Since cooking requires various types of pans made from assorted materials to produce successful dishes, chefs use a wide variety of cookware. Their choices are based on durability, heat conduction and the type of recipe they are preparing, and typically include skillets, sauté pans, saucepans and deep soup pots or kettles.
Cookware is constructed mainly from aluminum, stainless steel, copper or cast iron. Chefs prefer aluminum for its superior heat conductivity, although lower grade aluminum easily warps and makes it unstable on burners. Acidic foods cannot be cooked in aluminum because they leach the metal into the food. Stainless steel is prized by chefs for its durability and strength, but is slow to warm, although it retains heat well. Copper is a great heat conductor and retainer, but is so soft it easily absorbs traces of metal into foods. Cast iron conducts and holds heat well, but is too heavy to move and manipulate quickly during busy kitchen operations. It also is unsuitable for cooking acidic foods as they destroy its naturally seasoned, non-stick surface.
Stovetop Pan Styles
Chefs choose pan styles based on the foods they are preparing. To sauté or sear meats or poultry quickly, they use shallow vessels, like skillets or sauté pans made of aluminum, usually the clad type that has layers of metal to keep the pans’ shapes and best conduct heat to cook foods quickly. Their shallowness also facilitates flipping foods with spatulas or by manual pan manipulation. If the food needs to cook in a small amount of liquid, a sauté pan is appropriate as it has high, straight sides that distinguish it from skillets, which have gently sloping sides. To prepare sauces, gravies or other small amounts of liquid, a chef uses saucepans or sauciers of various sizes. For chowders, soups, stews or steaming large shellfish, like crab or lobster, tall deep stock, soup or stew pots are preferable.
To braise large cuts of meat in the oven, chefs use Dutch ovens, large heavy pots with tight fitting lids that slowly cook food in small amounts of liquid to infuse flavor and tenderize. Open roasting pans have short sides to expose the meat or poultry to dry heat, and encourage browning and crisping. Covered roasting pans cook large cuts faster than open varieties. Broiler pans have a lower shallow pan to catch juices and fat from meats and poultry cooked on the top pan, which has holes in it to prevent the food from sitting in its own juices and promote crispness.
Miscellaneous Pots and Pans
Less used by chefs are specialized pots and pans, like double boilers, which have a bowl-like insert that suspends liquids over simmering water in a lower pan. Double boilers gently cook custards or melt chocolates, which cannot withstand placement directly over a stovetop heat source.
Chefs who do not have open grills on their commercial kitchen stoves to create grill marks on meat surfaces and mimic the effects of authentic grill-cooked foods use oven or stovetop grill pans.