When Did Pot Handles Stop Being Hot?

In the early 1990s, I worked at a company that miniaturized computers.

A stainless steel frying pan.

A stainless steel frying pan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the challenges of shrinking computers is that the heat thrown off from the electronics doesn’t have anywhere to go.

Computer manufacturers have wrestled with this problem for 20 years.

They’ve tried fans, different case materials, finned cases to provide more surface area, and heat sinks that are pieces of metal set inside the case to absorb heat.

Just hold your laptop or cell phone in your hand and you’ll see they are still wrestling with the problem.

But, cooks and Moms have always known about the problem of heat because we deal with it every day in the kitchen.

It was an article of faith when my children were young that you turned pot handles to the inside of the stove if you had children.

Pot handles left to the outside of the stove, where you use them, are in danger of being pulled down by curious hands or knocked down as you walk by the stove.

There are two reasons this is dangerous.

The pot handle itself may be hot enough to burn the little hands that grab it.

And, children might just pull the whole pot and the boiling liquid or grease inside down onto themselves.

My one-year-old son did this with an orange juice can I had just filled with hot grease, drained from the hamburger I had just browned.

An hour at the emergency room and he left with only a second-degree burn, and scar, on the finger we had missed as we tended his face and chest.

So, as a young mother, I was acutely aware of turning pot handles toward the inside of the stove.

But my husband started doing all the cooking when our younger son was three.

So, I missed a significant change in cookware.

The metal handles are mostly no longer hot.

Why Not?

I first noticed this change a couple of years ago when my husband was grilling.

He picked up the heavy lid of the grill by grabbing a metal handle on the front of the lid.

Without a potholder or glove.

I thought it was because the handle was spiral, providing a lot of surface area to dissipate heat.

But, my husband said the real reason was because it was a different, less heat-retaining metal than the body of the grill.

How Does This Relate to Pot Handles?

Then, I started noticing that a lot of the pots we own no longer require a hot pad to turn the handle away from the outside of the stove.

The handles don’t have the spiral design of the grill lid.

But, although some of them are plastic, a lot of them are metal.

When did this happen?

Two things have happened since I last cooked for the family.

Pot handle design has changed and we’ve bought different pots and pans.

It started with handles made of Bakelite, a hard plastic that is heat resistant and non-conductive, but cannot be used in the oven.

Bakelite was tested for use as a possible one-cent coin, was used in insulators and to make billiard balls and chessmen.

It was even used as a heat shield for part of the Soviet Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

Revere Ware, a premier cookware company in the 1950s and 60s, known for its copper-clad pots, had put Bakelite handles on most of its stove-top pots by 1947.

Our first copper-clad, stainless steel soup pot, a NorrisWare model, we got for free and it has plastic handles.

My husband found it half-buried in the backyard of our first house.

Eventually, we started getting more pots with plastic instead of metal handles.

But, now, most brands of pots and pans have metal handles cool enough to pick up with your bare hands.

As my husband observed, pots with cool handles generally have cast stainless steel handles and aluminum or other metal for the pot.

The metal of the pot retains heat quickly and evenly.

The metal of the handle is slow to heat up.

The common characteristics of cool handles on pots are:

  • A hollowed out handle, instead of a solid metal, thick handle so the handle won’t retain heat
  • A bolted-on handle with a skinny connection to the pot to minimize heat transfer between pot and handle
  • A long handle to increase heat dissipation along the surface
  • A high arch on the handle that keeps it some distance from the surface of the stove

And, the newest thing, silicone in the handle.

So, it’s not only cool to the touch, it grips.

I couldn’t believe it when I first saw silicone cookie sheets.

And, now we have them.

You still want to turn pot handles away from the front of the stove.

Curious toddlers will still try to pull them down.

But, you may not have to worry about being burned on the handle itself anymore.

Do you still automatically turn pot handles to the inside of the stove?

What kind of pots did your Mom have?

Do you teach your grandchildren safe cooking habits?

To you and keeping your precious grandchildren out of harm’s way.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers



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