Cookware Buyers Guide


Choosing cookware can be difficult with the huge range now available to choose from. This guide will take you through the logical steps to help you choose the right cookware for you. It includes selecting the right material whether it be stainless steel, cast iron, non-stick, copper or hard anodized and also how to select the right pieces to suit your lifestyle. And finally we take you through choosing a brand of cookware and providing you with our personal recommendations.
 

 

Step 2: Choose Your Pieces

Once you have chosen the type of material you want to cook with, you then need to choose the actual pieces that you will be using. You might already have an idea of what you want whether it be a skillet, Dutch oven or just some pots and pans or you may be looking for a complete cookware set.
 



Saucepan
 

Well I guess almost everyone knows what a saucepan is, it is a vessel for cooking food. Saucepans come in a basic set of three or singly so you can buy the size that most suits your situation. They are generally round with sides that rise straight up and they can be made from stainless steel, tri-ply - which is a layer of aluminum or copper sandwiched between two layers of stainless- which gives you quick, even cooking without hotspots, cast iron, enamel, copper, hard anodized, porcelain enamel, in fact there are a variety of materials used to make saucepans. It really comes down to person choice as to what material you choose, as some materials are high maintenance to keep them looking pristine and others are very heavy.
 
When you are buying saucepans, apart from the size and material, check that the handles are attached firmly to the sides and nowadays handles are often oven safe and stay cool, glass lids are a help for checking on how the food is cooking without having to lift it and let out all the steam which drops the temperature inside the pot.
 
The basic 3 piece set is generally used for cooking vegetables and is a good starter set when you are starting out.  You will tend to add more of the specialized pots and pans as you become more experienced, but it is worthwhile buying a good quality set to start with and by adding a good fry pan or sauté pan you will be able to turn out a number of culinary masterpieces.


Sauté Pan
 

Many people include sauté pans in the fry pan / skillet group – but the sauté pan differs from these in one major respect.  It has straight sides – not sloped.  The reason for this is to aid the method of cooking that the pan is designed for.

The word sauté is from the French verb, sauter, which means ‘to jump’.  When you sauté food, it literally jumps.  When you see TV chefs moving a pan backwards and forwards very fast so that the food jumps up and flips over, they are sautéing.

The vertical sides mean that more food can be put into the pan as it gives it a slightly large surface area for the quick frying.

In all other respects, sauté pans are similar to fry pans / skillets because they have a long handle, sometimes a lid and are made of the same materials.

We hope that’s cleared up the frying pans / skillets et al mystery for you!  Now let’s take a look at some other members of the cookware family.

Dutch oven

The Dutch oven is used when you want to have oven cooking conditions on your stovetop or over a campfire – or you can use it in your oven.  The name ‘Dutch oven’ can be applied to various cast pots or kettles. 

The most usual one is the traditional, outdoor cast iron pot or kettle, which has a flat bottom and three legs to hold the oven out of the campfire coals.  The lid is flanged and flat for holding hot coals, so that the food is cooked from above and below.

 It has a steel handle which is attached to ‘ears’ on either side of the oven, to make it easy to carry.

Stove top or ‘for use in the oven’ Dutch ovens can be cast iron or aluminum.  They have no legs, flat bottoms and usually have rounded lids.

Chefs Pan

These are very similar to saucier pans and the only real difference is that chef’s pans are available with sloped or straight sides.  They are available in 2 quart through to 6 quart sizes.

Saucier Pan

Despite its’ name, the saucepan is not the best type of pan to use for making sauces. It is better to use a saucepan with sloping sides, which is called a Windsor pan or a saucepan with rounded sides, which is called a saucier.

Just like a saucepan, these have a single long handle and a lid. The reason for their improved efficiency is that they have shallower sides with a wider top diameter which allows for faster evaporation of liquid, so it’s quicker to maker a reduction sauce, or thicken a gravy. The larger ‘opening’ and sloping sides also makes it easier for stirring and whisking to prevent lumps forming in the sauce.

