Most saucepans are made to last for years and are therefore quite an investment, so when choosing which type to buy, you need to consider both practicality and looks.
Choosing your cookware
Before you decide which cookware to buy, you will need to bear the following points in mind:
Its suitability for your hob or cooker
That it’s suitable for the type of food to be cooked
Whether it’s dishwasher safe
To make the right choice, it helps to understand the different types of hobs and heat sources.
You can use any type of saucepan on a gas hob. Make sure you regulate the flame to prevent it extending beyond the base of the pan, as this wastes gas and can damage the saucepan handle.
Any type of cookware can be used on radiant spiral elements, which are often found on electric cookers.
Solid hotplates are usually made from cast iron and have a sealed electric element inside. The best pans to use with this type of hob are those with a flat base, ensuring that they heat evenly without wasting energy.
An electric hob made from ceramic glass with a heating element underneath. Remember always to lift pans and not slide them, otherwise the ceramic surface may be damaged.
The points applying to ceramic hobs also apply to halogen. The difference is that the heat comes from halogen lamps under the glass which efficiently transmit heat and light upwards. Use pans with thick bases, as they can be subjected to short bursts of intense heat with this type of hob. Avoid very shiny bases as they can reflect the light, causing the lamps to switch off.
Induction hobs are made from smooth, ceramic glass, the heat coming from a magnetic induction coil which heats the cookware but not the cooking surface. The heat from the cookware is transferred to the food.
Pans suitable for this type of hob must be made from magnetisable metal such as cast iron or steel. Pure aluminium or copper pans will not work with this type of hob unless the base is bonded with a magnetic metal.
This term refers to cookers such as Agas which often generate hot water and heat the house as well as being used for cooking. Choose pans with thick bases which can withstand the high temperatures produced.
Hard anodised aluminium
Hard anodising is a chemical process which changes the surface of aluminium, making it non-porous, glass-smooth and stronger than steel. This creates a scratch-resistant surface which cannot chip, crack or peel. A nonstick coating may also be applied to the interior. This material is suitable for all types of hob except induction.
Many aluminium pans have an enamel coating on the outside and a nonstick coating on the inside. An enamel exterior is tough and easy to clean, while a good quality nonstick interior is resistant to scratching and staining and will last for several years providing you use the correct utensils and take care not to overheat the pan. The nonstick coating also works as a barrier, protecting the food from the transference of metal.
Cast iron is thick and heavy and retains and distributes heat well. Although it takes a while to heat up, once it has done so it will retain heat, requiring only a low to medium heat, ideal for food which needs slow, steady cooking. Bear in mind that this will mean the food will continue to cook for some time after the heat has been turned off.
Most cast iron pans have an enamel exterior and an enamel or non-stick interior. They are suitable for all types of hob, including induction. You should, however, be mindful of the weight of a full cast iron pan if you plan to use them on a hob with ceramic surface, since care must be taken to lift rather than drag them. If this is likely to prove difficult you should consider another type of cookware.
Stainless steel is a combination of iron and other metals. Chromium and nickel are added to prevent rusting and tarnishing and the steel has various quantities of these metals included according to its quality.
Stainless steel has a hard surface which will not chip, flake, peel or break and is easy to clean, retaining its good looks even after years of use. It is a poor conductor of heat, so the base is often bonded to another metal, usually copper or aluminium which conduct heat well, resulting in even cooking and the elemination of hot spots. Some ranges have a nonstick coating, while others have items within the range which are nonstick such as milk pans and frying pans.
Glass cookware is made from hard, smooth glass ceramic which is unaffected by heat, water and chemicals. It is completely resistant to extremes of heat and cold and can be used in the freezer and moved directly from the fridge to the hob, oven or microwave.
It is slow to heat but retains heat well and will continue to cook the food after you have removed the pan from the heat. Glass is suitable for all heat sources except induction.
Copper is an excellent conductor, heating up very quickly, distributing heat evenly resulting in no hotspots. It’s bonded with stainless steel to give strength, however it is an expensive material and this is reflected in the price. Copper pans need maintaining with a special cleaner to keep them looking good.
Caring for your cookware
Don’t put an empty pan on a hot burner or in a heated oven. This wastes energy and may damage the pan.
Don’t put a hot pan in cold water or pour cold water into it. This can cause the base of the pan to warp. Leave to cool before washing in hot, soapy water.
Leave pans to soak before trying to remove stubborn food residue.
Avoid metal utensils and do not use scouring pads, steel wool or abrasives when cleaning nonstick pans.
Ensure pans are either the same size or slightly larger than the heating area. If the pan is too small, not only is heat wasted but the pan will overheat and the handle may become damaged.
Use a low to medium heat except when bringing water to the boil. Too much heat will cause food to burn and may damage nonstick surfaces.
Store pans carefully and ensure they are completely dry before you put them away.
Most saucepans are dishwasher safe but some are not, always check the label.