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Small Nonstick Saucepans

Published March 2006

How we tested

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.

Methodology

We tested nine small nonstick saucepans (2-quart capacity, or as close as we could come in a given line) and evaluated them according to the criteria listed below. When manufacturers offered more than one saucepan that satisfied our rubric, we chose a competitively priced or best-selling model. Tests were performed over gas burners on the same range in our test kitchen.

DESIGN

We scalded half-and-half in each pan and then made pastry cream, which gave us a chance to evaluate handle comfort and heating qualities, the ease with which a whisk can be maneuvered in the pan, and whether the lip of the pan could aid in pouring liquid neatly, without spills or dribbles. Transparent lids that allowed us a view inside the pan were preferred, as were solidly attached handles.

PERFORMANCE

In addition to the pastry cream, we prepared long-grain white rice, which we expected to be evenly cooked with no hint of browning on the bottom, and eggs, which we expected to be moderately and evenly browned. In both cases, we expected the pan to release the food easily. Scores of good, fair, or poor were assigned for each test, and the aggregate score determined the overall performance rating. As a tiebreaker, we prepared caramel in each pan, left it to harden overnight, and then tried to remove the caramel without boiling water in the pan.

SAUTÉ SPEED

We started with a cold pan and sautéed 2/3 cup chopped onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat for 12 minutes. Pans that produced soft, pale gold onions with no burnt edges (indicating a medium to medium-slow sauté pace) were rated good, pans that produced onions that were barely colored and retained significant crunch (indicating a very slow sauté pace) were rated fair, and pans that produced onions that were dark brown, crisp, or

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*