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Fat Guy

Stay-cool is uncool: getting a handle on handles

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A side discussion on a recent cast-iron cookware topic led me to start this one.

I know a lot of folks are extremely fond of "stay-cool" handles on cookware.

These handles need to be divided into two categories:

First, there are the metal stay-cool handles that have various design features to help dissipate or reduce conduction of heat so that you can hold them while cooking on the stovetop. (Here I'm not talking about cast-iron handles on copper cookware -- you could call that a form of stay-cool design, but what I mean are the consumer-level stay-cool designs where the steel handle narrows at its base as a way of limiting conduction.)

Second, there are the plastic, resin, wood and other non-metallic handles that stay cool because they're poor conductors of heat.

I believe both are at best worthless and at worst counterproductive, and that people should just get in the habit of using towels and pot holders.

After all, unless every handle on every piece of cookware you ever use is a stay-cool handle, you will eventually screw up and burn yourself by grabbing a hot handle. Not to mention, stay-cool handles only stay cool under limited circumstances. The metal ones don't work very well at all once you really get cooking, and of course they fail totally in the oven. The plastic ones stay cool on the stovetop, but they limit your ability to use the pot in the oven above about 350 degrees.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If one can buy silicone spatulas and the like that advertise heat-proofness above 500 degrees, why can't one buy silicone-handled pots that are useful at the consumer level?

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Pot holders annoy me, I feel clumsy using them. I prefer to use plastic handled pans when I'm stir frying or sauteing because I get far better control tossing my food when I don't have a giant oven mitt on.


PS: I am a guy.

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If one can buy silicone spatulas and the like that advertise heat-proofness above 500 degrees, why can't one buy silicone-handled pots that are useful at the consumer level?

HAHAHA. As a matter of fact, I was in Sears just the other day to buy a new mattress and, as always, I end up wandering over to the cookware section (Im never sure why, because I know I will hate everything that is over there.) Anyway, my eyes were drawn to these selections of pots and pans with day-glo hunter orange handles. They we just hideous! I said to myself "this HAS to be some Food Network bimbo's new line of pans." After investigating, they were, in fact, Rachel Ray's new line of pots and pans with silicone handles.

In every home I cook in, I always use a towel when I am sauteing, etc. People always look at me funny like "why are you using a towel?" kinda of look. I guess its just habit after being scalded multiple times at work. Nice thread Mr. Fat Guy!

-Chef Johnny


Edited by ChefJohnny (log)

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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Professional restaurant equipment isn't made with stay-cool plastic handles, because they probably wouldn't survive three hours of heavy use. So, in every professional kitchen I've been in, every cook has one of these on hand at all times:

gallery_1_295_16227.jpg

They're usually referred to as "side towels" or "blue towels" -- I don't suppose there's any reason they have to be blue, but I've never seen them in another color. This one is property of Gramercy Tavern in New York City -- I really do plan to return it (and its five brethren) one day. They seem to be the universal pot holder of professional cooks in the Western world -- I don't know about the rest of the world.

They give excellent control, and once you become accustomed to working always with a side towel it becomes second nature to do so. And you never burn your hand.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Just a friendly FYI, all the kitchens I have worked, we have always had white towels. The only exception was when I staged at Fluer de Sel in NYC. They use purple linen napkins as their side towels. Thats double trouble for a gay chef. God awful color (always a sin) and heat just goes right through unless you fold it into a tiny square. lol :)

-Chef Johnny


John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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Amazing. Maybe my brain just hasn't processed the information, but I really think that every kitchen I've been in -- and that's a few dozen at this point -- has used the blue towels. I just did a quick search online and I can't even find them for sale anywhere -- they probably have a technical name of which I'm unaware. Oh, we totally need a side-towel topic.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Amazing. Maybe my brain just hasn't processed the information, but I really think that every kitchen I've been in -- and that's a few dozen at this point -- has used the blue towels. I just did a quick search online and I can't even find them for sale anywhere -- they probably have a technical name of which I'm unaware. Oh, we totally need a side-towel topic.

