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If you have an IR therm and a cast iron pan, I have an experiment for you

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  • Meathead
    BBQ Whisperer, Mythbuster
    • May 2014
    • 1227
    • Chicago area
    • Remember, no rules in the bedroom or kitchen

    If you have an IR therm and a cast iron pan, I have an experiment for you

    I am curious about something. So many cookbooks say: Cook on your stovetop on low, medium, high, and temps in between. So I would like to conduct an experiment. If you have an infrared gun thermometer and a cast iron pan, can you put it on a burner on your stovetop, preheat it for about 5 minutes so the temp is even, and point your gun at the center on Low, Medium, and High, and record the temps? Let it sit on each temp for about 5 mins because cast iron heats slowly and (surprisingly) heats unevenly. If you have different burners, you might want to repeat on different burners. Always start with a cold pan, then preheat on Low if you try different burners. Post your results here please. Try to be rigorous in this. I think the results will be VERY interesting, and perhaps newsworthy.

    DeusDingo points out flaws in my experimental design. I need to know whether your range is gas, electric, glass top, induction etc. And if your dial isn't marked Low Med Hi, tell us what number you are using like 3 out of 10.
  • DeusDingo
    Founding Member
    • Jul 2014
    • 1130
    • Madison, WI
    • Weber Q320 grill
      Masterbuilt Propane Smoker
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    i would imagine you would also want what NUMBER we are using as "low" "medium and "high" as well as if it's gas or electric (coil or glass top), induction...

    what size cast iron, brand/weight

    you seem to be leaving a lot of variables out of this question


    • Meathead
      Meathead commented
      Editing a comment
      Good catch. I have added that to my post!
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    I'm going to follow this. Unfortunately I left my IR therm outside in the rain and it doesn't work anymore, so I can't contribute.


    • RonB
      RonB commented
      Editing a comment
      Since it stopped in the rain, have you tried using it in the rain? Ya never know...

    • CaptainMike
      CaptainMike commented
      Editing a comment

    • JGo37
      JGo37 commented
      Editing a comment
      Harbor Freight's is on sale. ~ 19.00.
  • Attjack
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    Should be very different burner to burner since they are different BTUs.


    • SmokeyGator
      Club Member
      • Jul 2016
      • 785
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      Can do! For science. I have a high wall cast iron skillet, and two different size Dutch ovens. I will use the deep skillet.


      • Polarbear777
        Club Member
        • Sep 2016
        • 1447

        Is 5 minutes enough to reach equilibrium? I suspect it will keep going up with a constant heat input, so to get good data should probably use a timer to measure at exactly 5 minutes to get comparable data.


        • Troutman
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          • Aug 2017
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          I'll go ahead and give it a try. I'm with the others; however, there are a lot of variables to consider so not sure how scientific this really is. As an amature cook I really go by the reaction of the food to the heat more than worry about the precise amount of heat being applied to the food. But I guess it's really no different then trying to establish ambient temperature in an oven or a smoker for that matter.

          So again I'm game, see what happens.


          • MBMorgan
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            It's going to be tricky to get consistent results. A cast iron pan that has been polished smooth (like Finex) will have much lower thermal emissivity (Ɛ) than one that is rough (like Lodge). Similarly, a pan that is well seasoned (and therefore is almost black) will have significantly higher Ɛ than one that is less seasoned. Those who have IR guns with adjustable Ɛ settings can compensate ... but only if they know the actual Ɛ of their pan. FWIW, I'v seen Ɛ values for cast iron that are all over the place (.3, .64, .7, .95) and it's hard to know which to believe.

            Also, when using an IR gun, it's important to hold it perpendicular to the surface you're measuring. In the case of a cast iron pan on a burner, that means you need to point it straight down at the center of the pan.

            FWIW, I've seen suggestions that a little oil be used in a pan when you're attempting to measure its temperature. An IR gun can't "see" through even a thin layer of oil. This might be a good way to achieve greater consistency since the reported Ɛ value for cooking oil is 0.95 ... which is real close to the default setting of most IR guns. Here's a statement from ThermoWorks about using oil as a "patch": https://www.thermoworks.com/infrared...issivity_patch

            As others have already mentioned, if the results are to be meaningful, I'd suggest that we put our heads together to design the experiment so that the results are sufficiently accurate and consistent enough for Meathead to report with a straight face.


