Does it matter what type of metal the saucepans I buy are made of?
The way a pan distributes heat and cooks food depends on its conductivity. A material that conducts well will spread the heat out in the pan to make food cook evenly. Conductive materials also respond quickly to increases and decreases in temperature, so you have more control over your cooking.
Copper is a great heat conductor, but it's a pricey material that scratches easily. You may see pans with a thick copper base with sides made from a different - cheaper - material (such as the Marks & Spencer Copper Base Saucepan, right). While the copper is supposed to conduct heat evenly across the base, mixing metals of different conductivity means that food in the top and bottom of the pan will cook at a very different rate. Copper is also a reactive metal so it combines with some foods and may affect taste and colour.
Aluminium is a good conductor of heat and a cheap alternative to copper, but it's soft and won't last as long as other metals. It's also a reactive metal, but anodized aluminium pans have been treated to stop the metal reacting with food while you cook.
Cast iron is another reactive metal, but it's cheap and conducts heat very well. Food tends to stick and burn in cast iron pans which is why some (such as Le Creuset) coat the inside with enamel.
Stainless steel is non-reactive and provides a compromise: it's a pretty cheap material that conducts relatively well. It's also easy to clean and should withstand the odd knock in the kitchen.
We run 50 tests and measurements on saucepans so we can recommend the Best Buy saucepans that will give you years of faithful service. Our tests cover performance, ease of use and durability. Find out which are the best saucepans in our full saucepans review.
Do pans with the same-sized diameter hold the same volume?
No. The usable volume of the pans we tested varied by half a litre due to differences in height. The cm measurement refers to the diameter but doesn't consider how tall the sides are - this is reflected in the volume. Be aware that the volume advertised is the full capacity - the volume you can actually use will be around two thirds of what's marked on the pan.
Do all pans work on induction hobs?
No. Induction hobs work by creating a magnetic field to 'induce' a current and cook food. This means only metals that can be magnetised - such as iron or steel - are compatible with induction hobs, so consider your current and future hob preferences before you invest in an expensive pan that might not work.
There is a gadget that claims to make any pan compatible with induction - see how Whirlpool's Wpro Interface Disc fared when we set it to task in a first look. There are more details on how induction hobs compare with gas and electric in our review of how to buy the best hob.
What should I look out for in a handle?
It's easy to forget how much you use a pan's handle when you're cooking. The handle should be comfortable to hold, ideally with smooth edges that won't be slippery when your hands are wet. Hard, metal corners (see Circulon Infinite, right) that feel OK in the shop might be a different story when your pan's heavy with food at home. Big screws or rivets should keep the handle firmly attached to the pan - make sure it's oven proof if that's important to you.
How important is the weight of the pan?
The pan weight should be a balance - heavy enough to feel stable on the hob so a spoon won't be enough to topple it over, but light enough to carry and pour comfortably. Pans obviously get heavier as they get bigger, but don't forget that the volume can also increase substantially so your food will add a lot more weight.