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The Differences Between Good and Bad Saucepans

The saucepan you use can make or break your meals. Here’s what to look for.
By Published July 28, 2022

Like chef’s knives and skillets, saucepans are the cornerstones of a fully equipped kitchen. Just think of all the tasks you use them for: everything from blanching vegetables to boiling grains to steaming rice. 

After years of accepting hand-me-down pots and pans that left me with scorched, unevenly cooked food, I’ve finally learned my lesson: Not all saucepans are created equal. The great ones cook evenly, brown food beautifully, and will last for years.

So it’s worth getting a good one. Here are a few things to look for when shopping for a new saucepan.

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1. The pan should feel sturdy and evenly balanced.

Always look for a model with a sturdy construction, meaning the pan feels balanced when lifted. Although a pan should have a good weightiness, ensure that its not too heavy—it will only get heavier and harder to handle when filled.

2. The interior should be a light color (not nonstick).

A lighter-colored, stainless-steel interior will allow you to easily monitor browning, which is especially critical when you’re cooking something that can burn easily (such as browned butter).

3. The lid should be tight fitting.

This is essential, especially when you’re cooking something like rice that needs to steam evenly. Avoid glass lids—they usually fog up, which makes it hard to see through them anyway. And skip the pour spout; it may seem like a handy feature, but it actually prevents the lid from sealing tightly.

4. The handle should feel secure.

Don’t risk injury while handling your saucepan because of a faulty handle. Look for a firmly attached (not wobbly) handle that isn’t too skinny or round and feels anchored in your hand. A secondary helper handle is useful for moving the saucepan when it’s filled.

5. The pan should be labeled as fully clad.

Models made up of three or more layers will cook evenly and generally produce better results. Fully clad pans will typically be labeled as such, but the pan's design is a good indication—the pan should be the same thickness throughout. Stay away from pans with a "disk bottom"; this usually means the pan is constructed of a thin, single layer of steel with a thick disk of aluminum covered with a layer of steel, which is attached to the bottom of the pan. This thick disk will cause the pan to heat slowly at first, then run hot, as it gradually heats up then retains a great deal of heat. This makes it sluggish to respond to changes in the heat settings on your stove.