For Smaller Cookware, Which Burner is Best?

When you are using smaller cookware, does cooking on a bigger burner mean less cooking time?

Many gas ranges have burners of different sizes and heat outputs, and burners with larger diameters produce more BTUs per hour. If you are cooking with a large (10- or 12-inch) skillet or Dutch oven, it only makes sense to use one of the large burners. But when you are using smaller cookware, does the size of the burner matter?

To find out, we filled two small (6-inch-diameter) saucepans with 1½ quarts of water each and set them on 2¾- and 4-inch-wide burners, respectively, over high heat. Bigger was better: The water in the saucepan on the large burner came to a boil in just 10 minutes, while the water on the small burner took 15 minutes.

On the other hand, when it came to heating oil for searing food, smaller was better. We coated two 8-inch skillets with oil, dusted them with flour, and then heated them over the small and large burners. The flour over the small burner was uniformly browned after 3 minutes. But the flour over the larger burner cooked unevenly, browning at the edges after just 1 minute and taking nearly 3 minutes to brown in the center. That's because on a larger burner, the flames are directed at the edges instead of the center of the pan. When we repeated the test with 1 teaspoon of oil, the oil at the edges of the skillet on the large burner began smoking well before wisps of smoke appeared at the center.

➢ The upshot: If you are boiling or steaming liquid in a small pot, use the largest burner that will not allow flames to lick up the sides of the pot. (Flames will rapidly heat metal handles and melt or scorch plastic.) For tasks requiring a small skillet, choose a small burner over a large one.

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