Commercial Pots and Pans Buying Guide
Admit it – buying cookware can be fun. All those shiny new pots and pans, so full of promise. But you should curb your enthusiasm (slightly) and take the time to examine your exact needs and requirements before going on a spending spree. Start by asking a few basic questions.
What’s my budget?
What’s on my menu? Frying? Braising? Roasting?
What sort of volumes do I foresee?
How much storage space do I have?
There is no such thing as all-purpose cookware.
Each operation in the kitchen calls for a particular type of cookware: frying pans for sautéing, stock pots for stocks and soups, saucepans for almost everything else. Smaller or larger volumes of food are going to need smaller or larger pots or pans. Make a list.
Some items are going to be spending time in the sink or dish pit, especially frying pans. Make sure you have enough on-hand at all times - you may need more than you think.
As with most things in life, you generally get what you pay for. A well-chosen piece that costs a bit more will last longer than a less expensive piece that may warp or break after a couple of years (or even just a few uses!).
Types of Commercial Cookware
Stockpots are large, deep saucepans with a heavy, flat base and high sides. This large height-to-width ratio reduces the rate of evaporation meaning you can simmer unattended for much longer than with a sauté pan, for example.
As the name implies, stock pots are designed for making stocks. They’re also indispensable for blanching large amounts of vegetables and pasta, or for large volumes of anything liquid, like soups. A heavy base allows for browning meat or vegetables before deglazing and helps prevent viscous liquids like soups or sauces from burning.
Sizes range from 8 to 100 quarts – anything smaller would be an ordinary saucepan and anything larger would call for a stand-alone unit - a steam kettle or tilt pan.
Larger stock pots can have a spigot to remove liquids without needing to move the pot.
Straight-sided or tapered, shorter than a stock pot, taller than a brasier, the versatile saucepan is the kitchen’s almost all-purpose work horse. It’s what chefs instinctively reach for when making sauces, cooking rice, stewing meats, heating soup, blanching vegetables, cooking pasta and much besides.
Sizes range from 1.5 quarts all the way up to about 10 quarts.
A sauté pan is shallow pan with a straight sidewall. These are well suited to searing and braising meats, either on the stove-top or in the oven. Because sauté pans are wide and shallow, liquid evaporates much faster than it would in a saucepan, a vital quality for reducing sauces and concentrating flavours.
The sauté pan’s usefulness doesn’t stop there; you can also poach fish, cook spinach, risotto and even pot-roast smaller cuts of meat.
Sauté pans can get very heavy when fully charged with food, so look for models with a long, insulated handles, and a “helper” handle for larger pans.
Braisers, also called rondeau or brazier, is a broad shallow pan with two looped handles that is typically paired with a tight fitting domed lid. Shallower than a Dutch oven and wider than a sauce pan.
As the name implies, this vessel is perfect for braised dishes and can go from stovetop to oven. Meaning you can brown meat and vegetables first, add liquid, braise in the oven, return to the stovetop with the lid removed to reduce the sauce - all in one pan.
When you choose a frying pan, you are really choosing the material it’s made from: aluminium, stainless steel, cast iron and a couple of others.
For a deeper dive into the world of frying pans and materials in general see our Commercial Frying Pan Buying Guide
Most cookware in the average commercial kitchen is going to comprise frying pans, saucepans, stock pots and sauté pans. In a pinch you can get away with using just these four for almost any menu item.
Specialty food, more often than not, calls for specialty cookware. A crepe pan for crepes, a wok for Asian food, paella pan for - you guessed it - and a pasta cooker for pasta, noodles and vegetables. If you’re working a lot with chocolate, you’ll probably need a double boiler.
Commercial Cookware Features
Pot and Pan Handles
A good handle should be securely attached to the utensil and be easy and convenient to use. It should also well insulated and able to withstand oven heat.
Handles can be attached to pots and pans with welding or rivets.
Welding can provide a sturdy attachment to the pan while keeping the inside of the pan smooth and therefore easy to clean. The quality and number of welds determines the strength of attachment.
