A saucepan is one of the most key tools in any chef’s arsenal. This type of pan has a distinct shape that makes it super helpful for heating up liquids evenly.
Chefs typically reach for their saucepans for any form of cooking that involves liquids, including pasta, mashed potatoes, grains like rice and lentils, risotto dishes, and more. They’re also great for braising!
If you’re curious about how to make the most of your saucepan, we’re here to help you out. We’ll walk you through the ins and outs of cooking with this versatile vessel, including its best applications, potential drawbacks, and when you’ll want to reach for something else.
Let’s get cooking!
Compared to many other pots and pans, saucepans have a relatively small capacity. In many cases, they’re only capable of holding 2-3 quarts, or ½ to ¾ of a gallon. This volume makes them perfect for small batches of soups, sauces, stews, and other liquid-based dishes and toppings.
However, as we’ve already mentioned, you can use saucepans to cook more than just sauce! Thanks to their distinct shape, they’re great for small-batch cooking of many kinds. However, the way a saucepan is designed can also be a drawback when preparing some dishes. You may want to reach for a more standard pot or pan if you’re preparing dishes with minimal liquid, including most meat, poultry, and egg-based meals.
Types of Saucepans
As is the case with many tools of the trade, a chef often has a variety of saucepans to choose from. Let’s quickly cover the different types of saucepans and their specific uses!
Small saucepans typically hold between 1 and 2.75 quarts. They’re ideal for personal kitchens, but they can also be used in restaurant settings like cafes. They’re great for making small servings of homemade sauce, but restaurants also often use them when preparing dishes for customers with dietary restrictions. For example, if a meal needs to be quickly prepared in a single-serve form for someone with allergies or intolerances, a small saucepan is a great vessel to turn to.
Medium saucepans usually hold between 3 and 4.5 quarts. They’re great for preparing grains, pasta, mashed potatoes, and other starchy foods. In addition, a medium saucepan is often used in a restaurant kitchen to prepare big batches of sauces or cream-based desserts. If you’re cooking at home, a medium-sized saucepan can come in handy in a lot of different situations. However, you may not want to go bigger than this for personal cooking!
Large saucepans can hold between 5 and 7 quarts. They’re usually only found in restaurant kitchens, as they are huge.
Many pizzerias use saucepans of this size to make their signature red sauce, and they’re often also used to make large servings of soup. In addition, catering companies often opt to keep several of these saucepans on hand, as they can be used to make meals and toppings for large groups of people.
Extra Large Saucepans
Extra large saucepans are typically only used in commercial settings. Designed to hold seven or more quarts, they’re usually found in school cafeterias, hospitals, or other settings where hundreds of people need to be fed at a time. Another unique use for these pans is to steam lobsters!
Choosing the Right Saucepan for Your Kitchen
The perfect saucepan for you might be big or small – it all depends on the number of people you’re feeding. However, there’s more to consider about your pan than just its size. Diameter matters, too. There are both narrow and wide saucepans to choose from, and both have their pros and cons.
Narrow saucepans are designed to reduce the amount of food that gets direct exposure to the most heat. These pans are best for cooking food that needs to stay as moist as possible. Too much heat exposure can cause some of the liquids in a dish to boil down or evaporate, so using a narrow saucepan is a great choice if you’re making a small amount of a thin sauce.
Wide saucepans distribute an equal amount of heat across a larger surface. That means that whatever dish you’re preparing can cook faster and that it will be heated more evenly. While this type of saucepan isn’t ideal for some thinner liquid-based dishes, it’s great for cooking methods like braising or sauteing.
Straight-sided saucepans are designed to heat faster by distributing heat more thoroughly, also known as heat conduction. These pans are the perfect tools for making reductions. A reduction is made by causing some of the liquid in wine, sauce, juice, or another culinary element to evaporate. After some evaporation, you’re left with a much thicker, stronger concoction that tastes heavenly.
Tapered saucepans are made to be as easy to stir as possible. This type of saucepan is ideal for dishes like custard or soup that need to be stirred frequently. Stirring is essential for evenly distributed heat, and you’ll typically want to keep your burner on a relatively low temperature and stir frequently with this type of saucepan.
What’s the Difference Between a Saucepan and a Saucier?
A saucier pan is similar to a saucepan, but it’s got some key attributes that make it stand out. For one, a saucier pan has a rounded bottom, making it easier to stir or whisk in. Saucepans, on the other hand, have flat bottoms, which makes it a bit more difficult to stir in them.
So, what’s the big deal about those rounded edges? Many chefs prefer the edges on a saucier to a saucepan for a few key reasons:
- Rounded edges make it much easier to stir, which practically guarantees better heat distribution. That means you’re not going to get a section of your pan that receives significantly more heat than the others, potentially ruining the flavor and consistency of your meal!
- After you cook, a saucier pan is much easier to clean, thanks to its rounded edges. You can run a sponge over the edges quickly and effectively, getting plenty of gunk and residue off in a short amount of time. When you’re in the process of cleaning up a messy kitchen, saving that time can make a big difference.
Should I Use a Stock Pot Instead?
- A stock pot is another straight-sided cooking vessel that is often used to make sauces, soups, and other liquid-based meals. However, these pots can often hold a much greater volume than saucepans can, with some stock pots reaching even more than 100 quarts (25 gallons). That massive volume can make a big difference in a commercial kitchen, but it’s also a valuable asset for pro chili cookoff competitors and others who need to make a lot of food at once.
- If you’re looking for an absolutely massive pot to cook with, a stock pot is the way to go. However, you probably don’t need an extra-extra-large stock pot in your kitchen at home, especially if you’re typically making meals for just you and your family.
- Overall, a stock pot and a saucepan have similar uses. The biggest difference is in capacity. It’s all about the amount of food that you need to make.
What About a Brazier?
Another cooking vessel that is similar to the saucepan is the brazier. Braziers are noticeably shallower and wider than saucepans, which makes them perfect for cooking meat.
A brazier, as the name suggests, is typically used for braising. Braising is a cooking method that involves cooking your ingredients slowly in a simmering liquid base. This technique is perfect for both light and dark meats, from chicken to pork to beef, as well as for vegetables and potatoes.
While a saucepan is ideal for dishes that contain lots of liquid, a brazier is better when you’re only cooking with a small amount of sauce. The shallow, wide dimensions of the brazier make it super useful for evenly cooking cuts of meat. Plus, you can mix in vegetables, potatoes, and more with your meat to make a savory pot roast-style dish.
Typical liquids used for braising include red wine, vinegar, and soy sauce. Each of these common braising ingredients can add distinct flavors to your dishes, and they’re all worth a shot.
Got Your Kitchen Tools Ready? Let’s Get Cooking
Now that you know all about some of the essential tools in any chef’s cabinet, it’s time to cook something! JOW has tons of recipes to try that cater to everyone’s taste buds, and they’ll put your pots and pans to good use!
By gathering essential info about your household size, dietary restrictions, and cooking setup, we’ll get you a personalized menu for the perfect dinner. We’ll even build your shopping list for you and arrange to have your groceries delivered, if you’d like. Plus, all of our recipes are free, so any chef of any skill level can open one up and get cooking!
To learn more about everything JOW has to offer to eaters everywhere, click here.