The 10 Best Heat Diffusers
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in January of 2017. Certain recipes call for very sensitive, low-temperature warming, requiring a gentle simmer for prolonged periods of time. But the definition of "low" varies from one cooktop to another. These diffusers are designed to allow a much greater level of control over the heat produced by gas, electric, or induction stovetops, or even open campfires, so you can cook with confidence and precision. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 09, 2020:
A heat diffuser is one of those kitchen gadgets that you probably won't use every single day, but you'll appreciate that it's there when you need it. We've selected a variety that work on all types of ranges, but you should be especially cautious when using these on glass cooktops. Not all of them are designed to be compatible with glass, but even those that are, like the Cooks Innovations SimmerMat, can crack the stovetop if used improperly.
For most users, we still think the Ilsa Flame Guard makes a good choice, although it's possible that the finish can blister when used on extremely high heat. On the other hand, it provides admirable stability, heats evenly, and has a reliable handle. For something lighter, the HIC Simmer Plate is one to consider. It's amply sized but affordable, and its handle comes off for hassle-free storage.
If you have an induction range, you may want to look at the Artestia Disc. This handy choice lets you use any type of cookware on your induction top, so you won't be limited to only induction-ready pans.
Finally, if you're looking for a heat diffuser to help with making coffee or tea, check out the newly added Fitz-All Diffuser. This incredibly inexpensive wire model sits between your glass tea or coffee pot and an electric or gas burner, which makes the glass less likely to suffer damage from thermal shock.
October 09, 2019:
We included in our evaluation of the best heat diffusers some of the best options for a variety of cooktop surfaces.
The Cooks Innovations Simmer Mat is a top choice because of its versatility. The indented points on one side make it safe for induction and glass surfaces, while also serving electric and gas well when using the other side. In addition it's safe for the dishwasher, cementing its place as a diffuser that nearly everyone will love.
The Ilsa Flame Guard takes the top spot even though it won't work with glass or ceramic, just by virtue of its cast iron construction that makes it incredibly durable. The removable handle is a feature that all heat diffusers really should have, and it's simple to remove or put back on, even while it's on the burner. This way you can safely move it while it's still warm if you need the burner for another purpose.
Copper Diffuser Plate Great cooks know of the superior heat conductivity of copper, even if they can't afford a set of copper pans. A pure copper diffuser plate can also be prohibitively expensive, but they have the added advantage that they do make a great defroster plate due to copper's antimicrobial properties. These diffusers consist of a simple square of copper with no bells and whistles, but they can also be cut to a custom size. quickshipmetals.com
Low And Slow Is the Way to Go
However, if your recipe calls for browning meats before you begin to braise, don't overcrowd the pan, or your protein will steam rather than sear.
When it comes to cooking, there's a saying that rings true in nearly all situations: You can't rush a good thing. There are times when a quick flash of super high heat is necessary, like stir frying or searing a steak, but for other dishes, patience is key. If you've ever eaten a pot roast, short rib, or stew that was unbelievably melt-in-your-mouth tender, chances are it was cooked for hours over low heat. Soups, chilis, and braises only get better the longer they cook, allowing the flavors to meld and deepen.
And it's not just a mental thing — there's a scientific reason certain types of meat taste better when they're cooked for a long time at a low temperature. It all comes down to collagen. Muscular cuts of meat have lots of connective tissue, which is high in collagen. If you cook this type of cut the same way you'd cook a steak, it ends up being so tough you can barely chew it. But when you cook collagen-rich meats low and slow, the collagen transforms into gelatin, giving you that tender, falling off the bone texture.
Temperature also plays a role in the tenderness of your finished dish. Higher heat tends to make muscle fibers shrink as they cook, making meats tougher. This is why it's never a good idea to cook soups and stews at a rolling boil. The ideal temperature range for muscular cuts of meat is 180-190° degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to kill bacteria, but not hot enough to make them tough.
Braising may be a relatively new term, but the technique has been around for centuries. Long before the oven was invented, people were using the low and slow method over hearths, bonfires, and wood stoves. All they needed was a heavy, thick-bottomed pot to get things going. Sometimes, they even stacked lit coals on top of the lid to heat food from all sides. It was essentially the precursor to the modern-day oven.
A proper braising pot requires a tight-fitting lid that will keep moisture in. Choosing the right size is also important. If the dish is too big, you'll need to use more liquid, which can dilute sauces that are supposed to be rich and flavorful. However, if your recipe calls for browning meats before you begin to braise, don't overcrowd the pan, or your protein will steam rather than sear. If necessary, brown in batches in order to achieve that perfect crust.
A Braise Is A Terrible Thing To Waste
The stove in my first apartment was not only half the size of a normal unit, but as if to add insult to injury, it basically only had two settings — full blast and barely warm. And, let's be honest, there are very few situations where either of those is what you're looking for. This monstrosity of a kitchen appliance made my early culinary endeavors highly stressful. It was nearly impossible to cook anything all the way through without burning it.
Plus, it also helps to prevent the sides and handles of pots and pans from overheating, so you'll be less likely to burn yourself when moving them around.
When you're dealing with this kind of stove, a thick, heavy-bottomed pan made of cast iron or stainless steel can help, but there's only so much a pan can do when working under these conditions. I didn't even know heat diffusers existed during these dark days of my cooking journey, but if I had, it could have saved me a lot of frustration — and ruined dinners — especially when I was making anything requiring a long cook time at a low temperature.
The oven is typically your best option for providing the long, slow, even heating that a good braise requires. But if all you have is a stove top or portable burner, or you don't want to heat up your whole house or apartment on a hot summer day by using the oven for a few hours, a heat diffuser, also known as a burner plate, simmer plate, or flame tamer, can save the day. It provides a barrier between your pan and the cooking surface, evenly dispersing the heat and eliminating hot spots.
This simple, cost-efficient tool can also make cheap, thin-bottomed cookware function more like a higher-end counterpart. It basically turns any pot with a lid into a Dutch oven. Plus, it also helps to prevent the sides and handles of pots and pans from overheating, so you'll be less likely to burn yourself when moving them around.
Ideally, you want to look for a diffuser that's fairly thick. Thinner models may be cheaper, but they don't provide enough of a buffer between your food and the heat source. Cast iron and steel are the best materials to use, as they can even help a finicky flat glass or ceramic stove top to heat more evenly.
One Tool, Many Uses
In addition to preventing scorched soups, stews, and sauces, the humble heat diffuser can be useful in many other ways.
It's also a quick and dirty way to toast tortillas and other flatbreads without worrying about burning them over the flames of a gas stove.
Unless it's iced, no one likes cold coffee. But scorched coffee that's been sitting on the burner for too long is even worse. If you don't have a traditional coffee maker, or just prefer to use a French press, percolator, or the pour-over method to brew your java, a heat diffuser is a great way to keep your favorite brew warm without scorching it and ruining the flavor.
If you frequently cook rice, oats, or other grains that absorb a lot of water as they cook, a heat diffuser can help to disperse heat so you don't end up with a burnt layer on the bottom by the time they're cooked through. It's also a quick and dirty way to toast tortillas and other flatbreads without worrying about burning them over the flames of a gas stove.
A heat diffuser also allows you to use clay pots, glass dishes, and a variety of other fragile types of cookware on the stovetop that would normally be off limits. Plus, it reduces the risk of scorching Teflon and other types of nonstick pans — quickly ruining even a high-quality finish — and it prevents discoloration from overheating delicate materials.