Buying Guide to Saute Pans

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5 Things to Know Before You Buy

Sauteing quickly browns food using a very hot pan and a small amount of oil, or what is considered a "dry heat" technique. If you're a pro, you keep the contents of the pan moving with fluid flips and tosses achieved with a flick of the wrist and a sharp, jerking, backwards motion. If you're not a pro, well, just try not to burn anything.

However, if the Food Network has sparked your imagination and you're ready to kick up your kitchen cred a notch, perhaps it's time to pick a saute pan of your own. The following are six tips for selecting the right pan for sauteing in style:

Fact #1: Cooktop Considerations

Stove tops are a consideration when choosing the perfect saute pan. Flat cooktops work best with pans designed with thick, flat, disc bases of multi-ply metals. Pans that do not sit flat (and stay flat over time!) may wobble, spin, and cook unevenly as a result. In addition, the heavy disc bottoms disperse heat evenly and minimize hotspots -a plus on any range. A flat bottom is also especially necessary to accommodate the shaking motion over the burner.

When cooking with gas, however, in addition to a level bottom, the best pan choice will also include a "clad" construction of layered metals (from 2 to 7-ply) designed to diffuse heat evenly throughout the entire pan.

Fact #2: Heavy Metal

Like all quality cookware, pans made of metals that conduct heat quickly, efficiently and evenly are always preferred. This means anodized aluminum, lined copper, or stainless steel-wrapped aluminum. When pans are made of several of these metals layered together, it signifies clad construction, or ply. Two-ply to 3-ply clad pans will work well, although choices range up to 7-ply. The more plies, the more you pay.

Fact #3: Mid-Size and Sporty

A saute pan will not replace a full-sized frying skillet. For one thing, the tossing motion alone requires a medium-weight pan that can be easily lifted and maneuvered. Unwieldly is unwise. Conversely, however, a saute pan must also be wide enough (think: 10 1/2 inches) to accommodate ingredients without overcrowding them. Too much food in the pan will increase cooking time and cause contents to steam or boil rather than saute. If this pan were a car, it would be a sports-car with a backseat everyone knows is only for looks.

The size of saute pans are measured in quarts and are available in sizes up to a 7-quart capacity. Experts agree, 3-to-5 quart pans are usually preferred.

Fact #4: Taking Sides

Traditionally, saute pans feature relatively high, L-shaped sides which keep oil splatters to a minimum and assist in preventing spillage if the recipe requires a transfer from stovetop to oven. The tall sides are also ideal for cooking sauces that accompany sauted ingredients.

In fact, if saucy is your style consider a deeper, splayed-edge pan or rounded bowl design with handy pouring edges and a smaller bottom surface. Ultimately, it is the recipes and culinary desires that dictate need.

Fact #5: Getting a Handle (or two) on Things

A long handle is a signature element on a saute pan due to the amount of motion required for sauteing, in fact, some pans even offer two. A "helper handle" is often added on the opposite side of the pan designed to assist in pouring sauces or contents out of a hot pan.

Since many sauted dishes require initial browning on the stovetop before being transferred immediately into the oven, handles that can withstand oven heat are essential. If possible, choose a pan with metal handles produced in a different type of metal than the body of the pan itself. This design element, in addition to a "hollowed out" design will help keep the handles cooler.

Test kitchen experts also note that handles designed with "traction" are extremely useful in handling hot, heavy pans that may become slippery.

Fact #6: Put a Lid on It

Saute pans with the most versatility are designed with sturdy, snug-fitting lids that can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven. Experts have noted that although the see-through tempered glass tops seem like a good idea, they often steam up during cooking - rendering them as opaque as a solid lid.

In French, the word, Saute, means jump, and the iconic American chef James Beard described sauteeing as, "a fast, deft procedure." Bottom line, it's a technique worthy of any fast-paced reality cooking show.

Come on, you've got your new saute pan, we know you can do it! Ready, set, saute!