I completely agree on the side towel topic. Take a picture of a side towel in every home/professional kitchen and gauge the differences! I think I have one of the purple ones from Fluer de Sel, now that I think about it.

- Chef Johnny


John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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If one can buy silicone spatulas and the like that advertise heat-proofness above 500 degrees, why can't one buy silicone-handled pots that are useful at the consumer level?

Silicone handles would help on the stove top, but not in the oven -- silicone eventually heats up (which is why it's used for bakeware). The "heat-proof" part refers to the fact that it won't melt, not that it doesn't get hot. That's the reason I think silicone potholders are a bad idea -- they're fine for a short time, but if you're holding a pan for a long period of time, say, to take cookies off a baking sheet, they become unbearably hot by the time you're done.

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Shay Gallante rocks the lavandar towels too :biggrin:

seriously though as Shal said sometimes I want my cheapo non-stick to be totoally lightweight which to me means no side towel. Do I have the burns to show for it? yes.


does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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Getting back to the topic, I've always found these handles useless as well, for a number of reasons. . .

1. Any time the pan accumulates any serious heat, the metal "stay cool" handles get hot anyway.

2. The metal handles get hot in the oven, which is a danger once the pan has been transferred to the stovetop if the cook is used to thinking he can grab the handle with bare hands.

3. The typical (All-Clad knockoff) metal handle shape and size is awkward any time the pan is carrying significant weight. The balance can be very precarious when lifting, e.g., a loaded twelve-inch frypan with a "stay cool" handle.

4. I have yet to see a metal "stay cool" handle design that seems structurally sound to me. Half the time they're welded, and when they're riveted they're likely to have that narrowing right at the connection to the body that Steven describes. I have to believe that both of these are destined to eventually fail under heavy use (and I do know of incidents where either the weld has broken or the thin area of the handle has bent).

5. The plastic, resin, wood, Cherokee hair, etc. non-metal handles are useless, because they can't be put into the oven.

Fundamentally, I think "stay cool" handles are a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist. As others have pointed out, there's no reason to grip the pan with a big old floppy oven mit. 75% of the time, the handle won't get hot enough to be a problem anyway. And for the other 25% of the time, just use a kitchen/bar towel like they've been doing in restaurant kitchens since the restaurant was invented.


--

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JAZ -- so so true! I thought I was the only one out there who wasn't fond of silicone potholders... I bought one and actually returned it because it just didn't stay cool at all when taking a le creuset out of a hot oven....

Emily

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For most home cooks this is pretty simple. Sauce pans and saute pans with stay cool handles are fine and easy to use. I always have a few pans (especially saute pans that can be placed in a hot oven or under a broiler--I love to pan roast-- I use a towel with these. It is not difficult managing these items--that is which pans need a towel etc.

For me this is much ado about nothing. I understand the need for pots and pans in without stay cool handles (of any kind) in restaurant kitchens for most home cooks the conditions are different and stay cool handles can be a plus.

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I understand the need for pots and pans in without stay cool handles (of any kind) in restaurant kitchens for most home cooks the conditions are different and stay cool handles can be a plus.

In what way can they be a plus? (I ask about the metal "stay cool" handles -- I can understand why it might be practical for some people to have a plastic handle on a saucepan they only use to boil water.) Do they ever really work and stay meaningfully cool in a wide variety of situations where regular handles would not? In my experience, they simply don't work very well at not heating up. Sure, the handles on my 1 quart All-Clad saucepans don't get very hot when I'm making a little bechamel. But, then again, the cast iron handle on my Falk Culinair 1.5 quart sauteuse evasee doesn't tend to get very hot when I'm making a little bit more bechamel either. More to the point, however, the handles on both brands get hot of the pans sit on the stove doing a reduction for 45 minutes. I suppose the All-Clad's "stay cool" handles take a few minutes more to heat up, but this is not a meaningful difference in practical terms.

