Most often in the past I have cooked on a gas range, which I prefer rather than electric. But recently we moved and since I am renting stuck with a rather modest electric range.

The elements are 5" and 7" diameter, and frying pans I have are around 12" diameter and non-stick.
I have had real problems where the center of the pan cooks hotter than the edges and I have to move food around alot to get even cooking.

I am not looking for brand recommendations, but what kind (material-wise) of frying pan is most suited for even heat distribution? Either regular or non-stick does not matter to me.

  • As long as the burner is smaller than the pan, you won't get even heating, no matter what material you buy. You need a pan which is the same size as your burner, period. A small difference (up to maybe 2 inches) still works, but not a 12 inch pan on a 7 inch burner. – rumtscho Feb 26 '15 at 14:00
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Basically you need a pan that is clad on the bottom. What this means is that there are usually three layers. Normally steel | aluminum or copper | steel. These pans will conduct and heat the most evenly on the bottom. Even with one of these however, you're still asking a lot to evenly heat 12 inches on 7 inches.

If its really important to you, you could consider a separate high end stand alone large burner. This one may be large enough for example.

Aluminum and copper are the best heat conductors you'll find in a pan (actually they are about the best heat conductors in general). Get the thickest you can get/afford, possibly a layered (clad) construction.

One thing to consider is that no matter how good of a pan you buy, it will eventually get ruined when used over a heating element that is too small.

I went a slightly different route when I was in an apartment. The problem I had going the pan route is that a really good pan costs as much as a countertop induction unit. An entry level 12 inch induction burner with any induction capable pan, will smoke any top-shelf pan you put over a crappy 6-8 inch electric burner... and it can be stored in the cabinet like a pan. If you go this route, you are limited to induction capable cookware, which most cheap non-stick pans are not. For my pans I bought stainless and cast iron from the local thrift store. The nice thing is, I still have my countertop unit with me at my house and it comes out for parties and holidays for extra cooking capacity.

I won't endorse a specific brand, but I would avoid anything seen on TV or found at your local grocery store. Local or online restaurant supplies is where I would look if I were exploring this route.

While hot spots are very hard to avoid 100%, Cast Iron skillets are known for not only evenly distributing heat but also maintaining their heat as cooler items are added. They tend to take a little longer to preheat than other common materials, but its worth it. That would be my recommendation.

  • 1
    Unfortunately this is a common misconception. Cast iron holds a lot of heat, so if preheated the edges will stay hot for a while, but they don't actually conduct that well. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_thermal_conductivities and compare to copper and aluminum for example. Or try cooking large pancakes in a cast iron and see how even the browning is. – Cascabel Feb 26 '15 at 2:14
  • @Jefromi although it is a popular misconception, it is one for a reason. If you preheat the pan, the heat will eventually reach out farther, this is because cast iron is an insulator (actually the voids in the cast iron make more insulating, the iron itself is a nice conductor). In the case of copper and aluminum which are excellent conductors, that also means they lose heat very quickly and the hot spots and cold spots are quite a bit more apparent. I love how aluminum leaves burn marks on your food that matches the burner underneath. – Escoce Feb 26 '15 at 15:41
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    @Escoce With cast iron, once the preheating's gone, you're out of luck. With pancakes, you might get one that's fairly evenly cooked (if you got the heat level right on the first try) then the rest will be brown in the middle and pale at the edges. – Cascabel Feb 26 '15 at 22:13
  • I hate to tell you this, but it are not correct. Again because of the insulation properties of cast iron, the heat is retained. You can preheat the cast iron, turn off the heat and still cook. Cast iron consists of more than half of my cookery, I use it literally every day and often several times a day. – Escoce Feb 27 '15 at 15:54

I find that a pot or pan with a heavier bottom seams to cook more even. although this may be because the thiner pans and pots are more prone to buckling coursing uneven heat distribution.

some heaver pots also have a copper bottom ether plated or tinkered on, to help conduct the heat quicker.

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