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I'm looking at replacing most of my cookware, since it's beginning to show signs of wear. A lot of what I've been looking at is various brands of non-stick options. However, I've noticed a trend. The descriptions say to avoid cooking above medium heat. Most of the time, I do cook at medium to medium high heat, but I do cook higher when I'm doing things like boiling water.

Is medium heat sufficient to boil a water in 3-5 qt pans? I also tend to stir fry at medium-high to high heat. I've done this for both gas and electric (currently have electric) stoves.

Should I have non-stick options (like a non-stick wok for stir fry and a non-stick pot for boiling water) or am I just doing it wrong and I should be cooking more at medium or maybe medium-high heat and almost never using high heat?

  • what does "Show signs of wear" mean? Much of my best cookwear is very well-worn but I wouldn't trade it for the world. – AGirlWithAKnife Mar 16 at 19:30
  • @bruglesco Different things. Most of my stuff has been moved between apartments a lot. The skillet doesn't sit flat and now heats very unevenly and there's lots of scraping of the surfaces on several of the pans and pots. I think a lot of the damage isn't from use, but poor packing and moving over the last almost 15 years. – Thomas Owens Mar 17 at 11:37
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The temperature guidelines are for frying and can be completely ignored if boiling. Being full of water is a very effective way to limit the maximum temperature of a vessel. You'd avoid boiling dry in any container.

To be honest, the guidelines are essentially nonsense for any use. "Medium" varies too much between stoves and burners. For example with my large non stick pan, medium on the big burner would be only for very fast frying while medium on the middle size burner would be very gentle.

  • By frying, do you mean any time that I don't have a large quantity of liquid? Such as sauteing or browning as well? But that it would probably be OK to turn it up to the highest settings at any point in time anyway? – Thomas Owens Mar 17 at 11:43
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    Language difference: "sauté" is rare in British English (like mine). We use "fry" instead, or "shallow fry" if we need to be clear we don't mean "deep fry" – Chris H Mar 17 at 13:41
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I'm looking at replacing most of my cookware ...

Some considerations are:

  • Buying piece-by-piece or a complete set

    • A complete set will match and cost less, you might also either end up with things you won't use or be forced to buy a smaller set and need to buy some additional items in any event.

    • Buying piece-by-piece gets you exactly what you want and at differing price points, you can allocate a larger amount for one specific item and purchase more budget friendly items for the remainder.

    • You can try to buy a smaller set and buy additional items to increase your options but usually even a small set will already contain the main item that you wanted to spend a lot more on to get the best you can afford, leading to an unwanted duplication (you could gift it away).

  • Weight

    • Heavy pots and pans are better at distributing the heat evenly and less subject to warping. They can also be much more difficult to handle during cleaning and especially more challenging to move when hot and filled.

    • Light weight equipment is quite the opposite in all respects. Mid weight is a better choice if you don't want to lift hot weights and don't need cookware to last many decades and pass down to grand children.

  • Type of metal

    • Cast iron is the most durable and most useful for a frying pan, least useful for a soup pot or deep frying a whole chicken in peanut oil; where lightweight stainless steel is preferable.

    • Hard anodized aluminum - lightweight and durable.

    • Copper is expensive and high maintenance. It's more durable if lined with stainless steel and can be non-stick coated. If you intend to whip eggs then you want an uncoated copper bowl.

    • Stainless steel offers good performance and durability, at a midprice range. Stainless clad over the top of an aluminum core distributes heat more evenly than stainless steel alone.

      You should also decide if you will ever use your cookware on an induction range, you'll need cookware with a high ferrous metal content or a magnetic grade of stainless steel.

  • Handles

    • Wooden and plastic handles don't conduct heat as well as metal handles though they usually will have a metal insert for strength. They won't be of any use in an oven either.

    • Metal handles are more durable but are also great conductors of heat. You will need gloves or a cloth to pick up your cookware unless you pay extra for removable handles.

      • Removable handles offer many advantages:

        1. A better way to store your pans - removing handles saves a lot of space in our cupboards.

        2. To clean pans easier - easier to fit in the sink or dishwasher.

        3. To place pans in the oven - long handles have more leverage but take up a lot of space in the oven. Allows wooden handles to be used.

