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About three years ago, we replaced a one 10" skillet with another, both Macy's Tools of the Trade anodized aluminum teflon skillets. (The teflon coating didn't last on the old pan.)

The old pan had a metal handle bolted onto the body, and the new one has a silicone insert on the bottom of a metal handle, also bolted on. We're going to have to replace this new(er) pan because the handle gets too hot to touch after a few minutes of use, even though the pan itself works extremely well; the hot handle is a safety hazard.

We're considering the skillet that will replace it, and we'll get another, similar piece. However, it would be nice if it lasted for more than a few years. And, while any pot handle will eventually get too hot to touch, I'd like to be able to pick up the pan without an oven mitt.

What determines how hot a handle does or doesn't get while the pan is in use? I've been researching brands, and this isn't something that I've seen covered much in the reviews.

Edit: Pictures may be of help. Sorry for the mess, we just made dinner. (Tilapia with snow peas, garlic, and ginger with a side of mushrooms.)

Old pan (Well, it's another pan with the same handle, I tossed the old one):
enter image description here

The new pan, showing the infamous plastic insert:
enter image description here

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Besides how hot the handle actually gets -- the texture of the grip can have a significant amount; a smooth handle will transfer more heat to your hand, while some textures can act tiny cooling fins so you've got less contact area for conduction and there's more surface area for cooling. (and all of these comments only matter for stovetop use ... it's always going to get hot in the oven, which is why some wooden handles unscrew) –  Joe Feb 24 '11 at 12:37

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The usual heat transfer issues all apply.

What are those? Well, let me see

  • The handle will warm up until it's total heat losses equal the total heat coming in.

  • Heat comes in mostly by conduction from the body of the pot.

  • Some materials conduct heat better than others. Metals tend to have high thermal conductivity (with aluminum and especially copper begin particularly good at it). Plastics and wood tend to be poor thermal conductors.

  • Thick pieces of material can conduct heat faster than thin ones, but they also take proportionately more heat to increase the temperature, so this is a wash...unless you connect a solid handle to the body with thin spars (as in your upper photograph).

  • The handle loses heat to the air by conduction (very little), convection (much more), and radiation (very little until it gets to hot to hold). For all of these having lots of surface area improves the rate at which heat can be dumped into the surrounding environment.

  • Shape and orientation matters a lot to convective heat losses, but the dependence is too complicated to describe in a few words.

I find that bent sheet metal handles tend to stay cool, while solid handles get hot. If the half-n-half version you describe above has a pretty solid piece of metal that that part will behave very much like a all-metal handle (it may even be worse as the teflon will insulate the underside).

Short of taking detailed photos and constructing a model in a thermal simulation there is no rigorous way to know in advance. Still, if you've been cooking for long you probably have some intuition in this matter. Trust it.

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The new pot has what looks to be a molded metal handle with the insert glued onto it. I've noticed some steam coming out from under the handle from time to time, so perhaps the gaps there are acting as a channel for heat? The old pan had a thin metal handle, perhaps 1/4" thick. Will update the question with pictures. –  Neil Fein Feb 24 '11 at 2:47
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@Neil Your old handle stayed cool because it combined a lot of surface area with the thin connections to the body of the pot (and it helps that it was tilted upward). The new one has a hefty connection to the pot, and some portion of the surface area blocked by the plastic pad (and may be closer to horizontal). –  dmckee Feb 24 '11 at 3:06
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Now that you mention it, the handles on our Allclad meat set (e.g., not for use with dairy) combine a large surface area with a skinny connection to the pans themselves, and I can grab them by the handle even after 45 minutes on a medium flame. Now I know what to look for, thanks! –  Neil Fein Feb 28 '11 at 1:38

The speed of heat transfer from pan to handle depends on the type of metal or alloy it's made of - good luck with researching that when looking at options. Simple solution, buy a Calphalon pan that is the size and shape you need. The non-stick feature lasts much longer than any run-of-the-mill non-stick pan you will use, they are heavy duty, and the handle will not get hot.

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