The Best Small Saucepan
A 2-quart saucepan is the workhorse of any kitchen—one of the pots you’ll reach for every time you cook. After testing nine different saucepans—which included whisking 9 quarts of pastry cream, making 16 cups of caramel, and simmering 21 cups of rice pilaf—we think the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro 2-Quart Saucepan ($50) is the best for most average households. Unlike the other saucepans in our testing group, the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro has every feature we looked for in a saucepan at an affordable price. The Cuisinart has tri-ply throughout, a comfortable handle that is secured with rivets, a bent lip that allows for clean pouring with no drips and dribbles, and a snug-fitting lid with a handle big enough to grasp with a kitchen towel or pot holder. Its wide body accommodates whisks comfortably, and even heat distribution made caramelizing sugar a breeze.
In addition to our own research and testing, we talked to experts who have been cooking in professional kitchens for many years about what they looked for in a saucepan: experts Sarah Mastracco, culinary producer for shows including Martha, Pati’s Mexican Table, and more; Nora Singley, food stylist for cookbooks, Martha Stewart Living, and more; and Clare Langan, private chef and culinary instructor, offered their expertise on the subject.
Coming in a very close second is the Cuisinart MultiClad Unlimited ($45). With a hard anodized aluminum exterior and stainless steel interior, this pan offers superior heat distribution and a nonreactive, bright cooking interior. This pot holds onto heat a little longer than our top pick and has a slightly narrower body, which has its benefits. Narrower pans don’t let too much steam escape, so if moisture retention is important, as it is with some soup and simple sauce making, this might be the pan for you.
This sacuepan also cooked a little faster, so while it needed less heat to get the same results as other pans, there is more of a chance for your dish to overcook if you aren’t mindful. This is ultimately our runner-up because the MultiClad Pro has a wider body that makes stirring easier and a slightly longer handle for better leverage.
If all you want to do is boil water and heat up soup, get the Farberware Classic 2-Quart Saucepan with Lid ($30). It’s great for small, easy tasks. It also makes a decent pot of rice. Plastic handles stayed cool during cooking tests and the pot was easy to clean. Its stainless steel construction with tri-ply only in the base means that hot spots will occur, but that’s not really an issue if you’re only using it for small, easy, liquid-based tasks. Don’t look to this pot for effortless caramel or smooth pastry cream—those tasks require serious babysitting with this thin-walled budget pot.
If you’re in the market for a pot that can perform all of the basic tasks of a small saucepan and then some, we love the All-Clad 2-Quart Saucier ($145). With tri-ply construction throughout, this slope-sided saucier is built for stirring. Like our top pick, it can accommodate a standard-sized whisk for making custard, but the sloped bottom curve of the All-Clad means you don’t have to try to get into the corners with that whisk. It’s also the perfect shape for things like bechamel or risotto that need constant stirring or whisking—I wouldn’t attempt a risotto in a small saucepan due to the limited surface area for evaporation. This is for the home cook who wants to tackle more advanced techniques as well as the everyday mundane kitchen tasks.
The wide, flared shape makes quick work of reducing liquids, whereas straight sides hinder evaporation a bit. This saucier doesn’t boast a bent lip, so pouring directly from the pot might not be as clean as our top pick. The All-Clad saucier is an expensive pot, but it’s heirloom quality and will most likely be handed down to your kids or grandkids.
Table of contents
Who should get this?
My 2-quart saucepan gets the most action of all the cooking equipment in our house. I reach for it for most tasks, like boiling eggs, reheating soup, cooking ramen noodles (the fancy frozen kind I can only find at the Japanese market), frozen dumplings, quick pasta sauce—the list goes on. I live in a household of two humans and a cat, so we usually don’t need a day-to-day vessel much bigger than that, unless we’re boiling pasta or making stock.
A small saucepan is also helpful for recipes that go beyond everyday cooking tasks, like making a small batch of ice cream base, custard to top a pavlova, a quick caramel sauce for an impromptu sundae bar, or a simple pot of rice to go with a healthy dinner. When you use a pot this much, you want it to hold up and stand the test of time and vigorous cooking.
How we picked and tested
To be honest, there wasn’t a drastic difference in the way most of the saucepans performed in our tests. For one, they all made a good batch of rice pilaf. I could get all of them to do more “advanced” tasks, like custard and caramel, although the cheaper pots needed more babysitting and finesse from the user for successful results.
The difference was in the small details, but it’s those details that really add up for a piece of equipment that is in heavy rotation in your kitchen.
We wanted to stick with small pans, 2 to 2½ quarts, which is an ideal size for small households. It’s perfect to make a quick tomato sauce from one 28-ounce can of tomatoes, heat up soup for two, and boil water for a French press. I also use mine for oatmeal, quick pureed soups from refrigerator scraps, quinoa, and quick sauces for weeknight dinners. Culinary instructor Clare Langan said that she uses her saucepan for small batches of grains, boiling water, and cooking rice. At this size, the pots were lightweight, weighing between 1 pound 5 ounces and 2 pounds 14 ounces.
Next we eliminated the less versatile materials. Nonstick-coated saucepans were not considered because the coating limits how you can use the pan (you can’t heat it empty, you can’t heat it on really high heat). Even though Cook’s Illustrated did a nonstick saucepan review (subscription required) praising easy cleanup, we think a quality tri-ply pan will last longer and be a better choice for most people.
Untreated aluminum conducts heat well but is reactive, so acidic foods like tomato soup or fruit sauces wind up tasting metallic. We also decided to not bring in any cast iron, enameled or plain. It takes a long time to get hot and holds heat for a long time, which isn’t good for sauces that need to cool quickly. We eliminated copper because the pans tend to be very expensive and high maintenance.
That left us with three great options: tri-ply, stainless steel, and anodized aluminum. In tri-ply, nonreactive stainless steel sandwiches a aluminum core for superior heat conduction; it’s the gold standard in cookware. Beware of cheaper tri-ply pans that have an aluminum core only in the base; make sure the core extends all the way up the sides. This ensures even heating throughout the pan.
Anodized aluminum is electrochemically hardened aluminum. The process of soaking aluminum in a sulfuric acid bath while running an electrical current through that bath results in a harder, more durable aluminum that resists scratching and corrosion. They are great for even heat distribution. However, the dark cooking surface makes it tough to gauge browning of onions and makes caramel virtually impossible. They also don’t work on induction burners.
Next, we looked at overall construction. A bent lip is really helpful when pouring. You don’t want to dribble hot scalded milk all over your countertops while attempting to temper egg yolks for custard or to have to clean cooked streaks of milk from the outside of the pan. Cook’s Illustrated also likes a bent lip on a saucepan for the same reasons.
A long handle that is comfortable to hold and secured to the body of the pot with rivets is preferred. Large, strong rivets are secure, and a handle that doesn’t heat up quickly is crucial. In the time it takes to heat up a serving of soup or to boil water, the handle should still be cool to the touch. For longer cooking times where the handle might get warm, it should be easy to grasp with a folded side towel or pot holder. Generally, manufacturers boast plastic and silicone handles for their ability to stay cool, but cast steel handles also stay cool. Stainless steel is a very poor conductor of heat, and as long as the handle isn’t over a direct flame, it takes a long time to heat up. Our top pick and our step up both have solid steel handles that stayed cool to the touch during all cooking tests.
The lid should fit snugly and have a large enough handle to easily hold with a towel or pot holder. While some lid handles did a fine job of staying relatively cool during shorter tasks, we didn’t consider a hot lid a dealbreaker. It is, after all, directly over the heat. We strongly preferred stainless steel lids as they are nonreactive and very sturdy. I can drop an All-Clad lid on my tile floor all day and maybe I’ll have a ding (big maybe), but if I drop a glass lid, I’ll live without a lid for that pot until I replace the pot. Plus, it’s often hard to see how your food is doing when condensation beads up on the glass.
Sharp bottom corners are not a good design feature in a saucepan. When making custard or bechamel, it is crucial for a whisk to be able to get into the corners of the pot so that you don’t have scrambled eggs in custard or unincorporated roux in bechamel. Speaking of whisking, a wide pot that gives you room to maneuver a whisk is really helpful. When using a 2½-inch-wide whisk in a 6¼-inch-diameter pot, the whisk takes up a third of the pot, which makes it difficult to work with. With foods like custard or caramel, a wider-set pot helps them cool quickly so that they don’t overcook.
Saucepans and sauciers are similar with a few major differences. A saucier has gradual sloped sides, so a whisk or wooden spoon can easily get into the corners. The corner angle on a saucepan varies with the manufacturer’s design; some pans have sharper corners than others.
Another fundamental difference is that sauciers have a wide opening to let steam escape, which is crucial for reducing sauces and also helps with rapid cooling. However, if you want to reduce the amount of evaporation, say for long-simmering soups, a taller, straight-sided saucepan is better. There is a huge price difference between the two as well. The least expensive tri-ply saucepan we found was $30 from Ikea, whereas a fully clad saucier starts at $80. We gave a slight preference to sauciers for their versatility with thicker, whisked foods, but if you keep your cooking simple and only want a vessel for boiling liquids, you might want to opt for a cheaper, straight-sided saucepan.
We looked at more than 40 saucepans before narrowing our testing contenders down to nine. We chose five saucepans that had tri-ply construction, long handles that were secured with rivets, and metal lids, but varied in shape. Two of the five tri-ply saucepans were actually sauciers. We also brought in two anodized pots and one single-ply stainless steel pot.
Each pot was put through a series of simple cooking tasks. We boiled 1 quart of water to see how long it took. This gave us an idea of how well the pot conducted heat, the ability for the pot to heat up quickly and cool down quickly.
We then made a classic rice pilaf, which means melting butter, sweating onions, toasting rice and then cooking the rice. Clare Langan notes that this is a good test for a saucepan because, “If you leave your pot on the heat too long, you can usually see if there are hot spots on that pot if rice gets stuck to the bottom.” The process also let us use the pot in its entirety, lid and all, to get a sense of heat conductivity and comfort of all the different parts.
To test the handle’s ability to stay cool to the touch, and to also check for scorch spots, we melted sugar and made caramel. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to molten lava in your kitchen, as molten sugar can get up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, much hotter than boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit). Caramel is another good identifier for hot spots and heat conductivity. A pan with even heat distribution will make perfect caramel sauce with very little swirling (all caramel needs to be swirled towards the end of cooking to incorporate darker spots with lighter ones; ideally there isn’t a drastic difference between the two).
Finally, we made a small batch of pastry cream, a task that tests a pot’s ability to heat and quickly cool delicate proteins at lower temperatures. We also checked how well the pots could cleanly and accurately pour liquids and whether or not they could accommodate a standard-sized whisk. I specifically looked at the corners to see if the whisk could reach into the crevices.
The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro ($50) is our top pick because it has everything we want in a small saucepan (which can’t be said for much of the competition), and for a very affordable price.
The bright stainless steel finish makes it easy to gauge the progression of whatever you’re cooking and the aluminum core delivers great heat distribution all the way up the sides of the pot. Compare that to anodized aluminum, which has superior conductivity and heat distribution but the color is so dark that it was impossible to judge the progression of caramel. It has a short, wide shape that allows for easy whisking and a bent lip that didn’t dribble even a drop of hot milk onto my countertop during the pastry cream test, whereas the Tramontina’s tall, narrow shape and straight lip made made for labored whisking and messy pouring. While the other pans in the testing group shared some of these same characteristics, the MultiClad Pro packaged everything we want in a basic saucepan at a decent price.
The handle is comfortable to hold, with a kitchen towel and without, with a depression in the center that cradles the thumb and gives it a nice ergonomic feel that’s second only to the All-Clad stick handle. It extends from the body of the pot at a slight angle, which makes maneuvering and pouring easy. Two rivets secure the handle to the body and there’s a large hole at the tip for easy hanging. It comes with a heavy, sturdy lid that fits snugly and has a big, roomy handle.
During testing, the MultiClad Pro tied for second (with the Cuisinart MultiClad Unlimited) in the water test, boiling water in 7 minutes and 40 seconds, bested only by the faster All-Clad with a time of 6 minutes and 30 seconds. The quick boiling time also resulted in rapid cool down. After 10 minutes of being off the flame, the water had cooled to 137°F, where the MultiClad Unlimited was at 142°F after 10 minutes. This may be because the MultiClad Pro has a wider body, measuring 7 inches in diameter, whereas the Unlimited is 6¼ inches.
Pastry cream was simple in this saucepan. The even heat distribution meant that there weren’t any hot spots to scramble the eggs. The corners, although not as curved as a saucier, were generously curved for a saucepan, which made it easier to get a whisk into the corners compared to other pans. The wide body not only allowed me to whisk vigorously and freely to release trapped heat, but it also helped steam vent. The result was smooth pastry cream that didn’t curdle.
Making rice pilaf with this pan was uneventful, which is a good thing. I melted butter, sweated onions, and cooked the rice to perfection. There was slight, pleasant golden browning on the bottom. The lid was almost too hot to hold after cooking rice pilaf, but it wasn’t a problem for my tough hands. Still, if you need some protection, the handle is easy to secure with a towel.
Caramel was easy to make because of the MultiClad Pro’s thick materials and fully-clad tri-ply for even heat. As cookbook author David Lebovitz says, thin pans create hot spots, where a portion of sugar will get too dark while the rest remains light, necessitating more mixing. But swirling a caramel too much can cause crystallization, which prevents smooth results.The MultiClad Pro only took a couple of small swirls to get it to a consistent medium amber.
Like most quality cookware, the MultiClad Pro comes with a lifetime warranty. It also works on induction cooktops. As far as longterm durability is concerned, this pot gets great reviews on Amazon, with a 4.6-star average rating from more than 140 reviews.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
It’s not a saucier shape, which would offer more room for stirring, but those are pretty expensive. If you are looking for a good all-purpose pot, you can’t beat this one for the price.
There are a couple of reviews that claim the stainless finish “flakes off.” I have never personally seen this happen on any pot, and it sounds like the problem might be oxidation or a fluke.
If our pick is sold out, we recommend getting the MultiClad Unlimited ($45). This high-quality, sturdy pot is made of anodized aluminum and stainless steel, merging the best of both worlds. The thick, hard anodized exterior delivers even heat distribution and the bright stainless steel interior allows you to easily monitor the progression of cooking food. Compared to the MultiClad Pro, the shape of the Unlimited is taller and narrower, which is what ultimately pushed it to second place. It was a little harder to fit a standard whisk in that little pan, but a smaller whisk worked just fine for reaching into the corners of the pan.
The Unlimited took a little longer to cool down than the Pro, perhaps due to a combination of the hard anodized aluminum and narrower shape. In the boiled water test, the Unlimited was 5 degrees warmer than the MultiClad Pro after 10 minutes—a small difference, but one worth noting.
Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) has the 4-quart version of this saucepan as their “Best Buy.” While they really like this pan for its value and construction, they say, “The pan cooks slightly faster than we’d prefer, so you have to be more vigilant while cooking.” I found in my testing that the MultiClad Unlimited did cook faster than the MultiClad Pro, but I just reduced the heat a little. Everything cooked evenly and just as well, but with less heat—not necessarily a bad thing!
The steel cast handle is 1 inch shorter than the MultiClad Pro’s (6½ inches compared to 7½). This is not an issue; in fact, the shorter handle was still cool enough to handle and easier to use for pouring as I felt like I had more control when tempering egg yolks with hot milk. The MultiClad Unlimited also uses the same secure-feeling, ergonomic design as the Pro, with a center divot for cradling the thumb.
The Unlimited made a perfect batch of rice, even-colored caramel, and silky pastry cream (with a small whisk, of course). If you like hard anodized cookware, this is a great choice, a very close second to our pick.
The Farberware Classic 2-Quart Saucepan ($30) is a fine choice if you don’t need it for any advanced cooking techniques. This saucepan is stainless steel with an aluminum disc in the base, which isn’t as great as tri-ply throughout. If you only need something that heats a can of soup or water for tea, this will give you many, many years of service.
In our tests, this saucepan made a fine pot of rice, just like the other pans. Making custard and caramel, though, took a lot of finesse, heat adjustments, and straight-up moving the pot on and off the flame to avert a scrambled egg custard mess.
The welded plastic handle stays cool on the stovetop and oven-safe to 350°F, with a comfortable curve that’s easy to maneuver. There’s a small rolled lip to make pouring easier and cleaner. The lid is topped with a small plastic button handle that isn’t very easy to to hold with a folded towel, but since it’s plastic, it stayed cool to the touch during testing. It has a lifetime limited warranty and is dishwasher safe.
The upgrade pick
If you want to upgrade yourself to a saucier, the All-Clad 2-Quart Saucier ($145) is my personal favorite, and full disclosure, this is what I use in my home. The rounded sloping corners make stirring easy and fluid, like whisking thick custards or lumps out of gravy or bechamel. The wide opening lets steam escape for fast reducing and cooling down. The long stainless steel handle has a deep, hollowed-out middle that is comfortable to hold, secure in the hand with a folded towel or without, and cool during cooking. Bonded tri-ply throughout means that you won’t get hot spots and food will be cooked evenly.
The shape of the saucier allows you to tackle more “advanced” techniques like risotto and pâte à choux, due to those gentle sloping sides that allow a whisk or a wooden spoon to make contact with all the contents of the pot and not leave anything to overcook in a crevice.
Before we brought in all of the saucepans to test, I decided to test my two small All-Clads against each other. I have a 2-quart, straight-sided saucepan and a 2-quart, curved saucier, and we wanted to see if there were any fundamental differences between the two. Both boiled water in 6 minutes, 30 seconds, but the saucier had a faster cool-down rate due to its wide body. The curve of the saucier made quick work of whisking pastry cream with no trace of overcooked egg in the corners. After pitting these two pans side by side, we decided to not include the All-Clad saucepan in the test, since its saucier sibling beat it out in an early round.
Rice pilaf, pastry cream, and caramel were easy to make, with no fuss or extra finessing required. There’s plenty of room to move a whisk without any difficulty, which makes it perfect for dishes that require constant stirring. I’ve made many batches of farrotto for two in this pot. The even heat distribution is crucial for finicky dishes like custards and risotto, eliminating overcooked/undercooked particles, scorch spots, and curdled eggs.
The wider All-Clad saucier looks bigger than the other saucepans. It’s also heavier; with a weight of 2 pounds, 4 ounces, this fell in the mid-range weight class. It’s comfortable to hold, which is especially important when doing slow-pour tasks, like drizzling hot syrup into whipping egg whites for 7-minute frosting or Italian meringue. It lacks a bent lip, which is a feature we appreciate about our top pick.
All-Clad cookware comes with a lifetime warranty and is “dishwasher safe.” I put that in quotes because I don’t recommend putting cookware in the dishwasher. Hand washing with hot, soapy water extends the life of most tools and cookware.
All-Clad 2-Quart ($165): In a preliminary test, this classic offering from All-Clad lost out to the All-Clad Saucier. With a straight lip and narrow body, this little pan isn’t whisk friendly, and it tends to make a mess when pouring. That said, it cooks food evenly, and if you want to slowly simmer a small amount of sauce with little evaporation, this is a champ.
Tramontina ($50): This pot is really similar to the All-Clad standard 2-quart saucepan. It’s narrow and has a straight lip. It cooked rice and made caramel just fine. The narrowness made whisking a little challenging and the straight lip made pouring hot milk into egg yolks a little messy. This pot took the longest to boil water, a whopping 11:11. If someone gave me this pot, I’d be fine with it, but I prefer the wider body and bent lip of our picks.
Ikea Favorit ($30): This was not at all my Favorit. While it is tri-ply, the interior is very difficult to get clean and the thin metal lid has a handle that’s inset so it gets hot quickly and is difficult to grab with a towel. Also, one little pet peeve: the sticker on the pot was IMPOSSIBLE to remove. I had to sit with a butter knife and a bottle of rubbing alcohol for 20 minutes to get it off.
Calphalon Commercial Hard Anodized ($90): This is a very well-made saucepan, made of 100 percent anodized aluminum. It heats up evenly and made perfect rice pilaf. Even the glass lid wasn’t a disaster. Most glass lids fog up and you can’t see anything, but for some reason, this one stayed relatively transparent. But when making caramel, I couldn’t gauge the color because the interior is so dark. I had to keep tilting it to get a handle on how it was coloring. Finally, I had to dip a spoon in the pot continuously to get a read on the color—not ideal when making caramel.
Sur La Table Saucier ($80): I read a review of this saucepan on their website saying it didn’t sit flat while empty, and the customer had gone through three of the same pot and none of them sat flat. I didn’t find this to be the case; the pot never tilted over, empty or full. If you want an inexpensive saucier made of tri-ply, but don’t mind some serious drippage while pouring, this might be the pan for you. It made rice pilaf with moderate browning on the bottom, and caramel was even.
Revere Ware ($30): Reviews on Amazon indicate Revere Ware has gone down in quality. We decided to test Farberware instead because of the high reviews and lower price point.
Scanpan CTX ($120): This is a very expensive pan, and they all have glass lids and a ceramic coating on the cooking surface.
Le Creuset Stainless Steel Saucepan ($110): I’ve personally used Le Creuset stainless tri-ply in the past and found it fine, but not worth the price. All-Clad is still a better product.
All-Clad d5 ($205): This five-ply saucepan checks all the boxes, but for $30 dollars less, you can have a saucier that can do more tasks.
Sur La Table Stainless Steel Saucepan ($80): We decided early on that if a company offers a saucepan and a saucier, we would choose the saucier to test. We tested the SLT saucier in lieu of this pan.
Analon Nouvelle Copper Saucier ($60): Again, I have personal experience with this saucier, and I wish it was better, but with tri-ply only in the base, the sides tend to scorch. Sad, because I wanted more affordable sauciers in the testing group.
Cooks Standard Multiply 3-quart ($45): This looks promising, but it’s larger than the other pans we tested in the ideal 2 to 2 ½ quart capacity.
Demeyere ($200): These well-made French pieces are a favorite around the world, but they are very expensive.
Wrapping it up
You don’t have to spend $150 or more on a quality saucepan. You can get a great everyday workhorse like the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro ($50) for your day-to-day cooking demands. With tri-ply construction throughout, a wider-set body, and comfortable handles, this little pan is hard to beat for the price.
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- Ten Tips for Making Caramel, Davidlebovitz.com ,
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Originally published: December 8, 2014