Personally, if given the opportunity to choose between the awkward "stay cool" handle shape used by All-Clad and the new Calphalon lines and more substantial (and, in my opinion, ergonomic) standard handle -- I'd choose the standard handle every time.


--

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Silicone will also eventually dry out and crack if it's subjected long enough to roasting temperatures.

I agree that it's pretty much a non-problem. Most of my cookware has heavy, riveted cast iron handles that stay cool for a while, then they get warm, then they get hot, and then they stay hot. I'm just used to it.

I do have an all clad 10" pan with a skinny stainless handle, and it's convenient that it stays cool longer. But it's not a big deal. I like the pan for its cooking qualities, not its handle.

I use towels when the handles get hot, but I keep a pair of those giant silicone oven mits in a drawer for when I have to grab a heavy pan out of a 500 degree oven. At those temps a towel often isn't enough, and I appreciate having protection against accidental brushes with racks or oven sides.


Notes from the underbelly

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I have some heavy non-stick pans that have a silicone cover that slides over the flat metal handle. Unlike the universal silicone covers which are big and bulky these are well fitted to the handle. I rarely use non-stick in the oven but the covers would slide off easily and remind you that the handle is HOT.

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Those fitted handle covers are popular with the cooks who make omelettes at buffets. If all you do is make omelettes all day, they're probably useful tools. I personally have not found them useful, though. I had one a few years ago, put the pan under the broiler with it on (totally forgot), and a minute later started to smell burning plastic.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I understand the need for pots and pans in without stay cool handles (of any kind) in restaurant kitchens for most home cooks the conditions are different and stay cool handles can be a plus.

In what way can they be a plus? . . . Do they ever really work and stay meaningfully cool in a wide variety of situations where regular handles would not? In my experience, they simply don't work very well at not heating up. Sure, the handles on my 1 quart All-Clad saucepans don't get very hot when I'm making a little bechamel. But, then again, the cast iron handle on my Falk Culinair 1.5 quart sauteuse evasee doesn't tend to get very hot when I'm making a little bit more bechamel either. More to the point, however, the handles on both brands get hot of the pans sit on the stove doing a reduction for 45 minutes. I suppose the All-Clad's "stay cool" handles take a few minutes more to heat up, but this is not a meaningful difference in practical terms.

Well, just to put your theory to a test, I put two saucepans about 2/3 full of water on the stove, covered them, brought the water to a boil and then turned the heat down to keep the water simmering. One saucepan was a Demeyere Sirocco, 2 liters. The other was a 1.5 quart Mauviel professional pan.

The results:

At 15 minutes, the Mauviel was really warm, and by 20 minutes, I could hold the handle just long enough to slide the pan off the heat. At 25 minutes, it was too hot to lift at all, although I didn't burn my hand by simply touching the handle. I turned the heat off at that point, and a half hour later, it was still too hot to hold.

After more than an hour, I could still lift the Demeyere easily, and hold it more than long enough to carry it across the kitchen to the stove and empty it out.

(Incidentally, not that anyone asked, but at 5 minutes, the lid handle on the Mauviel was too hot to touch. The lid handle on the Demeyere was still cool at 1 hour.)

I'd say that's a meaningful difference.

It seems to me that condemning stay-cool handles for heating up in the oven, or if the burner is bigger than the pan, or if the handle is too close to another burner is to miss the point -- stay-cool handles (at least Demeyere's) do stay cool enough to be used safely in most normal situations in the home kitchen.

Whether it's too difficult to remember which handles stay cool, or to pay attention to the pan-burner area ratio or if a pan just came out of the oven is another question.

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If one can buy silicone spatulas and the like that advertise heat-proofness above 500 degrees, why can't one buy silicone-handled pots that are useful at the consumer level?

Silicone handles would help on the stove top, but not in the oven -- silicone eventually heats up (which is why it's used for bakeware). The "heat-proof" part refers to the fact that it won't melt, not that it doesn't get hot. That's the reason I think silicone potholders are a bad idea -- they're fine for a short time, but if you're holding a pan for a long period of time, say, to take cookies off a baking sheet, they become unbearably hot by the time you're done.

