Small Nonstick Saucepans
A small saucepan sees plenty of action—making rice, heating milk, melting butter, or warming up a little soup. It may be the smallest pan in the kitchen arsenal—and the tasks may be basic—but it's by no means the least important. Because most of these tasks don't involve browning (and many involve sticky foods), in the test kitchen we use nonstick 2-quart saucepans almost exclusively. Do pans that cost close to $100 offer significant performance, stick-resistance, or design advantages over models costing a quarter as much?
A pastry cream test illustrated several design differences that separated those pans we'd reach for every day from those that would remain parked eternally in the cabinet. Pouring hot cream from a saucepan is much neater if the pan from which you're pouring has either a spout or a rolled lip. An ample diameter and sloped sidewalls make it easier to carry out the constant whisking necessary to prevent pastry cream from scorching.
In the process of making pastry cream or rice, a pan can spend 30 minutes (or more) on the burner, so there's a clear advantage to handles that remain cool to the touch. All but three of the pans had hard thermal plastic or Santoprene (soft plastic) handles, which passed this test with no problem. Even the metal handles, which heated up alarmingly at the point of attachment, maintained a sufficiently comfortable temperature at the far end. While steaming rice, we also developed a preference for transparent lids, which make it easier to monitor cooking progress.
There are two common ways to attach a handle to a saucepan—with rivets or screws—but (to our mind) only one that works effectively. Simply put: Rivets are sturdier than screws.
To get at performance issues such as the evenness and speed of heat distribution, we sautéed chopped onions and cooked eggs in each pan. Weight, rather than materials (which were similar in all pans tested), was the deciding factor. A heavy saucepan is actually a good thing. Even the heftiest pan in our lineup was easy to maneuver, and many saucepan tasks involve prolonged cooking over low heat, where gentleness, not speed, is paramount.
In the end, the performance differences were subtle—most of the pans will do a fine job of heating up soup or making rice. Design differences were more significant, and the sturdiest pan—with a riveted handle, wide diameter, sloped sides, and superior nonstick coating—came out on top. The final factor, price, was also decisive.
The nonslip grip and narrow, straight blade let testers remove the smallest bones with precision and complete comfort. Perfectly balanced with enough flexibility to maneuver around tight joints. The low price was a bonus.
Hefty in weight, this knife was a solid performer when removing poultry bones, and the handle was easy to grip, even when covered in chicken fat. Piercing silver skin was a challenge since the tip wasn’t sharp enough and the long narrow blade produced slightly jagged cuts.
|Recommended with Reservations|
The sharp tip performed well when removing silver skin, but it was too flexible when maneuvering around poultry joints, leaving testers feeling a lack of control. The heavy handle was slightly unbalanced and became slippery once covered in poultry fat.
Designed to replicate a samurai blade, this expensive knife was a disappointment. It struggled to pierce the silver skin, although long cuts were smooth and even. Minimal flexibility and extreme curve got in the way when maneuvering around joints. The smooth handle was hard to grip and slippery.
The large, cumbersome handle reminded testers of an outdoors knife for fishing and hunting. The blade was too wide to maneuver around joints and it struggled to pierce silver skin. Unlike other knives, this boning knife could only slice in one direction, making intricate cuts around joints difficult.
The blade was so flexible it led to erratic cuttings; testers said the knife was hard to control. The blade was not sturdy enough to maneuver around joints and the lightweight handle felt flimsy and unbalanced.
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