There are different heat levels for a stove. Each one is appropriate for certain types of cooking and certain stages in cooking. Of all the heat levels, the lowest can be tricky.
So what is low heat on the stove?
Low heat on the stove is between 200 °F (~93 °C) and 300 °F (~150 °C). It is best used for slow cooking and smoking. Heat is also measured in terms of British Thermal Units (BTUs). A BTU is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water to 1 °F. Low heat is between 500 and 2,000 BTUs.
Each stove is different.
Knowing how to use the heat levels on your stove is one of the first steps in becoming a good cook. It also lets you save money on electricity or fuel. So if you just got a new stove or are new to cooking, you’ll want to keep reading so you do better in the kitchen.
Stove Heat Levels
There are three major heat levels: Low, medium, and high. Then there are in-betweens, like low-medium and medium-high. Low heat will be what this article is about, but here’s a brief run through the other heat levels.
Medium heat is typically between 300 °F (~150 °C) and 400 °F (~205 °C). It is good for most cooking methods, like frying meats and vegetables.
You use the in-betweens when cooking certain types of foods. For example, you might use medium-high for pan-searing delicate cuts of steaks. Beef tenderloin is a lean cut but has a delicate, butter-like texture. So some use medium-high to pan-sear beef tenderloin to get medium-rare doneness
Types of Stoves And Heat Levels
There are 3 common types of stoves in a modern home: gas, electric, and induction. There are other types, like wood and downward draft stoves. But the first three are what you’ll most likely encounter.
Gas stoves use combustible gas as the fuel source to create a flame. Some of the gas these stoves may use are syngas, propane, butane, and more. A gas tank is connected to the stove via a hose.
You turn a knob or valve on the gas tank so it can let its contents flow in the hose. The gas then enters the stove. When you turn on the stove, it ignites the gas to create a flame. Modern gas stoves use 2 types of ignition, standing pilot and electric.
A stove with a standing pilot has a small gas flame that is always burning. This flame is called a pilot light. It burns under the cooktop. The pilot light is between the front and back burners. When you turn the stove on, the pilot light ignites the gas flowing out of the burners.
Electric ignition is sometimes called “pilotless ignitions”. These stoves use electric sparks to ignite the surface burners. When you turn the stove on, you hear clicking sounds right before the flame starts.
The clicking sounds are from the sparks. You start the spark by turning the stove know to a position usually labeled “LITE”. Sometimes there is an ignition button instead.
Heat Levels on a Gas Stove
Once you have a flame going, you turn the stove knob to control it. The larger the flame, the higher the heat level. The dial is divided into numbers or levels that can go all the way up to 10. Each level is divided in terms of BTU.
Since the BTUs for low heat isn’t a fixed number but a range, low heat for a gas stove can correspond to more than 1 heat level. If the gas stove has many heat levels, say 8 or 10, then low heat would correspond to the first two or three heat levels. If there are only a few heat levels, say 5, then low heat would correspond to the first.
Sometimes, the stove doesn’t have of having arbitrary numbers on the dial. Instead, it has the estimated or expected temperature at each level.
An electric stove uses an electrical heating device. Instead of burners, electronic stoves have heating elements. Some people still call them burners though. The heating elements are usually eclectic coil. The coils can be completely exposed or they can run beneath the tops. When you turn the dial, electricity runs through the coils to heat them up.
Some electric stoves have a smooth glass-ceramic top. The coils run beneath this. The coils radiate their heat through the glass-ceramic via infrared energy. Glass-ceramic is a poor conductor of heat. Thus, the heat transfer is mostly between the coils and the cookware. The surrounding area is relatively cool.
Some electric stoves have a halogen electric cooktop. In this type, the heating elements are rings of halogen bulbs. The bulbs are under the glass instead of electric coils.
Heat Levels On An Electric Stove
The electric flow determines the heat level on an electric stove. If you turn the dial to higher levels, more electricity flows, and the hotter heating elements get. Like with gas stoves, the heat levels can be labeled with numbers. Low heat would correspond to the lower levels. Low heat would be 1 if the dial only goes up to 5 or 6. Low heat would be between 1 and 3 if the dial goes up to 8 or 10.
Keep in mind that the heat levels also correspond with electricity use. The lower the heat, the less electricity you use. Each heating element can use up to between 2,000 and 5,000 watts.
At low heat, they can use around 400 watts. But each stove is different. Your particular stove can have unique electric consumptions. So if you’re also concerned by how much electricity you use when cooking, then check your stove’s manual.
Induction stoves use the concept of induction to create heat. Like electric stoves, induction stoves use electricity to create heat. But the electricity running through the stove doesn’t create the heat itself. The electricity passes through a coiled copper wire underneath the cooking surface. The copper coil turns into an electromagnet and creates a magnetic field. Yes, it’s a lot of science, but you can manage.
When you put cookware on the surface, the magnetic field can affect the cookware. The effect is an electric current within the cookware. But this current is also resisted by the cookware. The end result of resisting this current is heated.
In essence, the stove never heats up, the cookware does. When you remove the cookware, the stove surface will be hot, but not because it is heated. It will be hot because it was in contact with the hot cookware.
An induction stove is more efficient than gas and electric stoves. The main reason is that little heat energy is lost. With gas and electric stoves, the heat transfers from the stove to the cookware.
During the transfer, some heat will get lost in the surroundings, like the air. With an induction stove, there is no heat transfer from the stove to the cookware.
For an induction stove to work, the cookware must be magnetic. This material includes cast iron or magnetic stainless steel. Fortunately, induction stoves are now so common, magnetic cookware is readily available.
