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How often do you use a saucepan when you’re cooking? And how often do you properly care for this crucial piece of cookware before, during, and after you use it?
Didn’t think about that until now? You might be doing more damage than you expect!
Let’s chat about how you can extend the life of this important piece of kitchen equipment.
A saucepan is a type of cookware designed for use on the range. It is characterized by its round shape, vertical sides, and single long handle.
It can be used for many types of food prep, but it’s the most useful for – you guessed it – preparing sauces and other liquids!
Like all kitchen tools and appliances, they require a certain amount of care to keep them performing properly.
Since there are so many different kinds of saucepans available, most manufacturers include instructions for proper use and care, which you should read carefully to fully understand your specific cookware.
But for those of us who often toss away the instructions – shame, shame, shame! – there are some basic guidelines that can be applied to all saucepans.
Let’s go over some simple tricks now, before you make your next meal!
1. Find the Right Size for the Job
As its name implies, a saucepan is similar in design to other types of pans, but it has deeper sides with straight edges, more like a stockpot, in order to hold more volume than a typical frying or saute pan.
Cristel Castel’Pro 5-Ply Saucepan, .25 quart, available from Sur La Table
These come in an assortment of sizes, anywhere from mini models, like this 0.25-quart Cristel Castel’Pro 5-Ply Saucepan from Sur La Table, to larger options, like this 4-quart All-Clad Copper Core Saucepan, also from Sur La Table.
If you are shopping for a new option, first identify what size you should buy that will be appropriate for your personal cooking needs.
All-Clad Copper Core Saucepan, 4 quarts, available from Sur La Table
It may also be beneficial to purchase a couple different sizes, so you can efficiently cook both small and large amounts of food, depending on your recipe and the number of hungry people you are feeding.
For a practical purchase, Made In offers a 6-piece Stainless Saucepan Set, complete with 3 different sizes and corresponding lids. You can buy the set directly from Made In.
Made In 6-Piece Stainless Steel Saucepan Set, available from Made In
Another important tip to remember is that the base of the vessel should closely match the size of your burner on the stove, which is particularly important if you own a gas range or any other style with raised burners.
Placing a small saucepan on a large burner can potentially melt the handle or warp the base of the pan. On the other hand, placing a large pan on a small burner may unevenly heat whatever you are cooking.
And it can be a big kitchen safety risk if you are using cookware that isn’t securely level with the burner!
Before you shop, be sure to measure the sizes of your burners, and find cookware options that are compatible with those dimensions.
2. Understand the Heat
In addition to matching up the right size burner to the equipment, cooking at the right temperature also helps to extend the life of your cookware.
Many people make the mistake of turning the burner on high, assuming that the higher temperature will cook the food faster.
While this may be true of thin soups, broth, water, and other liquids, you’ll need to be more mindful with thicker soups, stews, and sauces.
They may potentially stick onto the cooking vessel and burn if they are heated and kept at high heat, and not stirred appropriately throughout cooking.
This food on the bottom can be difficult to remove from the cook surface, with the removal process sometimes damaging the pan.
3. Use the Right Tools for Stirring
Whether you are using spoons, spatulas, or whisks, the material of your stirring utensil is an important consideration!
Metal utensils can be tough on the surface, potentially scratching various coatings.
We advise against using metal utensils on coated saucepans, such as porcelain-coated cast iron or nonstick cookware, since these will quickly ruin the protective finish.
To play it safe, especially if you are unsure of what exactly your own cookware is made of, you may opt to completely avoid using metal utensils all together!
So, what do we suggest instead?
Made In Wooden Spoon, available from Made In
Wood, silicone, and hard plastic utensils are the best options to use on all types of saucepans, and you can rest assured that all of these styles will not harm your cookware.
For the ultimate wooden utensil that is strong and sturdy, beautifully styled, and won’t scratch your equipment, consider Made In’s Wooden Spoon, constructed with 100% beechwood. Check it out now on Made In’s website.
Cuisinart 7-Piece Assorted Kitchen Utensil Set, available from Wayfair
If you’re looking for a set of multiple utensils, you’ll like the Cuisinart 7-Piece Assorted Kitchen Utensil Set, with nylon tool heads that are safe to use on different finishes. Purchase it from Wayfair or Amazon now.
4. Clean According to Material
With the exception of cast iron, which you can review in our article, all styles can simply be hand washed with a non-abrasive sponge and warm, sudsy water.
To keep this particular piece of cookware looking new and in its best condition, we don’t suggest washing it in the dishwasher. Dishwashers may discolor copper and aluminum, rust cast iron, and leave water spots on stainless steel.
