Buying guide

All you need to know about saucepans and cookware:

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Saucepans

Sainsbury's buying guide to saucepans and cookware 

When it comes to buying saucepans it’s worth remembering that they’re going to get a lot of use. Chances are they’re going to be with you for a long time too so it makes sense to do a little research before choosing your pans. 

The type of hob or rings on your cooker will initially determine the sort of cookware you can choose from but whatever your cooking method and budget there’ll be a range of pans to suit.

Hob types

The type of hob you have will determine the type of pan that’s best for you.

Aga/Rayburn
In order that pans can withstand the high temperatures produced by Agas and Rayburns they need a thick base that ideally is broad and flat too. There are ranges of pans specially created for Agas and Rayburns but they are expensive and aren’t essential.

Ceramic hobs
This is an electric hob with ceramic glass covering the heating elements. Underneath the glass/ceramic surface could be radiant elements, ribbon elements or halogen lamps, but it makes no difference to the pans you can use, as most pans can be used on this type of hob.  Remember to lift and not drag the pans to avoid damaging the ceramic covering.

Gas
Any saucepan can be used on a gas hob but those with long arm handles, or handles with heat resistant coverings are better as flames from the hob can scorch unprotected or shorter extension handles.  If using metal handled pans, remember to use a cloth or glove when removing them from the heat to avoid burning yourself.

Halogen
A ceramic glass topped hob that is heated from below by a strong halogen light.  Heavy-based pans are preferable, as they cope better with the intense heat emitted from the halogen bulb but avoid pans with shiny bases.

Induction
An induction hob has a ceramic glass top that covers a magnetic coil. As the hob works by creating heat in the base of the pan via magnetic induction, pans used on this type of hob must be made of ferrous metal, such as cast iron,  Aluminium, copper and glass pans are not suitable for induction hobs.

Radiant spiral
Usually found on electric cookers, any type of cookware can be used on this hob.

Solid hotplate
These have a cast iron top with sealed electric heating elements inside and are best suited to pans with a flat base which allow even heat distribution. Don’t drag pans on a solid hotplate as this can damage the cast iron surface.

 

Pan types

Choose the correct pan for the cooking method. That way there’s less chance of a culinary catastrophe!

Casserole dishes and stockpots
Round, rectangular or oval-shaped pots with or without lids made from ceramic, glass or cast iron. Casserole dishes and stockpots also come in stainless steel, often with aluminium sandwiched in the base for improved heat retention. 

Egg and crepe pan
Like a frying pan but smaller in size. Shallow and round, with curved sides and a handle usually equal in length to the size of the pan.

Frying pan
Like an egg or crepe pan but bigger. Both can be used for frying and sautéing 

Grill pans/griddle pans
A thick-based shallow pan with low rising sides and often a ridged interior.  Used for grilling meats, fish and vegetables on the hob.  The ridges make for healthier cooking and leave attractive stripes on cooked foods.

Saucepans
Intended for use on the hob or range rather than inside an oven.  Available in a variety of sizes, high sided pans are best for heating foods with a liquid content and lower-sided pans are useful for reducing sauces.  On smaller pans look for a pouring spout to make transferring liquids easier. 

Steamer
A utensil with perforated holes in the base and sides.  Designed to sit over a pan of simmering water to steam fish or vegetables.  May have up to four levels or compartments for steaming different foods at the same time.

Wok
A traditional Chinese pan recommended for stir-fries, soups, deep frying or steaming.  Best used with long handled implements such as spatulas and ladles to prevent the hand from scorching when cooking.  Woks are generally coated with non-stick materials, but may require seasoning before using it for the first time.  Not suitable for induction hobs.

 

Pan materials

Cast iron
Cast iron retains heat longer than any other cooking material, making it ideal for stewing and slow cooking. Food cooked in cast iron pans will continue to cook even after being removed from the heat.  Many cast iron dishes have an enamel exterior to protect and give aesthetic appeal and often a non-stick interior.  They are suitable for all hob types but are very heavy.

Stainless steel
Stainless steel comes in different gauges, for example 18/10. Made from a combination of iron and other metals the 18/10 refers to the respective percentages of chromium and nickel which are added to prevent rusting. Stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat so saucepans often come with a copper or aluminium base. Easy to clean and look after and available with non-stick linings, stainless steel is a popular choice in the kitchen because of its stylish look and its suitability for all hob types.

Hard anodised aluminium
Aluminium that has undergone a chemical process to make it smooth and non-porous is called hard adonised aluminium. Harder than stainless steel it is also crack, stain and chip resistant, this is a durable material that conducts heat well and is suitable for all hob types, except induction.   Often pans made of this material will have non-stick interiors.  Dishwashers can discolour hard-anodized saucepans so hand washing is recommended.

Uncoated aluminium
Aluminium is light and conducts heat well. It’s less expensive than other cookware.

Coated aluminium
Aluminium is the most common material for cookware because it is an excellent conductor of heat. Often coated with enamel on the outside for easy cleaning and with a non-stick coating inside to prevent food sticking, thickness is key so avoid lightweight aluminium pans.  

Enamel on steel
Also known as stove enamel or baked enamel. A plastic decorative coating is applied to the exterior in a variety of finishes and colours so it’s often available in fashionable colours. Good for slow cooking.

Non-stick coatings
Non-stick coatings are used in pans to prevent food sticking and to make them easier to clean. Non-stick pans require less oil for cooking and clean easily when looked after but should only be used with wooden utensils to stop the surface from being scratched. Overheating deteriorates non-stick coatings so the thicker the pan the better the heat distribution and protection of the non-stick.

Glass
Cookware made of glass has been treated to make it smooth, durable and resistant to extreme temperatures and chemicals.  Easy to clean, this is a versatile cookware material as it can be moved direct from freezer to hob and is even microwavable. It retains heat well but food can burn easily as glass gives very poor heat distribution. It is not suitable for induction hobs. 

Copper
The most expensive cookware material, copper is an excellent conductor of heat but must be maintained using special copper cleaner, so is not always a practical choice for a busy kitchen. Copper can contaminate the flavour of food cooked in it so most modern pans have a stainless steel interior.

Looking after your cookware

  • Always check instructions to see if a utensil is dishwasher safe, if in doubt wash with a soft cloth and warm soapy water
  • Avoid abrasive washing utensils and chemicals that may damage pans
  • Allow pans to cool before immersing in water
  • To avoid warping, don’t put empty pans directly onto or into a heat source
  • Avoid metal utensils in a non-stick coated pan
  • Dry pans thoroughly before storing

 Sizes

Cookware and saucepans come in a range of standard sizes and shapes. They are measured in cms and the size given relates to the diameter of the pan.