        4. To use our fry pan as a casserole - just remove the handle, cuts down on the number of pots and pans to be purchased.

        5. To turn our pan into a cake mould

        6. To cook everything in the same pan - stovetop to oven and back

  • Lids - Glass let you see the progress of the cooking but are breakable. Metal lids and much less prone to damage but heat up more. Mesh lids have some advantages of both glass and metal lids but don't hold as much heat in.

  • Warranty - At least a few years, but lifetime warranties are available.

Finally:

A lot of what I've been looking at is various brands of non-stick options. However, I've noticed a trend. The descriptions say to avoid cooking above medium heat ...

  • Non-stick coatings

    • Diamond crystal embedded nonstick coatings are super hard and heat up four times faster than copper. Relatively lightweight, dishwasher safe, and oven safe (to 480°F) including lids and handles. Cost several hundred dollars for a 10 piece induction range set.

    • Teflon is a durable and modestly priced non-stick coating. It is safe if not overheated.

    • Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookware is durable, lightweight, scratch-resistant, and stick-free.

    • Enamel over steel gives you a wide range of color choices.

    • Glass-ceramic and silicone are useful for specialty cookware such as casserole dishes, baking sheets or steamers.

... am I just doing it wrong and I should be cooking more at medium or maybe medium-high heat and almost never using high heat?

Different foods are cooked at different temperatures, that's a few hundred more questions in and of itself. The short version is low heat (but sufficient to kill bacteria and other organisms) preserves more of the nutrition, medium heat is usually a good choice (but not always), and high heat tends to cook the outside faster than the center (for thin foods that's less of a concern and increases cooking speed).

  • The options that I'm leaning toward are hard anodized aluminum, as a set. My biggest concern was that I had never heard of the temperature restrictions before and cooking at low to medium heat would drastically increase the time to boil water (or even prevent boiling water), but it seems like the temperature restrictions don't apply to boiling water. It also seems like it may be ok go to closer to medium-high temperatures with no ill effects on the cookware. Would you agree with these? – Thomas Owens Mar 18 at 0:24
  • @ThomasOwens Temperature restrictions apply to Teflon and silicone but you don't want to be cooking at 500°F, water limits the temperature obtainable unless you boil dry (which can happen). All cookware ought to be able to accommodate high temperature, it's the handles that usually weaken first; though I admit to having left a Teflon frying pan on the burner and returned to the lovely chemical smell of overheated Teflon. To boil water just put it on high and don't forget about it. – Rob Mar 18 at 0:41
  • Many plastic handles are designed for oven use. Even wood, if not varnished, will merely darken a little at typical oven temperatures – Chris H Mar 20 at 12:39
  • @ChrisH Wood doesn't respond well to heating and washing cycles & some manufacturers have reduced the ratings of their handles; resulting in unreasonable restrictions compared to the convenience of removable handles, examples: "How to Protect Skillet Handles in a Hot Oven", "Pros and Cons of Cookware Handles", our own site. – Rob Mar 20 at 17:05
  • @Rob, you may want to avoid it on expensive stuff or painted/varnished handles but for the rest of us it's not a problem. The wood would outlast most non stick coatings. The exception is ovens that use top heat during cooking - that can lead to scorching. In my fan oven I sometimes need to put a loose foil lid over a dish, and weight that down with wooden clothespegs to stop it blowing off the pan - they don't suffer and they're cheap wood. – Chris H Mar 20 at 17:25
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The way you are thinking about heat levels such as "medium heat" it is widespread, but so useless, that I consider it to be a misconception and would urge people to drop it.

If a recipe directs you to cook something at "medium heat", then the real parameter you want to get right is the rate at which things in the pan are heating up. The dial position is only one of the many factors which determine what heat level you have reached. For more details, see this answer I once wrote to a question on how to find out the settings for heat levels.

So, if you use this definition of heat levels, you are always boiling water on slow heat. When you boil water, the stuff in your pan or pot is not really heating up and browning, which corresponds to the behavior of cooking on slow heat. It doesn't matter how much your dial is turned. If you put a 20 liter pot on a domestic hob, you may never even get it to boil even at the highest dial position - this doesn't mean that "high heat isn't enough to boil 20 liters of water", it means that you just didn't reach slow heat despite turning the dial up.

With that definition, the recommendation becomes correct: boiling water is not problematic for coated pots, because they are exposed to slow heat only, not to above-medium heat. Were you to apply the "dial position corresponds to the heat level" interpretation, then most recommendation based on heat levels become wrong, including the recommendation you are concerned about.

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