What do you need high BTU for?

eleenaApril 9, 2012

I have read countless threads about gas vs. induction, open burner vs. sealed, etc.

The only thing most people mention when it comes to the need for high BTU is woking or bringing water to boil faster.

Neither concerns me much as I don't do any woking and even if I decide to do it, I'd probably use an outside grill. If I need to boil water fast, I use my electric kettle.

What other kind of cooking needs high BTU?

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Pan searing would be another use. Sometimes it's nice to have a little extra heat for sauteing. But if you don't feel the need in your cooking for more heat, don't get it!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 3:12AM
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Does your electric kettle boil enough water for pasta or just for tea? Might you one day want to expand your cooking horizons and try woking? Never say never...

I agree with Colin--sear and saute.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 3:16AM
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Question along these lines - I have already purchased the Wolf rangetop with the grill. The grill is super hot. It is not installed yet. I know I can sear on it but can I saute on it? Or wok? I just looked at a Culinarian video where they used a griddle on the Culinarian grill. That got my wheels turning . . .

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 8:29AM
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Only real reason for anything over 15,000BTU is just Wok cooking and even then if you use a Wok ring and a good carbon steel Wok 15,000BTU works just fine.
Is a 100,000BTU dragon volcano better for Wok cooking? Yep, if you own a Chinese restaurant with customers waiting and you don't have hair on your arms.
The difference between 15k to 22k in boiling a large pot of water is what a minute or two at most?
I couldn't care less about that.

The pot/pan you use has just as much affect as upping the BTU from 15 to 22K BTU.

You can pan sear like a mad man on 15K btu if you use a De Buyer Mineral steel pan, it will get witching red hot.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 8:58AM
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I had this very discussion just the other night with a top restaurateur. His comment was exactly the same as nunyabiz' and something I've said in the past though people here don't like it and don't agree. The way burners deliver heat, adjustments, and cookware can be more important that the burner style. That's not saying one is good or the other bad.

A well designed 15K burner, which I had on my previous very inexpensive Bertazzoni, boils water for pasta quickly enough and gives me enough power to saute anything properly.

The exception is power for a wok and for that I'd want upwards of 20K -- the Viking wok range had 27,500 btus. If you do Chinese cooking and can get close to that on a simmer plate you're golden.

But for most people, 15K should be fine.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 9:16AM
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Thank you!

I guess I am thinking along the same lines as Nunya and Rococogurl.

If I use a thick pan, like cast iron or very good clad, that can hold the heat, wouldn't that be enough for searing and sauteeing?

I get my cast iron skillet reaaly hot for searing and it does the job just fine, IMHO. A friend of mine used to be a professional cook. They are temporarily renting an appartment with an old gas stove that probably has no more than 3-4K per burner. She is preparing delicious meals on it just the same. For high heat cooking, she uses an ourside grill.

And what's up with fast water boiling? I really don't get it.

Pasta takes 6-10 minutes to cook in boiling water while the meat sauce takes a lot longer than that. I normally start the (half-filled) pot as well as the tea kettle at the same time I start sauteeing onions, then add the boiling water from the kettle to the pot. The pasta is often ready before the sauce.

Why would I pay $$$$ to gain 2 minutes? The same question about speed ovens. If I am in a real hurry, I can use a left-over or make a sandwich. Why try to make a dinner in 20 minutes? And even so, there are recipes to be made in 15-20 minutes w/o a speed oven, no?

I guess I am so used to making "do", though some things I cannot live without, like a convection oven or a Vitam-Mix blender. :-)

BTW, I do stir-frying in my large cast iron pan and if you ask me, it tastes better than any commercial Chinese food around here, LOL, b/c we don't have good Asian restaurants in the "woods" I live in. I am going to start woking soon, though and need to take it into consideration.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 10:34AM
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Agree with Nunyabiz1 and rococogurl.

Cast iron can retain a lot of heat. Last summer we stir fried shrimp in my cast iron skillet on a rickety small electric burner. We had great ventilation with a brisk sea breeze. We stir fried shrimp a pound at a time with no reheating of the skillet and it got hotter and hotter. On the last batch, the fat vaporized in a puff, traveled, and set off the smoke alarm on the outside of the building and the fire department came. Don't underestimate the power of cast iron to heat.

I think the higher BTUs might get your pan hotter a little faster but I can sear, saute and stir fry with no problems.

