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Thick metal construction is an indicator of a quality saute pan.
Copper saute pans should be lined with stainless steel.
Anodised aluminium and stainless steel clad aluminium pans give the best performance at a reasonable price.
Cast iron pans should be heavily coated with enamel.
Nonstick surfaces require less oil and clean easier, but may not brown as well as metal.
Riveted stainless steel handles are sturdy and versatile and will remain relatively cool.
A tight fitting lid is essential for braising, steaming, and for keeping food warm.
With a wide, flat bottom and high, straight sides, saute pans are versatile tools in the kitchen. The broad cooking surface of a saute pan is perfect for high-heat applications like searing meat and for long, low temperature processes like caramelizing onions. The pan’s surface area promotes rapid evaporation, crucial for reducing sauces, and the sides keep ingredients in the pan and prevent the splatter of grease. Although a large skillet is often as good as a saute pan for many jobs, a good saute pan has a tight fitting lid that makes it ideal for braising and other moist cooking techniques.
The Saute Pan
A good saute pan must heat quickly and evenly, being able to deliver the necessary temperatures for searing meat. A good saute pan must also be responsive, able to cool down immediately when removed from the flame for sauce making and other delicate tasks. For serious cooks, only the best will do, but for everyday purposes many mid-range saute pans work exceptionally well. When choosing a saute pan, we recommend looking for one of a moderate size (around 28 cm) made of heavy gauge metals that are as thick on the sides as on the bottom. Anodised aluminium or stainless steel clad aluminium pans provide an ideal balance of function and affordability. Avoid thin, inexpensive saute pans as they will cook unevenly and ultimately warp.
The best saute pans are made from copper and are priced accordingly. Copper is an excellent conductor, heats very evenly, and is exceptionally responsive to the flame. It is also toxic, reactive, and corrodes easily, so must be lined with another metal to be suitable for cooking. If you are serious about purchasing the ultimate saute pan, we suggest you choose one with a stainless steel surface. Although tin linings are slightly more responsive, they are not as durable as stainless steel and will wear out in time.
Aluminium saute pans are strong, lightweight, and heat conductive, but are also chemically reactive. Solid aluminium saute pans will alter the taste of foods that are acidic, basic, or contain eggs, will pit in contact with salt, and are unsuitable for sauce making. Anodised aluminium, an electrochemically treated aluminium, is an excellent material for saute pans. It is nonreactive, non-stick, and heats fast and evenly. We recommend anodised aluminium pans highly.
Although stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat, it makes an ideal cooking surface as it is nonporous, nonreactive, nontoxic, and highly durable. It browns food readily, a crucial factor for developing flavour. For stainless steel saute pans to heat and cook evenly, they must be bonded to a copper or aluminium base. These pans are acceptable for everyday applications, but if you are considering one, be sure the base extends the entire width of the pan or it will develop hot spots around the edges.
Our top recommendation for saute pans are constructed from layered aluminium cores and clad entirely in stainless steel. These pans are considerably more affordable than their copper counterparts, cook evenly, and are quite responsive to the flame. As a bonus, they will also work with induction ranges, ranges that heat with electromagnetic fields.
Enamel coated cast iron saute pans are great for pan frying and sauteing. They are durable, nonreactive, and provide steady even heat. However, they are not very responsive and are therefore not suitable for sauce making. If you are considering an enameled saute pan, be sure it is heavily coated as thin enamel will chip and crack in time.
Ultimately, the decision to purchase nonstick cookware will rely on your personal preference. Nonstick surfaces have their advantages and their disadvantages. On the plus side, they are easy to clean and require less oil than traditional pans to prevent sticking. On the downside, the surfaces can be delicate and they do not generally promote browning as well as metal surfaces.
Although innovations have made Teflon coatings more durable than ever, Teflon will release highly toxic vapours if heated above 350 EC. Empty Teflon coated pans should never be left heating over a burner. Inexpensive coated pans will scratch and flake easily and should be avoided altogether.
Anodised aluminium pans are nontoxic and scratch resistant. They tend to stick more than coated pans, but they do a better job of searing and browning and are hard enough to be used with metal utensils. Some manufacturers use an anodised aluminium that has been electrochemically “infused” with non-stick polymers or revolutionary ceramics to create more efficient non-stick surfaces. We recommend any of these as they are durable and effective.
A good handle must be strong, sturdy, and remain cool to the touch. Wooden handles provide the best grip, but are not oven safe and therefore limit the versatility of a skillet. Plastic handles can withstand oven temperatures up to 250°C, but can melt under a broiler. Stainless steel is a poor conductor and long handles made from stainless steel are oven safe and will remain cool for a good amount of time. We prefer hollow or wider stainless steel handles for their versatility, but we also keep a potholder on hand at all times.
Handles that have been riveted to the side of a pan are strong and durable, but the rivets may be difficult to clean around and can loosen in time with heavy use. Handles that have been permanently bonded to or forged from the same piece of metal as the cookware are ideal as they will never fail. We suggest avoiding handles that have been spot welded or attached to the cookware by means of a screw system as they will loosen easily and may break entirely.