With Saucepans, It's Personal

July 23, 2012

Food52's Editorial Assistant (and college student) Brette Warshaw is curating her very own first kitchen -- and she needs your help. Today: why saucepans are a personal choice.

Stacked saucepans

As we all know here at FOOD52, cooking – and eating – is about sharing, about collaboration, about community. It’s a way to connect with others, to express ourselves, to show our love, our care, our compassion.

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But cooking – the physical act of cooking – can also be deeply personal. It’s a time where our own tastes rule over any others, where we control the fire, the heat, the salt, the spice. How brown should these onions get? It’s personal. How do you know when this steak’s done? It’s personal.

What kind of saucepan do you use? Yeah, that’s personal too.

It’s easy, from afar, to lust after the superlatives of cookware – the smoothest cast iron, the longest knife, the heaviest and most reliable saucepan. But does that smooth, preseasoned cast iron really feel like your own? Does that long knife fit on your counter, your cutting board? 

Can you really pick up that heavy saucepan?

Lined up saucepans

Saucepans – at least the ones I’m looking at for my First Kitchen – are made from at least two types of metal. The cooking surface is typically stainless steel, which won’t react to the foods you put onto it. But since stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat, a pan has a layer of heat-conducting metal underneath. For many people, it’s aluminum. For Amanda Hesser, it’s copper.

I’ve drooled over Amanda’s Mauviel saucepan for over the year I’ve worked at FOOD52. I’ve run my hands across the surface and gotten goosebumps (I’m weird like that). I’ve stewed beans in it, sautéed onions, steamed rice – and all were pleasures, joys, wonders.

But when I actually had to pick it up – to make this sherbet base – I struggled. I staggered. I stopped. It was awkward. It was sad. It was too, well, heavy. 

Sorry, copper. It’s personal.

All Clad


While copper pots are out of the question – happily, since they’re the most expensive – I know that I want a saucepan that’s fully clad. Fully clad means that the different metals – the stainless steel and the heat-conducting metal – are bonded together by pressing or rolling sheets together under high pressure, and that the entire bottom and sides of the pan are covered in these bonded metals. 

The obvious choice, when it comes to cladding, is the All-Clad 4-Quart Saucepan ($219.95). It’s a beauty; it’s a workhorse. But there are less-expensive options, too – ones that are both fully clad and less expensive. Cook’s Illustrated, for example, recommends the Cuisinart Multi-Clad Unlimited 4-Quart Saucepan ($69.99). While it may have fewer layers of metal – which makes it cook things quicker – it still does all the saucepan-y things that saucepans do, and for a fraction of the price.

Sizes of saucepans


Saucepans come in all sizes – from a tiny one quart to a giant twelve quart (and even larger, in some cases). Since I do a lot of cooking for one, I don’t want one that’s too big – but I do want to be able to make a big vat of stew on a winter day, or a pot of grains to keep for the week. 

As always, I’m ambivalent. That’s where you come in.

What kind of saucepan do you use, and what size(s) do you have? Let me know in the comments!

As usual, I'll be pinning everything I'm coveting to my First Kitchen Pinterest board, so check it out!

Email me at [email protected] with your First Kitchen recommendations -- your favorite tools, your favorite cookware. All wisdom is appreciated.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • QueenSashy
  • Janet Hough
    Janet Hough
  • Rivercat0338
  • muse2323
Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


SBMCW November 30, 2012
You have to be careful. Sometimes cookware can be great and then profit margins become more important than quality. Some ride the brand into the ground(Magnalite). I have many different types of pots. I remember standing about 15 feet from the cookware wall in Williams & Sonoma in Kansas City many years ago watching a young couple both with a thousand yard stare looking at a plethora of pots. I asked if they want help/advice. They nodded their sensory overloaded heads. I recommended they buy the All Clad cookware set. I said, “ No one will ever fault you for buying All Clad.” Now, many of you might remember that All Clad brought to market a food mill that was very expensive ($129) and was very badly designed. Point being you can’t just buy a brand but when it comes to pots and pans All Clad is a go to brand.

