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I had two pans side by side on my stove at similar settings. Both were given similar amounts of chopped onions, peppers, and carrots. These were being fried to add flavor before mixing in ground beef to brown for a chili. The recipe was finished in an oven then stovetop. However the oil content was very different. The left had oil leftover from frying eggs an hour earlier and on the right I probably put a bit too much oil to coat the pan.

The pans are also different. Both are Gotham Steel Nonstick Ceramic. However the left one is their "premium" stainless steel (triple reinforced stainless steel) and the right one is their more mysterious material:

PREMIUM HARD ANODIZED MATERIAL - Stronger than stainless steel cookware, hard-anodized aluminum exterior is dense, nonporous, and highly wear-resistant for the perfectly even heat and professional performance

The right pan had also been rarely used. The left had been used for <1 month but almost daily.

As you can see the left pan is frying fairly well. Perhaps too well. The onions are browning and turning clearer and you can see the browning reactions that add so much flavor. It also was releasing more steam or whatever that is. You can see that nice brown stuff on the sides of the pan.

The right really never did it got mushy if anything. Didn't seem to sear at all but it did cook... maybe.

The left pan is doing a much better job than the right pan

So what's going on here? Is it the difference in the pan materials? Did the right one have too much oil? Something else? A combination.

(And yes for those concerned had been a big cooking day. The stovetop was deep cleaned afterwards)

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    Hard to tell from the pictures, but are the pans different diameters? Right element looks like a quite a bit lower setting to me too.
    – bob1
    Commented Feb 12 at 0:32

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The ultimate cause is that you didn't fry at the same "heat". The left pan was frying at a high heat, while the right one was at low-medium.

Now it's unclear which of the many potential variables went into that. It could have been the material, the amount of oil, or the time of preheating, or the pan size, or whatever. That's impossible to pinpoint, and there isn't a need for that.

Your job as a cook is to use a combination of good preheating and regulating the flame until you get the heat you're looking for. As Chris H. points out, preheating sometimes may mean that you use a small flame for a long time, to achieve even temperature within the pan material. For other pans and foods, an extra high flame may be needed for preheating, that's a matter of experience.

As for regulating the flame during cooking: to get to the same heat, this will almost certainly be a different position of the knob for two different pans; this is expected and not a problem in any way. Unless you find yourself in some very unlucky circumstances (e.g. a pan so thin that the lowest position on a gas stove burns some delicate food outright) any pan will give you good enough results.

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  • One other issue with thin aluminium pans is cooking far faster where the flame hits than the rest of the pan. So you have to keep moving food into that ring, not into the middle. The middle does eventually get properly hot, but it takes a while for the heat to flow inwards (preheating for longer, but with a smaller flame at first, seems to help on one of mine)
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 12 at 9:30
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    @ChrisH thanks for pointing that out, I expanded the answer to include preheating.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Feb 12 at 9:51

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