What Is A Saucepan?

                                  One chef holds a saucepan in a smoky kitchen as another chef watches on

What Is A Saucepan?

It is estimated that saucepans were first invented in the 17th century, and were used only for making sauces. Saucepans usually have a small surface area relative to their height. This allows the even distribution of heat through the liquid in the saucepan. 

A tattooed chef smiles as he tastes a recipe from a ladle he has lifted from a saucepan

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  1. Knowing Your Pots & Pans
  2. What Is A Saucepan?
  3. Uses For Saucepans
  4. Saucepan Drawbacks
  5. Alternatives To Saucepans
  6. Frequently Asked Questions

    1. Knowing Your Pots & Pans

    A black metalic saucepan on a kitchen stove with steam rising

    I distinctly remember sitting by the kitchen table as a young kid and watching my Mom do magic. Her hands would move in ways I wouldn’t understand, assembling and disassembling ingredients like some sort of mysterious card trick, employing all these strange kitchen instruments and putting them on heat. And the results of her sorcery would be a delicious meal for the entire family. How?

    As a young child I watched my Mom do what I can now clearly recognize as simple cooking, but at the time it looked like something halfway between a complicated lab experiment and an otherworldly ritual. Not only because of what she did, but because of the implements she used. 

    When you grow up, you start to discover the truth about the things that fascinated and mystified you as a kid. For me, that also meant figuring out the intricacies of the kitchen. And while I’ve become familiar with a good amount of it in terms of recipes and techniques, there are still a few specifics that sometimes elude me. For instance, the differences between certain pots and pans, and how they’re meant to be used.

    Sure, most of them are pretty straightforward, but every once in a while you come upon a piece of kitchen equipment that seems like a cross between two different ones, and you ask yourself “have I been using the wrong thing all along?” One of these sneakily deceptive tools is the saucepan. Not quite a pot, not quite a frying pan, but something else entirely. I soon realized that many home chefs felt the same way. 

    How is a saucepan meant to be used? What is the difference between a saucepan vs pot? Do you even need a saucepan in your kitchen? Let’s explore these topics together. But remember: ultimately, the best kitchen tool is the one you have. While it’s useful to have specific pots and pans for specific jobs, they are just tools. You’re the one doing the cooking.

    Just like a sharp knife isn’t going to magically turn your dinner into a five-star gourmet meal, a sauce pan isn’t going to transform your pasta sauce. Keeping that in mind, let’s delve into the details of what sets this pan apart from the rest.

    2. What Is A Saucepan?

    A black saucepan against a white background

    History Of The Saucepan

    The saucepan is an interesting piece of cookware. It’s a bit of an odd duck, and yet you’ll find it in just about every professional kitchen (and many home kitchens as well). It’s a useful tool that can be used for a lot of different tasks. In this sense, it is a valuable addition to your kitchen arsenal.

    Sometimes to really understand the essence of what something is, all you have to do is analyze its name. In the case of the saucepan, it’s all right there: it is a pan that can be used to cook sauces. But of course, that’s not all it can do; its distinct shape makes it quite a versatile tool. 

    It is estimated that the sauce pan was first invented in the 17th century, and was used only for making sauces. Of course, as with every kitchen innovation, it wasn’t long before people figured out other ways to use it. We’ll get into other uses for the saucepan a little later.

    Saucepans are made of a wide variety of materials. You’ll find stainless steel saucepans, aluminum saucepans, copper saucepans, enamel cast iron saucepans, enamel coated saucepans. Some saucepans come with a nonstick coating, some come with glass lids and others come with stainless steel lids. 

    So how do we know whether we’re dealing with a saucepan or another type of pan? Let’s talk about visual indicators.

    Shape Of A Saucepan

    Because of its distinct shape, a saucepan can be used for some tasks that are normally done by pots, and some tasks that are normally done by pans. You’ll recognize a saucepan because it is deep, with high sides and straight edges. It also usually features one long handle (as opposed to the two loop handles you’ll usually find on pots). 

    Saucepans usually have a small surface area relative to their height. This allows the even distribution of heat through the liquid in the saucepan. They are most commonly used on the stovetop, though they can also be put in an oven (of course, check that your saucepan is oven-safe first; cast-iron ones usually are, but nonstick ones may not be). 

    A saucepan comes in many sizes, though you’ll normally find it in the 2-3 quart range. It is much deeper than a frying pan, and usually not as wide. It’s also smaller than a stock pot or dutch oven, while being taller and narrower than a sauté pan.

    You've got the basics down and your oven mitts ready... So what can we actually use saucepans for?

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    3. Different Uses For Saucepans

    A silver saucepan that is bubbling to the lid on a black kitchen stove

    If you need to cook something that’s mostly liquid, a covered saucepan could be just what you need. It’s a fantastic tool for stewing, simmering, making soups, and -- as the name implies -- making sauces. Because whether it's stainless steel or enamel cast iron, its shape means you’ll be able to reduce sauces quickly and easily. And due to its shape, you can even use saucepans to braise or sauteing. 

