I’m going to try and start a new feature here on I’d Cook That. And that is an equipment guide that focuses on what to look for when buying, what exactly the piece of gear does and what to make with your new purchase. As anyone who has sauntered into a kitchen knows, there are a bevy of pots, pans, electrical gizmos, roasting pans, storage containers, kettles and on and on. My hope is that you can make an informed decision when you are ready to learn a new way how to cook some awesome food. I’ll only be recommending products that I’ve used and would buy again. If you have any questions about the gear, please don’t hesitate to ask! Let’s get on to our first piece of gear for your kitchen: sauté pans!
Sauté, much like many culinary terms, comes from the fine folks in France. In French, sauter, literally means “to jump”. What this means is that to sauté, you must keep your food in motion, “jumping” around the pan if you will, typically in a small amount of fat – butter or oil. This is different from searing (keeping the food still for minutes at a time) and frying (submerging the food in oil). Typically, a sauté is done over high heat and the food is moved around constantly.
What makes a sauté pan a sauté pan?
Sauté pans are different from skillets, woks and fry pans, but what makes them unique? Glad you asked! Let’s dive into what makes a sauté pan tick.
First off, sauté pans come with straight sides that are a few inches tall; this gives us a few advantages over a normal fry pan, namely:
- Allows for the addition of liquid so you can braise the food or make a sauce after the sautéing is done.
- Those straight sides give you more real estate to cook your food. In contrast, look at your fry pan and you’ll notice that the sides are extremely sloped, limiting the amount of room where your food can cook.
- You can put a lid on your pan and not have your food pressed up against the lid.
I’d look for a 10-to-12 inch sauté pan. Any smaller and you won’t be able to cook a dinner for two. Any larger and you probably won’t be able wield your pan or store it in your cabinets. 10-to-12 inches is the goldilocks zone for sauté pans.
What to Look for When Buying
Sauté pans come in three main varieties:
- Stainless steel lined copper
- Cladded Stainless Steel
- Stainless Steel with copper or aluminum-cored disk
If you’ve ever seen a house stripped of copper plumbing or been at the dump, you will no doubt understand that copper is expensive and highly desirable. This means the stainless steel lined copper pan is going to be extremely expensive (upwards of $250). The good piece of news is that you’ll be able to hand it down to your grandkids so that’s a plus! Copper is an extremely good conductor of heat so if you go this route be sure to use a lower heat than you’re used to.
Another option is using cladded stainless steel. In case you don’t know what “clad” means, never fear, you are definitely not alone. Clad means to bond a metal to another metal, especially to create a protective coating. Basically, what this means is that multiple layers of stainless steel are bound together to create a single layer of metal. This can be decently expensive (cheaper than copper), but is very attractive and easy to care for. Many professional cooks choose this option for their needs, especially the All-Clad brand.
Our final option is stainless steel with a copper or aluminum-cored disk. This option is the most affordable and recommended for cooks just beginning to expand their horizons. There is one main difference between the copper core and the aluminum version. Copper does not retain heat as well as aluminum so the copper-cored pan will cool off quicker when removed from heat allowing for finer control of temperature; however, the aluminum pan will retain heat longer meaning your food will stay warm longer. It’s not a huge difference, but definitely one you should know.
Caring for Your New Sauté Pan
If you went with the copper option, care for that thing like a newborn baby. But I’m assuming most of my readers won’t be purchasing that pan (at least immediately) so I’m going to focus on the other two options. The good news here is that both pans are cared for the exact same way.
You never want to put these in a dishwasher (even if it says they’re dishwasher safe). Instead, hand-wash the pans in warm, soapy water after it’s had a chance to cool down to room temperature. Just let the pan dry on the stove or drying rack, no need to hand dry. Be careful to make sure that you don’t let the pan preheat for too long or it could change colors or cause irreversible warping damage. Finally, if you’re used to cooking on high heat, please be sure to drop that down to medium heat as these pans conduct heat more efficiently than most fry pans and definitely better than cast iron.
Hope you enjoyed our walk down sauté pan lane. As I mentioned at the beginning, if you have any questions about buying a sauté pan, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. In the spirit of transparency, if you choose to buy the item linked above I will make a very small commission from Amazon (5-8%). I’ll only be recommending products I’ve personally have used or ones that come with stellar reviews. If you are looking for some meals to make in your new sauté pan, here are a few recommendations to get you started:
- Roasted Pork Tenderloin
- Sauted Vegetables – summer squashes, green beans, mushrooms, etc.