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Buying Guide: The Best Saute 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 saute pan.

All Saute Pans »

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What to Look For

  • A sauté pan is a wide, flat, straight-sided frying pan designed for prolonged cooking.
  • The best sauté pans are made of metals that conduct heat quickly, efficiently and evenly: lined copper, stainless steel-wrapped aluminum and anodized aluminum.
  • Nonstick surfaces are less appropriate for sautéing.
  • A good sauté pan should have a long handle and should come with a lid.
  • Available sizes range between one and seven quarts, but three to five quart pans are most useful.

More information

Introduction

The French verb "sauter" means "to jump". When you sauté, you cook food in a small amount of fat and keep things in motion either by shaking the pan or tossing or stirring the food, so the ingredients don’t stick, scorch or dry out.

A sauté pan is designed to brown and crisp the surfaces of foods. It should be wide because ingredients need room to brown well. The pan also must be flat, so you can move it easily over the burner.

Uses

This pan is ideal for recipes that require additional cooking after the ingredients are browned such as a chicken fricassée or osso buco. The depth and straight sides accommodate sauces and other embellishments that may accompany the sautéed ingredients.

Material

To assure that the ingredients are properly browned, a sauté pan must also be made of heavy gauge, heat-conductive metal. Copper is the best performer because it picks up heat rapidly and cools off quickly when the pan is removed from the burner. This responsiveness is important for delicate foods – like fish – that might become tough or dry if subjected to high temperatures for even a moment too long.

But there are also excellent sauté pans made from stainless steel-wrapped aluminum and anodized aluminum. These materials transmit heat well and they are less expensive than copper. Regular stainless steel is suitable for sauté pans if there is a thick aluminum or copper heat-giving disk across the entire bottom of the pan. Disks that don’t cover the entire width are likely to develop hot spots; they also do not provide adequate heat.

Nonstick surfaces—even the highest quality—are less appropriate for sautéing because the materials from which they are made cut down on heat transfer from the base pan and can't withstand prolonged high heat. Obviously, you may prepare delicious food in a nonstick sauté pan, but traditional cookware will do a better job.

Cast iron, plain or enamel-coated, is the best choice for one particular kind of American pan known as a "chicken fryer" or "deep sauté pan". Chicken fryers have a short, stubby handle and a lip for spilling off fat. This metal takes in heat slowly, but holds it well, which is perfect for frying crispy-brown fried chicken. But cast iron reacts with acidic ingredients such as wine, tomatoes and lemon juice, making it unsuitable for sautéed dishes, which often include these ingredients.

Design

Traditional sauté pans have a single, long handle. Because you move the pan so much when you sauté, the handle should be sturdy and comfortable so you can maneuver the pan easily. Some large pans have a second "helper handle". Even though you may use a potholder, it is important that the handle stay cool, too. Look for metal handles that are hollowed in some way or that are made of a different metal than the pan itself. "Phenolic" handles stay cool but you may not use the pan under the broiler. Wooden handles stay the coolest, but are not oven or dishwasher safe.

In France a sauté pan is called a sauteuse, but in the United States, "sauteuse" often refers to a pan with two short side handles, similar to a low casserole or Dutch Oven. Some professional chefs use these pans in place of a sauté pan because the compact handles save on cooktop space and can fit easily in the oven; however, we recommend a traditional long-handled pan for home cooks.

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