My all-time favorite sauce pan is a 3 qt. Hakman Windsor sauce pan. It reminds me of my 1964 Porsche 356 SC. There are perhaps better sauce pans – I have many Mauviel pieces – but I bought it at Dean & DeLuca on sale in Kansas City about 15 years ago. Very sensuous.
QueenSashy September 11, 2012
I loved All Clad for their design and ergonomics until they warped and All Clad refused to honor the warranty. Their customer service reps went to great lengths of creativity to convince me how I abused the pans (which I would never ever do - pans are sacred), how I used them on high heat (which I also did not do) or emersed them in cold water while they were still hot (nope). I later realized that a) there have been quite a few similar complaints on the internet, b) All Clad is notorious for not recognizing the warranty and c) Williams Sonoma stopped carrying the line. Anyhow, thank God for Williams Sonoma, as they promptly refunded my purchase after close to two years of use. I switched to Mauviel stainless steel and have been happy ever since.
Janet H. August 5, 2012
I cook, I cook alot. My first set was Farberware purchased when I graduated from college,
the same as my Mom's. Second set purchased when I owned a kitchen store was Calphalon. I still have both. What do I cook with?...the Farberware. I'm 55 years old, do the math. The Farberware looks the same as it did when new with a slight patina. I do use a small Calphalon pot to reduce sauces in. Some I use when cooking a big meal (Thanksgiving) for ease of rotation. When the kids got married they each got a set of All-Clad. My son-in-law had wanted Calphalon and my daughters response when they opened the All-Clad was " she bought what she would have for herself". I'll have the All-Clad someday.....then again....
Rivercat0338 July 25, 2012
Finally catching up on my blogs today :) I purchased a set of Calphalon stainless core a few years ago when just starting to really learn to cook for myself. They were the best I could afford at the time and I love them. The heaviest pan, the 3 qt saute pan, has a handle to aid lifting, and even though the glass lids fog up, I like being able to monitor the cooking process. I added a small non stick Calphalon saucepan from the less expensive line, and also have a couple heirloom cast iron skillets to round out the arsenal.
muse2323 July 25, 2012
I have Paderno saucepans that I found on sale a couple years ago. I love them. I think I'd also really like the Tupperware's. My biggest gripe with pans on the market is that I dislike the feel of the handles when I lift the pan, but both Paderno & Tupperware pans have ergonomic, considerate handles, and I love the way they feel in my hand. (This based on the TW fry pan I have.)
Brette W. July 25, 2012
The way it feels in your hand is key!
Sandy H. July 24, 2012
But to add to my previous post, I love the 2 qt. and 3 qt. Cuisinart Multiclad. Use those all the time.
Sandy H. July 24, 2012
I can't endorse the Cuisinart Multiclad 4 qt. that you suggest. I bought it a few years ago and found it much to heavy when filled with food to transport without a helper handle, which it lacks. I ditched it for the 4 qt. All Clad d5 Soup Pot, available only at William Sonoma, but at an excellent price for All Clad. It even come with a beautiful stainless steel ladle. Unlike a saucepan, the soup pot is taller and has two side handles. I find this pot very versatile and use it a great deal, not only when I'm making soup for two, but when I'm cooking half boxes of pasta or noodles. I'm a big fan of the d5 line as in it All Clad solved both the lip problem (lips are great for pouring now) and made the handles more comfortable and ergonomic. Williams Sonoma carries it exclusively right now.
Brette W. July 25, 2012
Thanks so much for that valuable info!!
Ghost H. July 24, 2012
All-Clad 4-quart with loop seems like a classic and versatile whokhorse, but I use 1.5-quart and 2-quart a lot more. The compact size is good for a lot of things from melting and making syrup to miso soup for two people. Then I've been considering about Japanese Yukihira nabe(pot). That's one of those every household in Japan has one or more sizes and I guess they work very well suited for certain Japanese cooking. I wonder if I could find good usages here where I combine both western style cooking and Japanese cooking.
Brette W. July 25, 2012
So interesting! If you do, please let me know.
arcane54 July 24, 2012
In 1978, I made what felt like my first "adult" purchase. I bought a set of pots'n'pans (as my Mom would say). It was a 15-piece set of Saladmaster cookware (made in USA) for about $500 - an astronomical sum way back then. The pots have the little clicky tops that tell me when to turn down the heat and allow me to cook with less water. They clean up with Bon Ami, and conduct heat so beautifully -- stainless steel + copper core = lovely. The set has lasted through dozens of careless roommates (oy), a half-dozen moves (yay), a few boyfriends (none of whom "cooked"), and both gas and electric cooktops. Almost as loyal as my dogs. I don't "do" nonstick (I'm funny that way) and my stainless set along with cast iron (enameled and not) provide everything I need to cook just about everything I want. If you choose stainless steel, go for substantial, build your set over time and invest in pieces you'll really use. You won't regret it.
Brette W. July 25, 2012
Wow -- what a great story to go along with the pans. Thank you for sharing!
paseo July 23, 2012
I am a big fan of All Clad - except for the price and the lack of a lip which makes pouring a real pain as whatever drips down the outside burns itself onto the hot pan. I have sauce pans in all sizes (worked for a nameless company which had a great discount) but use a 2qt and 3.5 nearly every day and have become a huge fan of Le Creuset stainless. Heats evenly and cooks like a dream, heavy, but not too, easy to clean, helper handles on the larger sizes, well balanced, not terribly cheap, but the good stuff never is. It is made you-know-where, which is unfortunate, but the quality is very good. Take good care of whatever you get and you will be rewarded for many years.
Brette W. July 25, 2012
Great to know about the Le Creuset stainless -- and I'm not surprised! They have such wonderful stuff.