Why can metal utensils get too hot to touch when you are cooking with them?

Expert Answers
t-nez eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Metal cooking utensils get too hot to touch because metals have a low heat capacity and are good conductors of heat. Heat capacity is the amount of heat a given mass of a substance must absorb to raise its temperature a given amount.  Metals experience a large increase in temperature when absorbing a relatively small amount of heat. 

Metals are good conductors of heat because of the characteristics of metallic bonding. Conduction is the transfer of heat between atoms or molecules in contact with each other. As particles heat up they vibrate at a faster rate and transfer vibrational motion to nearby particles. The atoms of metals are closely packed in the solid state and have freely moving valence electrons. Heat is transferred throughout the substance by the moving electrons as well as by vibration of adjacent atoms.

This problem is solved with handles on utensils that are made of materials that have high heat capacities and are poor conductors of heat. These materials don't experience as much of a temperature change when absorbing heat and the heat absorbed isn't transferred throughout the material.