It doesn’t matter if you’re an occasional home cook or a professional chef, a quality saucepan is a staple in any kitchen. From stainless steel to aluminium, there’s a huge range of materials and finishes to discover. To help you find the right type for you, we asked expert chef Peter Sidwell for tips on how to choose the best saucepan.
What is a saucepan?
A saucepan is a round piece of cookware that has a wide base, steep sides, and long handle. It’s much deeper than a frying or sauté pan, but not as deep as a stock pot.
Saucepans tend to come with a lid, which help to speed up the boiling process and retain liquid during cooking.
The flat base and deep sides of a saucepan make it ideal for cooking liquids on the stovetop. Ever tried to cook a saucy dish in a frying pan? Spoiler alert: mess, everywhere.
A saucepan’s tall walls help to lock in moisture and limit evaporation, so it can make short work of boiling, blanching, poaching, and reducing sauces down.
What type of saucepan can I use on my hob?
Before you start browsing shiny new saucepans to add to your collection, take a look at what you’ll be cooking your saucepan on.
Nowadays, pans are made for use on specific types of hobs, so you might find that certain pieces of cookware aren’t compatible with the stove you have at home.
To save yourself the disappointment of falling in love with a saucepan to find that it can’t be used with your hob, make sure you check what type of stove you have before you start browsing.
Here are the most common hob types and which pans can work with them:
Induction 一 Induction hobs contain a special wire coil that creates a magnetic field. When an induction-ready pan is placed on the ring, the field heats up the metal molecules in the pan.
Unfortunately, a lot of traditional pans won’t work on an induction stovetop as they’re not made to react with the magnetic field, so induction-hob users will need to be extra careful that they’re shopping for the right type of pan. For example: unlined copper pans won’t work on an induction stove, but those that are bonded with a magnetic metal will.
If you want to learn more about the science behind induction hobs, take a look at our Induction Pan Guide here.
Ceramic 一 Ceramic stoves are easily identifiable with their smooth glass surface and electric heating component below. However, the component itself can vary between models, with some ceramic hobs using halogen or radiant rings.
To find a pan that works with a ceramic stove, check that it’s compatible with the ring component on your hob. Thankfully, most pans are, except for copper, stainless steel, and pans with exposed glass bases.
Halogen 一 Halogen hobs get their name from the halogen lamps that sit below a glass plate. These lamps generate heat which is transferred to the base of your pan.
Pretty much all pans will work on a halogen stove, bar ones with exposed copper or reflective bases, as these can cause the lamps to turn off.
Gas 一 As the name suggests, these stoves are powered by natural gas and an electric ignition lights it to create a blue flame. The flame then heats a metal ring which transfers heat to your pan.
While they may not look as hi-tech as fancy electric stoves, gas hobs can be used with almost any type of cookware. Some pans will be more effective than others: pans with thicker bases are better at retaining the high heat that a gas stove can give off.
Electric 一 Electric sealed-plate stoves use a special metal coil that heats up when electricity passes through them. This glows red and transfers its heat to the plate above it.
Electric hobs, like gas types, are compatible with the majority of pans. The one type that won’t work on an electric stove, however, is copper.
Which saucepan material is best for me?
To find the best saucepan material for you, have a think about its weight, finish, and heat distribution – and, of course, if it’s compatible with your stove.
The right pan should be able to make quick work of boiling and simmering food, and offer excellent conductivity for consistent results.
Aluminium is a classic choice for everyday cookware. It’s lightweight and affordable, making it a great option for anyone looking for a starter set of pans.
“The metal conducts heat much faster and more efficiently than iron or steel,” says Peter. So if a quick heat-up time and consistent results are what you’re after: aluminium is for you.
The downside to aluminium is that, in its true form, it doesn't cope very well with high temperatures and can react with acidic foods. This means that the metal can actually leach into whatever you’re cooking. Because no one wants a side of aluminium with their meal, a lot of aluminium pans are finished with a non-stick or anodised coating.
Aluminium can be heated to extremely high temperatures to form cast aluminium cookware, which offers a much more durable alternative.