These pans have a thick base to allow the temperature to rise or fall quickly, as desired by the cook. This gives great control, which is necessary when cooking sauces.

It isn’t essential to have a saucier or Windsor pan to make sauces as many cooks manage perfectly well with a plain old saucepan but if you make a lot of sauces, it will enhance your enjoyment of cooking to have the pan that’s designed especially for that task.

Skillet / Fry Pan /Skillet

The first thing to explain is that ‘fry pan’, ‘frying pan’ and ‘skillet’ are all words for the same item.  In the USA, the most common name for this item is skillet and occasionally a fry pan whereas the Brits call it a frying pan.

Whatever you prefer to call it, this is a round, flat bottomed pan.  It has shallow sides which are flared or slightly curved.  They are used for searing, roasting and frying using a moderate to high heat.  The pan needs to be thick enough to conduct heat evenly but not so heavy that it makes it difficult to handle.

Skillets commonly have one long handle, although some large and/or heavy ones have an additional C shaped ‘helper’ handle to make lifting easier. 

Skillets may be made from cast iron, aluminum, copper or stainless steel.  They often have a non stick surface to make them easier to clean although anything with a non stick surface should not be put into a dishwasher.

Skillets that don’t have a non stick coating are wonderful for making ‘fond’.  This is the French word for the lovely crusty bits that are left in the pan after meat has been seared or cooked.  Fond makes a great basis for sauces and gravy, which may be made in the skillet once the meat has been lifted out.

There are several sizes (diameters) of skillet but the one most often used has a 12 inch diameter.  Skillets sometimes have a lid.

Omelet Pan…one of the fry pan / skillet family

Sometimes, small (or large, depending on how big you like your omelet) fry pans, frying pans or skillets are called omelette pans.  An omelet can be made in any skillet as long as it has sloping edges to make it easier to turn the omelet.  Many people prefer a non stick skillet for omelets and often keep that skillet just for omelets and nothing else, to preserve the non stick properties that are so necessary for sliding an omelet onto a plate.

Some people like to finish off their omelet under a broiler (grill) as this helps it to fluff up and rise.  A skillet would need a metal or heat proof handle for this method of cooking.

So the fry pan / frying pan / skillet is also an omelet pan.  But (just to complicate matters!) there is also a pan designed specifically for omelets although this is much less common.  It is a pan which has two half circles, hinged in the center.  Each side is filled with omelet mixture and once it is cooked, the two halves are brought up together, making a perfectly ‘folded’ omelet.

Stockpot

A large pot used for making large quantities of food such as soups and stews and chili. Ideal if you are entertaining or have a large family. You can also use a stockpot for making jam although a jam pan is preferable for this purpose.

 

Windsor Saucepan

 

This is a saucepan with sloping sides that flare out to a wide mouth. Because of its shape it is generally used for making sauces or reducing liquids, which it does better than the traditional shaped saucepan. Some Windsor saucepans have a lid, others have a pouring spout on the side.

 

Roasting Pan

 

A roasting pan is used in the oven for roasting meat, chicken and vegetables. Some roasting pans have a rack insert that allows the meat to be raised above the fat and juices so that the meat  doesn't stew. It also means you are cooking healthy meals by letting the fat drain away. You can also put the vegetables in the pan to roast in the meats juices, which sort of defeats the purpose of healthy cooking but it certainly makes the vegetable taste good.  Some roasting pan come with a domed lid so that you can comfortably fit in a chicken, turkey or rack of lamb/ The lid helps to reduce the amount of fat that splatters around the oven during the cooking process. 

 

Milk Saucepan

A small saucepan with a lip for pouring.  They often have a non stick coating and get their name from being used to heat milk for drinks, although they are also good for making small amounts of sauce or single servings of scrambled eggs or soup.

Double Boiler

Two saucepans, one fitting inside the other, so that the item to be cooked sits in the top saucepan and doesn’t come into contact with the boiling water in the bottom one.