The Drawbacks to Smooth Top Ranges

Heather says:
If you are in the market to buy a new electric range, be aware that there is an additional cost to factor into the purchasing decision; you may need new cookware. If you have older nonstick or thin bottomed pans, the pans may have warped which makes cooking on a smooth top range more difficult than it should be.

Thin pan bottoms are an issue with all ranges, but warped bottoms are especially frustrating on ceramic stoves.

With my mother-in-law’s permission I took this picture to illustrate what happens when warped pans are used on a smooth top electric range.

Do you see the large gap between the bottom of the pan and the burner? While the pan will eventually get hot, it will do so in an uneven fashion with hot spots where the burner is in contact with the pan and cooler spots where there are gaps. Unless the food being cooked is stirred constantly it will cook unevenly and may scorch ruining the entire dish.

If you are the owner of a smooth top range and frequently find yourself burning food items, the fault may not be your inexperience. Take a hard look at your pots and pans. Do the bottoms maintain full and even contact with the burner or do they rock? Are they discolered in areas? Rocking and scorch marks are tell-tale signs of low quality or damaged cookware.

Consider investing in a new set.

It doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive, either. Decent quality sets may be found for around $200 and occasionally when lines are discontinued or rebranded they can be found at closeout stores for less. I know, I know, that sounds horrendously expensive to some of you, but it’s an investment. Once you get past the low end sets, quality cookware comes with a warranty, and often a lifetime one at that.

If you are making the jump from nonstick to stainless, be aware that there is a learning curve. Unlike nonstick skillets, stainless skillets usually need to be preheated before adding the food when food is to be browned, sautéed, or pan fried. If this step is skipped, food will stick and it will be a very frustrating cooking experience.

Cast iron may be tempting, but if you have a ceramic or smoothtop range, be aware that the rough exterior of the pans will scratch the cook surface. It may not be noticeable at first, but over time these scratches dull the surface and trap food particles making the surface nearly impossible to keep clean. If you’re dead set on iron, consider enameled iron,and remember it doesn’t have to be Le Crueset. There are other less expensive brands out there. Sometimes a great way to save a few bucks is to buy the offbrand pans and swap out the knobs. Why? The offbrand knobs are frequently not rated for as high an oven-safe temperature as the higher quality brand name knobs.

As always when purchasing knock-off brands, use your judgement and do a little research beforehand. Check to make sure the company hasn’t been cited for using lead in the enamel or other hazardous practices.

Just so you know, the alternate title to this post should be, Flat Bottomed Pans Make the Cooking World Go ‘Round.

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Comments

  1. says

    Warped pans don't work well on regular electric burners, either. Besides, they're just a pain no matter your stove because everything runs to the center. Meh. Get something with a nice thick bottom. It costs a little more, but if you don't abuse it, it will outlast the cheaper pans by a long shot.

    Just to add one thing — when you're preheating your stainless steel pan, heat ONLY the pan. Do not add your cooking oil/butter. Put that in just before the food you're cooking. One thing that really sticks (ha!) with me from my years watching The Frugal Gourmet was his saying, "Hot pan, cold oil, food won't stick" — while it's not always true, it's a good rule of thumb.

    • Carye says

      I was just going to add the exact same comment you put in. Warped pans are just as horrible on electric burners. Thank you.

      Oh, and you also read my mind on *hot pan, cold oil, foods won't stick." This is something I am trying to teach my 15 year old daughter.

  2. says

    I hated our smooth top stove. Another drawback: if a pot boils over, there is no where for that boiling water to go but over the entire stove and down the front. And if you happen to be standing in front of the stove when that happens, your feet (or children) will get burned. Plus you'll have to clean the stove AND mop.

  3. says

    Our new house has a smooth cooktop. Definitely a learning curve. And the inexpensive cookware that I received as a wedding gift has seen better days, so it might be a good time to invest in a new set. Thanks for sharing this info, Heather!

  4. Jen says

    this was really helpful information, i'm planning on redoing my kitchen later this year and will likely get a smoothtop stove (no gas in my house so i'm stuck with electric as my only option). not sure about the cost of this, but what are the opinions out there on induction cooktops? either way i think i will keep my current pots and pans, which have seen better days, for a while during that "learning curve" period before investing in some new stuff so i don't go ruining some brand new ones!

    • casey says

      I have not cooked on an induction cooktop but the friends I know who have them love them. I have a ceramic smooth top which I hate, I only have it because it was in the house whne I moved in and I don't have the funds to replace it, I'm also stuck with electric as running gas to my stove would involve losing 3 or 4 cabinets to gas line.

  5. Deirdre says

    Another negative for the smooth top stoves is that they are often not recommended for canning as the glass can crack under the prolonged heat and weight of a water bath canner.

  6. says

    Heather,

    Thanks so much for the helpful insight. I have had the smooth top range and hated it for so many reasons, some of which are mentioned here already. Currently, I have the older style with heat coils and don’t like it much better. By far, my favorite way to cook is with a gas stove (which I used for 15 yrs or so) but that is not an option right now. Once the option is available again, you can bet I will switch back.

    Thanks again,

    Selena

  7. Mwinn says

    I hate my smooth top range. We have one pan that isn't warped but is weighted down by it's long stainless steel handle on one side. Luckily I guess, it has a small handle opposite the long one. I balance a small can of tomato paste on in the joint there to hold that side of the pan down. It stinks and probably isn't the best way to handle it but helps a little. What I would prefer is for the gas genie to miraculously install a gas line into my house and poof, new gas range.

