I like to cook. It is a favorite hobby of mine and my family members typically enjoy my food. However, I have a question. I often hear the importance of searing meats on a "hot pan." On cooking shows, in blogs, and in demos this seems to suggest an "as hot as you can get it" pan. From experience, as well as watching said demos and cooking shows, I know this can't really be what is meant. If I let a pan heat up on my (electric) stovetop over high heat for more than a five minutes or so it becomes so hot that water instantaneously spatters and become steam, foods scorch and smoke, and on occasion oils spontaneously burst into flame. This is obviously too hot and makes for a smoky kitchen. Of note, I don't think there's really any sort of "shut off" for my stove on high heat. I've forgotten a cast iron pan on the stove for drying only to find the entire thing (including the handle) glowing some time (probably an hour or more) later.
Realistically, what sorts of temperatures am I looking for in a "hot pan?" What are the signs to look for when the pan is ready but won't completely wreck my apartment with smoke. I've had only moderate success in searing pieces of beef or pork, and little to no success with properly browning fish or poultry (which inevitably either burns or does not brown).