    Because of its shape and size, you can also use saucepans to make pasta, lentils, risotto, or even mashed potatoes. Its method of distribution of heat works for a number of different dishes, and their lid aids in the creation of steam.

    Saucepans are smaller than stockpots, however, so if you’re needing large amounts of stock, or planning to make large quantities of soup or a stew, you’re going to have a tough time doing it with a mini saucepan. For those uses, you need a stockpot. And this leads us right to our next point...

    4. Saucepan Drawbacks

    Hands using a yellow sponge over a sink to clean the bottom of a burned saucepan

      Yes, saucepans are useful tools, but even if you've picked up a beautiful le creuset - they also have significant drawbacks that might compel you to seek out an alternative instead. 

      When cooking, saucepans are a little “high-maintenance”; they require frequent stirring, and you’ll often find that food is in constant risk of burning or sticking (nonstick saucepans or not). Depending on the cooking tools you’re using, you’ll find yourself scraping its corners very thoroughly. 

      This is due to its shape and size, and how they interact with the heat: the corners at the bottom of a saucepan are straight, usually at an angle. It can make for some sticking, and excessive exposure to heat. For some dishes, even a small bit of burned food can ruin the dining experience. Regardless of cooking style, definitely don’t want that.

      As we mentioned before, saucepans are also not very big. Yes, this makes it a more “mobile” cooking implement, but it seriously limits the amount of food you can prepare in it. If you’re cooking dinner for a group of people, a small saucepan won’t cut it. You might find yourself reaching for the stock pot rather than the covered saucepan.

      Finally, saucepans are a bit of a pain to clean, also due to their shape and size. You might find yourself slaving away at it long after you’ve cleaned everything else in your kitchen, scraping and scrubbing the bottom corners. 

      5. Alternatives To Saucepans

        Now that we’ve established some of the drawbacks to saucepans, let’s talk about some alternatives; tools that are designed to cover some of the saucepan’s basic functions in different, sometimes more effective ways. Let’s talk about some of these different tools, and how they stand apart from the saucepan. 

        Sauté frying pans

        A sauté frying pan is a cousin to the saucepan. Some consider it to be a hybrid between a saucepan and a frying pan. It also comes with a lid, and are better at sauteing and searing due to their wider base for heat distribution.

        1. 12" Sauté Frying Pan | ETERNA Nonstick | Oberon Series

        12" Sauté Frying Pan | ETERNA Non-stick | Oberon Series | Dalstrong ©

        This incredible sauté pan is an absolute powerhouse, with a 3-ply aluminum core and impeccable heat conductivity. Unlike other aluminum cookware, the Dalstrong Oberon series uses cladding technology to fuse additional layers of nonreactive stainless steel to ensure that your food is delicious and safe.

        PROS:

        • Features the nonstick Eterna® coating, which lasts longer than traditional nonstick technology.
        • 3-ply aluminum core cladded with thick-gauge layers of 18/10 stainless steel.
        • Gorgeous piece of cookware, with an eye-catching design.
        • Dishwasher, freezer, and refrigerator safe.

        CONS:

        • While this is fantastic at sauteing, it might not be the best choice if you’re looking to cook something that’s mostly liquid. 
        • This pan features a simple, clean, elegant design; if you’re looking for something with a bit more visual flair, check out the pans in the Avalon series.

        2. 12" Sauté Frying Pan | Hammered Finish Silver | Avalon Series

        12" Sauté Frying Pan | Hammered Finish Silver | Avalon Series | Dalstrong ©

        An absolutely stunning piece of cookware with a 5-ply copper forged foundation. A perfect match of top-notch appearance and premium performance.

        PROS:

        • Premium conductivity, 5 times better than iron and 20 times better than stainless steel.
        • Ultra strong 2.5mm thickness, ensuring your sauté pan never bends or warps.
        • Super easy to clean. 
        • A perfectly angled handle, designed for a comfortable and secure hold while cooking.
        • Beautiful look, with a gorgeous hammered finish and a handsome lid.
        • Also comes in a stylish black presentation: 12" Sauté Frying Pan | Hammered Finish Black | Avalon Series
        CONS:
        • This incredible piece of cookware is towards the upper end of the price range represented in this list.
        • Unlike the sauté pans in the Oberon series, this pan does not have a nonstick surface. Keep that in mind if you’re looking for a nonstick pan.

        Stock pots

        A stock pot is considerably larger than a saucepan and will be a better solution for when you need to cook large amounts of liquids, such as a soup or a stew.

        1. 3 Quart Stock Pot | Silver | Oberon Series

        3 Quart Stock Pot | Silver | Oberon Series | Dalstrong ©

        This 3-quart stock pot from the Oberon series is a fantastic tool for your kitchen. It’s large, but not too large, and can easily accomplish just about everything a saucepan can.