Hard-anodised pans have been electromagnetically treated to make the surface of the metal extra strong so they don’t chip, scratch, or react to certain types of food.
Peter points out that this process makes them more sturdy and user-friendly than standard aluminium pans. “They’re easy to clean, conduct heat well, and you don’t have to worry about them reacting with acidic foods.”
These pans are also lightweight and boast excellent non-stick properties.
These benefits do come at a cost: anodised pans are more expensive than standard aluminium and they usually aren’t dishwasher safe. They also won’t work on induction stoves.
A favourite of professional chefs, stainless steel is a universal option for seasoned or starter cooks alike.
Peter explains that its popularity is down to its hardy and versatile nature. “It’s a durable cookware material that’s ideal for boiling, sautéing, and even baking,” he says. “It’s especially useful for small-batch cooking as it retains heat well and comes to temperature up evenly.”
They’re also non-reactive with food and generally tend to be dishwasher-safe. If properly cared for, these pans should last a lifetime – which is partly thanks to it not having a non-stick coating.
While you’ll be rewarded with a trusty pan that you don’t have to worry about scratching or chipping, you might need to use more oil than you would with a non-stick pan.
Ceramic pans are the Dutch oven of saucepans: they’re often considered one of the best-looking pieces of cookware. But underneath their slick, colourful exterior, they have a whole host of benefits that prove they’re not just a pretty base.
These pans have a special mineral coating that’s free from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, also known as Teflon) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA): the stuff that makes non-stick pans, well, non-stick. Some people prefer Teflon-free cookware as it’s known to release toxins when heated above a certain temperature, so ceramic makes a great alternative.
“As well as coming in many different colours to suit your kitchen, ceramic pans have a high heat tolerance and are non-stick,” says Peter. The non-stick properties are so superior that they require even less oil than other stick-resistant finishes.
But steer clear of metal utensils and putting them in the dishwasher as this can damage the coating.
Like stainless steel, copper can often be found in professional kitchens. They’re a premium choice that makes them more expensive than their other pan counterparts, but you’ll be glad to hear that you certainly get what you pay for.
Copper is brilliant at conducting heat efficiently and quickly. And if you opt for a copper tri-ply pan, you’ll reap the benefits of three different materials: an aluminium core evenly distributes heat and a stainless steel interior makes it corrosion and reaction-resistant.
“A good quality set of copper pans will last you a lifetime if you look after them,” Peter advises. Like stainless steel, their longevity comes from the fact that they don’t have a non-stick coating. Use a special copper polish to help them retain their shine.
The trouble with copper is that it doesn’t play nicely with a lot of stove types. Never use unlined copper pans on electric, induction, or glass-topped stoves – you can use them on the latter two, however, if the copper is sandwiched between a heat-conducting material like aluminium.
Cast iron cookware has built up a stellar reputation, but there’s also quite the rumour mill around its performance and how to keep it in good condition.
To dispel these myths, Peter puts it simply: “Cast iron pans do take longer to heat up, but once they do, they’re superb at retaining heat.” This slow but steady approach helps your flavours develop better than pans which come to temperature faster, and the sear from a cast iron pan is unrivalled.
“They’ll also last you a really long time, and once you’ve got it seasoned, their non-stick properties make them pretty easy to clean.”
Unfortunately, not all pans will come already seasoned. If you want to season your own, rub the surface of the pan with oil and heat it to bond the oil with the metal. This can be a lot of maintenance for those who want a quick, convenient option.
What pan coatings are best?
If you look at your pans in more detail, you might spot that the inside is a different colour and material to the exterior. Or, that the base is made of a different material to the rest of the pan.
This is known as a coating. Essentially, some pan metals are bonded with another material to help improve their efficiency. This could be to help some metals work on a greater range of hobs, or to make the surface less susceptible to burnt food.
Let’s look at the two most common types of pan coatings.
Enamel is also known as porcelain or vitreous enamel, and it’s cookware that has a glass coating. Glass particles are melted over a pan and fused to the metal using super high heat.