For me and the way I cook, it would not be worth giving up the very low heat on all my burners that I use daily. When I bought my range the low end of heat was not even a consideration. The talk on this forum was all about high BTUs.

Others of course would not give up the high end of heat and love it.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 10:51AM
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Sealed Vs open burner is just a matter of personal preference. You don't need burners larger than 15k for any thing other than dedicated wok cookery. That includes searing. When searing you never load a cold pan so the big difference between a 15K burner and 22K burner is that you might (MIGHT) have to let your pan heat up for an extra minute. The real world difference is nominal. For stir frying if you have more than one burner you can use more than one pan. ;)

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 11:16AM
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There are two factors with cookware: conductivity and responsiveness. There is a conductivity scale for metals, just as there is for wood hardness. As I recall, sterling silver is most conductive followed by copper and, in descending order aluminum, iron, stainless steel.

Any metal will heat up and, depending on the length of time you leave it, get as someone put it "wicked hot." So sure, you can blacken something or stir fry in cast iron.

But, cast iron does not heat up and cool down quickly -- iow it is not as responsive as copper or aluminum. My old-fashioned French hammered copper pans are amazing that way as they are very responsive on any type of heat plus they spread the heat very evenly over the bottom and up the sides -- mitigating burner style and btu. I've offered to do a throwdown on this. I offer again.

The less responsive and conductive the material (and depending on manufacture) the more likely you are to get hot spots from the burner configuration.

In part, this is why sandwich cookware has become standard. Stainless is used for cleaning (it will go into the dw), non-reactivity and durability with higher metal conductivity in the bottom -- copper and aluminum typically. The thickness of the conductive material and the design of the pan -- how far the disc extends in the base and whether the "sandwich" is intergral i.e. bottom and up the sides or whether it is just in the bottom (so you do get a visible difference in conductivity when cooking) determines results.

elena, your friend who does delicious meals on a totally unfabulous range is a good example. The two best cooks I've ever known had awful stoves, too. But why not have a wonderful one, budget willing?

Yes, the lower the btu the slower the heat up. Some cooks are very impatient. They want those 6 quarts of water for pasta to boil very quickly. But so far I haven't seen a competitive, creditable test of high btu vs induction speed for example.

Thing is, it's not essential to have super high BTUs unless you want them. Ditto for open burners. And, I don't agree that having a "better" range makes you a better cook. It makes it easier to cook, and can produce better results with lower quality cookware, but that doesn't mean the food will taste better. Of course, that can depend on who is doing the tasting.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 11:33AM
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Very much agree with rococogurl. You can heat up a cast iron pan very hot but once you throw that steak in it it's a game of how many BTUs you can put back into it versus how much is being absorbed by the meat. Being able to caramelize vegetables without softening them or brown meat without it squeezing out all the liquid is the realm of high heat.

Having a high heat open burner allows me to use cheaper, more responsive cookware. I have all but converted to all aluminum cookware from a restaurant supply store. $40 for a 12" non-stick pan.

So, do you NEEED high BTUs to make a great meal? Of course not, but I think it goes way beyond having pasta water boil a minute faster. You can't escape the physics.

Just my thoughts, and yes, true whether gas or induction or whatever.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 1:01PM
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I have a 15 year old Viking that delievers 15K max BTU. I make just about everything on this. I 'wok' fine enough, but I do wish it had a bit more oomph for the wok cooking. However, the Viking has an incredible simmer. I would not want to give up the simmer for a cooktop that get a higher heat.

I like the fact that I can make spaghetti sauce in a 9 quart le Creuset without worries about burning it. I don't know if I am able to simmer without burning because of my $300 cookware or because of the simmer on the Viking. Either way, it works for me. It works so well that I played the piano yesterday while the sauce was simmering. After making a ginormous amount of sauce, I freeze the dinner portions of sauce for later times. My kids refuse to eat store bought spaghetti sauce. I am giving you an example of why a good simmer is really important to me.

For a short while, I had one of those $300 gas range that probably delievered 5K max BTU. It was less preferable than a coil top electric that I had used before. I could not live with that gas cooktop.. At the time, I did not have any good cookware. So I don't know if I could have compensate for the lack of heat in that range with good cookware. I swapped it out for a gas range that put out 12K max. That was fine for 99% of my cooking even with my less than ideal cookware.

