Buying Guide to Pots and Pans: When you consider that most saucepans are made to last many years and are used almost daily, it’s well worth investing time and money to select a few, high-quality pieces. So, whether you’re equipping a kitchen from scratch or looking for some reliable replacements, our guide will help you decide whichsaucepans are right for you.
First, you need to establish what type of cookware will be suitable for your hob or cooker. Many manufacturers put symbols on the bottom of their cookware, identifying which hob or heat source it is suitable for. If in doubt, ask an assistant to double check.
You can use any pans except copper, stainless steel with an exposed copper base and glass ceramic. Make sure the pan has a smooth, flat base to provide the best contact with the hob ring. Traditional cast-iron pans can be used, but be careful not to drag them across the hob as they may cause damage.
Any type of pans, except copper.
All pans. Lightweight pans are good as they allow you to get the full benefit of gas’s controllability. Remember to regulate the flame to prevent it from extending beyond the base of the pan, which can damage the handle and also wastes gas.
All pans except copper, stainless steel with exposed single-layer copper base and pans with reflective bases. Choose pans that have dull or dark bases – if the base is too bright and shiny, the thermal limiter may cut out to prevent the glass overheating.
These hobs are increasingly popular but you may find you can’t use some of the budget ranges with induction heat – a light on the hob will start flashing if it’s not the correct type of pan. The only suitable pans are ones made with a magnetic material in the base, such as cast iron or stainless steel. Pure aluminium or copper pans will not work on an induction hob unless the base is bonded with a magnetic metal.
(e.g. Aga/Rayburn) Check with the manufacturer. As a general rule, heavy-based pans, such as cast iron, are best.
All pans except copper.
You’ll then need to decide whether you want saucepans that are dishwasher safe. And finally where you’re going to store them. Some new ranges have removable handles, making them easy to store neatly in cupboards.
Some people like to make a feature out of hanging pots and pans on a suspended pot rack, over an island or peninsula, but you may find they start to collect grease and dust and need washing before each use. You’ll also need to keep them clear of passing heads! For a more streamlined look, you can arrange your cookware in a line on the wall using a linear rack. And if you’re building a kitchen from scratch, a carousel in a corner unit is a tidy way to store them and have quick access to your pots without having to root around in a drawer.
Many aluminium pans have an enamel coating on the outside and a non-stick coating on the inside, making it tough and easy to clean, while the interior is resistant to scratching and staining. You can also get hard-anodised (see below), or cast aluminium – which looks like cast iron but has the weight and good heat conductivity of aluminium. Uncoated aluminium pans are not suitable for cooking acidic foods.
Heats up slowly but retains heat well, so good for long, even cooking at a low heat. Remember, though, that your food will continue to cook for some time after the heat has been turned off. Cast iron rusts easily on its own, so pans usually have a non-stick interior coating or a thin protective layer of vitreous enamel. Uncoated cast iron is not dishwasher safe but most cast iron pans have enamel exteriors and enamel or non-stick interiors. The pans are heavy and particularly suited to range cookers, although they can be used on all types of hob, including induction. However, because of their weight, take care to lift rather than drag pans on a ceramic surface.
Excellent heat conductivity. Good copper pans are very expensive but should last a lifetime. As copper reacts with certain foods, pans are normally lined with tin or stainless steel to act as a barrier – unlined copper pans must be kept for display only. Copper pans have to be cleaned periodically with a proprietary copper polish to keep them looking their best. Don’t use them on a glass-topped hob unless they have a sandwich-base construction.
Distinguished by their steely grey or black colour. The surface has been electrochemically treated to produce a hard finish that will not chip, crack, peel or react with acidic foods. You can use metal utensils, although these can leave marks on the surface of the pan. These pans are not usually dishwasher safe, but their surface is stick-resistant. Hard-anodised pans are reasonably lightweight and heat up rapidly, eliminating hot spots. Expensive, but perform and last well and are suitable for all types of hob except induction.
Good-quality pans that should last a lifetime, but they can be expensive. Food tends to stick, so you may have to use more oil. Stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat and is liable to have hot spots, so different materials such as copper or aluminium are usually incorporated into the base to improve conductivity – these are sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. Cooking on a low heat also helps. Stainless steel is dishwasher-safe and food does not react with it. Overheating and minerals in water can cause a ‘rainbow’ effect, but a good stainless-steel cleaner will remove these.
Things to consider: Pan coatings
Usually applied to aluminium, cast-iron or steel pans. Price varies according to the metal underneath. Enamel pans generally do not pit, scratch easily or react with food. They can, however, chip if treated roughly. Heat distribution can be a problem with some pans – if the coating is too thin, food may stick and burn, so avoid very lightweight pans, which can also warp over a high heat.
Ideal for frying, making sauces etc. A nonstick coating stops food sticking, reduces the need for additional fat and is easy to clean. Non-stick coatings are applied to most types of cookware, from aluminium and steel to cast iron and stainless steel. Choose the coating carefully as quality can vary – look out for branded coatings such as Teflon or Silverstone that come with their own guarantee. Do not use metal utensils or abrasive scourers as these can damage the finish.
Size and weight
Saucepan sizes are measured by diameter, with the smallest being 14cm. Cookware differs in weight from range to range. Although you will obviously be buying the pans empty, try to imagine how heavy they will be to lift when full. As a general rule, the inner capacity for the most common-sized pans is:
When selecting a wok, as with saucepans, you must consider the type of hob you have. All woks can be used on gas, but for glass-topped hobs, you must look for one with a smooth, flat base to provide good contact with the hob, as opposed to the traditional rounded base.
Traditional woks are made from uncoated carbon steel. Wash in warm water (without detergent), dry and then brush with a thin layer of vegetable oil to help to prevent rusting, as well as to season the wok.
If you don’t feel you have the time or inclination for the preparation and maintenance needed with traditional carbon steel, choose a wok with a non-stick interior. These do not appeal to purists but are easier to maintain.
✓ Dishwasher-safe As a general rule, pans with plastic or stainless-steel handles or knobs are dishwasher-safe; most pans with wooden handles and knobs are not.
✓ Flat base especially for electric cooking.
✓ Oven-safe Multi-purpose pans that can be used in the oven as well as on the hob save time and storage space. Check that the handle material is oven-proof.
✓ Pouring lips on both sides Ideal for a household with both left- and right-handers.
✓ Stay-cool handles and knobs Handles should be a good length and not too narrow.
✓ Well-fitting lids But free enough to allow steam to escape if there are no vents.
Never leave an empty pan on a hot burner or in a heated oven.
Try to avoid putting a hot pan in cold water or pouring cold water into it. This can cause the base of the pan to warp. It’s always best to leave a pan to cool before washing, in hot, soapy water, unless it is dishwasher-safe.
Take care particularly when cleaning nonstick pans, and avoid using scouring pads, steel wool or abrasives.
To remove burnt-on food, half fill with water and add a dishwasher tablet or tablespoon of biological washing powder. Boil for 10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.