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Don’t let the type of pan you’re using boil down to potluck
Choosing the right type of cooking pan is like choosing what film to watch on a Friday night. You may think you want to try something new, but more often than not you end up watching something you’ve already seen before.
Although predictable, it’s easier than trying to wade through all the different options available, especially if you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for. Maybe a friend has recommended their favorite, but until you’ve seen it yourself it can be hard to break away from old habits.
The same can be said for cooking pans. Reaching for your most faithful, trusted pan is an automatic reflex for many home cooks. You become familiar with the way it moves, how it feels in your hand, and the tried and tested results you can achieve with it.
But just like with films, by sticking to the same cooking pans every time you could be missing out on something so much better.
Besides, after time and repeated use, it could be your food that’s sticking to the pan, so it’s well worth investing in some new kitchen cookware.
Table of Contents
Types of Pan
Sauté pans offer a flat-bottomed, wide surface area to cook on, with sizes from 6-12 inches in diameter available.
They can hold a capacity of 1-7 quarts and unlike sloped sides, the high, straight edges of these pans don’t detract from the cooking area.
To accommodate for a larger volume of ingredients and thus the added weight, long, durable handles allow for easy maneuverability, and some pans feature an additional “helper” handle which is shorter in length and located on the opposite side.
Thicker pans are able to distribute heat evenly across the pan, and they do a better job of retaining the heat to maintain a steady temperature throughout cooking.
Made from stainless steel, they’re without a nonstick coating which means you’ll need to heat the pan and add oil or butter to prevent food from sticking.
However, the non-reactive material prevents any change in the taste of acidic foods such as tomatoes, balsamic vinegar (if you haven’t already we strongly advise trying the two together), and lemon, to name a few.
Why do you need one?
Sauté pans are versatile enough to use for a variety of cooking techniques.
To save on washing up, you can use the same pan to prepare an entire meal, from searing meat to sautéing vegetables, and creating a sauce from the flavors they leave behind.
It’s the lid that sets sauté pans apart from your typical frying pan, as this is what allows you to lock in heat and moisture while cooking which is perfect for searing meat joints or for simmering sauces.
They’re ideal for cooking with large volumes of ingredients, and the flat bottom means you don’t have to worry about your ingredients crowding in the center of the pan and releasing excess moisture, which can lower the overall temperature causing food to stew rather than cook.
If you’re cooking with ingredients that might spatter or jump right out of the pan, (hopefully not into the fire) then a sauté pan is perfect for preventing a messy hob, which is everyone’s least favorite part of cleaning up afterward.
Skillets are long-handled and have slanted sides that are 2-3 inches high, but they rarely come with a lid. They have a wider opening which provides better access for you to go into the pan with your utensils, to keep things moving around as your food cooks.
Typically you’ll find skillets are made from either cast iron, stainless steel, or nonstick coating for even easier cooking. Cast iron skillets are the most heavy-duty option, whereas stainless steel and nonstick skillets are lightweight and easier to maneuver as you cook.
They can range in size from 6-8 inches to 10-16 inches in diameter to suit the volume of ingredients you’re cooking with. Although the overall surface area of the bottom of the pan is slightly smaller than others, they come with their own advantages.
Why do you need one?
Skillets are perfect for tossing ingredients and cooking food served straight from the pan.
They can be used for frying, searing, browning, or braising, and the non-stick properties allow you to reduce the fat content in your food.
Different types of skillets are suited for different styles of cooking. For example, no matter how you like your eggs in the morning, nonstick skillets are your best choice as they prevent delicate foods from breaking up in your pan without the need for butter or oil.
The high heat that cast iron skillets can handle will sear your meat to perfection whilst imbuing even more flavor, and they provide outstanding heat conduction as a result of their dense thickness.
Instead of the usual maintenance with soap and water, these skillets are oiled and then baked in the oven to “season” the pan. This causes the intense, rich flavoring to build up over the years which provides a natural nonstick coating.
Stainless steel skillets do require a touch of butter or oil, but they maintain their heat well for even cooking. They tend to be the preferred choice among professional chefs, and you can create a deep-golden, browned exterior that you wouldn’t achieve with a nonstick skillet.
Grill pans have ridged bottoms that are designed to char food, with the fat that flows off the meat settling between the lines.
Many will also include a moat or other drainage systems. They’re harder to clean than flat surface pans, but the ridges are what makes grill pans so distinctive.
You’ll need to oil the meat rather than the pan, otherwise, the oil too will run down the ridges, although some grill pans feature their own nonstick coating.
Most are made from cast iron and their heavy weight allows the base to conduct and retain heat well for even cooking throughout the pan. Sometimes large enough that they require two burners, you can cook a variety of foods at once to utilize the space provided.
They can have either long handles, although due to their weight these must be durable and can be difficult to wield, or short handles. Shorter handles are located on the side of the grill pan which provides a larger surface area, but there’s more chance of them catching on the burner fire.
Why do you need one?
Grill pans are a must-have for anyone who wants to bring the joy and the flavor of outdoor cooking indoors.
They’re ideal for grilling meat, fish, vegetables, and anything else you would cook for a barbecue, creating those classic sear lines we all know and love.
