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Why Do Stoves Have Different Size Burners?

When you wake up in the morning, you cook your eggs or your pancakes on your stove. You probably use the big burner—the favorite burner. Then in the evening, the main dish gets to be cooked on the big burner while the side dishes or accompaniments are relegated to the smaller, less favorite burners. But surely, there is a reason why stove manufacturers don’t just install four big burners. 

Stoves have different size burners as a safety consideration based on the varying size of pots and pans. Different size burners also provide options that allow energy and time efficiency. The different burners also offer different levels and distributions of heat for various cooking techniques.

In this article, we provide several reasons why stoves have different size burners. Some of the reasons may surprise you and even change the way that you use your stove. 

How Many Size Burners Do Stoves Have?

Gas stoves typically have three different sizes of burners:

  • One small burner.
  • Two medium burners.
  • One large burner.

On electric stoves, the burners are more often referred to as plates. There are usually only two sized plates on an electric stove:

  • Two large plates.
  • Two small plates. These may actually be more appropriately termed medium plates when compared to the gas burner sizes. 

Stoves Have Different Size Burners For Safety Reasons

When working with sources of heat that can reach temperatures hot enough to boil water and sear meat, you want to make sure that everything is as safe as possible. Well, the stove manufacturers have the same value for safety.

You can get pots and pans in a range of sizes. In terms of safety, the biggest issues come when small pots are used on large burners, and there are two problems with this scenario.

The first problem is that when a small pot or pan sits on a large burner, it does not fully cover the flames or the hot plate. 

By leaving these areas of significant heat exposed, the chances of you accidentally coming into contact with them increase. This is especially true of the front burners and the burners you are using for active cooking (as opposed to simmering, etc.). 

The second problem comes when you need to touch the handles of the small pot or pan sitting on a large hot burner. This is because, under these circumstances, the handles become super hot. 

It is such a habit to just steady the pot with a hand on the handle while you stir your food. You also probably grab the handles to take the pot off the stove without thinking, especially if your food is burning or boiling over.

So, safety is one of the reasons why you can’t have four large burners, even though a stove full of your favorites would be a dream come true.  

As a side note, when your handles are continually exposed, heat as when small pots and pans are used on large burners, it can damage them, causing them to break more easily. A pot with no handles is challenging to work with and introduces whole new safety concerns. 

Stoves Have Different Size Burners For Energy And Time Efficiency Reasons

Energy Efficiency

Beyond the safety concerns, using small pots and pans on large burners can waste significant amounts of energy. The heat is going into the air and not the cookware.

Using excess energy used to be viewed as a privilege. However, we know the impact that this has on our environment, and many people are conscientious about saving energy and using alternative fuel and energy sources where possible.

Stoves do not use alternative fuel, but we can make sure that we use the energy efficiently, starting with using size-appropriate burners for our small cooking pots and pans. 

Additionally, wasted energy equates to wasted money, so using the correct burner can be viewed as a budgeting technique and economically smart.

Time Efficiency

Whatever you are cooking in a small pot or pan on a large burning will cook really quickly (but with wasted energy). However, if you try to cook something in a large pot or pan on a small burner, you will be there for a while. 

Trying to boil water on the small stove burner is incredibly frustrating and will completely throw off the timing of your meal, make you late, etc.

Burning food is also a waste of time. You have to start over or try and salvage the dish, both of which options can end up doubling the length of time it takes to prepare your meal.

Stoves Have Different Size Burners For Producing Different Amounts Of Heat

The burners are not just different in size. They also produce different amounts of heat. With gas burners, this is obvious: smaller and fewer flames will produce less heat. But smaller electric plates are also designed with lower BTUs (British Thermal Units). 

When you are cooking, you employ different techniques. Some things you need to sear, others need to be gently simmered. Stovetops are specifically aimed at providing you with the best range of heat options possible.

Large burners are called power burners. These will be best used to sear meat and boil water because they produce high amounts of energy. 

Medium burners can be referred to as all-purpose burners, and they are ideal for cooking most foods using various techniques.  

The small burners are known as simmer burners. When the recipe says to let it simmer, try taking the dish off the big burner and putting it on the small one. Your food will be cooking and not simmering on the big burner.

Caramelizing onions or tempering chocolate is also ideally done using the simmer burner. 

Stoves Have Different Size Burners For Different Heat Distributions

On the big burners, heat does not get distributed very well over the entire bottom of the pan or pot. The center will always be colder than the edges. This can make cooking food very difficult. 

Smaller burners, however, are supplying a smaller area, so the heat distribution is more even. 

If you need something to cook evenly without constantly stirring it, use a smaller pot or pan on a medium or small burner. 

This difference in heat distribution is much more apparent and problematic with gas stoves than electric stoves. This is because the flames of a gas stover are arranged in a ring, leaving areas not directly connected with the fire. 

The Locations Of The Different Size Burners Are Intentional

Not only do stove manufacturers put time and effort into giving you different sizes of burners that make your cooking experience safer, more efficient, and easier, but they also take the time to think about burner placement. They look at what would be safest and what would be most convenient. 

When you are searing meat or cooking something quickly, you will be using the big burner. You will also be working with that pot or pan almost constantly throughout the duration of the food’s cook time. In this case, you do not want to have to lean over another dish and heat source whenever you need to add to or stir it.

As such, the big burners are located in the front of the stove. 

In comparison, simmering is spending a long time on the stove and needs very little attention, so the stove manufacturers put the small burner at the back. 

Conclusion

Even though you will probably not change your mind about favoring one stovetop burner over another, it is interesting to know why stoves have different size burners. 

Different size burners ensure safety, energy and time efficiency, appropriate amounts of heat for the cooking processes, and the best heat distribution for the cooking technique. 

Now that you know why stove manufacturers don’t just use four of the same size burners, perhaps you may even attempt to try out the other non-favorite ones to improve your cooking skills or at least make cooking less frustrating. 

References

https://products.geappliances.com/appliance/gea-support-search-content?contentId=17358
https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/568412/your-favorite-burner-has-specific-purpose
https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/11923-for-smaller-cookware-which-burner-is-best

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