This sounds good to me.

My problem with using potholders or towels is that I generally feel clumsy handling the pan if I can't grip the handle directly. So, pans with stay-cool silicone handles for stove-top use, that are also oven-safe, sounds like a good compromise. I realize that the handles on things coming out of the oven are going to be hot, regardless of material -- I guess someone who's more a creature of habit might have a problem with that.

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stay cool handles can work just fine.

I have an aluminum saute pan that I bought at a restaurant supply store they had a bunch of silicon handles that one could fit over the aluminum handles for range top saute--when I am going to use the pan in the oven or under a broiler I remove the handle. (I believe the handle is "safe" to 500 degrees though).

also

I have several German made pans --non stick--I forget the name. They have "plastic" handles that are also good to use up to 500 degrees.

I also use towels with my pans that do not have heat proof handles--I love cast iron and probably use these guys more than any other pans from my Wagner stuff to the Le Creuset and others.

I just don't see this as a big issue.

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I understand the need for pots and pans in without stay cool handles (of any kind) in restaurant kitchens for most home cooks the conditions are different and stay cool handles can be a plus.

In what way can they be a plus? . . . Do they ever really work and stay meaningfully cool in a wide variety of situations where regular handles would not? In my experience, they simply don't work very well at not heating up. Sure, the handles on my 1 quart All-Clad saucepans don't get very hot when I'm making a little bechamel. But, then again, the cast iron handle on my Falk Culinair 1.5 quart sauteuse evasee doesn't tend to get very hot when I'm making a little bit more bechamel either. More to the point, however, the handles on both brands get hot of the pans sit on the stove doing a reduction for 45 minutes. I suppose the All-Clad's "stay cool" handles take a few minutes more to heat up, but this is not a meaningful difference in practical terms.

Well, just to put your theory to a test, I put two saucepans about 2/3 full of water on the stove, covered them, brought the water to a boil and then turned the heat down to keep the water simmering. One saucepan was a Demeyere Sirocco, 2 liters. The other was a 1.5 quart Mauviel professional pan.

The results:

At 15 minutes, the Mauviel was really warm, and by 20 minutes, I could hold the handle just long enough to slide the pan off the heat. At 25 minutes, it was too hot to lift at all, although I didn't burn my hand by simply touching the handle. I turned the heat off at that point, and a half hour later, it was still too hot to hold.

After more than an hour, I could still lift the Demeyere easily, and hold it more than long enough to carry it across the kitchen to the stove and empty it out.

(Incidentally, not that anyone asked, but at 5 minutes, the lid handle on the Mauviel was too hot to touch. The lid handle on the Demeyere was still cool at 1 hour.)

I'd say that's a meaningful difference.

That is a meaningful difference, but unfortunately it's not a very meaningful test for a number of reasons:

First, the handle on the Demeyere pan you're talking about is not a "stay cool" handle of the kind we have been describing. Are those handles hollow? The Sur La Table site describes them as "solid, cast 18/10 stainless steel." This works very well in this application because stainless steel has very poor thermal conduction properties. A solid, massive stainless steel handle will take a long time to heat up and may never heat up appreciably in the conditions of your experiment. A drawback of this design, however, is that once the handles do get hot (e.g., in the oven) they have accumulated a lot of thermal energy and will take an extra-long time to cool down. Anyway, the typical "stay cool" handle looks something like this, whereas Demeyere's handle looks like this -- completely different. As I said before, I'm not in love with welding as a method of handle attachment, but I think there's not much to worry about with respect to a smallish saucepan.

Second, all you have to do is look at the design of the two pans to see that a lot more thermal energy will be conducted into the handle of the Mauviel pan. The Mauviel pan is a straight-gauge heavy copper pan, with a nice thick layer of heat-conducting copper going right up the side of the pan and connecting directly to the handle. The Demeyere pan, on the other hand, is a disk-bottom pan. The conductive thermal material is on the bottom of the pan only, and the sides of the pan where the handle is attached are made of not-very-conductive stainless steel.

