Say I'm cooking using a smooth-top stove. A burner area has a small burner, which is surrounded by a larger burner area.

If I have a small pot on a large element, with a 1-2 inch radius of the large element not touching the small pot (the outer edge of the element)... does this extra heating area go to waste completely? Wouldn't the element heat up the glass cover, which would then be reabsorbed into the nearby pot's metal?

Or would the heat be mostly lost into the surrounding air?

I'm asking because I notice that my soups generally cook alot faster when they are using the large burner instead of the smaller burner, EVEN THOUGH the soup is in a small pot, that only covers the inner small burner area.

  • I've answered in a fairly general sense but a link to an exact model and/or some photos of your setup would allow me to be a bit more specific
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 21:15
  • @ChrisH its a slightly older model of this stove frigidaire.ca/Kitchen/Ranges/Electric-Ranges/CGEF3059TW
    – csch0
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 21:30

1 Answer 1


A small pan on an oversized burner wastes a lot of heat. Some more may be coupled into the pan but much will go into the room (so not wasted completely). It might damage the handle, especially with something low like a frying pan, as this heat is mainly radiated (the glass is meant to absorb very little). The inner burner may be so much weaker than the outer that even a fraction of the power of the outer is a significant increase compared to just the inner. I seem to recall using one with a 600W inner and 1200W outer - if even 1/4 of the power of the outer went into the pot it would be 50% more heat. The specs for yours don't go into quite enough detail but it looks like the inner might be 1200W and the outer 1800W, so not as marked as my example but it still makes a difference. As the heat is radiant, some heat will enter the sides of the pan, contributing to faster, if not very efficient, heating.

But when you say "cook quicker", how are you measuring cookedness? Is this a rate of reduction in volume (which would scale with power absorbed to a good approximation)? Or is it a subjective done-ness (which has more to do with time-at-temperature, so quite strongly affected by how quickly it reaches temperature). Coming to the boil quicker means you could use both until it boils then simmer using the inner ring only (assuming it's not finished when it first comes to the boil). This is likely to be more marked if you're starting from cold, as the additional power of the outer will cover some of the losses involved in warming up the surrounding parts of the stove.

  • water just seems to reach a boil alot faster
    – csch0
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 21:31
  • Alton Brown defines cooking as "moving heat into food"
    – Stefan
    Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 1:49

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