Published May 1, 2005.
Will a saucier make your risottos turn out better? Probably not. But it might make you turn them out more often.
The Cook's Illustrated test kitchen is divided fairly evenly into two distinct groups: Those who count sauciers among their most essential pans and those who never use them. The two noticeable characteristics of a saucier are a slightly wider mouth and rounded, flared sides—the latter designed expressly to accommodate wire whisks and to eliminate any distinct edge where a sauce might seek temporary "refuge" and overcook. Tasks for which the saucier camp reported reaching for this pan rather than a saucepan included preparations demanding constant stirring—custards, risottos, sauces—as well as those requiring poaching (especially fruit) and braising. One staffer praised the saucier for combining the best qualities of a saucepan and a skillet: "It's got depth and capacity but also width and easy interior access."
We'll cut to the chase. Except for one model, every pan performed every task brilliantly, including the test kitchen's favorite saucepan, which we included for comparison. Given that our trusty saucepan was among these good performers, these tests raised the question: Why purchase a saucier if you already have a good saucepan?
The quick (and honest) answer is that you don't have to, especially if you already have a large, high-quality saucepan. Sauciers have their advantages to be sure: easy access to the corners (thanks to the rounded bottom), slightly easier stirring, and an extra-wide mouth that allows for wider, lazier circles with the whisk. But these are not deal breakers when it comes to using a traditional saucepan. If you don't have the ideal saucepan, however, you might consider purchasing a saucier instead. The question is, which one?
After several weeks of stirring and studying, we developed some pretty clear preferences. First, we liked a lip around the edge to facilitate pouring. Second, the wider the pan, the easier and more luxuriant seemed the task at hand. These larger diameters allowed for loose, relaxed, forearm-powered rounds rather than tight circles directed mostly by the wrist—a notable difference between our saucepan and the best sauciers.
Less subjective than "luxuriant whisk feel" was the direct relationship between the width of the bottom of the pan and the amount of heat that wafted up its sides during cooking. The narrower pans, which covered a smaller area of the gas burner, allowed more heat to escape. And this residual heat proved uncomfortable after about 10 minutes of cooking—a legitimate concern when using a saucier, which is designed primarily for tasks that demand a cook's constant proximity to the pan.
We also preferred long, substantial handles: After 15 minutes on moderate heat, most pans were plagued by about 4 1/2 inches of unusable handle.
Finally, weight was also a significant factor. Cooking proceeded more evenly in the heavier pans, and their heft also gave us a greater sense of security at the stovetop.