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How high is high?

When the recipe writer wants me to pop the dish into the oven, he/she writes, "Oven at 350 degrees". But earlier, when the dish is in the skillet, the direction is, "Over medium-high heat...." Are there objective, verifiable standards for the five-or-so burner heat levels? My intention is to apply the Standard, locate that spot on the burner control on the (electric, dammit) range, and thereafter be more precise with my heat levels. If, for illustration, you prescribed, "At medium heat, a tsp of water spilled into the skillet will sizzle for five to ten seconds before evaporation, while at High, the water will evaporate instantly upon contact" that would tell me what I (think) I need to know. And too, you'all may have a much smarter solution to my problem. Thanks for any help you can provide.

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  1. I think you are over-analyzing the problem. An experienced cook just sets it where it gives a good result. I am reminded of something I just read today from Jaques Pepin. He said (I am paraphrasing) that two mistakes that inexperienced cooks often make are to not follow the recipe, or alteratively, to apply the recipe too strictly.

    But to try to answer the question posed in your title, I don't want the oil to be smoking.

    1 Reply
    1. re: GH1618

      I agree -- the only reason I pay any attention to the number is because I don't have dials (my cooktop is touch-sensitive) -- but every cooktop will have its own settings, plus all the variable addressed above, so it's just a learning curve (that shouldn't be terribly steep)

    2. Damn. From the thread title, I thought we were in for a really interesting discussion. Know wot I mean ;-)

      2 Replies
      1. re: Harters


        I just keep it simple. Low at lowest setting. High at highest setting. Medium at medium setting. Just turn the dial. The more types of things you cook, the more you'll understand what you're going for (low and slow for Carmelized onions, high high high for seared ahi tuna, in the middle or medium high for most cooking, etc).

        1. re: youareabunny

          BTW preheating is extremely important too. Med-high temps need 5-10 min depending On your stove. That's usually why the first crepe or pancake turns out so ugly... Need that heat!

      2. No. You can't. Period. Why do you think you can, when you clearly state that you can't?

        1. Not possible. The same temperature in the pan will vary hugely depending on what pan you are using and what is the amount and temperature of your ingredients. Also how long you preheated, as that will affect how much the temperature drops when ingredients are added.

          1. This might help... get out the manual to your stove. If its like mine, each of the different burners has a different maximum wattage. So even on the same stove, high will be a different thermal flux on the different burners. Some of it is because the burners are different sizes, but on mine, the large front burner puts out more watts per square inch than the back large burner. Knowing this helps to figure out which burner setting works best.

            1. I know exactly what you're looking for. Unfortunately, as others have stated, the thing doesn't exist. On my cheap apartment range the definition of "medium high" changed radically when I upgraded my pots and pans.

              Because of this, even the recipe writers' definition of heat levels will not be consistent. Chef A's idea of medium high will be different from Chef B's.

              However, you can get a good approximation of the heat required. Pick several recipes which require you to cook onions to a few different levels - until softened, until translucent, until browned, etc. Most of these recipes will have a heat level and a time. Pick a heat level and see how your time to get to the desired doneness compares to the recipe. Over time you should be able to zero in on the "right" heat level to match the times Exception: caramelized onions. Chefs lie about how long that takes, so don't worry if it takes twice as long or longer to get them done. Once the onion times add up everything else should fall into place.

              1. I even find that the ambient temperature affects my burner settings (I have gas). My kitchen doesn't have heat or A/C, so the setting for the burner varies a fair bit depending on if the ambient temperature is 15 C or 40 C.