Cookware is essential equipment in every commercial kitchen. Whether you’re making soup or a stew, pan-searing chicken or stir frying noodles, choosing the right cookware will make a significant difference in the quality of your food and the efficiency of your kitchen. There are a multitude of options available to the executive chef and head cook, and we’re here to explain the advantages and disadvantages of each type of cookware to help you move forward with your purchases. In part I we’ll discuss the types of commercial cookware that a restaurant kitchen should include, while in Part II we’ll talk about the different cookware construction and the materials you should be looking for.
Types of Commercial Cookware
Choosing the right cookware to fit your kitchen’s needs is vital to the day-to-day operations of your restaurant. Every well-functioning restaurant needs a range of cookware to create deliciously smooth sauces, comforting casseroles, and the crispest sautéed vegetables. A well-stocked restaurant kitchen will have the following items before it is able to open its doors for business:
Fry Pan or Sauté Pan
The word sauté comes from the French word sauté, which means “to jump.” The difference between a sauté pan and a fry pan is subtle but important, and it all comes down to the shape. A sauté pan has a wide, flat bottom and tall, straight sides. A fry pan, on the other hand, has sides that flare outward. The difference in shape affects the surface area of the pan and the volume of the contents it holds; the weight of the pan; and the tossing action. So, for instance, due to its straight sides, a 12-inch sauté pan will have a full 12-inch-wide cooking surface. A fry pan, on the other hand, loses at least an inch on each side to its angled shape, making the effective cooking area of a 12-inch fry pan only 10 inches wide. This means that, given a fry pan and a sauté pan of equal diameter, the fry pan will have significantly less cooking area than the sauté pan. Similarly, in terms of volume, the straight sides of a sauté pan allow you to fit a higher volume of liquid (and the straight sides also make the liquid less likely to splash out as you move the pan around).
Because of its construction, a sauté pan is usually heavier than the same size fry pan. While weight is not an issue when the pan is sitting on the stovetop, the lighter weight of a fry pan makes it more appropriate for shaking and stirring to promote even cooking of vegetables or pieces of chopped meat over a flame. In other words, a fry pan is better for sautéing food than a sauté pan. The sloping sides of a fry pan allow a cook to more easily shake the pan, and to perform the “jump-flip” action that not only looks impressive but is the most efficient way to redistribute the food in the pan, ensuring even cooking for all pieces. While it’s not impossible to sauté in a sauté pan, it’s more difficult, requiring constant stirring and turning with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Ideally, you should have both a fry pan and a sauté pan in your commercial kitchen. A fry pan offers advantages for sautéing, and a sauté pan offers advantages for shallow-frying or braising. If, however, you must choose only one – for budgetary and/or space reasons, you should probably opt for the fry pan, as sautéing is a basic first step in loads of recipes and the fry pan is essential for this activity.
Skillet or Fry Pan
The difference between fry pans and skillets is even more subtle than the difference between a fry pan and a sauté pan; in fact, many people consider them interchangeable. Nonetheless, although they are “related” and have similar functions, several differences make them distinct from each other. Skillets are made with a lid and they are deeper – usually about two inches deep, so that cooks can deep-fry food. A fry pan, on the other hand, has slightly lower sides, a long handle, and no lid. In other words, while they look fairly similar, the lid and high sides of the typical skillet makes it more multi-purpose than a fry pan: They can be used for grilling and are perfect for cooking stews and fricassees.
Saucepan and Sauce Pot
The saucepan and saucepot are two different pieces of cookware, with different purposes, and both are essential cookware item for cooking on a stove top. Most saucepans have a round bottom and tall, straight sides. However, some saucepans are rounded – the diameter at the base is smaller than the diameter at the top. These curvy saucepans are also referred to as sauciers. A saucepan is usually about 2/3 as tall as it is wide, with a long handle. Saucepans are very versatile cookware choices, and they can be used when making all kinds of sauces and soups, with or without a lid, to control evaporation. If you find yourself having to decide between a straight sided or curved saucepan, consider that the curved sauce pan allows for easier stirring, particularly when using a balloon whisk, which can’t easily get into the corners of a straight-sided pot. However, if you don’t plan to use a whisk often, or if you usually use a spoon that can reach into tight corners, you would do just as well with a straight-sided saucepan.
A sauce pot usually has a wider bottom than the average saucepan. The shape maximizes heat conduction, making this type of cookware perfect for cooking casseroles and stews, or soups and sauces. For ease of handling, the sauce pot comes with two loop handles.
Buying a good stock pot is important for every commercial kitchen because of its versatility. Not only will you use it for making stocks and stock reductions, you can use it to cook pasta, make soups and sauces, and more. The goal is to buy something that will work well for every type of cooking you do and one that will hold up for many years to come.
Commercial stock pots come in a range of sizes, from 8- to 120-quart sizes for bulk preparation of stock, soups, or sauces. A stock pot usually has a round base, deep straight sides and a cover. This shape is ideal for making stocks and stock reductions, but it works just as well for making soups. The smaller diameter and taller height of this type of pot preserves liquids longer and forces the liquid to bubble up through the ingredients, maximizing flavor transfer. No matter what type of pot you buy, you want it to have a thick, heavy bottom to prevent burning. Soup requires time to cook so the pot will be sitting on the stovetop for long periods. You don’t want the ingredients to scorch and stick to the bottom because it is too thin or made of cheap materials.
