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I've recently started transitioning to stainless-clad aluminum-core skillets, and one oft-compared property of various offerings is the thickness - generally a thicker sandwich contains a thicker aluminum layer and thus has a greater ability to spread the heat evenly across the cooking surface.

But how much does this matter, if a skillet is placed on an electric coil element which is almost as large in diameter as the flat area one cooks on?

Anecdotally, I've noticed that a "relatively thin" (maybe 2.2mm) inexpensive Calphalon 10" skillet seems to perform fine on a 6" coil, even for high-heat tasks like searing meats. Contrastingly, an 11" (3qt) All-Clad 3-layer saute pan of the recent "not the way they used to make them" 2.75mm or so thickness shows a definite cold region where it extends well beyond the coil to meet the vertical sidewalls.

I've recently upgraded to an almost 8" element, and am shopping for a 12" skillet which will have a cooking surface around 9" in diameter. Given the poor performance of the large saute pan, I'm tempted to try to track down one of the few offerings that is still 3mm or more in thickness. But given that the cooking area will barely extend beyond the coil, I wonder if it's worth nearly twice the price I'd have to pay for a 2.2mm thick one? Granted, a 3mm pan would probably perform a lot better than a 2.2mm one if used on the 6" element. Or going to another extreme, designs with thick aluminum and only a thin stainless lining like All-Clad MC2 would presumably have the best heat transfer, at some cost in durability.

  • I ended up paying a bit more for a relatively thick 12" clad skillet, but ironically I've only used it on a few occasions. – Chris Stratton Oct 11 '16 at 23:39
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Electric oven spirals turn on and off continuously, and the temperature of coil depends on the ratio between periods of cooling and periods of heating.

Thicker skillets act as accumulators of heat, allowing smoother transitions between those periods. They heat up slower and cool off slower, thus making temperature more consistent.

Another voice for thicker frying pan bottoms is that it prevents them from warping as much – metal contracts and expands on temperature changes. Cheap pan will warp after a while and stop forming a good contact with electric stove spiral, resulting in uneven cooking.

Hope this answers your question.

  • The warping is a good point, though I think most of the skillets under consideration are large enough to be relatively resistant to that. The cycling is an interesting question - my gut feeling is that it is probably fast enough that even a medium thickness skillet will even it out, but it could be something worth measuring. Or maybe "fast PWM" should be a selling point for electric ranges. – Chris Stratton Oct 11 '16 at 23:37
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when it comes to even heating nothing beats cast iron! its better for you adds and retains flavor and iron which is a common defiecency. other skillets have there place in the world. i was given fourth generation iron skillets griddle the works. I only have 3 steel sauce pans and one teflon egg skillet. i know cast iron is out of style but if you maintain them correctly. your grand kids' grand kids can be using them. that is a investment of 4 lifetimes

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    This doesn't really answer the question asked. You may prefer cast iron, but the same comparison would still exist between different cast iron pans. And in terms of materials, aluminum drastically outperforms cast iron for heat transfer, by a factor of 3 to 4. Some people do cook on thick aluminum - plain, anodized, non-stick coated, or with a thin stainless liner on the inside only. – Chris Stratton Oct 11 '14 at 5:28
  • It does out perform heat transfer. But not at heat retention and heat distribution which is the true heart of your question. It not how well it transfers heat its how well it distributes the heat. If you want to stick with aluminum your better bet is to switch to gas. 15 years of being a chef has taught me a thing or two that can't be debunked by sales pitches and fancy adds to get you to buy over priced cook wear. You want even heating gas or cast iron are you best bet steal core helps but steel core aluminum is amazing at moving heat through it and out of it but not terribly evenly. – Heath James Cadriel Jan 11 '15 at 14:56
  • The thing is that "heat distribution" is heat transfer, horizontally through the cross section. And physics tells us aluminum does that several times better than iron does. – Chris Stratton Oct 11 '16 at 23:33

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