  8. Keter says

    I have had a glass cooktop for 9 years now and love it. It does take some adjustments, but is so much better than regular electric or gas stoves, which also have hot spots, supports that are unsteady, and designed-in places that catch mess and are difficult to clean.

    I did buy new cookware two years ago, but my old stuff was cheap and worn out, so it was time anyway. I got a very nice stainless steel set from Sears for $150, and bought two more large stock pots from Big Lots, probably another $50. I also buy cast iron every time I find it on sale, and got two pieces of vintage Wagner from eBay…my favorite cast iron piece is very slightly warped on the bottom , but not so much that it causes trouble because cast iron distributes heat very well.

    You cannot "scoot" pots around on a glass cooktop because it will scratch: the manufacturer's directions will say that. Pick the pot up and put it down. Don't spin it, either. It's just a matter of retraining yourself. My cooktop has only one scratch on it and that came from a box my husband put down on it temporarily and scooted…there was a staple in the bottom. It's a small scratch and doesn't show unless the light catches it just so. It's a black surface, which helps.

    When I'm boiling something that is likely to splatter or boil over slightly, I just put a couple of damp dish towels down around the edges of the cooktop – close enough to keep liquid contained and far enough away to eliminate any risk of burning. The cooktop itself is installed in a butcher block top that has been sealed with gym floor acrylic sealer, which has proven perfectly durable to heat and moisture. I try to boil on the side farthest from the controls, so liquid can't get down into the electricals, even if that means rearranging the pots on the stove. If I must boil near the controls, I put a damp towel between the controls and the boiling pot. Of course, it is always best to stay nearby so boilovers don't occur, but even so, splashing can happen, and the damp towels help prevent injury or damage.

    When I spill something on the stove, I use a wet cellulose sponge to quickly wipe it up. Even if the edge of the "burner" is affected, this helps prevent anything from becoming burned on. I also scrub the bottoms of my stainless steel pots regularly to take off any oils that could transfer to the cooktop. This prevents the discolorations some complain about. Brasso does this well, then wash the Brasso off with soap and water.

    Lastly, watch what you use to clean the cooktop. Rags and sponges can trap sand or other particles that can scratch or scuff. I use water and detergent in a spray bottle and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. If something is burned on, I wet it and try to scrape it off with a fingernail, but if that fails, and it usually does, I try a bit of Brasso and a blue scrubber advertised to not scratch. If that fails, I use a single edge razor blade, held at an angle, and with very little pressure applied. That always works. I also clean the cooktop at least once a week with white vinegar, quickly wiped on with the Magic Eraser and immediately removed with a damp towel so it doesn't have time to etch. This gets off ever microsopic bit of grease and any minerals that may have come from hard water splashes. I love the fact that I can always keep the cooktop perfectly clean, and it does not harbor that funky smell that inevitably gets into other stoves.

    • ID says

      I really like out smooth top stove. The only complaint I have is the placement of the knobs on top.
      The knobs make it very hard to clean the surface and if you pull them off, all the dirt falls down the hole
      the knob sticks out of. I see they have some now that are knobless and I would look at those hard before I purchased a smooth top stove.
      Also, make sure you get one with enough power (wattage?) Using my first smooth top range was like putting a pan on the exhaust of a jet engine. The water got hot rapidly. It was great. When I remodeled the kitchen and went with a smooth top cook top, I must have stepped down a few hundred watts because it now takes forever to heat water…..well, not forever, but much longer then the old range.

      Just my 2 cents worth. Hope it helps someone.
      Irving Drinkwine

  9. Robin Hillyer Miles says

    I have a glass cooktop and love it as well. I use a cast iron pan on mine but only for frying eggs and burgers. i don't let it get too hot and I don't move it around while cooking. ____And my housecleaner cleans it once every two weeks for me – I have no idea what she uses but it sure does shine!

  10. Anna says

    I love my new glass cooktop, but have had problems with warped pots. I have "All Clad Stainless Steel" pots and only a few are warped. Is it something I'm doing to make it warp? or is it something that happens over time? Is there a solution? I can't stand when it spins? Maybe someone has a suggestion. Thanks.

  11. Gary says

    New GE glass top stove. Water won’t boil notwithstanding flat aluminum or stainless steel pots. element goes on and off. i know safety sensor, but i hope that the sensor can be adjusted. open electric coils would boil water in 12 minutes. here, the water temperature on the glass top only reaches 205 fahrenheit, no matter how long the pot sits.. I have only waited up to 45 minutes so far. Won’t be able to make any candy dishes that require hard ball stage again.

  12. E Sanchez says

    Got a Whirlpool flat top range…wife hates it. Hates it. Temperature control in over is difficult and then on top, there doesn’t seem to be a “low” setting. Even on low what she cooks boils….burns. Gonna have to get her something else! What I am curious of is do all flat top ranges have issues with temperature particularly on top? Is low a real low and a high a high on most?

  13. Randy Miller says

    I am renting a place with a glass top stove. I hate it with a passion. I would much rather have an old style electric. The heat is uneven, and I do not like having to be so careful with it. I also hate having to clean the stupid thing every time I cook. Even if the pan is clean on the bottom, I often find something stuck to the burner. It might possibly be one of the worst things ever invented.