Saucepans: a Stove-Top Basic for Far Beyond Sauces

View of homemade raspberry jam in a saucepan.

Originally patented by Alice May Knight of England in 1916, the saucepan continues to be a staple cooking tool more than a century later. Ranging in cost from about $10 to $900, there’s a saucepan for every budget or recipe. As its name implies, the saucepan is ideal for simmering sauces and soups but also can be used to cook pasta and grains, boil eggs, reheat leftovers and more.

While the standard shape of a saucepan features a rounded bottom with tall, straight sides, some varieties of this kitchen tool are shallow in depth and have flared sides, a more ideal shape for sautéing foods. A saucepan has a long, attached handle and often comes with a removable lid, which can help minimize splatters and control evaporation that occurs during cooking. Keeping the lid on helps retain heat and moisture in the food or sauce, whereas removing it allows the mixture to thicken or reduce.

Some saucepans also have a pour spout, making serving and transferring liquids easier.

Saucepans come in many sizes, ranging from the smaller 1-pint pans to the larger 4-quart option. Larger pans often come with a smaller “helper handle” located directly across from the long handle to help safely and easily move the pan while cooking.

In addition to the different size options, saucepans are available in different materials that make them ideal for various uses.

Stainless steel: Sturdy, easy to clean and affordable, stainless-steel saucepans are a popular choice. Stainless steel often is combined with small amounts of aluminum or copper to aid in conducting heat.

Aluminum: An affordable and lightweight option that retains heat very well, aluminum has one main drawback: foods sticking to the sides. Soaking the pan for 10 minutes in a mixture of 2 tablespoons cream of tartar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 quart warm water before hand-washing can help remove stuck-on foods and stains.

Copper: Although copper saucepans can heat up and cool down very quickly, they require a lot of cleaning and upkeep to maintain integrity. It is important to use a stainless steel- or ceramic-coated copper pan to avoid potentially leaching copper into food.

Cast iron: One of the heaviest and most even-heating options, cast-iron saucepans require a longer time to heat up and cool down. They also are prone to rust and chipping if not handled and maintained properly.

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Emily Cooper
Emily Cooper, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in central New Jersey. Read her blog, Sinful Nutrition, and connect with her on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

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