Some brands and manufacturers may provide additional instructions for keeping specialty pieces of cookware looking like new, so we really do recommend that you review your own specific saucepan’s cleaning and care instructions for optimal maintenance.
However, there are still some general guidelines you can follow with certain materials. Let’s take a look.
Cast Iron or Carbon Steel
While there are many opinions for cleaning cast iron or carbon steel, a rule we strongly stand by for maintaining this type of kitchenware is to properly season it – and to do so often!
This involves pre-seasoning before its first use, and routinely seasoning after cooking with it.
For a more thorough explanation on this important maintenance practice, read our article on how to clean and care for your cast iron and carbon steel pans.
Cast iron that is coated with enamel or porcelain does not require as thorough of a cleaning process, but it should still be treated carefully by handwashing with warm, soapy water.
First, determine if your copper cookware is lacquered, meaning it has a protective coating to prevent surface damage and tarnishing.
The main rule, for both lacquered and unfinished copper, is to avoid using any materials that are too abrasive, like steel wool.
Bar Keepers Friend Powdered Cleanser, 2-Pack, available on Amazon
If it is lacquered, the cleaning process will be simpler compared to unfinished copper. Just clean with warm water and mild soap with a soft cloth or sponge.
You will need to employ a few extra steps to maintain unfinished copper:
When unfinished copper cookware is exposed to water and air, after a period of time, the surface may tarnish and discolor.
To maintain copper’s natural shine, you will need to routinely use a non-abrasive cleaner specifically designed for polishing copper materials.
You can use a commercial cleanser and polish, such as Bar Keepers Friend, for normal polishing tasks. It is available to purchase on Amazon.
There are also natural cleaning methods available to you, such as using a combination of vinegar or lemon and salt. For further reading on different cleaning methods, be sure to review our article on cleaning and caring for copper cookware.
Your favorite nonstick saucepan should be cleaned by hand with warm, soapy water using a gentle dish detergent.
And don’t you dare go anywhere near that abrasive scouring pad!
Always use a soft washcloth when cleaning your nonstick cookware to avoid scratching the protective coating.
When storing nonstick kitchenware, always remember to use pan protectors between each one!
Sur La Table’s set of three flexible polyester felt protectors keep them safe when stacked in a cabinet or closet. Buy a set now from Sur la Table, in either gray or red.
Many stainless steel kitchenware items are advertised as being safe to clean in the dishwasher, but the material may lose its luster over time.
And if your pan has a handle made out of a different material, like plastic, it may warp or become brittle after multiple trips through the hot dishwasher.
Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish, 2-Pack, available on Amazon
For best results, always wash in warm, soapy water and thoroughly rinse.
A basic household ingredient like baking soda will help to remove any rust with a little buffing, going against the grain of the steel. Buffing will also remove any cloudy residue and watermarks.
There are also commercial products to consider using, like Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish, available to purchase from Amazon.
For more helpful advice, review our seven tips and tricks for cleaning stainless steel in the kitchen. No more fingerprints!
5. Dry Immediately
While there may be differences in how to clean the specific material of your saucepan, there is one universal rule to always – and we mean always – follow carefully after cleaning any cookware:
Dry it immediately and thoroughly!
While it’s an easy and convenient move to set your freshly cleaned tool on your drying rack and run away to take care of other tasks and errands, that excess water will soon become your cookware’s worst enemy.
You may not notice a difference after the first few weeks, or even months, of drying this way. But repeat instances may eventually take a toll on your saucepan – leading to rust, watermarks, corrosion, and damage.
Take that necessary extra step to protect your precious pans by drying them completely soon after washing them.
Use a clean, dry kitchen towel to get the job done safely and well, and see if you can get another set of helping hands, like your partner, to assist you!
Save the Saucepan
By following these simple guidelines, you’ll be delighted to discover that a quality piece of cookware like your favorite saucepan will last for many years of use.
You’ll be able to make your favorite recipes for soups, stews, purees, sauces, and much more – and you won’t have any issues with caring and cleaning for it before, during, and after every use.
With easy actions like avoiding metal spoons, taming the heat when cooking thicker soups, and drying after cleaning, your saucepan will be treated so well.
And we love spoiling our cookware!
Do you have any of your own tips and tricks that you like to use when caring for this particular piece of equipment? The comment section is wide open – so let’s talk!
If you found this article informative and you’re interested in learning more, we will happily offer our expertise with other kitchen equipment! Start with these cookware guides and reviews:
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Product photos provided by Sur La Table, Wayfair, Made In, and Amazon. Originally published on October 16, 2014. Last updated on June 27, 2023.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.