When choosing an enamel-coated pan, make sure that the coating is thick enough to keep food from sticking. The pan itself should feel sturdy too, like this heavy-duty offering from MasterClass, otherwise, the metal may warp when exposed to high heat.
The benefits of enamel are to:
- Strengthen the metal
- Protect against rust and tarnishing
- Create a non-stick and scratch-resistant coating
- Prevent certain metals from reacting to acidic food
- Make cookware oven-friendly
Pans with a non-stick coating are covered in a plastic substance that makes it easy to remove food from the metal surface. As well as being an easy-to-clean option, non-stick pans are a favourite for cooks looking to use less oil.
As we’ve mentioned before, the PTFE and PFOA non-stick coatings can seep into food at high temperatures or be easily scratched off by metal utensils and abrasive cleaning brushes. Opt for a ceramic non-stick pan if you don’t want to worry about the coating chipping.
Non-stick coating benefits are:
- These pans are easy to clean
- Food won’t get burnt or stuck to your pan
- Less oil is needed when cooking
Saucepans are sized based on the diameter of their opening. Here’s a rough guide to the most common pan sizes and what each one is used for:
|Size (cm)||Capacity (litres)||Ideal for||Shop now|
Peter talks us through how to choose the right-sized pan for your dish:
“If I’m cooking for one portion, I tend to look for a 14cm pan. It means that I can sear but also have enough space to add liquid. For example, I can sear a portion of fish and fry it on one side, then switch to a gentle poach to finish.”
It’s all about the versatility that a pan can give you, Peter goes on to explain. “Chefs like to make sure that they are in complete control, so being able to transfer a pan from the stove to the oven is a must.” Bear this in mind when shopping for your next pan and check that it’s oven and stove-friendly.
What to look for when buying a saucepan
1. Something compatible with your favourite cooking methods
While a pretty ceramic saucepan is going to look great, is it going to do what you need it to? If you want to sear a steak but finish it off in the oven, make sure you’ve got a pan that can do both.
And it’s not just the metal of the pan you need to look out for.
“Oven-proof handles are great,” says Peter. Check that yours aren’t going to melt when you stick your pan into the oven at 200 degrees. Avoid plastic wherever possible!
2. A matching lid
A great pan is even better when you have a matching lid to fit it.
“Lids can trap heat when you need it and release moisture when required,” Peter explains. They give you much more control when cooking, helping to take your culinary skills to the next level.
Using a lid can also speed up the process, if you’re in a pinch – which, in turn, can help you save on running costs. Every little helps!
3. Invest in storage
Let’s face it, as useful as lids are, they can be a pain to store away – or get out.
“I like to keep pan lids to hand as they’re essential for resting food and holding in the heat,” Peter tells us, “Most food tastes better when it's had a chance to rest.”
Make sure you’ve got them neatly organised with some nifty storage, like this expanding pan rack.
What are the best saucepans?
Best set: MasterClass Smart Space Stacking Pans
“This set is a great space-saver for small kitchens or camping. It’s easy to use and has a good non-stick coating,” says Peter.
The three different-sized pans easily stack together to make storage a breeze, and the comfort-grip handle clips on securely and easily.
Best induction-friendly pan: MasterClass Induction Ready Saucepan
“This is an excellent non-stick, all-round pan that works on induction stoves,” Peter recommends.
This saucepan combines the best elements of ceramic and aluminium in one high-performance, induction-ready pan: ceramic non-stick means you can use less oil and heavy-duty aluminium absorbs and distributes heat in a flash.
Best for cooking large batches: MasterClass Heavy Duty Saucepan
If you’re cooking up a storm for the whole family, or are savvy enough to prep food in advance in large batches, this saucepan is just the ticket.
“It has a good weight to it and the glass lid means you can always check what’s going on inside when cooking,” Peter comments.
Find the best saucepan to suit you today
A quality saucepan collection is the bread and butter of any chef’s cookware collection.
If you’re a cast-iron connoisseur or looking for something simple that gets the job done, there’s sure to be a pan to suit you. If your current pan can’t stand the heat, find yourself one that can!