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Updated on August 23, 2010
Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian
Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

If your saucepans are not satisfactory, all your cooking skills will come to nothing. When choosing pans, it is best to start with a few good basic ones, possibly in a range that you can add to later.

When starting from scratch, aim for a basic set that will cope with most foods. At the beginning you will need a minimum of two saucepans of 1.7 L capacity to cope with vegetables, together with a milk pan of 1/2  L to heat small quantities of liquid and to make sauces. Later on you can add pans of 2.8 L, 3.4 L and 3.9 L to cope with a growing family, larger numbers of guests or more ambitious menus. You can also economize on a casserole by buying a larger pan with a small handle on either side, which will also go in the oven.

It is essential to choose pans with a heavy base, whatever form of fuel you cook with. The heat will be diffused evenly across the base, without causing hot spots which could burn the food.

Pans must have well-fitting lids. These help conserve heat inside the pan while cooking (thus saving fuel), and retain vitamins in the food by speeding up cooking. They are also essential for successful steaming.

Shape as well as size should be considered, when you expand your saucepan range. One saute pan with a wide bottom but with shallower sides than the normal saucepan is useful, as it allows you to cook vegetables in a single layer.

If possible you should try lifting pans in the shop to see if the handle is comfortable to hold and whether the pan is heavy: remember pans will be heavier when full. The handle should be of a material such as toughened plastic or wood which does not get hot when the pan heats. Very large pans should have a small short handle oppositethe long oneto help you carry a heavy hot pan safely with two hands.

Several saucepans together can take up considerable room in your kitchen cupboards. It is sensible, therefore, to consider how pans are to be stored. Pans which nest inside each other are a good idea: two nests will be necessary for identically sized pans. Nesting is not suitable, however, for non-stick pans. Some brands are designed to be stacked on top of each other, others have holes or rings in the handles and can be hung in neat and decorative rows. It is possible to buy saucepan racks to hang pans, and plastic-coated wire racks to stack pans in progressive sizes which either stand in a corner or inside a cupboard.

If you own a dishwasher, you could consider buying one of the special ranges of saucepan that are designed to withstand the high water temperature and strong detergent. However a dishwasher will not usually remove badly burnt-on food and the pans will take up a lot of space in the dishwasher that you might prefer to use for crockery.


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