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BUYING THE RIGHT SAUCEPAN FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

Why are Stellar saucepans so good?

StellarGood cookware is easy to come by; value-for-money cookware is a whole ‘nother story. The fact is many retailers and brands will wax lyrical about how good their products are to justify the inflated price-tag but how do you really know? Would you know what to look for and how to identify a good quality pan in the sea of glossy literature and marketing hype? Most of us wouldn’t, and would base our purchasing decisions on how good the saucepans will look hanging up in our kitchens rather than how they would complement our cooking styles. True, aesthetics do play a part but it is the materials and construction of the pans (which you can’t necessarily see) that will impact your cooking results the most.

Saucepans and cookware do not generally fall into the “consumables” category and you would be very unlucky if you have to invest in cookware more than twice in your lifetime. Items like cleaning scourers or coffee mugs can be bought on impulse with little pre-emptive research. With replaceables you are influenced on what you like at the time or what has worked for you in the past, but with cookware (if you are lucky) you won’t have much historic experience to go on. This is why it is imperative to get it right first time which therefore means doing your research . . .

What to look for in a good saucepan

Quality high-spec materials, thick bases, easy-to-clean-surfaces, heat resistant handles, suitable for dishwasher use, price – it is difficult to define what makes a ‘perfect’ saucepan as everyone will have different views and opinions on the subject. However I will strive to break down each element and offer recommendations so that you can make your own judgement.

Saucepan Body

A pan must be able to draw and distribute heat quickly and efficiently through the whole pan, not just the base, or you end up with a thick layer of dark brown carbonized mess at the bottom of the pan which is every cook’s nightmare. Materials vary in their heat-transfer efficiency with cast iron, copper and aluminium sitting pretty at the top. Yet why are 70% of domestic saucepan ranges out there Stainless steel? Where cast-iron is extremely heavy and takes a lot of maintenance much like copper, and plain aluminium can dull and loose its gleam, durable stainless steel is like a Trojan keeping its shine to its dying day, is easy to clean and, to an extent, is self-repairing with scratches healing over as the bare steel reacts with oxygen in the air to prevent corrosion.

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Stainless steel is an alloy of metals including (but not always limited to) iron, nickel and chromium used in varying quantities to boost its overall performance. 18/10 gauge stainless steel contains 18% chromium which helps to prevent rusting and corrosion and 10% nickel for a harder wearing surface and is generally regarded a very high quality stainless steel. However stainless steel is notably a poor conductor of heat in comparison to the other metals and therefore is often infused with an alternate metal core base such as copper or aluminium to eliminate uneven heat distribution and hotspots. If opting for stainless steel cookware, investigate what core metals, if any used in the base. If pure stainless steel, AVOID.

Copper has been historically used because of its great conductive properties (twice as efficient as aluminium and ten times as conductive as steel) and as such, is used in professional kitchens the world over. However the average Joe will need to sell body parts to afford it and unclad copper can taint flavours and react to particularly acidic foods such as tomatoes. Because of this, copper is usually always lined with another material such as stainless steel, tin or a non-stick coating. More common, is using copper as a core for pan bases - or for higher end pans, clad or laminated as part of a tri-ply set up. This combines the advantages of a highly conductive material in relatively small quantities to keep the price down while combating any issues with corrosion, food contamination and general degradation.

The base of the pan is very important and thickness plays a big part in determining the quality of cookware, as does the base material - but you know you are on to a winner if these same materials run up the sides and feature in the pan walls. Many pan brands boast of their thick induction-ready bases or heavy-gauge aluminium-fused whatnots but few can claim that their cores run all the way up the pan and this is what separates the man-pans from the boy-pans (figuratively speaking). This ensures that pan contents are heated from the sides as well as the bottom for much better results and shortened cooking times.

Saucepan Handle

Quite the opposite to the pan body, the handle must ideally be able to prevent as much heat transfer as possible and there are a number of tried and tested methods forming today’s options. Thermoplastic and Phenolic LHT (Low Heat Transmission) handles are arguably the most effective when it comes to insulating heat from the pan but have their limitations when used in the oven and look a little ugly to boot. Handles with silicone or other stay-cool grips again have their heat limitations but can look very stylish particularly when contrasting colours are used. However, with any flexible material, it is always difficult to obtain a clean, close-fitting edge, and because of this you must be wary of dirt build up in hard-to-clean areas – not ideal when hygiene is paramount.

When addressing hygiene, it is also important to assess how the handles are attached to the pan body whether it is via rivets, screws or direct welding to the pan. Good quality pans will have a join that is an incredibly close fit limiting its dirt-trap potential and making cleaning more effective.

Welding or chunky rivets are promising if you are looking for a long-lasting saucepan but where metal joins metal, there is a high likelihood that these handles will conduct heat. Much research and development has gone into preventing heat transfer through metal handles by tweaking the shape to bottleneck the heat entering the handle and a greater surface area to quickly dissipate what little heat does get through so by the time it reaches your hand it is negligible. By doing so, manufacturers have the option to use attractive stainless steel fully throughout the entire pan as they see fit.