A cheap electric coil puts out way more heat than a real cheap gas burner, IMHO. But you are not looking at a $300 rental/starter gas range.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 1:32PM
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Thank you, Elena for asking this question. In doing so, you have prompted one of the most intelligent discussions about range performance on the GW I have ever read here. (At least so far). :-)

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 2:18PM
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There is no problem searing a steak on 15K BTU at all. The range we had at our cottage had 22K BTU burners which seemed a lot more like feel good marketing than any real benefit. Physics work well in theory but when marketing gets involved there's more than just a little wiggle room involved.
Quality cookware can make a big difference at any BTU. It's not a benefit that only works with higher or lower BTU's.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 3:24PM
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Thank you everyone who has responded!

Yes, I wouldn't go lower than 15K. I was just wondering if I REALLY needed 22K.


I wanted to comment on one of your statements:

"Having a high heat open burner allows me to use cheaper, more responsive cookware. I have all but converted to all aluminum cookware from a restaurant supply store. $40 for a 12" non-stick pan."

As far as I know, aluminum cookware is not good health-wise and cheap non-sticks may not be either. This is not meant to be critical, just FYI. You don't need to take my word for it, I believe it has been widely discussed. I understand that more research is needed, so to speak, but I personally would like to play it safe and wouldn't pay top $$$ for a cooktop and use cheap cookware. That is why I invested major $$$ in quality pots and pans ~2 years ago and it made a difference.


LOL. I have been around GW (on and off) for awhile and have read a lot of threads.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 4:08PM
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Neither aluminum nor cured Teflon are a hazard to people.

Burning Teflon and Teflon manufacture are problems(uncured Teflon is a hazard).

Early reports of aluminum and Alzheimer have been refuted.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 5:40PM
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About "claims being refuted": "not proven guilty" does not mean "not guilty".

Well-seasoned cast iron is practically NS. Even if food sticks a little to my SS cookware (it normally does NOT), it comes right off after just a few minutes of soaking.

Why would I want to take my chances when I can do without any kind of Teflon?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 6:02PM
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You don't absolutely need a V6 engine in a sedan. It does come in handy at times, such as passing another car on the freeway. If you've never driven an V6 before, you likely won't miss it, especially if you have a nice I4 engine. However, once you've driven a bigger engine for a while, it's tough to go back to a regular I4 engine.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 6:45PM
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As far as I know, aluminum cookware is not good health-wise and cheap non-sticks may not be either. This is not meant to be critical, just FYI.

You're talking about the suggestion of getting Alzheimer's from the aluminum and the breakdown of Teflon at high temperatures.

As for the first part, it's a myth, the "study" done 50 years ago has been thoroughly debunked. (Like so many other "studies" from that era.) Plus if I use bare aluminum it is anodized.

About the second, I use Vollrath CerameGuard which is not Teflon, if I need non stick. Those Vollrath pans are awesome and cheap. Same way we have to spend $10,000 for the residential version of a commercial $2,500 Vulcan.

If what you said above were true than restaurants all over the planet are systematically poisoning the population. Now, that might be true, but more for the nutritional content than the cooking vessels! ;-)


Here is a link that might be useful: Commercial cookware can set you free

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 8:38AM
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The problem with a 15K burner is that most are closed, which makes it very hard to get 15K out of it unless you are using a very large pan. At top power you get a ring of flame that lips up the side of most pots. It is horribly inefficient, cooks unevenly and leads to boil overs from superheating the pan sides. So you end up lowering the heat to keep the flame underneath the pot or pan.

A cast iron pan works for only one style of cooking. It doesn't allow you to raise or lower the heat quickly, which is rather the entire point of getting a gas range in the first place.

Also, ranges with 15K burners often have only one on a 30" cooktop. This cuts back on your flexibility a great deal.

Let's also get real here regarding boiling. A pot of water does not take 6-10 minutes to come to a boil on a 15K closed burner. Although I'm getting pretty close with my new TurboPot with fins on the bottom.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 9:08AM
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Viking makes 15K open burners and all the burners are 15K even on some 30" models. I'm not really a fan of any sealed burner irrespective of the BTU rating.
The burner flame will not lip around the side of most pots IME with a circle burner but that's really a different topic than BTU. My small Calphalon pots are not even effected by that let alone a pan for searing or frying.
It is more of an issue with small rounded edge bottom pans or perhaps a Windsor pot but star burners of any flavor still have the same issue in those cases. This is why burners need to be completely adjustable between simmer and hi.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 9:33AM
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I have a BS with both 22K and 15K and definitely notice the difference. As everyone else points out, wok cooking is the most dramatic difference; the others are more subtle and have more to do with speeding up cooking than with results you can see and taste in the final dish. I find that the extra BTUs are not just useful for boiling big pots of water or for cooking at high temperatures -- having the extra heat always comes in handy when bringing a pan full of cold ingredients up to whatever cooking temperature you need, even if you are just going to saute or simmer it. When dealing with larger quantities, I almost always start cooking on the 22K burner turned up to high. When the food comes up to temperature and evaporates off its initial liquid (i.e. starts to saute rather than steam), I will turn it down, or move it to the 15K burner if I have something else that needs the high heat. I feel like I'm always racing the clock to get a meal done and on the table as quickly as possible, so I appreciate any help I can get.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 11:48AM
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I said 6-10 minutes in BOILING water, i.e., AFTER the water has started to boil.