            • EdF
              EdF commented
              Editing a comment
              That's the ticket!

            • Barry Friesen
              Barry Friesen commented
              Editing a comment
              Sheesh after reading all this I have migrated to the 'What are you drinking now ' thread and considering contributing there!
          • shify
            Club Member
            • Jun 2017
            • 301
            • Westchester County, NY

            I have a 10" Lodge cast iron pan and an IR gun. Assuming there are still working batteries in the IR (or spare ones I can dig up), I'll run some tests over the next few days. I'll plan on doing one test per day, so I can always start with a cold pan. I have a gas range with pretty strong flames but not sure the BTUs


            • CaptainMike
              Club Member
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              Probably too many variables to be accurate, but what the heck, many of us live in an anecdotal world when it comes to cooking anyway. I'm in.


              • SmokeyGator
                Club Member
                • Jul 2016
                • 785
                • Miami, FL
                • Primo XL
                  Cyberq controller
                  Sierra Nevada IPA

                Designing a perfect experiment is going to be impossible. Everyone has a different stove. Some gas, some electric resistance, some induction. And then there are smooth top electric and metal coil electric. Varying eye wattage. And so on.

                So I would suggest the following:
                1. Include make and model of the stove
                2. Include heat source (if electric note smooth top or coil)
                3. Include pan diamater
                4. Don’t use settings like “rapid boil” or whatever, just regular low medium and high
                5. Use the oil cap, just for consistency.
                6. Again for consentcy use the larger eyes (for electric or gas).
                7. IR thermometer make and model.

                Thus will give a range of data points for each stove type. The experiment is “valid” if the data points aren’t all over the place.
                Last edited by SmokeyGator; December 12th, 2018, 03:11 PM.


                • CaptainMike
                  CaptainMike commented
                  Editing a comment
                  May I add Btu of burner if known and applicable?

                • JGo37
                  JGo37 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  CaptainMike that doesn't matter, because each adjustment knob in the field has been subjected to varying degrees of wear, making the position selection moot. I have to use IR on the range and ambient in the oven to have ANY IDEA where I'm at.

                • SmokeyGator
                  SmokeyGator commented
                  Editing a comment
                  My house doesn’t have gas. Wish it did, I could get a home generator that could hold the AC, making the post hurricane period less miserable. Also good for other summer outages. So I’m on electric service. My stove is less subject to selector knob wear. It will either make contact and work, or not. When the current range craps out I would like to go induction.
              • Smokin' Hole
                Club Member
                • Aug 2017
                • 18
                • NW Montana

                A timely thread. Just this morning I reminded myself that I really should figure out what my temps are since my propane cook top has high and low markings at each dial; however, there are no marks in between as well as an obvious disconnect between dial position and flame output. Now, just to find out where that IR thermometer is...


                • Chuck in Charlotte
                  Club Member
                  • Oct 2017
                  • 119

                  I'm curious what @Meathead's hypothesis is. Does the cast iron stabilize to the temperature of the flame regardless of how large the flame is? Or do you think the results will show that one (wo)man's low is another man's high? I'll be following the results closely for sure.


                  • xaugievike
                    Club Member
                    • Jan 2017
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                    OK - GE gas range. Lodge 10". I measured at the pan center and at the pan edge where the flat begins to curve into the sidewall. This is on my "big" burner - I'd have to dig to find BTU's.

                    let it warm on low for 15 mins...

                    at low - Pan middle 317, pan edge 230

                    at medium after 5 minutes - pan middle 490, pan edge 379

                    at high after 5 minutes - pan middle 566, pan edge 507


                    • xaugievike
                      xaugievike commented
                      Editing a comment
                      After allowing the pan to cool completely back to room temp - using the same times on the smallest burner

                      Low - Middle 183, edge 157

                      Medium - Middle 384, Edge 332

                      High - Middle 442, edge 403
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                    Originally posted by Smokin' Hole View Post
                    ...my propane cook top has high and low markings at each dial; however, there are no marks in between ...
                    My electric range is similarly unmarked...Low, and High
                    Nonetheless, I will shoot some readins, an record dial position
                    Th aggregate data we accumulate should be interestin...




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