To find out if any of the cookware you have is compatible with induction cooking, just bring a magnet close to it. If the magnet sticks, then it’s compatible.
If you have cookware that isn’t compatible with induction stoves, don’t fret. You can also buy an induction cooktop adaptor or simply induction adaptor. Some people use the word “converter” instead of “adaptor”. They’re like pizza peels made of inductive material like magnetic stainless steel.
You put this adaptor on your induction stove, then you put your cookware on the adaptor. The adaptor heats up via induction. Then it heats up your cookware via conduction. But keep in mind that the cookware heating is less effective. Some of the heat transferred from the adaptor to the cookware is lost to the environment
Heat Levels On An Induction Stove
Because heating by an induction stove is so efficient, the heat levels are more reliable. Induction stoves have become so popular that almost all have digital displays.
The heat levels are typically indicated by the temperature itself. But some may still use an arbitrary number between 1 and 10. You can adjust the temperature at certain intervals, like 10 or 20 degrees. Some induction stoves may even have preprogrammed functions to go to low, medium, or high heat.
Like with electric stoves, the heat levels correspond with electricity use. So if you’re also concerned with electricity consumption, check your stove’s manual.
Using Low Heat
Now you’re familiar with the stove’s work and what low heat is. You can now better know how to use low heat for cooking.
Slow cooking is generally done between 170 °F (~77 °C) and 280 °F (~138 °C) over several hours. Because of low temperatures, it is done over several hours, hence the name.
Some people refer to slow cooking as “all-day cooking without looking”. The reason is you don’t have to watch over it while it’s cooking. Below are some things you need when you use low heat for slow cooking.
You use a pot for slow cooking, and you use a liquid as the cooking medium. You need to keep whatever you’re cooking submerged in that liquid like water or broth. Keeping the food submerged ensures even cooking all throughout.
However, don’t fill your pot to the brim. The pot will be closed throughout the process. Thus, when the liquid evaporates, it has nowhere to go. The vapors will just condense back to the liquid.
The liquid level can go down still go down because some vapors will escape. But it will go down very slowly. If the pot is filled to the brim, you risk overspilling once the liquid starts bubbling. The pot should be 3/4 full with all the solids submerged.
While it’s okay to cook large cuts of meat or vegetables, make sure they are thawed first, especially meat. If you put frozen meat in the pot, it will take time before it starts cooking.
You will be forced to cook for longer. You even risk spoiling the whole pot. Bacteria might proliferate in the beginning. The bacteria can create off-flavors that remain throughout the cooking process.
Smoking is another cooking method done at low heat. It is typically done between 225 °F (~107 °C) to 250 °F (~121 °C). You usually smoke on a grill, but you can also do it on a stovetop using cookware called a stovetop smoker. A stovetop smoker is a small metal with a wire rack and a tray at the bottom.
You put the food on the rack and the tray catches any drippings. The smoker has a lid to keep the smoke from escaping. There are no electronic parts. The only additional materials you will need to smoke using your stovetop are the wood chips.
Some of the common wood chips for smoking are hickory, maple, and oak. As smoke from the wood pass through the food, it imparts flavors. Each wood has its own.
You place about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of wood chips in the bottom of the smoker. Then you place the drip tray, the rack, and the food. If you will smoke foods that might slip between the rack, you can place an aluminum foil on the rack. Set your stove to low heat.
Once smoke appears, close the smoker with the lid. Cooking time depends on which food you are smoking. Meats usually smoke for 6 to 10 hours, but some can take much longer. Vegetables and plant-based foods like tofu can smoke for only a few minutes.
Simmering is a cooking method where you bring a liquid just below the boiling point. Simmering temperature is usually between 185 °F (85 °C) and 205 °F (~96 °C). A liquid is simmering when it is gently bubbling. Most stews, braises, soups, and sauces are cooked by simmering.
You often see recipes tell you to bring a liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Doing this method ensures the liquid reaches the proper temperature. It also makes reaching simmering temperature fast. The simmering time is between 20 and 45 minutes.
When simmering meat, a good way to tell if it’s done is if it turns moist and succulent. If the meat turns tough and stringy, then the temperature was too high. You essentially boiled the meat instead of simmering it.
Most people associate poaching with eggs, but you can also poach other foods. In the context of other foods, some people might confuse poaching with simmering. However, the simmering temperature is actually too hot. Poaching is usually done between 140 °F (60 °C) to 180 °F (~82 °C).
At this temperature, you may see small bubbles at the bottom of the pot. But you won’t see active bubbling. Poaching is great for cooking delicate foods. These delicate foods include eggs, fish, white meat chicken, and even fruit.
The poaching broth is called a court bouillon. It consists of the poaching liquid itself (often broth or stock) an acid, a bouquet garni, and mirepoix. Bouquet garni is French for “garnished bouquet”. It is a bundle of aromatics like bay leaf, parsley, thyme, etc.).
These aromatics can be bundled in a small cheesecloth, or just tied together. A mirepoix is a flavor base that you make by lightly cooking vegetables with a fat source, like oil or butter. Common vegetables for the mirepoix are carrots, leeks, onions, and celery.
So besides poaching, you also have to lightly cook your mirepoix on low heat. You can also use the mirepoix as the base for other slow-cooked recipes.
Now you are familiar with what low heat is on your stove. Cooking with low heat is a delicate method that calls for patients. However, the results are worth the effort and wait. May you use it to create hearty and comforting slow-cooked meals.
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