The best frying pan material is somewhat subjective to preference, the type of food you are cooking, and also the type of hob you are using. However, different materials used to make cookware have a wide range of properties that can affect how quickly your food cooks and even how well it turns out. In today’s article, we’ll give light to the questions – what are saucepans made of and what material makes the best saucepan?
Why Is the Material Used to Make Cookware Important?
Before we jump straight into the saucepan material guide, let’s first understand why the material used in creating the cookware is so important. Each component possesses different properties that contribute to how evenly the heat is distributed across the surface of the pan. They also vary in levels of heat conductivity. Combined, this conduction and distribution can make it easier or harder to cook specific foods.
The material used to make a saucepan is even more important if you cook on an induction hob that uses magnetic energy to conduct heat. This means cookware made solely out of aluminium or copper will not work on induction cooktops. Only a saucepan with a magnetic metal will heat up on an induction hob.
A Guide to Cookware Materials
Stainless steel and non-stick materials are often the most common types of materials found in a typical kitchen’s pots and pans. Does that make them the best? Let’s find out.
Stainless steel is entirely non-reactive to alkaline and acidic foods which makes it highly versatile. So much so that it is actually considered to be the most versatile cookware material. Stainless steel itself isn’t the best heat conductor, actually, it’s pretty bad at conducting heat. Hence, pots and pans are clad with stainless steel and contain a variety of core materials to improve heat conduction and distribution. For reasons that will become obvious later, the most common core materials used for the core are copper and aluminium.
Stainless steel is a tasteless cooking material and it will not alter the flavour of your food. It heats up quickly and reacts to temperature changes rather fast for accurate and precise cooking. Stainless steel cookware can withstand extreme temperatures. Plus, it can go in the oven as long as the handle is also made out of stainless steel. Just be careful because the handles will also warm up.
Stainless steel makes extremely durable cookware. It is dishwasher safe, resists scratches or dents, and allows you to use any type of utensil – even metal, without causing any damage.
It may take some time to get used to cooking with stainless steel if you have never used it before. This is because the cooking surface becomes very hot and food can easily stick to it, especially those that are protein-rich. To avoid this, make sure to use a good amount of oil.
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Pro tip: If your food becomes stuck, simply remove it from the heat source entirely for a few moments. The heat bonds the food to the pan and when it cools slightly most foods will naturally come off.
Cast iron cookware easily handles high heat so you can use it on the hob, in the oven, or even on the campfire the next time you go camping. It is the material of choice for dutch ovens, many fry pans, and grill pans but beware, it is pretty heavy, even the smaller sizes.
Cast iron pans have either a smooth or bumpy surface, are relatively inexpensive, and enable excellent heat distribution. Though they are actually poor heat conductors, they retain heat very well and much longer than other cookware materials, even without a lid or top covering. Adversely, this also means cast iron is slow to react to temperature changes and takes quite a bit of time to heat up or cool down.
Cast iron is not ideal for quick tasks, instead, it is best for searing, frying, or slow-cooking foods like pasta sauce. It naturally transfers iron to the dishes you cook, which can be healthy, but also transfers some flavour. Hence, it may not be the ideal material for cooking lighter flavoured dishes and sauces.
Cast iron pans naturally build up a non-stick coating after using for some time. This coating is called seasoning. Some newer cast iron cookware comes with a seasoning coating already present to make maintenance easier. However, many people still prefer to develop the seasoning on their pan with the foods they cook. In fact, cast iron pans are exceptionally durable that traditionally they have been handed down as family heirlooms from one generation to the next.
To clean cast iron, special care must be taken to prevent rust and it should never go in the dishwasher. Do not use any soap or water on your cast iron. Instead, use a small amount of oil to clean the saucepan and keep it covered or in the oven until the next time you want to use it.
Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled cast iron has a lot of the same benefits as traditional cast iron but doesn’t require special care. Of course, it won’t transfer iron or flavour via the seasoning and the enamel covering makes it even slower when it comes to getting hot or cooling down. Additionally, it still is extremely durable and versatile. Enameled cast iron also comes in a wide variety of fun colours.
Copper cookware provides saucepans with the best heat distribution by far, thanks to its high conductive properties. It is able to heat up and cool down rapidly which gives you a lot of control over the cooking process and the contents of your pan. In the same amount of time, copper cookware transfers twice as much heat across the surface area of the pan compared to the runner-up, aluminium.
Copper reacts to heat so pots and saucepans will always be lined with a non-reactive material like stainless steel or tin. However, it will almost always be stainless steel because it is significantly more durable and is less likely to hinder the copper’s responsiveness to heat.
Copper pots are highly versatile and make a great saute pan, frying pan, saucepan – you name it. They are also great for boiling water quickly.
