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Which Saucepan Should You Use?

Which Saucepan Should You Use?

What is a saucepan? A saucepan is simply a circular pan that has high sides and a long handle. With such a broad definition, this piece of cookware has quite a few features with multiple options for versatility. Learn about the size, shape, and construction of saucepans so you can choose the best one for your kitchen.

Saucepan Sizes

A saucepan's size is a result of a few different factors: the capacity, the diameter, and the shape. Take a look at how these options affect the pan and how you should use it in your facility.

Choosing Saucepan Sizes: Capacity

Small aluminum sauce pan with non-stick finish holding a small portion of gravy

Small Capacity

Generally recommended for small cafes and delis, though it can be kept on hand by large institutes for whipping up a small specialty meal. Can be used for individual servings without fear of cross-contamination.

  • 1-2.75 qt.
  • Use for small portions of soups, sauces, and gravies. Also, use for individual servings like a gluten-free dessert for one or two guests.

Town tapered 3 qt sauce pan pouring sauce into a storage container

Medium Capacity

Medium is just the right size to handle a substantial amount of food without being overly large for its purpose. All establishments from large to small should have a medium-sized saucepan since it provides such flexibility in the kitchen.

  • 3-4.5 qt.
  • Use to handle multiple servings of grains, mashed potatoes, and blanched vegetables as well as a heavy custard or cream topping.

Vollrath Wear-Ever sauce pan with a spoon showing sauce raised above it

Large Capacity

Large pans are ideal for cooking in bulk as the size is only applicable for creating food en masse. Casual to upscale restaurants, pizzerias, and catering companies will definitely benefit from having a large saucepan on hand and ready to tackle meals for many people at once.

  • 5-7 qt.
  • Use for making pasta sauce, chicken stock, or a specialty soup.

Carlisle tapered sauce pan simmering on a stove

Extra Large Capacity

Especially ideal for eateries that serve one or two main dishes, extra large saucepans are great for cooking food for a lot of people, or for cooking a portion of a meal, like a pasta sauce, that will be used in many dishes. Cafeterias, hospitals, and schools will benefit from the extra large size of these saucepans, but typical restaurants will also benefit from being able to cook one or two bulk specialty foods that sell quickly in these large pans.

  • 7 qt. +
  • Use for making large quantities of stew, pasta sauce, blanching larger vegetables, or steaming lobster.

Choosing Saucepan Sizes: Diameter

Vigor stainless steel sauce pan holding pasta sauce

Narrow

Since the bottom of a saucepan is in direct contact with the heat source, having a narrow diameter means that less food will be touching this hottest part of the pan. As a result, these pans are better for cooking food when retaining moisture is a concern.

Dark non-stick sauce pan with a white sauce inside sitting on a stove

Wide

Having a greater surface area allows wide pans to heat more quickly and evenly. The bottom also acts as a large cooking surface when food needs to touch the pan itself, so wide pans are perfect for braising or for making a delectable custard.

Choosing Saucepan Sizes: Side Style

Vigor pan being held over a stove by both handles

Straight-Sided

Ideal for more versatile cooking, straight-sided pans provide better heat conduction and are great for reducing sauces and cooking vegetables. This pan is perfect for pairing with a lid to accelerate cooking.

Vollrath tapered sauce pan sitting on a wooden counter

Tapered

The flared sides give a tapered pan a shape ideal for stirring, so it is great for making desserts or cream soups that need to be stirred more frequently. Use this pan to cook food that needs to be at a low temperature for an extended time.

Compare Saucepan Materials

See below for the most common materials you will see saucepans made out of. Each material has its own benefits - choose which one best suits your needs!

With a standard silver color, aluminum pans are a popular economical option perfect for start-up restaurants, cafes, and diners. 

Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Excellent heat conductor
Cons
  • May discolor light-colored food
  • Less durable than other options
Stainless Steel Saucepans

Stainless steel pans also have that standard silver color while adding extra durability and weight that aluminum pans simply can't compete with.

Pros
  • Nonreactive
  • Extremely durable and rust-resistant
  • Induction ready
Cons
  • Prone to hot spots / scorching
  • Heavy weight

Most often used for display cooking, copper saucepans have a distinctive orange-red color. They will occasionally have a stainless steel handle to ensure reliable transportation. 

Pros
  • Best heat conductor
  • Visually appealing for display cooking
Cons
  • Most expensive option
  • Reacts chemically with some foods
  • Easily dented

These saucepans are made of stainless steel but have a few millimeters of aluminum permanently adhered to the bottom to better distribute heat. 

Pros
  • Distributes heat evenly and effectively
Cons
  • Heavy weight

Just the opposite of aluminum-clad pans, stainless steel-clad means the pan is made of aluminum and there is a few millimeters of stainless steel on the bottom of the pan. 

Pros
  • More lightweight than all-stainless steel options
  • Induction ready
Cons
  • Poor heat conductor
  • Prone to hot spots / scorching

With its main feature obviously being a non-stick surface, these pans typically have a black interior for easy identification. This interior is a coating of PTFE, or Teflon®. 