With rivets a hole is made in both the pan and the handle and joined permanent with a rivet (a smooth metal pin), meaning it cannot be loosened. Rivets offer sturdy attachment however they can be hard to clean around. However, some manufacturers have a modified rivet where the handles are riveted to the pan but the interior remains smooth giving you the best of both options.
Helper handles is a second U-shaped handle opposite the main handle that allows you to lift the pot or pan with two hands. Helper handles are more prominent on pots and pans that are made with a heavy material or are larger in diameter to assist in safely maneuvering the pan and its content.
Large stock pots and wide pans typically have two looped handles as a single long handle get in the way and take up too much space on the stovetop or in the oven.
Lids should fit snugly as well as being oven-proof. Commercial pots and pans typically don't come with a lid, the lids are sold separately. ChefEquipment.com conveniently indicates and links to the compatible lid in all of our pots and pan descriptions.
However, not every pot and pan needs a lid, again it depends on what you are cooking. Keep in mind that lids take up a lot of room – especially if you aren’t going to use them!
Lids handles, like pot and pan handles, can be attached by welding or rivets. Looped handles in the middle of the lid are the most common, you will also find open sided handles that are easier to grasp and can be coated to keep cool.
Lids can be domed or flat. Domed version can range from shallow to deep. Domed lids allow the moisture rising when cooking to condense on the lids then drip down the sides of the lid and back into the pan. With flat lids, the steam build up can "lift" the edges of the lid and allow moisture to escape. Flat lids take up less space in storage.
Pot and Pan Materials
It’s not really a case of one material being better than another. It depends on the uses the materials are put to.
Aluminum is a great choice, especially if the budget is tight. It's inexpensive, lightweight and conducts heat quickly.
It can react with acidic food, especially when new and befor ethe cooking surface has seasoned in. It can warp and isn't magnetic so no good for induction units. For all these reasons, aluminum is the material of choice for sauce pans and stock pots. However, aluminum cookware is also available in different gauges (thicknesses). Obviously, the thicker the material the better functionality.
Stainless steel is the happy medium of cookware materials. It conducts heat well, is durable and looks good.
The new kid on the block. Carbon steel is comparable to cast iron. It has the same maintenance demands but is much lighter. Carbon steel has many devoted fans in spite of a heftier price tag.
Used for frying, grill pans and Dutch ovens, cast iron is super-durable with great heat distribution and heat retention qualities and relatively inexpensive. As already noted, cast iron is by far the heaviest cookware material. Cast iron needs a bit more care and maintenance than other materials.
Non-stick frying pans hold a definite advantage for cooking delicate items like fish, eggs and crepes.They are also easy to clean saving valuable time in busy kitchens. However, not all non-stick surfaces are the same and you get what you pay for as some lower quality versions, even with the greatest care, can be prone to scratching.
In roughly ascending order, the least expensive is aluminum, followed by cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel and finally copper. Non-stick cookware ranges in price depending on the type of surface and what it’s bonded to (usually aluminum).
We’re talking about metals here, so they’re all pretty durable. Aluminum can warp over time when exposed to extreme heat or rough treatment. The life-span of any non-stick cookware is going to be limited.
Anything made from stainless steel, carbon steel or cast iron is going to be extremely durable.
This governs how evenly heat is distributed (a good thing), how quickly it heats up and how long it stays hot. This is a crucial quality for frying pans in particular. Cast iron, for example, is a poor heat conductor, so takes longer to heat up (a bad thing). But once it is heated it will remain at a uniformly high temperature for even cooking, without any hot or cold spots (all good things).
At the other end of the spectrum, aluminum is a great heat conductor so is perfect for heating liquids in saucepans, but is prone to hot-spots.
Weight matters: it’s something you really get to appreciate towards the end of a busy evening on the line! Aluminum is light and easy to handle. Stainless steel falls somewhere in the middle as usual. Cast iron is the heaviest of all materials.
If you’re using an induction stove always make sure that whatever cookware you buy is induction friendly. As a rule of thumb, solid aluminum is not, cast iron, carbon steel and stainless steel are. Check before you buy. Learn more in our Commercial Induction Cooking Guide.
Day after day, shift after shift, the cookware in your commercial kitchen does a lot of work. Using the right pots and pans or specialty pans can make this work easier.
Written by Charles Bruce-Thompson