An ideal comparison would be to have two identical pans, one with a standard handle and one with a "stay cool" handle and compare them. Next best would be to have fundamentally similar pans (either two disk-bottom pans or two straight gauge pans with reasonably similar thermal characteristics). This would be something like comparing a 2 quart Mauviel saucepan with a 2 quart All-Clad MasterChef saucepan.

I should hasten to point out that I'm not 100% opposed to "stay cool" handles. I just have some issues with the most common shapes of them and the way they're attached, and I don't think they work well enough to make it worth those negatives. But a riveted-on, sturdy, firm-gripping handle that balances well with the weight of the pan and doesn't have the inherrent structural weakness of narrowing towards the pan sounds perfectly okay to me.


--

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I understand the need for pots and pans in without stay cool handles (of any kind) in restaurant kitchens for most home cooks the conditions are different and stay cool handles can be a plus.

In what way can they be a plus? . . . Do they ever really work and stay meaningfully cool in a wide variety of situations where regular handles would not? In my experience, they simply don't work very well at not heating up. Sure, the handles on my 1 quart All-Clad saucepans don't get very hot when I'm making a little bechamel. But, then again, the cast iron handle on my Falk Culinair 1.5 quart sauteuse evasee doesn't tend to get very hot when I'm making a little bit more bechamel either. More to the point, however, the handles on both brands get hot of the pans sit on the stove doing a reduction for 45 minutes. I suppose the All-Clad's "stay cool" handles take a few minutes more to heat up, but this is not a meaningful difference in practical terms.

Well, just to put your theory to a test, I put two saucepans about 2/3 full of water on the stove, covered them, brought the water to a boil and then turned the heat down to keep the water simmering. One saucepan was a Demeyere Sirocco, 2 liters. The other was a 1.5 quart Mauviel professional pan.

The results:

At 15 minutes, the Mauviel was really warm, and by 20 minutes, I could hold the handle just long enough to slide the pan off the heat. At 25 minutes, it was too hot to lift at all, although I didn't burn my hand by simply touching the handle. I turned the heat off at that point, and a half hour later, it was still too hot to hold.

After more than an hour, I could still lift the Demeyere easily, and hold it more than long enough to carry it across the kitchen to the stove and empty it out.

(Incidentally, not that anyone asked, but at 5 minutes, the lid handle on the Mauviel was too hot to touch. The lid handle on the Demeyere was still cool at 1 hour.)

I'd say that's a meaningful difference.

That is a meaningful difference, but unfortunately it's not a very meaningful test for a number of reasons:

First, the handle on the Demeyere pan you're talking about is not a "stay cool" handle of the kind we have been describing. Are those handles hollow? The Sur La Table site describes them as "solid, cast 18/10 stainless steel." This works very well in this application because stainless steel has very poor thermal conduction properties. A solid, massive stainless steel handle will take a long time to heat up and may never heat up appreciably in the conditions of your experiment. A drawback of this design, however, is that once the handles do get hot (e.g., in the oven) they have accumulated a lot of thermal energy and will take an extra-long time to cool down. Anyway, the typical "stay cool" handle looks something like this, whereas Demeyere's handle looks like this -- completely different. As I said before, I'm not in love with welding as a method of handle attachment, but I think there's not much to worry about with respect to a smallish saucepan.

Actually the mentioned Demeyer Siroco looks like this:

3_detail.jpg

and actually splits to disapate heat. I am not certain how effective they would be in your proposed test, but they look nice and are very comfortable, which is more than can be said about most stay cool.

I use an induction cooktop so only cast iron gets to hot to hold on the cooktop. The Demeyer never overheats on the cooktop and the lecruset has a stay cool plastic handle.

I tend to like towles for holding anything hot.


Edited by brucedelta (log)

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