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Frying pan "cant get hot enough" on the stove?

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I frequently hear cooks, including my aunt who cooks for a living, say that its hard to cook at steak at home because you cant get a frying pan hot enough. I most recently heard Alton Brown say it when he was making tuna loin on a chimey charcoal starter. He basically said you cannot get the necessary heat for the sear using a stove top burner.

Now i'm not worried about steak cooking methods, i have a few i love that work great. My question is, i dont see how a frying pan cant get hot enough, as everyone says. I wanted to test that out, so i put my heavy cast iron pan on the stove, turned the burner to max, let it sit for 10 mins. First, the pan started smoking just from the residual oil, then when i put the steak on, it blackened so quick that it got too burnt, where you cant eat it. So clearly, "not getting hot enough" isn't an issue.

(I have an electric stove for the record, not sure if they will get hotter under the circumstances i described.)

Does anyone know why people say that?

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  1. Fire on a burner is "xxx: degrees, depending on the fuel source. Electric is similar, depending on the rated btu's of the burner and even voltage.
    The problem is recovery time, using cast iron the recovery time is less due to the mass of the pan. A bit too much science but your pan is a heat sink.

    1. If it is working for you, don't worry about what other people say. :-) They may be using the wrong pan.

      You can get and hold enough heat if you use cast iron. One poster on the cookware forum got their CI skillet to 600F with a regular residential gas burner. Electric burners can be better with cast iron if they are sized to the pan as they will provide heat more evenly than a gas single ring burner. You do have to keep the temperature of the cooking surface high enough. Some accomplish this by having a big burner so the heat can be added rapidly, so quick recovery. If you don't have the bigger burner, you need enough cast iron(a big enough pan)to hold a lot of heat during the preheat. There are restaurants that sear steaks on a rock that is not over heat but has been preheated and holds a lot of heat.

      1 Reply
      1. Gas & Electric Burner Surface Temperatures:

        Methane (natural gas) flame in air, 3,542 °F *

        Large Electric burners 1,472 °F to 1,652 °F, set on High **

        Small Electric Burners 932 °F to 1,112 °F , set on High **

        * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_burner

        ** http://www.ehow.com/info_12177147_sur...

        1. They are probably not using cash iron