Imagine purchasing a cookware set and being very pleased with your purchase until you get a big surprise–the handles get very hot. You don’t want that to happen and the best way to avoid a surprise like this is to know what you are getting before you buy.
On the one hand, though, I think this is a fairly subjective question because obviously some cooks may have a higher tolerance for heat. You see this in online reviews. One person may think the handles get hot whereas another may consider them warm. I will delve into this on the assumption that I like to know before hand if they can become so uncomfortably hot that they would burn my hand if I didn’t use some type of pot holder.
Pots and pans may have more than one handle but it is the long traditional one used to lift them that most cooks are concerned with. There are some sets which owners seem to agree that these do get very hot. Sometimes this is the result of the material they are made of and how they are constructed. If they’re stainless steel only, they aren’t likely to get as hot as if they were made of a multi-ply construction that includes aluminum or another metal sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. This material doesn’t distribute heat well but aluminum does so if aluminum is part of the construction or the handles, themselves, are made of this metal, they are more likely to get hotter than you would like them to.
Several brands construct their long handles with a sort of “v” shape design. In this case, the open tips of the shape is where the handle is riveted to the pot or pan and the closed, narrow end is where it gains its length. This allows some of the heat to escape before reaching the major part of the handle and allowing it to remain cool. Some companies have even come up with a special name for this type of construction.
How long you have the items on the burner can affect its temperature, too. If you are cooking a dish that will take an hour or more, heat can build up and they can become really uncomfortable especially if you are cooking at a medium temperature with the lid on.
As for the ones on top of the lids, today’s most popular sets tend to construct those in the shape of an arch. Since these are so close to the lid and food, they may not stay cool even if the long ones do One thing you want to be aware of is the amount of room left between the area that forms the arch and the lid itself. You certainly don’t want the to be surprised if you lift it and discover your knuckles brush up against a very hot lid.
Some cooks prefer sets with silicone handles because they not only stay cool but are very comfortable to grasp as well. However, the downside to using silicone is that you must be careful about placing it inside an oven. There is no consensus about the maximum temperature silicone can withstand as different manufacturers have their own recommendations for heat tolerance. Some brands advertise their sets as having a special stay-cool technology to make sure their long handles remain cool to the touch.
For more detailed information on handles and how you can avoid surprises, check out my reviews of various sets that can be found here.