        PROS:

        • 3-ply aluminum core, with additional layers of non-reactive 18/10 stainless steel.
        • Powerful and durable, with ultra strong 2.5mm thickness.
        • Comes with a thick, extra-strong 4mm tempered glass lid, providing a clear window during the cooking process.
        • Great heat responsiveness to precise changes in temperature.
        • Oven and broiler safe.
        • Fantastic value.

        CONS:

        • If you need an even larger pot, check out the 5-quart stock pot below.
        • This stock pot comes with one large handle; if you’re looking for the more traditional design (with two side loops), you should be looking at the stock pots in the Avalon series.

        2. 5 Quart Stock Pot | Hammered Finish Black | Avalon Series

        5 Quart Stock Pot | Hammered Finish Black | Avalon Series | Dalstrong ©

        This is about the coolest-looking (not to mention best-performing) 5-quart stock pot you’ll find. This large pot from Dalstrong’s Avalon series is a great example of function meeting form.

        PROS:

        • Features a 5-ply copper forged foundation, with additional interior layers of aluminum and 18/10 stainless steel for great heat conductivity and retention.
        • Incredible design, with a stylish black look and hammered finish.
        • Features an engraved side-handle for better weight distribution.
        • Stainless steel lid with a vented hole for pressure releasing.
        • Oven and broiler safe and great at retaining heat. 

        CONS:

        • A 5-quart stock pot might be a bit too large for some home cooks, but your mileage may vary.
        • This is a powerful, solidly built piece of cookware, so it’s a bit on the heavier side. 

        6. Frequently Asked Questions

        Is a saucepan a frying pan?

        Well, not really. They’re different in shape because of the jobs they were designed to do. And while there is a bit of crossover -- there are certain tasks you could do with both -- you’ll find that their shapes best fit their intended purpose.

        For instance: Saucepans are deep in order to hold enough liquid to make sauces, while frying pans are shallow. The base of a frying pan is very wide in comparison to the sides, because its cooking surface needs to be able to heat up quickly and evenly for frying. And crucially, saucepans are designed to retain liquid, while frying pans are designed to get rid of it.

        What is a saucepan used for?

        A saucepan is a good tool for cooking anything that is mostly liquid. Whether that is making sauces (such as pasta sauce), soups, or tasks like stewing, simmering and boiling water. We go over this in detail in the “Different Uses For Saucepans” section above. 

        What is the difference between a pot and a pan?

        The main difference is their intended purpose, and all the other differences stem from that. Pots are used for simmering or boiling liquids that cover ingredients completely, cooking from all sides (and usually come with a lid). Meanwhile, pans are used for cooking methods that apply high heat, such as reducing, sauteing, searing, or frying.

        In terms of their shape, you’ll find that pans are shallow and feature one long handle, whereas pots have tall sides and usually have two loop handles. A saucepan is a bit of a hybrid between pan and pot.

        Are nonstick saucepans safe?

        Yes! Today’s nonstick cookware is completely safe for normal home cooking. You’ll be fine as long as you keep temperatures below 570°F (300°C) -- which is an extremely hard temperature to reach in the context of everyday home cooking. At that point, the nonstick coating may get damaged and/or release harmful toxins, depending on the type of coating the pan uses.

        How do I clean a stainless steel saucepan?

        The best way to clean a stainless steel pan is to place half an inch of water in the pan, then add a cup of household vinegar. Bring this to a boil. Turn off the heat and add 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Let the mix foam. When it’s a bit cooler (still warm but not enough to burn you) you can wash the pan with a sponge.

        For a more detailed explanation, including step-by-step instructions (as well as additional tips), check out our explainer on how to clean stainless steel pans.

        Is it better to buy a cookware set or individual pots and pans?

        The short answer is: it depends completely on your specific needs. Maybe you have a pretty thorough collection of pots and pans and all you need is to round it out with a few useful additions. Or maybe you’d like to clean house and start over from scratch. It’s going to vary depending on your specific circumstances.

        I will say that buying cookware sets is a good way to save money. A good cookware set -- such as the Avalon series 12-piece cookware set -- is much more affordable than buying the pieces separately or attempting to build your own set. 

        How should I organize my pots and pans?

        The first thing you need to do is take stock of what you actually have. Take out all your pots and pans (as well as their respective lids) and lay them out on an open surface. Then you need to make some choices: you may find that you don’t actually use all your pots and pans, in which case some of them might just be taking up valuable space. Consider donating them.

        Once you’ve done that, make sure to clean all your pots and pans -- some of them may have collected dust or dirt. Then take a look at the storage space at your disposal and decide whether you need to install additional racks or shelves. It can be hard to know until you have a better sense of what you actually have.

        Then, it’s a simple matter of maximizing the available space based on shapes, sizes, and accessibility. We’ve created a pretty thorough explainer on this topic, which you can check out here.

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        Written by Jorge Farah

        Born on the coast of Colombia and based in Buenos Aires, Jorge is a cooking enthusiast and kitchenware obsessive with a tremendous amount of opinions.