Buying Guide to Saucepans


Buying Guide to Saucepans

5 Things to Know Before You Buy

The saucepan is so much more than a pan used to make sauces. Indeed, it may well be the most versatile and well-used pan in your culinary arsenal. If you're the one whipping up the family dinner every night, chances are you pull out this pan for everything from pasta to steamed vegetables to gravy, soup, rice pilaf and stews.

Choosing the ideal saucepan for your culinary needs takes keeping in mind the following five considerations when it comes to these versatile kitchen basics.

Fact #1: Size

Saucepans generally range in size from 1 to 6 quarts. Most kitchens require at least two saucepans of varying sizes. You'll want a smaller saucepan for low volume items, such as glaze for a cake, and a larger saucepan for foods like spaghetti sauce and risotto.

If you're cooking for one or two people, a 1 or 1 ½ -quart and a 3-quart saucepan works well. For larger crowds, consider a 3-quart and a 5- or 6-quart pan. Whatever saucepan you choose, it should feel like it has some substance but not be too heavy for you to maneuver with one hand.

Fact #2: Design

The saucepan design you choose depends on what and how you cook.

Classic saucepans have straight sides, a round base and are perfectly flat on the bottom. Such saucepans work well for heating, boiling and cooking a wide variety of items, such as potatoes and chili.

Windsor-style pans feature flared sides in addition to a round base and flat bottom. The flared design allows more sauce to be exposed to the surface of the pan, which works well for caramelizing and creating reductions.

A third type of pan is known as a saucier style. This saucepan has a wide top and slightly rounded, shorter sides. Such pans work well for cooking items that require constant stirring, such as pudding or risottos.

Fact #3: Materials

Saucepans are made from several materials, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

* Aluminum on its own generally makes for a low-quality pan that has hot spots, reacts with acidic and alkaline food and easily dents, warps and burns. When aluminum is combined with another material such as stainless steel, the two metals create a durable pan that conducts heat quickly and evenly.

* Anodized aluminum consists of aluminum processed chemically, which causes the aluminum to become nonreactive and resistant to scratching. The process also gives the pan a nonstick surface.

* Stainless steel is durable and resistant to rusting and corrosion from acidic foods. It is not a very conductive metal, however, so it requires the addition of aluminum or copper to create an effective saucepan.

* Copper conducts and distributes heat well, but it tarnishes and requires polishing. It also easily dents. Copper is often combined with other metals, such as stainless steel. For instance, you'll find a stainless steel pan with a copper bottom.

* Cast-Iron heats slowly but retains even heat while cooking. The thick, durable construction of cast iron saucepans make them ideal for frying foods and creating dishes requiring long cook times like stew. It is especially heavy, however, and requires special care to season and then maintain. Properly kept, however, a cast-iron sauce pan will last for generations.

Fact #4: Lid

While you don't need a saucepan with a lid, it's often a good idea - especially for boiling and steaming foods. Glass lids are ideal, as they allow you to see how foods are progressing, which is especially helpful for dishes that require a closed lid during cooking. Also look for lids that are ventilated and let off excess steam.

Fact #5: Handle

For safety concerns, when possible choose a saucepan that features a cool-to-the-touch handle. Some pan types, such as cast-iron, require the use of potholders.

Now you know everything you need to know about the different kinds of saucepans. Choose wisely ... and happy cooking!