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To minimize the damage to an over heated pan (be it with or without food), do I let it cool off? Run it under cool water? Or is there different approach I'm supposed to take?

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Letting it cool slowly will minimize the chance of warping for thin or cheap cookware.

Quality cookware should stand up to being deglazed or quickly cooled under running water.

How you cool it is up to you.

Note: the above is based on metal pots and pans. Glass, ceramic, or earthenware pans should always be cooled slowly to prevent heat-stress breaking or crazing.

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There are materials which don't stand up well to sudden temperature changes, even if the cookware is expensive/good quality. Beside the obvious glass (which is very rare in stovetop pans), I have noticed that forged iron has such warp tendencies. –  rumtscho Jul 24 '13 at 14:21
    
@rumtscho True, I was thinking of metal since the question was about pots and pans, not ceremics or glass. –  SAJ14SAJ Jul 24 '13 at 14:24
    
@sajsaj as mentioned in my comment, some metals behave this way too . I have sadly experienced it with a forged (not cast) iron pan. –  rumtscho Jul 24 '13 at 15:51
    
@rumtscho The first line of my answer talks about that--it is mostly a function of thickness. –  SAJ14SAJ Jul 24 '13 at 15:52

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