BTW, I am not arguing with anyone, just trying to understand the logic as well as how "high" it really needs to be. :-) So far, it seems that 18K may suffice for the way I cook and I may not need to shell out $$$$ to get to 22K.


I see that you have done your research and made your choice. Just wanted to make sure.

I too spent an insane amount of time reading about cookware when I was replacing mine. I do have a couple of Calphalon Commercial non-sticks that have a baked-on coating and I am not getting rid of them - not yet. I do not use any aluminum, anodized or not, but that is a personal choice. If I need something "reactive", I'll use some version of copper.

However, the fact that Teflon does not kill people as fast as it kills birds is NOT a proof that it is safe. It is enough to know that it kills birds to conclude that there MAY be risks to humans, we just don't drop dead right away. However, it is very hard to study the long-term effects of it because of too many confounders. Plus, somebody needs to fund such study.

"If what you said above were true than restaurants all over the planet are systematically poisoning the population."

But they very well might be. However, the governemnt won't do anything about it for several reasons. First of all, eating out is a choice we make, so they don't need to regulate it unless immediate poisoning is involved. Also, they can't really regulate it - in absense of convincing evidence. But that does not mean it is safe. Fast food restaurants have been slowly "poisoning" the population (in terms of nutrition) but we are yet to see anything serious done about it. So, the argument that restaurants use it means nothing.

OK, I did not mean to start a "healthy eating" discussion here, there are other websites for that. :-)

And cookware is discussed "to death" on the Cookware forum. I just was not sure what you meant by "cheap cookware".

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 11:58AM
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I have enjoyed reading all these posts. As I too am in the market and weighing all the options (lots of options).
I am looking at the Wolf AG range. It has 6 open burners all 16,000 BTU's. So open burners may put out mre heat than closed burners right? As far as boiling and woking an extra minute here and there really doen't make mush difference to me. Elena is the price significant and do you like everything else about the higher btu's range? My sales rep told me the difference of a higher btu's sounds more than what is actually put out and to try both to actually see the difference or no difference. Good Luck.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 12:24PM
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Not all 15K burners are designed as marcolo describes. On my very inexpensive Bertazzoni stove the 15K burner was a star shape dual tier with two double rings of flame. Pans heated evenly, water boiled quickly -- it simply wasn't equivalent to what marcolo describes.

Closed burners can be very powerful if the machining and gas supply are properly done and the burners are sufficiently adjustable.

The argument about inefficient heat supply and flames lapping up and around pans certainly could be made about open-burner ranges.

Some folks need more than one 15K burner on a 30" range and some do not. I think too often generalizations are inaccurate. A bad-quality open burner may not necessarily be better than a good-quality closed burner. It really depends on the quality.

Cookware can definitely boost the performance. My hammered copper stockpot is a faster heat conductor than the same-size Le Creuset on any burner, large or small, open or closed.

Preference and cooking styles make all the difference.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 12:41PM
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I would not buy a range that didn't have at least 2 high power burners (>16k btu). I'm not wild about those double ring closed burners, usually the center ring is only 2 or 3k btu so really contributes very little to having even heat distribution, except for creating a possible tiny hot spot. Closed burners are really more of a marketing scam.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 1:05PM
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I do not use any aluminum, anodized or not, but that is a personal choice. If I need something "reactive", I'll use some version of copper.
Just a friendly FYI anodized alimunum is not reactive. Neither is most copper today as it's almost always lined with SS or tin. :)

@Sue 16k open burners on the Wolf sounds very nice.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 2:16PM
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Sorry, Eleena, I'm going to have to rescind my rating. lol

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 4:57PM
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