There are a handful of reasons why high-heat cooking is tougher than cooking on moderate or low heat. One of those reasons is safety: the use of certain cookware can be toxic to use over certain temperatures. The designs and colors of certain pots and pans can also fade after repeated use with high heat, and while this is only a cosmetic issue, it can be an indicator of other deterioration of the pot or pan. Lastly, if your pan is not thick enough to properly deal with high-heat cooking, heat may not be properly distributed throughout, resulting in hot spots. Ultimately, you want to choose a high-quality pan of the right material when you know you’ll be doing some serious high-heat cooking. So what materials work well with high heat?
First, let’s discuss which aren’t great with high heat. Teflon, aluminum and copper have all recently been proven to pose potential health hazards when used repeatedly at high heat. Teflon can break down into carcinogenic chemicals at 500 degrees Fahrenheit and over time these chemicals can begin leaching into your food! Aluminum and Copper at high temperatures can also slowly leak into the foods on the pans, and because our bodies don’t process these well, over time this can create some serious problems for us.
So, if Teflon, aluminum and copper are all poor choices, what ARE we left to cook with? Your best bets for high-heat cooking are going to be either cast iron or stainless steel, and depending upon your personal preference, either could be highly successful for you. Let’s talk about cast iron first. Cast iron has been used for over 2500 years, dating back as far as the 5thcentury BC. Cast iron is incredibly durable: cast iron that’s not well cared for can last for years and still work just as effectively. But, if it IS taken care of, your cast iron pans can last long enough to be handed down between generations. Cast iron is also unique in that it begins to pick and retain the flavors of seasonings used over time. Years later, food cooked with your cast iron pan will just begin to taste better and better! You can also put it directly in the oven with no issues, and even use it over a campfire! The drawbacks using cast iron are minimal: First, it can’t be cleaned in a dishwasher or with normal soap and sponge: it should be salted and scrubbed with a gentle sponge or rag. Second: it is incredibly heavy. For chefs with minimal upper body strength, it may not be a good idea to use cast iron, and even strong chefs will need to use two hands to deal with larger pans. On that note, most cast iron pans have no grip of any sort, so you’re going to have to be using oven mitts when you handle the product. Last, cast iron can take quite a while to heat up (even when using very high heat). So if time is of the essence, it may not be the best choice. But all of that said, we strongly feel that cast iron is your best bet when cooking at very high temperatures. And the best cast iron for your buy is going to be Le Creuset cast iron.
Our Number One Pick:
Le Creuset 16-piece Cookware Set
Le Creuset cast iron cookware is the penultimate in classy and lasting cookware, both within cast iron and arguably beyond. The pieces are incredibly sturdy, long-lasting, and surprisingly not quite as heavy as some other cast iron pieces (though the difference is rather minimal). Le Creuset also offers sets in a wide array of fun and fresh color schemes to properly match the “theme” of any kitchen. When cooking with high heat, you can trust that your Le Creuset set will with-stand the challenge and have no issues. There are two things to watch out for with Le Creuset. First, some pieces or entire sets do have an enamel lining. While the cast iron will last for generations, the enamel linings do sometimes wear out. Also, Le Creuset is not cheap. It’s definitely an investment to have a Le Creuset cast iron cookware set, but for the avid chef who uses high-heat very frequently, it is well worth it.
Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 3 Skillet Bundle
Lodge offers tried-and-true cast iron products at a reasonable price point (compared to Le Creuset). Lodge cast iron pieces can be on the heavy side (even for cast iron), and while that poses a challenge for some, you can also take this as an indication of the high quality and thickness of the pans. These are not pans that will develop hot spots over time: these pans are phenomenal at properly distributing heat. For a more affordable, and equally efficacious alternative to Le Creuset, Lodge cast iron products are a fine option.
All-Clad’s Brushed 18/10 Stainless Steel 5-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe Cookware Set
If, for high-heat cooking, you would prefer NOT to use cast iron, your second option is to use stainless steel. The average stainless-steel pan (being multi-ply, or a sheet of stainless steel on a copper base) is not non-stick, but can easily be sprayed with olive oil or coated with butter to make it so. Stainless steel is light weight compared with cast iron, it heats quickly, and it is very easy to clean (can be thrown into the dishwasher or scrubbed with soap and sponge). The biggest drawback to stainless steel is its lack of heat distribution. However, today it is incredibly rare to find 100% stainless steel cookware: most often cookware is 3-ply or 5-play with layers of a more conductive material between layers of stainless steel (like copper). 5-ply stainless steel cookware does distribute heat very well (though cast iron is still the best at that). If stainless steel sounds like a better bet for you when cooking with high heat, try All-Clad’s Brushed 18/10 Stainless Steel 5-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe Cookware Set.
For a really solid, well-respected and trustworthy stainless-steel cookware set, trust All-Clad. All-Clad stainless steel is 5-ply, so that when it comes to high-heat cooking, heat distribution will not be a problem and you should not have to deal with hot spots. The “starburst finish” on the steel creates a “near” non-stick effect, so you’ll only have to oil your pan minimally. And All-Clad stainless steel is approved for use in an oven or broiler up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Overall, there aren’t a lot of negatives to going with this All-Clad stainless-steel set. The price point is a little high, but the quality of the steel is well worth it.
Best Pans For High Heat Cooking
The biggest drawback to All-Clad’s stainless-steel set is that, summarily, it’s just not cast iron. It’s a truly great stainless-steel set, but only cast iron can offer the assurance of absolutely no hot spots, years of long-lasting use (even if not taken care of well), and the added benefit of seasoning retention over time. Fundamentally, while some stainless steel truly is great, we firmly believe that for high-heat cooking, nothing beats cast iron, and no cast iron beats Le Creuset.