Heat Settings Vary on Stovetop Burners

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2013

In recipes, what do the terms medium, medium-high, and high heat for stovetop burners really mean?

One thing we’ve learned through years of cooking on different stoves in the test kitchen is that it’s difficult to universalize the settings of a burner. Every stove is different. Even every burner is different. In fact, in the test kitchen we tested burners on seven different gas stoves set to high heat to see how long it would take a 10-inch disposable pie plate filled with 16 ounces of room-temperature water to come to a boil. For each test we started the timer when the gas was lit. The results? Wild variation. The shortest amount of time it took for the water to boil was 2 minutes and 43 seconds. The longest was 3 minutes and 50 seconds. It seems safe to assume that different stoves would vary on other settings as well.

The vagaries of heat output from stove to stove are the reason we include a time range in our recipes and give visual cues for determining when food has reached the desired stage. It’s much easier to see the changes in your ingredients as they cook than to guess the exact heat output of your burner.