Why Does The Handle Of The Saucepan Get Hot When It's On The Stove?

Ossiana Tepfenhart
by Ossiana Tepfenhart

When I’m in the kitchen, I often have to grab a saucepan’s handle while it’s been firing up food on the stovetop. It’s a classic part of cooking. Without fail, the handle on my saucepan will heat up. How much it heats up can vary, but it’ll be warm to the touch at the very least. Have you ever wondered what the deal was with this?

The handle of your saucepans will heat up as a result of feeling the heat radiating from the stovetop’s burner. If your stovetop doesn’t have a heat-protective handle, the heat from the handle will be able to travel up through the metal more efficiently. The smaller your saucepan is, the closer to the heat the handle will be, exacerbating this effect.

Home cooks who love making a hot meal already know this phenomenon a little too well. However, that doesn’t mean that you know the full deal. Here’s a little more information on how to avoid handle burns and why your saucepan’s handle gets so darn hot when you’re whipping up dinner.

Why Does The Handle Of The Saucepan Get Hot When It’s On The Stove?

The simplest answer is that your saucepan’s handle gets exposed to heat while you’re cooking. When you light the stove, the heat from the fire will also radiate out from underneath it. This will lead your pan’s handle to “catch” some of the heat. The closer the handle is to the heat, the more warmth your handle will get.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that metal is an excellent conductor of heat. This means that the heat from the bottom of the pan can travel up the handle. This is especially true about smooth handles, which have textures that make it easy to conduct heat from one point or another.

Why Do Saucepans Have Metal Handles If They Can Get So Hot?

At first glance, you might be wondering why any saucepan would be made with a metal handle knowing that it could potentially burn a cook. However, there’s a method to the madness. Metal also happens to be heat resistant. A saucepan with a metal handle won’t have its handle melt off or crack due to the high heat it conducts.

Moreover, metal also doesn’t retain heat for very long–unlike clay or stone. This means that most metal saucepans will cool off faster than their other culinary counterparts. So, while those handles can get hot, they won’t stay hot as long as they normally would.

How Does The Size Of A Saucepan Impact The Heat At The Handle?

Smaller saucepans will bring handles closer to the source of the flame. The closer the handle gets to the flame, the more heat they will get from said flame. Since saucepan handles aren’t going to be very long on a tiny saucepan, the amount of time it takes for the heat to travel up the handle will also shrink. This leads to a hotter saucepan handle, overall.

How Does The Burner Type Impact Handle Heat?

Gas burners on a stove have a curtain of hot air around them, just due to the nature of combustion. This can cause your pan handles to become hotter than they would on an electric stovetop that has even heating that is brought directly to the pan’s surface without any source of combustion to be seen.

How Can I Tell If My Pan Is Oven Proof?

The primary reason why so many saucepans have metal handles deals with being able to use them in the oven. Though most pans can be placed in the oven, not all can. To check if your pan is oven-proof, look at the bottom of the pan. There should be a symbol there saying it’s oven-friendly if it is.

Another good way to figure out whether or not your saucepan is meant to go in the oven is to check the box it came in, or search up the model you ordered online. Most packaging will give you information regarding product use, and that goes for saucepans, too.

Do Stainless Steel Handles Get Hot?

In general, stainless steel is known to be a poor heat conductor. Because of this, stainless steel makes a great choice for sturdy cookware handles. However, depending on the design of the pot or pan, stainless steel handles can still get hot. There are a number of different types stainless steel handles, including:

  • Hollow-core cast stainless steel handles are, as the name describes, hollow on the inside. They remain cool longer than their solid counterparts and are oven safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Solid cast stainless steel handles are durable cookware handles that come in a variety of shapes for aesthetics and grip comfort. They are also safe for use in the oven.
  • Stainless steel tubular handles are oven safe and durable. In construction, stainless steel is formed into a tubular shape, which creates an inside air flow up the shank of the handle. This helps to slow the buildup of heat from the pan to the handle.

Regardless of the type of stainless steel handle, the length of the handle and heat setting will determine how long it stays cool to the touch. As a general rule of thumb, longer stick handles will stay cooler longer than shorter side ones. However, if the you have a stick handle on a smaller skillet, it will heat up faster since the handle is closer to the heat source.

With that being said, how quickly a stainless steel handle heats up is directly related to how far it is from the source of heat while cooking.

How Can I Prevent Myself From Getting Burned While Cooking?

If you’re worried about burning your hand by touching a hot saucepan handle, I totally understand it. It only takes one touch to a hot pan to realize how much it can sting. Thankfully, modern technology made it possible to find a saucepan with a handle that won’t burn you and won’t cause mishaps. Here’s how to keep yourself safe:

  • Look for a saucepan handle with a heat-resistant cover. For example, having a high-temperature silicone gripper on the end of a saucepan will protect sensitive hands from the burn. Some companies even make their own pan-specific grippers you can slip on before you start cooking.
  • Choose cookware that matches the size of your burner. Make sure that the base of your saucepan is relatively close to the size of the burner you are using. This will allow the heat to be distributed appropriately and prevent handles from heating up too quickly.
  • Use saucepans with textured handles. For some reason, textured handles tend to be less efficient at conducting heat. This can reduce the chances of getting burned. You can also look for a thinner handle when you’re shopping for saucepans, since these can “shed” heat faster.
  • When lifting your saucepan, use a rag or a glove. The best way to prevent burns is to put a barrier between the saucepan and your hand. A rag, a glove, or a silicone pot holder will work well here.
  • Choose a saucepan that’s heat-resistant and advertised as such. Looking for heat-proofed handles can be a major help to your hands.
  • When using a saucepan or two on the stove, turn the handle inward and way from the front of the stove. This can help prevent you from accidentally knocking over the handle and causing hot liquids to spill on the floor. Since handles are hot, it can also help you avoid a burn from the handle, too.
  • If burns are a regular occurrence, switch from a gas stove to an electric one. This will keep your pan handles a little cooler, but it may not always be doable. Additionally, many people prefer gas cooking simply because of the fact that it’s usable during blackouts.

Our Final Take

Feeling the heat from the fire dancing on your saucepan’s handle is something that is a part of cooking. Due to the laws of physics, you’re not going to be able to find a saucepan with a handle that doesn’t heat up while you’re cooking. Because heat travels through metal, and because heat radiates off the burner, you’re bound to have some kind of heat in your saucepan’s handle.

Though some heat is guaranteed, there’s no reason to assume that you will need to burn your hand every time you cook. Choosing the right pan, ideally one that is advertised for being cool to the touch at the handle, is a good way to make sure that you don’t have hot hands during cooking. Additionally, positioning your saucepan the right way and cooking on an electric stove can help.

Not sure if your pan handle’s heat-resistant, or have sensitive hands? When working with a pan and high heat, the best thing you can do to protect your hands is to use a saucepan gripper. Silicone grips, or even just a rag that you use in the kitchen, will protect your hands from burns.

Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart

Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.

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