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I have seen many recipes where cooking with a heavy-bottomed pan is advised, as the heat is distributed more evenly and avoids "hot spots".

With that in mind, is there ever a situation where it would not be beneficial, or even be a hinderance, to use a heavy-bottomed pan? If not, why do light-bottomed pans exist?

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    I regularly use cast iron pans, for just about everything. But when you're washing-up a "family-sized" frypan, it can be quite a load on a single wrist if held the wrong way.
    – Kingsley
    Jul 15, 2020 at 23:23
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    ever try flipping pancakes in a cast-iron skillet?
    – Jasen
    Jul 16, 2020 at 10:45
  • Very good point @Jasen!
    – Chris A
    Jul 16, 2020 at 10:46

1 Answer 1

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Firstly, light-bottomed pans exist partly because they save cost and weight (the latter being relevant for, say, taking a pan when hiking). However, there are applications for which a light-bottomed pan can be preferable. These are when you need responsiveness to external heat more than heat retention and evenness. Taking a light pan off the stove will more quickly halt cooking, because it has a lower thermal mass. The pan will also heat up more quickly, but this is less relevant when compared to a properly preheated, thicker pan.

This article goes into some detail on considerations for pan selection. Crucially:

For sautéing and other cooking that calls for quick temperature changes, a pan should be responsive. This means that the pan is doing what the heat source tells it to, and pronto. For example, if you sauté garlic just until fragrant and then turn down the flame, the pan should cool down quickly so the garlic doesn’t burn. Responsiveness isn’t as crucial for boiling, steaming, or the long, slow cooking that stocks and stews undergo.

Additionally, as mentioned by @Blargant in a comment, while responsiveness is less relevant in situations where a relatively large amount of water is used, the positive properties of a thicker pan are also less useful in those cases. Thus, cost becomes a concern, which is why commercial stock pots and the like tend to be thin.

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    also for making caramel a light bottom pan is recommended
    – G. B.
    Jul 15, 2020 at 14:27
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    Woks (and stir fry) are a rather definitive case where a thin pan is always the norm.
    – AMtwo
    Jul 15, 2020 at 16:59
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    You might also mention the situations where the benefits of a heavy-bottomed pan are more-or-less completely ameliorated, namely pots for stock or pasta; if you'll only ever use a pan when it's got at least an inch of water in it, hot spots and resistance to warping or cracking over extreme heat are just not relevant; the water spreads the heat and keeps the pan cool for you, and a thicker bottom is just wasted mass and material.
    – Blargant
    Jul 15, 2020 at 23:31
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    @Blargant good point, thank you! I have added this to my answer.
    – LSchoon
    Jul 16, 2020 at 0:24
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    Crepe pans also tend to be thin
    – Maaark
    Jul 16, 2020 at 10:45

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