Buying Guide: The Best Sauce Pans For You

The authors of The New Cooks' Catalogue certainly know what to look for when choosing cooking equipment. These leading culinary experts have been evaluating cooking equipment for over 25 years. The following information is what they consider important when selecting a sauce pan.

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What to Look For

  • Saucepans should be made of materials that are excellent conductors of heat, like copper or aluminum. Stainless steel is suitable if it has an aluminum or copper core or a thick, wide aluminum or copper disk bonded to the bottom.
  • Nonstick saucepans are fine for reheating foods, cooking plain vegetables and for sticky ingredients, but not for sophisticated sauces.
  • Classic saucepans have straight sides but WINDSOR PANS, for reducing sauces, have flared sides. SAUCIERS are rounded to make it easier to mix ingredients and to brown foods before adding liquids.
  • A saucepan must be heavy for its size and made of sturdy materials that resist denting and warping.
  • Handles should be comfortable and securely attached. The best saucepans have handles that stay relatively cool.

More information

Introduction

Saucepans are culinary workhorses, used to cook everything from classic haute cuisine sauces to oatmeal. Because they perform so many different functions, you’ll need several types, in several sizes. Useful sizes include 1-1.5 quart, 2-2.5 quart, 3 quart and 4 quarts.

Material

Saucepans must be made of materials that are excellent conductors of heat. Copper is the most responsive to heat and is the first choice for sophisticated sauces. Copper, however, interacts with food and must be lined with tin, stainless steel or nickel. A tin lining will give you the greatest heat conductivity but from time to time wears out and must be replaced. A copper saucespan is ideal for delicate sauces because it not only conducts heat effectively but it also losses heat quickly when the pan is removed from the heat---a great advantage with heat sensitive recipes. If you make sauces regularly, it’s helpful to have one copper saucepan reserved for sauce work.

Aluminum heats well too, but acidic or alkaline foods can cause it to corrode and give food an off taste. Anodized aluminum has been treated to protect it from corrosion. You can use it with any ingredient but it is not dishwasher safe and its dark color can make it difficult to see subtle color changes in the foods you are cooking.

Stainless steel saucepans are the most versatile, but to heat effectively, they must have an aluminum or copper core or thick aluminum disk at the bottom.

Nonstick saucepans come in handy for preparing simple foods like vegetables, for reheating foods like soup and especially for sticky foods like oatmeal or rice. These pans don’t respond to heat as well as other pans and are not recommended for fine sauces.

Design

Although saucepans are usually straight-sided, some take a different shape for specific purposes. WINDSOR PANS have flared sides that expose more of a food’s surface area, for better reduction of liquids. SAUCIERS have wide, rounded bottoms. The rounded edges make it easy to stir foods like pudding, whose ingredients might otherwise become stuck in the corners of a standard saucepan. The wide bottom provides room to brown ingredients before adding liquid to the pan.

Saucepans (like all stove-top pans) must have a perfectly flat bottom and sit on the burner without wobbling. They should also be heavy and durable, and resist denting and warping. However, they should still be easy to lift. Avoid thin gauge, cheap aluminum pots ---they dent easily and develop hot spots that can ruin food.

Handle

A saucepan’s handle must attach securely, preferably with rivets or thick, deep screws. Although it is always wise to use a potholder when you cook, the handle should stay as cool as possible. To cut down on heat, handles should be made of materials that are different from the pan or be hollowed in some way. Phenolic handles stay cool but are not broiler-proof. Wooden handles stay coolest but cannot be used in the oven, except at very low temperatures, and they are not dishwasher safe.

Saucepans usually come with lids. A good lid should sit on top of the pot snugly so it won’t rattle during cooking. Look for large knobs that stay cool or loops that leave room for potholders.

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