Pros
  • Coating prevents foods from sticking
  • Prevents burnt-on food
Cons
  • Dark color disguises the true color of the food, which can lead to over-browning
  • Easy to scratch

Tri-ply means that there are three layers of material: the outer two layers made of stainless steel and the interior layer, or "core," made of aluminum. Some saucepans only have the tri-ply construction on the bottom, the rest of the pan having a typical single-layer construction, while other pans have the tri-ply design on the bottom and sides. 

Pros
  • Nonreactive
  • Induction ready
  • Improved heat conduction
Cons
  • Heavy weight
Expert Tip

Induction cooking uses magnetism to generate heat. If you are unsure if you have an induction saucepan, just trying putting a magnet on the bottom of your pan! If the magnet sticks, you can use the pan on any induction surface.

Handle Options for Saucepans

Since saucepans are characterized by a long handle, looking at the types of handles offered is a necessity when buying a saucepan. You may also see some pans that mention a coating on their handles - this coating is used to protect hands during use by keeping the handle cool to the touch. When this option isn't available, you can always look at getting a compatible handle cover!
Close up of three rivets on an aluminum pan

Riveted Handle

Usually connected by 2 or 3 pieces of hardware, or rivets, this handle provides an excellent connection between the handle and pan. However, these rivets can easily catch or hold food, which makes cleaning more difficult. So while riveted handles are the most sturdy option, it is less sanitary than a welded handle. It is suggested to choose this type of handle for your heavy pans.

  • Strongest connection; made to last in commercial environments
  • Difficult to clean; can house bacteria

Close up of the welded handle on a Vigor sauce pan

Welded Handle

This handle is melted or welded to the pan during construction to provide a sturdy connection. The process results in a completely smooth interior on the pan and no space or crevices for food or bacteria to get stuck. It is ultimately less sturdy than a riveted handle, but it's more sanitary. It's best to choose these handles for medium- to light-duty pans. 

  • Sanitary and easy to clean
  • Connection is less secure when handling heavy pans

Image of a sauce pan with dark interior on a white backdrop

Helper Handle

A helper handle is a loop handle placed opposite the long handle on a pan. This extra handle lets you steady a pan during transport to put less strain on the main handle as well as less strain on your chef's wrist. Since it's designed to help carry heavy foods, you will primarily only see this handle on larger pans.

  • Provides extra support
  • Takes up more space during storage and while on a stove top

Vollrath stainless steel sauce pan on a white background

Hollow Handle

Air is one of the best insulators out there - hollow handles take advantage of this by creating a hollow tube that stays cool much longer when connected to a saucepan. These handles are better insulated than the typical solid metal handles you'll see. Likewise, they are lighter in weight and so contribute to an overall lighter pan. 

  • Stays cooler while cooking
  • Will not fit typical handle covers



Consider the Weight of Your Saucepan

Vollrath 7 quart sauce pan being held above a counter

The weight of a pan relies on:

  • Material
  • Material Thickness
  • Desired Size

Getting a lightweight pan is great for your chefs and dishwashers as the lighter pan is easy to maneuver, even when filled with food. The trade-off is that lightweight pans tend to have a thinner construction, which is easier to bend or ding. In some cases, if the rim is bent a lid will no longer fit on the pan. 


However, a heavy saucepan will not be easily dented so you can count on long-lasting durability. The compromise here is that chefs may struggle to lift and carry heavy pans filled with heavy foods around the kitchen. To help with this, try getting a pan that has a helper handle to help offset the weight while carrying.

Saucepan Thickness

Thickness is important when considering your choice of saucepan material. You will see the thickness described in either millimeters (mm) or as a gauge. Millimeters is a straightforward measurement of how thick the material actually is. The gauge is different as the system is reversed - the higher the number, the thinner the material. For saucepans, 22 is about as thin as advisable. On the other hand, the most heavy-duty saucepans can have a gauge of 8. Typically, it is standard to have a pan with a gauge from 16-20.

The advantage of a thin pan is the economical price point, the fast heat times, and the lightweight feel. But the thicker the pan, the more durable it is and the longer it is likely to last in fast-paced environments where pans get dropped, bumped, and generally abused in everyday use.

How is a Saucepan Different?

There are a variety of pots and pans in a kitchen, and they all have distinct uses. Let's take a look at how saucepans differ from other common cookware in your commercial kitchen.
Saucier pan with a stir fry on a gas stove

Sauciers vs. Saucepans

  • A saucier pan has sides that slope down to a rounded bottom whereas a saucepan has straight sides that connect at an angle to a flat bottom.
  • Saucier pans are better for stirring or whisking as foods won't get stuck in corners.
  • Use these to prepare custards, sauces, and creamy soups and foods. 

Large Choice stock pot with sauce inside

Stock Pots vs. Saucepans

  • Stock pots have the same straight-sided design as saucepans.
  • They have a handle on either side of the pot rather than a long handle for easier transportation. 
  • With large capacities ranging to over 100 qt., they can handle high volumes of soups, tomato sauces, and broths.

Large Choice brazier with meat cooking over a gas stove

Braziers vs. Saucepans

  • A brazier is similar in design to a saucepan, however it is wider and more shallow in shape.
  • It also has two handles rather than a long handle like a saucepan, and it is typically sold with a lid.
  • Braziers are used to brown, sear, and fry items more easily than a saucepan can since it has a large capacity and a large bottom diameter. 

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