Care & Maintenance

The longevity of your saucepans depends solely on how you care for, and maintain them. Some pans are easier to care for than others, some are easier to clean than others but all require some degree of love and affection if they are to stand the test of time. It is important to know what materials are available and what their key properties are with regards to cleaning and maintenance.

Uncoated aluminium, although often used for commercial cookware because it is inexpensive and durable, is not often found in a domestic kitchen because of its dull silver appearance caused by oxidization and reactions to some high-alkaline dishwasher detergents which can run off onto your clothes and even taint food. However, treated aluminium such as enamel-coated aluminium and more recently, hard-anodized aluminium have become very popular. Hard anodized cookware is twice as hard as steel, resisting the inevitable knocks and scrapes in the kitchen with ease as well as corrosion. The rough surface allows a better adhesion for paints, dyes and other aesthetic additions which is why hard anodized saucepans are popular with the style-conscious.

In the past, hard-anodised cookware has been known to react detrimentally with chemicals used in dishwashers but advancements in technology have combated this problem and most manufacturers visibly declare their anodized cookware dishwasher friendly. If not made clear, it is certainly something to look into further before purchasing.

Stainless steel as mentioned earlier is self-repairing to an extent as many minor scrapes and scratches exposing bare metal “reseal” as it reacts with the air. As the name suggests, stainless steel is very easy to keep clean but may require periodic polishing sessions to keep it shiny as new. 18/10 stainless steel affords a harder surface so most abrasive sponges will tackle burnt on food without much trouble and without damaging the surface. For those that despise hand-cleaning cookware, stainless steel is also suitable for use in a dishwasher but they will find non-stick saucepans even less troublesome.

Non stick coatings vary depending on the material they are being adhered to. Teflon, Greblon, Quantum 2 and Excalibur are examples of non-stick and involve different ingredients and application methods. There has been a lot of hoo-har about the dangers of non-stick coatings in the past, particularly circulating Teflon and its unsubstantiated links to animal deaths from fumes given off by burning Teflon and the breakdown of the coating itself penetrating food. It must be pointed out though, to reach the kind of temperatures that non-stick coatings burn at, is extremely unsafe in its own right. If the cooking guidelines are followed correctly you will not face this problem and most non-stick coatings have a huge warranty period for peace of mind.

THE “PERFECT PAN”

With many top saucepan brands around all offering their take on the “perfect pan” it is often difficult to see beyond the hype and marketing spiel, and observe the pan for what it really is. Among Tefal and their “Thermo-Spot”, Le Creuset’s colourful cast-iron cookware, Circulon’s patented circular grooves to elongate non-stick life (all great ideas I hasten to add) and many more cookware gimmicks out there by blow-your-own-horn cookware manufacturers, is there room for modest companies who let their no-nonsense, high-quality products do the talking?

Horwood would convince you to believe so with over a hundred years in the trade, they have been supplying happy customers throughout the British Isles through their Stellar and Judge brands and building a solid reputation along the way. What they have realised, unlike some other top brands is that while a good design idea can get you recognised in the first instance, industry leaders build on a succession of good ideas using their R & D budget to further the principals of a good pan, rather than coming up with publicity stunts in the boardroom. With this in mind, it is clear why the mention of Stellar pans are unavoidable in online cookery forums, “Top 10” cookware lists and the like.

Throughout the majority of their ranges (1000, 4000, 5000, 7000, 8000 & 9000), Stellar use 18/10 stainless steel with high thermal conductive aluminium “nuggets” that are fused together as one in a unique hot-forge process. This means the aluminium and stainless steel layers are heated until almost molten and then impacted together at such a force eliminating air pockets and the need for bonding materials resulting in a much better performing pan with a minimum 6mm base ensuring heat is distributed right to the edges extremely quickly. The Stellar James Martin Lamina range go one step further with, as the name suggests, a laminated core running up the walls as well as the base allowing heat to radiate up the sides quickly, billed by Stellar as “the most efficient and reactive cookware we sell”.

The alternate material used in the 2000, 3000 & 6000 collections is a high-grade thick aluminium for superior heat conductivity throughout the entire pan, with durability and distinctive appearances afforded by the hard-anodized and enamel coatings. The walls of these pans alone can be up to 4mm thick but thanks to the practical lightweight properties of aluminium it is still ideal for those not taking Superman’s fitness class and although aluminium is not inherently suitable for induction, all three collections have been combined with an induction-friendly base. As a result, the whole Stellar saucepan range extremely universal and suitable for all hob types.

Top quality non-stick surfaces including Greblon and Teflon are specially selected for their adhesion suitability for the various collections with a maximum-life, scratch resistant Teflon favoured for the aluminium pans and Greblon for stainless steel. All of the non-stick surfaces on the Stellar pans have a 10 year guarantee which is in addition to the lifetime guarantee that accompanies every pan so by investing in Stellar, you are investing for a lifetime of controlled & efficient cooking, a lifetime of beautiful, easy-to-clean pots and a lifetime of peace of mind – not flavour-of-the-week gimmicks. Stellar know that it is the raw ingredients and manufacturing processes that will come out on top. That is what it all boils down to (incidentally, don’t let your pans boil dry – it can kick up all sorts of problems!)

Rick Eliason

Article courtesy of www.4yourkitchen.co.uk

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