable for searing, unless it's perhaps just a small steak in a small (maybe 8 inch) pan. You might get one side nicely seared, but those burners just don't put out enough replacement heat to get a good sear on the other side, unless you have a mega-thick pan for a heat reservior.

          1. re: ThreeGigs

            I'm not sure if this makes a difference, but that particular Waring puts out a decent 1300 watts and uses a cast iron plate. I'm going to give your advice a shot, but there has to be a high heat alternative to cast iron!

          2. re: spiffy_dude

            why not a butane burner for portable? you can get them for 15 bux with a nice carrying case from a chinese market, or 30 max elsewhere.

        2. You know, I wonder whether this whole issue is real at all. I've been using my heavy Le Creuset stuff for five years now with not a hint of a scratch anywhere (yes, I know it's coated but it's still darn heavy). So I just did a google search on the subject and found dozens of similar threads on all sorts of other chat sites, and you know what they all had in common? Despite the manufacturers' recommendations against using cast iron on glass cooktops, I was unable to find a single report of anyone ever actually getting any scratches! On the contrary, there were LOTS of postings from people saying they'd been using cast iron on glass for years and years with no problems at all.

          I'm starting to think that warning is just the manufacturers' lawyers playing CYA.

          1. I use both a double cast iron grill/griddle (therefore, using the bridge element too) as well as a cast iron skillet all the time on my GE smoothtop. I frequently have it at the high setting at the beginning and then find I have to turn it down because the food starts to burn if I don't. Cast iron just gets, really, really hot, so it takes a while for the cooking surface to cool down to complete the cooking process. For searing, you would be replicating the first part of my cooking process.

            I don't think you need to turn your heat setting to greater than 7 or 8 to sear if you let the pan get ripping hot. It takes a while with a cast iron pan. I do use HI all the time, however, without issues.

            I think the cautionary tale here has to do with scratching the surface of the smooth top. If you do use cast iron, you cannot drag it across the surface or it may scratch it, so you need to be careful. Also, I have a large cast iron trivet to the side of the cooktop, and I usually (carefully) lift the hot double grill/griddle or my skillet and place it on the trivet when I am done cooking, allowing both the cooktop and the grill/griddle or skillet to cool down more quickly. Carefully placed orange oven mitts on both sides are a warning to the rest of my family not to touch. The reason I do this is so that the pan doesn't continue to stay hot and possibly emit smoke as the residue in the pan burns on to it while I am eating dinner. This is a concern only because electric and smoothtop elements stay hot longer, as does the cast iron.

            5 Replies
            1. re: RGC1982

              Thanks guys... perhaps I will work up the courage to use my cast iron on my smoothtop. But until then, does anyone have a recommendation for the next best type of pan I can use for high heat searing? Stainless? Anodized aluminum? Hmmm, maybe I should start a new thread for that.

              1. re: spiffy_dude

                I think even those who recommend against cast iron don't have a problem with enameled cast iron, since the enamel seals the surface (top and bottom). And they get just as hot as regular cast iron - which is to say, TOO hot to turn up all the way.

                1. re: spiffy_dude

                  You can sear in a heavy bottomed stainless pan. Look for a high quality disk bottom, such as Sitram, Demeyere, Paderno Grand Gourmet, even some of the Cuisinarts and Tramontinas. The brand can even be a warehouse club brand as long as it has a heavy bottom. I would look at the saute pans for this purpose in case you can't find a skillet to use. Just make sure it doesn't say clad, which have the same thickness on sides and bottoms.

                  Another alternative, suggested by BobB below, will work too. I have two enamel coated cast iron griddles that also do a fine job of searing (albeit with grid lines), so I imagine a good pan without grill lines might work well. Look for the matte black interior versus the cream or white enamel.

                  I have no experience using anodized aluminum to sear, so I don't know about that material.

                  1. re: RGC1982

                    I just saw a cookware set over at Costco that includes a stainless steel 5-ply copper disc bottom frying pan. Would this be worth considering? The only problem is that it is only available as a set, and none of the pieces are fully clad (as I understand it, you want fully clad for some pieces).

                    Regarding the enameled cast iron, I thought you weren't supposed to use high heat for these? Everything I've read about them says to use low to medium heat (and overheating voids the warranty). Does high heat have any adverse effect to the enamel?

                    1. re: spiffy_dude

                      I was at my local Costco last week and they had one of those grill/griddle contraptions -- not sure what it was made of but it did say it would work on smoothtop cooking surfaces.