Even without the addition of charcoal or wood chips, grill pans are capable of charring meat which causes the sugar to caramelize, imbuing some of that smokey flavor that grilling is associated with.
The ridges make sure that the meat doesn’t boil in the released juices, yet still benefits from the depth of flavor the fat provides.
They create less steam while you’re cooking, which also means you can make amazing grilled sandwiches for a quick, easy lunch.
To accompany the meat, you can also use a grill pan to cook slices of vegetables such as aubergine, courgette, and peppers. However, you would struggle to make any type of pasta or sauce dish, which is more limiting than other pans we’ve looked at.
Sauciers differ from your usual saucepan because of their rounded bases, wider mouths, and rolled lips, which makes them better suited to a number of applications.
You can use them to create sauces that live up to their namesake and a whole lot more besides.
They have tall sides up to 6 inches in height, and they come with a long handle and a lid. Sizes range from 1-6 quarts, although it’s a good idea to invest in a few different sizes so you have a saucier for every occasion.
There are saucier pans available in a variety of materials, including aluminum, stainless steel, copper, and other nonstick enamel-coated metals.
Multi-ply stainless steel is another type of saucier, and these feature an aluminum core sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. Taking advantage of each metal’s best abilities, they have better heat distribution for even cooking results.
Why do you need one?
You shouldn’t be fooled by their singularly-suggestive name, as sauciers are capable of cooking many dishes, including pasta, risottos, oatmeal – basically any type of food that would typically stick to the corners of your pan where it could burn.
Their wide mouths allow for frequent stirring which helps to prevent lumps of unincorporated flour from forming, and their rounded curves also make them easier to clean.
Sauciers will serve all your simmering needs, as sauces can be left to bubble away gently for extended periods of time to create aromatic, flavorful reductions. When using stock, the liquid is less exposed to air meaning they don’t evaporate too quickly, which is what produces such beautiful broths.
If you’re using a larger pan, you can then add further ingredients to round out your dish, resulting in rich stews or thick, flavorful soups, whereas smaller saucier pans are excellent for accompanying sauces, or for reheating previously made food.
Typically round or oval in shape, dutch ovens are different from any other pan we’ve looked at, with handles that are welded on and shorter than most. This allows you to lift the heavy-duty body of a Dutch oven with greater ease for added safety.
They come with a lid that can sometimes feature flanges, designed to fit snugly on top of the pan so that heat is effectively trapped inside. This is also helped by the thick bottoms and sides as Dutch ovens are traditionally made with cast iron.
Also known as French ovens, some of these pans will offer an enamel nonstick coating which facilitates easy cleaning, although unlike non-enameled cast iron, this can chip over time. However, it’s rust-resistant to prolong the pan’s lifespan, and seasoning isn’t a necessary part of its maintenance which makes it simpler to care for.
Available in a number of colors, they’re also one of the most aesthetically pleasing pans you can purchase, which is slightly at odds with their sturdy, solid design, although something we actually rather appreciate.
At least if there’s no room in your kitchen cupboards, it can be proudly displayed and will make a great centerpiece for dishes served straight from the pan.
Why do you need one?
Arguably one of the most versatile pans you could have in your kitchen cupboard, a Dutch oven will have you whipping up a variety of dishes, from soups to bread, sauces to chicken, and even deep-fried food!
Perfect for creating hearty, family-sized dishes (or if you’re a family of one, to create a week’s worth of meals), there’s practically nothing that can’t be made in one of these pans.
It’s all in the lid, which can be left on or off for different results.
Without the lid, your Dutch oven can be used to sear all sorts of meat, including lamb, chicken, ribs, and more. Once you’ve browned this off, you can add the lid to intensify the heat and retain moisture resulting in meat that practically falls off the bone.
Although opening up a host of cooking opportunities thanks to their versatility, where Dutch ovens really excel is in slow-cooking, which means they’re a great choice for cooking tender, meaty stews, and an array of one-pot wonders.
Ready, Set, Cook!
The best type of pan will depend on the dish you’re making, as different materials and construction mean some are better suited to cooking certain dishes.
Whether you’re cooking for one or a dinner party of 6, it’s important to know which pans you should have in your kitchen.
Here’s a quick round-up of what pans suit which cooking methods:
- Sauté Pan: Best for sautéing vegetables, searing meat, and pasta dishes
- Cast Iron Skillet: Best for searing meat
- Nonstick Skillet: Best for cooking delicate foods such as eggs or fish
- Grill: Best for grilling barbecue foods, grilled sandwiches, and vegetables
- Saucier: Best for simmering sauces and soups
- Dutch Oven: Best for soups, stews, casseroles, and other one-pot dishes
With that being said, you shouldn’t be afraid to branch out with your cooking pan choices, and we hope that after reading this you’ll feel more comfortable with the different types of cookware available so you can replace an old favorite.
Why don’t you try cooking with something new for your next Friday-night dinner, either to test out a new recipe or to see how it could improve upon your go-to favorite dish?
You can sit down with a glass of wine and enjoy the most recent film release while you eat.