What temperatures do low-medium-high on the stove correspond to?

  • I'm quite suspicious that my electric stove runs hot. Recipes that suggest medium-high on my stove are incredibly, incredibly hot and you can feel 'high' radiating heat from across the kitchen.

    As such, I've semi-recently purchased an IR thermometer - what pan surface temperature should low, medium-low,medium,medium-high, and high approximately register as?

    It might not be a bad idea to have a qualified repair person check the stove. It may be unsafe, and/or it may be using far more energy than is necessary or helpful.

    Yes, Wye vs Delta wiring confusion could show exactly the effect described. If you have no idea what I mean, have an electrician look at it.

  • Sam Ley

    Sam Ley Correct answer

    9 years ago

    They don't correspond to a temperature, they correspond to a rate of heat input.

    The elements in your oven are connected to a thermostat with regulates their temperature, they are really constant heat/fixed temperature devices, like the heat in your home. The oven turns the elements on and off to regulate temperature, but the elements are only ever ON or OFF.

    The stovetop elements, by contrast, are variable heat/variable temperature. There is no thermostat, but the elements can be variably adjusted between MAX and OFF. For every setting the temperature will just keep getting hotter and hotter (unless something is removing the heat, like cooking food) - the higher settings will just get hotter faster.

    The important thing to know (for an electric range) is the wattage of the elements - most 8" elements are ~2500W, and most 6" elements are ~1500W. But there is a lot of variability. Additionally, if you are living in a home with 240V power but have recently lived in an apartment (which likely had 208V power, but 240V elements installed in the oven, even if you didn't realize it), your heater elements will seem much hotter than before. It is also possible that the oven maker or previous owner installed higher wattage elements (perhaps by installing elements intended for a 208V service in a home with 240V service, which would have the effect of "turbocharging" them a bit).

    Temperature measured with an IR thermometer may not be useful for you to determine if your oven is hotter than usual, since an empty pan on Low will still reach 400+ degrees (it will just get there slower).

    What might be more useful is to find out what setting people do certain cooking tasks at, and see if that is different than what works on your oven. You can also remove the elements and find the voltage/wattage stamped on the bottom - let us know what those values are and we may be able to tell you if they are abnormally high.

    Personally, I sweat onions on 4/10, fry an egg at 6/10, simmer soup at 2/10, and maintain 1 gallon water at a consistent, but not vigorous boil at 8/10.

    Hmmm...I have an empty pan on low, I'm going to monitor temp. My stove burners don't have a wattage marked.

    We could probably do a little informal experiment if you used a pan that many people have, like a 10" Lodge Cast Iron? Then you could compare temperature at 30 sec, 60 sec, 90 sec, etc. That would give us the clearest view of RATE, which is the important quantity here.

    So, this just totally isn't my experience here. I set my burner on low-medium and after about 15 minutes it had risen to ~ 380. In the last 20 minutes it hasn't risen a single degree. By that logic, 380F would be the max of my stove. I turn it to medium and within seconds it jumps to 450....so, explain that?

    Note, I'm not saying you're wrong about how they work, I'm just trying to justify what I see empirically.

    You are seeing the effect of equilibrium - the heating element is pumping heat IN, the pan is radiating heat OUT, and at some temperature the IN and OUT will match, and the temperature will stabilize. But this will be very pan dependent, and could be hazardous to test in every case because some pans/settings will form an equilibrium that would be above a safe temperature for non-stick surfaces, or in some cases, could melt thinner aluminum pans. If we tried the same pan that you are using on a few stoves, we could get a better comparison of different equilibrium temps, which would be useful.

    (This is a 10" Lodge griddle) that was my suspicion, but then it means that there's still a practical temperature for each setting/pan/food combo. Low and medium do not correspond to the same temp if left on long enough - which is the answer above.

    I've got a 10" Lodge Skillet, which should be pretty close. I'll try it out and give you a low and medium equilibrium temp. Though it should be noted that these equilibrium temps aren't that useful for cooking, because they will drop very quickly when food is in the pan, and many cooking processes depend on pumping heat into the foot at a certain speed, rather than a max temp. What they can be good for is comparing different stove tops against each other.

    So, fun fact. Leaving my stove on high for 15 minutes or so was enough to ignite whatever previously charred bits of whatever were left in the drip pan. There's a reason for a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.

    I've got the 10" Skillet too, I'll fire it up on the lowest setting and medium. Any above that starts to take my seasoning off the pan :/

    10" Lodge skillet - 15 minutes on 4/11 - 360F. 4 more minutes on 6/11 got to 470F and started to smoke, so I backed it off.

    Mine has seven positions, trying to match yours decimal-wise - 10" Lodge skillet 2.5/7 340F - 4 more minutes on ~3.8 (just under 4)/7 - 580F.

    Just a nit-pick. Stove-top burner controls have a thermostat fully contained inside the switch. It's a bi-metal spring where turning the know adjusts the tension on the spring, causing the heating element to stay on longer/shorter. There is no feedback to the thermostat from the burner. In practice, you can think of it as a sort of timer that controls the on/off duty cycle.

    I'm afraid Sam Ley (above) is wrong about the voltage in a house vs. an apartment. All modern *residential* systems in the USA, which are connected to a public system, are 120/240 volts. The confusion may arise because large buildings, such as apartment buildings, are often supplied with 3-phase power, but that 3-phase is transformed to the standard 120/240 volts before entering the apartment units.

    Steve - apartment buildings supplied with 120/208V three-phase power aren't transformed to 240V. They can't be, because the apparent 208V is due to the 120 degree shift between the phases, and transformers can only affect magnitude, not phase angle. Because of this, there are many situations where 240V appliances will run at 208V - for a heating element this isn't a big deal, it will just run at a slightly lower wattage, since the resistance of the element is fixed. I design commercial and residential electrical distribution systems and we run into this all the time.

    Power for a purely resistive element is V^2/R... Going from 208V to 240V on the same element means a 33% increase in its power output....

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM