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May 2017
Healthy eating
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What makes a saucepan different from a frying pan? When is it best to use a stewpan and when is it best to use a pot? When should we choose steel, copper or aluminium pots and pans? Pots, pans and so on are symbols of excellence in the kitchen and culinary art, but it is not always easy to know which material to choose, which shape, how to use them and how to store them, therefore, let us start by clarifying the names:

  • Pans These are round, shallow and have one or two handles. They are good for cooking sauces, dressings, meat and vegetables.
  • Frying pans These are round and have low edges and a long handle. They are good for frying and flipping foods.
  • Stewpan These are similar to pans but are deeper and have only one, long handle. They are used for cooking roasts, meat and vegetables.
  • Pots These are cylindrical and can be different sizes and are used for boiling and making pasta and soups.
  • Oven dishes These are for the oven and are usually rectangular shaped.

Special utensils

These are not very common but are essential for people who love to cook:

  • Pots for broths with internal colander These are ideal for cooking for long periods as they slow down the evaporation of the liquids.
  • Pressure cooker Vapour, forced into the food, reduces the cooking time and amount of gas/electricity used.
  • Bain-marie The modern models can be adapted to any pot or stewpan.
  • Wok Straight from the East, these are conical shaped and are ideal for cooking with little oil.
  • Pancake and crepe pan These have smooth and low sides so you can easily flip food.
  • Oval pan These are for frying fish.
  • Chestnut roasting pan Perfect for roasting chestnuts with gas or coal.
  • Stainless steel
    Among other things, this material is easy to clean, it does not cost a lot in comparison to other materials and it lasts a long time. However, it is a bad conductor of heat so pots and pans made from stainless steel need to be different depths and contain layers of metal or alloys, like copper or aluminium. It must be washed straight after cooking savoury food. If there are remnants of salt or chalk after use, wash with some bicarbonate of soda and it will return to its shiny state. It can be washed in dishwashers.
  • Copper
    This is the metal professional chefs love the most because it is a great conductor of heat, it cooks things quickly and takes full advantage of the heat coming from the hob. It is especially adapted for sautéing foods and making sauces. Some of the disadvantages of copper are the cost, which is usually quite high, and the fact that it produces a substance called verdigris, which is harmful to us; this is why, these days, copper pots are made with a layer of steel. Since copper stains easily, it is a good idea to dab the outer layer with either a mix of lemon juice and salt, vinegar and rock salt or a mixture of vinegar and mais flour every now and then. It can, but should not, be washed in the dishwasher.
  • Anodised aluminium
    This is a good conductor of heat, it is light and practical and perfect for frying, browning, braising and flipping foods. Unfortunately, aluminium reacts with some acidic foods (wine, tomatoes, lemon juice) and that is why anodised aluminium was invented, but it does still blacken some delicate ingredients thus, very often, anodised aluminium pots and pans contain an internal layer of steel. It should not be washed in the dishwasher and, to brighten the aluminium, fill up with water, add some lemon juice, bring to the boil and wait for the metal to brighten.
  • Titanium
    This is an extremely light, hard, resistant and anti-stick metal and it is never damaged by other metal utensils. It is perfect for cooking without fats, however, it is very expensive and cannot be used on electric hobs. It must be washed in warm, soapy water and it must not be scrubbed with an abrasive, metal sponge.
  • Anti-stick materials
    These are used to cover the insides of utensils made from alloys or enamel. These materials, like Teflon and silicon, guarantee that the food will not stick to the pan or pot during cooking. If they are low quality, the non-stick layer will be too thin and tends to come away from the sides and thus is harmful. You must use wooden spatulas and spoons when cooking with these so you do not scratch the surface, and it is best not to wash them in the dishwasher.
  • Tempered glass and porcelain
    Utensils made from these materials are usually very expensive but perfect for cooking in the oven and microwave, however they cannot be used for frying or browning foods because they do not conduct heat very well. They do not react chemically with any ingredient.
  • Cast iron
    This is perfect when cooking on the hob, as well as when cooking soups or stews because it accumulates heat, which means you can cook on a low heat for a long time. Currently, many cast iron utensils on the market are ‘dressed’ with an anti-stick layer so they are easier to clean. Cleaning is the weak point for these pots and pans though because you must wait for it to cool down before washing, otherwise you risk breaking it. Cast iron pots, which do not have an anti-stick or anti-corrosion layer, must be heated up and rubbed with oil regularly.
  • Terracotta
    This is a fragile material and must be anti-inflammatory to avoid it breaking if it gets too hot when cooking. It is, however, very good for cooking because it maintains and enriches the flavours of foods.

Things you should never be without in the kitchen

It is useless to buy whole sets of pots and pans that are all different sizes and which, presumably, will never get used. On the other hand, there are some utensils which are essential for every kitchen. Consider this list a guide:

  • 2 stewpans (one small and one medium sized) with lids;
  • 2 pots (one medium and one big) with lids;
  • 1 pressure cooker;
  • 2 pans that are different sizes;
  • A cast iron griddle.

For the oven:

  • A rectangular, porcelain oven dish;
  • 1 cake tin and one cake tin with low edges for tarts;
  • Shallow, rectangular oven dishes;
  • A grill pan.

What to buy and more...
When you buy pots and pans, you need to follow some guidelines:

  • The bottoms of the pots/pans must be well balanced so they stand still when cooking;
  • Never buy deformed material;
  • The handles must be well attached to the pot/pan;
  • The lids and pots must be the same size;
  • Plastic or wooden handles do not heat up but they cannot be placed in the oven;
  • Pots and pans with wooden handles cannot be washed in the dishwasher;
  • Products always come with instructions for use and cleaning. It is always a good idea to read these.


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