The pot should also be judged by its ability to transmit heat from the heat source to the food and do so both evenly and efficiently. Well-made stock pots are considered highly conductive when they can transfer heat evenly across the bottom and up the sides so food cooks the way it is supposed to. You want the liquid at the bottom of the pan to cook evenly with the liquid at the top. Every metal conducts heat differently so that’s why it’s important to find the right match for the type of pot you are using and what you are cooking. Whether you are using it to make stock or just boil some corn, you want a well-constructed pot with handles that won’t fall off when you are lifting a heavy pot of scalding liquid.
Brazier (or Rondeau) vs Dutch Oven
A brazier is a favorite staple in a chef’s arsenal and no commercial kitchen should be without one. Sometimes called a rondeau, this wide, somewhat shallow pan is similar to a Dutch oven but usually not as deep. Braziers have straight sides, typically have two loop handles, and nearly always come with a lid. Generally, these essential cookware items are made of stainless steel, copper, or a combination of clad metals.
Braziers are ideal for slow-cooking meat and stews, where the goal is to create tender, juicy results. Part of a brazier’s allure is its versatility: its shape lends itself well to searing, braising, oven-roasting, frying, poaching, pan-roasting, and simmering. The shape is deep enough to hold liquid for poaching, but shallow enough that it can evaporate to make any cooking liquids more intensely flavored. The important thing to look for when shopping for a brazier pan is that it should have a heavy base, which will conduct and retain heat well. You also want a tight-fitting lid and an oven-safe construction so you have the option to finish—or even fully cook—dishes in the oven. Also, make sure the pan is not too wide; it should not be more than a couple of inches in diameter larger than your burner or it won’t heat properly.
A Dutch oven is the brazier’s heavier, more formidable brother – it is a heavy cooking pot with a tightly fitting lid that is perfect for braising. Dutch ovens can be used either on the stovetop or in the oven, and they’re usually made of cast iron. In addition, because they can withstand extremely high heat, cast iron Dutch ovens can be used for deep-frying. Some Dutch ovens have an enamel coating over the cast iron, which makes them easier to clean, and there’s no worry about rust. Dutch ovens are great for stews, soups and casseroles. Having a heavy lid means there is less evaporation, and the steam generated inside the pot continues to bathe the content in a moist heat that makes the food tender and juicy.
A roasting pan is a piece of cookware used for roasting meat or poultry in an oven. A commercial roasting pan may be used with a rack (to allow the juices and fat to collect at the bottom of the pan), and it can be either shallow or deep, depending on your needs. Roasting pans are made in several materials, aluminum, copper, or stainless steel, each of which offers its own unique benefits. The ideal roasting pan is solid and strong enough to withstand heat from the oven over a long period of time, but not so heavy as to make it unwieldy when moving it around.
Double boilers are similar to stock pots but one pot is slightly smaller so it can nest inside the larger one. A commercial double boiler consists of a basic (sizes are from 7 quart to 20 quart) straight-sided boiler pot and another inset pan that has a slightly rounded bottom and fits snugly into the top of the bottom pan. Water is added to the outer/boiler pot creating steam under the upper/inset pot, thus cooking indirectly by steam. Often, a double boiler set will come with a lid, which isn’t used that frequently because most foods that need to be cooked in a double boiler require constant stirring.
The double boiler is essential when recipes call for applying gentle heat on the stovetop, for delicate tasks like melting chocolate, or preparing custards (pastry cream, pudding, sabayon, zabaglione, etc.) as well as lemon curd and delicate emulsions like Hollandaise sauce. While some of these recipes can be prepared over direct heat, using a double boiler keeps the heat more even and gentle and can prevent scorching. When you make Hollandaise sauce, for instance, you want to warm the egg yolks ever so slightly so that direct heat would be too much. (If you heat them too much, they’ll actually lose their emulsifying properties, and if you really get them too hot, the proteins will curdle and you’ll end up making scrambled eggs.) Similarly, when you’re melting chocolate, heating it directly can affect its texture, which again has to do with the fact that chocolate is an emulsion of cocoa solids, fat, and sugar.
With a double boiler, instead of the ingredients going into a pan on the stovetop directly over a heat source (or in a microwave), you bring some water to a simmer in the lower section and place the ingredients you’re cooking or melting in the upper part. The steam from the simmering water heats the contents of the upper inset pot. A well-constructed double boiler will help ensure that the bottom of the upper pan doesn’t come into contact with the simmering water.
The Cookware List Goes On
All commercial cookware come in various materials and different kinds of constructions, and we will elaborate on this in upcoming posts. You can expect to see a discussion about the pros and cons of aluminum (including anodized aluminum), stainless steel, copper, and cast iron, along with different types of handles and surfaces. For now, however, use this guide to start stocking your commercial kitchen and to be prepared for every recipe and culinary eventuality.