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What Makes A Good Saucepan?

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So, this is probably just me. But I get incredibly excited when I set out to buy new cookware and utensils, some people just grab something that more or less fit their needs and are happy with it. Buying saucepans is an emotional investment for me, the one I choose to buy will have to make me happy for years to come. There are a lot of things to consider when buying a saucepan and given the fact that whatever you buy is going to be in your life for quite a while it is therefore important to know; what makes a good saucepan? 

What Makes A Good Saucepan? 

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty details of what constitutes a good saucepan, you will have to consider two important questions. I am merely mentioning them and not going into detail as this will be very dependent on your use case. 

  1. What size saucepan do I need? 
  2. Non-stick or non-non-stick?  – Hint; 99,9% of the time it is not going to be a non-stick. 

After you have made the righteous decision of opting for a non-non-stick saucepan, and you have settled on the size you are going to need, we can start having fun. – And yes, I do consider it fun to discuss all the elements of a good saucepan

Just remember, if you take care of your saucepans, they will take care of you. Even if you spend a fortune on the best saucepans in the world, you cannot expect that they will last forever if you neglect them. There are only a few things you should look out for before you throw your money at the Nisbets employee behind the cashiers' desk. If you consider the following factors, I am sure you will have years of happy cooking with your new saucepan. I have three saucepans, the eldest of which has been with me for 12 years now. 

My 3 Favourite Saucepan Materials     

Choosing the material that your saucepans are made from is probably the most important factor to consider.  Here are my 3 favourite materials for saucepans, ranked from 1st to last. Please note that there are other materials such as cast iron out there which are amazing however, in my opinion, they are much better utilized as skillets and pots. 

Copper  

At the higher end of the price spectrum, copper pans are my favourite. Out of all the different materials used to make cookware, copper is considered the best heat conductor. Copper's ability to quickly respond to changing temperatures (responsiveness) enables you to cook with absolute precision. Making it the best option for very delicate and precise jobs.

The only downside to cooking with copper is the fact that copper reacts quite easily with the natural acids in many foods. Cookware manufacturers, therefore, line the copper with a thin layer of non-reactive metal – yet again I must reiterate the importance of caring for your cookware! You will not be disappointed with a copper saucepan, just be sure that you won't be cooking foods that are very acidic when opting for copper. Copper is quite heavy and can be a pain to manage although I believe it is worth the workout. 

Hard-Anodised Aluminium 

A close second to copper, although in certain acidic situations this one takes the cake. 

Aluminium that has been electrochemically treated is distinctly dark in appearance and a must-have in the kitchen. Also coming in at the higher price end, they are engineered to be quite tough and resistant to chips and cracks. The electrochemical treatment creates a hard surface with a protective layer to prevent the metal from reacting to acidic foods. As I have mentioned previously, and definitely will mention again; take care of your cookware. As with copper, this metal should not be exposed to the harsh elements of a dishwasher. Gently wash by hand and keep it seasoned. Aluminium is also an excellent heat conductor and provides great responsiveness. 

Stainless Steel 

Ye' Olde stainless steel, the faithful and always dependable cookware workhorse. Stainless cookware does not react to any food, it is very durable and easy to clean. However stainless steel is not the best heat conductor in the world, stainless cookware is usually layered with aluminium or copper to reduce the effect of hotspots.

You will be happy to hear that stainless steel is considered safe to put in the dishwasher and if you really want to do it, who am I to stop you. Even though the dishwasher will not harm them, I am in the habit of handwashing all my pots and pans, just to add that extra bit of precaution. 

Honourable Mention:  Enamel 

I have added enamel as an honourable mention because I love cooking with enamel cookware. I did not include it in the above because I consider it to be another contender for 1st place, depending on what I am cooking. Enamel pans are never made purely from enamel.

They are always made by coating an aluminium, copper, or steel pan with enamel. It goes without saying that the quality of an enamel pan is based on the quality of the metal used in its production.  

Thickness Of The Base 

As a rule of thumb always go for the saucepan with the thicker base. The only thing you must remember when considering the thickness of the base, the thicker the base, the less responsive it will be. Remember, stainless steel is not the best conductor of heat.

Therefore, if you are heart-set on going with stainless and you are aiming for precise temperature control, you should go with a slightly thinner base – that being said, I would not consider stainless steel when aiming for precision. 

Handles & Lids 

I wish I knew who thought it was a good idea to make plastic handles for cookware. Such a person should be severely punished. Why in the world would you put a material that can melt when exposed to heat, on an object that is made for the sole purpose of being exposed to heat? I cannot begin to explain to you how many times I have accidentally melted a plastic/rubber handle on a pan.

I have therefore vowed to never buy any pots or pans that have even the tiniest bit of plastic on them. A lot of the plastic used on the handles and lids of saucepans are thermo-treated however I've never come across one that does not warp over time or melt when accidentally exposed to an open flame. To make the plastic matter even worse, they are almost always fixed to the pan using a screw. I guarantee that you will eventually have to tighten the screw, either daily or twice daily. 

There are three other methods manufacturers use to attach handles to saucepans they are. 

  1. Moulded into the unit: This method is most used in cast iron pans (mostly frying pans), easily recognisable because they are not actually attached to the pan, they are cast/moulded into the pan. 

2. Welded: Most common and second-best only after moulded handles. These handles are also made from the same material as the pan and then secured to the pan by welding. An extremely talented welder can make this look as if the handle is moulded onto the pan.  

3. Rivets: A rivet is a small cylindrical piece of metal with a flattened head on one side, placed through a small hole in both the pan and the handle. The rivet is then compressed to expand in the hole, this also forms another head on the other side securing it in place.

Every saucepan should have a lid. I prefer to have a lid that is made from the same material as the pan and does not have any plastic on it. If you like to keep an eye on the food without lifting the lid, you should opt for a glass lid. The only important thing to consider is that the glass is oven proof and doesn't have any plastic in the handle. 

Read our reviews of these non-stick saucepan sets:
> Ninja Foodi Zerostick
> Le Creuset
> Tefal
> Circulon


What Makes A Good Saucepan? Summing Up 

If you are like me and love to finish most of your dishes in the oven and loathe an electric stove (because gas is king) you should avoid buying a saucepan that has any plastic on it. Even though there are some amazing saucepans that make use of screws to attach the handle, they will eventually come loose and frustrate you. The more you spend on a pan with screws, the longer it will stay secure, I would rather not go that route and opt for one with a very secure, moulded, welded, or riveted handle. 

Choosing between the different materials will all boil down to personal preference and budget. Whatever you decide on buying, remember to take care of it, nothing will last forever if abused.  

Most importantly, do not overspend if you are on a tight budget. There are amazing products in the market that are very affordable. I hope this guide has given you some insight into how I go about shopping for a saucepan. If you consider these main factors, you will end up with a decent product that will last you a while. 

Braam Botha
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