Copper saucepans can be a bit on the heavy side, but actually, the heavier the better in this material. A heavy gauge of copper is preferred and used by the best chefs around the world because of their superior cooking capabilities. While there are a wide variety of copper percentage ratios in cookware, 90% copper and 10% stainless steel is the ratio of choice by professional chefs.
Of course, drawbacks for copper saucepans still exist. Copper is the most expensive material used for cookware, especially if you buy pans with a higher percentage of copper. Copper pans and pots need to be polished occasionally in order to keep them looking shiny and prevent tarnish or patina from developing. Lastly, it is not dishwasher safe so you’ll have to wash these pretty pans by hand.
When it comes to saucepan material, aluminium is the second-best heat conductor. Aluminium is also relatively inexpensive and lightweight when compared to other cookware materials commonly found in saucepans.
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Aluminium reacts with some acidic and alkaline foods. Hence, an aluminium saucepan or saute pan is usually lined with stainless steel, a non-stick coating, or undergo a surface hardening process called anodisation.
For the most part, aluminium pans also fall into the non-stick and stainless steel pan categories as well because of how materials are used in combination to cover an aluminium core or base.
Drawbacks to aluminium pans and pots include a fragile structure overall that scratches fairly easily and the inability to withstand extreme temperatures. High heat will cause aluminium to warp and lose its shape so we wouldn’t recommend putting these pans in your oven.
Ceramic or PTFE like Teflon are the most common non-stick materials used in saucepans. However, there are many different types of non-stick coating on the market because many companies develop their own. Non-stick cookware is great for beginner chefs as well as oil-free or lower-fat cooking. This kind of pots and pans are easy to use and to clean. A non-stick sauté pan is also our preferred type of pan for eggs and other fragile foods like fish, pancakes, or crepes.
Compared to a PTFE non-stick coating, ceramic is more scratch-resistant, safer, and also more environment-friendly. Ceramic possesses decent conductivity, can withstand high heat and is scratch resistant. It is also the most nonreactive component used for cookware, so feel free to use it with any type of food ingredients.
However, PTFE non-stick coatings are not designed to withstand high temperatures for extended periods of time. When they do, they start to break down and some may emit harmful gas. Meaning, this type of saucepan is not ideal for searing. PTFE coating is also fairly fragile, so always use wood or silicone utensils. This is particularly true with Teflon which breaks down easily and can start to flake off of the frying pan and get into your food. Also, avoid washing a non-stick saucepan with an abrasive scrubbing pad.
Carbon steel is third in line for the best heat conductivity when it comes to saucepan material. This metal saucepan is durable and inexpensive, making it a great component for larger speciality pans like skillets and woks. Carbon steel heats up slower than most other cookware materials but is still faster than cast iron. Actually, a carbon steel saucepan works similarly to cast iron but is not nearly as heavy and is quite thin in comparison. Like cast iron, it becomes naturally non-stick over time with adequate seasoning.
Once heated up, carbon steel can reach an extremely high temperature which makes it great for searing and prepping food quickly. And, with this heat capacity, it can go in the oven or broiler, provided the long handle will fit and also be able to resist the heat.
Carbon steel excels when it comes to cooking all types of Asian food and the common choice of material. It is ideal for stir-frying and cooking dishes with or without a lot of sauce because of the oversized saucepan shape or the elevated height of the sides on a wok. Often, carbon steel is also used as the core for enamelled pans.
Just take care to season and clean your carbon steel saucepan or wok with care to prevent rust from forming.
Stoneware and Clay
Clay and stoneware are the original materials used to make cookware. For the most part, a stoneware or clay pan will specifically be designed for oven use, and not for hobs. However, newer versions of these types of cookware that are more versatile and can be used as a saucepan or for boiling water are now available. A major benefit of stoneware and clay cookware is that it heats evenly and slowly, which means it is unlikely to burn your food on the bottom.
Clay and stoneware are often used in glazed casserole dishes, baking dishes, and pizza stones. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colours. They are dishwasher safe and freezer safe, too.
This type of cookware is best for baked pasta dishes like lasagna or macaroni and cheese, dips, brownies, or smothered dishes like enchiladas because the tomato sauce or pasta sauce won’t burn or stick to the bottom.
In order to prevent cracking your clay saucepan or baking dish, avoid putting it on a cold surface when it is already heated up.
Now that we have the answer to our question “what are saucepans made of?”, which of these metal or stone materials do you think will be best for your specific home cooking style?
Is a non-stick saucepan ideal for you because they don’t require you to use oil with every meal and are easy to use and clean? Do you want a cast iron grill pan for burgers and steaks? Or, are you considering to go the professional route and upgrade to the best heat conductor material found in a saucepan copper? Maybe you don’t want metal at all?
Most people benefit from a variety of pan shapes, sizes, and materials. Either way, now that you know how each component excels and where they fall short, you should be able to cater your pans to the specific dish you are making.