budget saucepan for caramel making?
i've been trying to learn to cook over the past few months and one thing i've become taken with is making salted butter caramels. however, i use a very cheap ikea saucepan which not only is too small (the bubbling of the caramels means i can only make so much at once), but it conducts heat poorly and unevenly and it gives me much trouble.. i've learned i must melt the sugar in several waves and run the whole process at very low heat or i will risk burning the sugar or ruining the caramel texture, meaning something i might be able to accomplish in <30m takes me something in the neighborhood of 90m.
i have read that the premium option for cooking sugar (or delicate sauces) is copper but i am a cheap and functional minded person and $200+ for a saucepan does not strike me as the most cost effective option. i don't care if the pot looks pretty, has a lid, or can even go in the dishwasher and i am totally ok with a more "disposable" lifespan if the price matches. i just want something that will heat up my sugar well and not mess with the taste or anything.
i want something in the 1.5-2qt range and i'd really prefer it to be a bit on the narrow/tall side in design (height at or more than 60% the diameter) so my thermometer will not have trouble reading the temperature
from my research my options seem to be
-industry style bare aluminum saucepan. i do not know if bare aluminum is ok for what i want to use it for, but i do know that it's inexpensive. a vollrath "arkadia" 1.5qt saucepan is quite narrow and should be <15$
-consumer brand stainless steel w/ aluminum disc bottom saucepan. - ofc these vary in price hugely by brand and whether i get it off amazon or bed bath and beyond but should be somewhere from $20 to $50. this is also what i'm cooking in now so i'm hesitant, but i'm open to it on the assumption a higher quality mfr would be a better experience
-antique stainless steel with copper bottom saucepan. - i've noticed that one can buy used revereware saucepans from the 60's with a little bit of looking which are stainless steel with a copper base. i should be able to find one in decent looking quality for $20-30. a downside is these seem to be rather wide from my research, sides are ~50% the diameter in 1.5 and 2qt options.
-steel/aluminum clad - the all clad 2qt is the perfect dimensions but way too pricey, so i'd be looking at cuisinart or tramontina or one of the other bargain clad options where i should be able to get a saucepan in the ~$50 range
-sitram stainless steel with copper base - this was the only copper/stainless steel disc style i could find, runs like ~$70 on amazon for a 1.5qt which is kinda pricey.
edit: forgot to mention i have a gas range.
I use stainless steel with aluminum disc bottom. I got is at Ross, discounted. It works great for me. Some people here don't like to buy pans at discount places (Ross, Marshalls, etc), but if one is careful, looks at the merchandise, it can be a good place to go and get that one pot for a decent price. You IKEA one may not be the same, so not sure if those would be what you are using now. A higher quality makes a big difference.
I am not familiar with the Ikea saucepan you have been using...but I would recommend another Ikea saucepan. The Ikea 365+ line has a thick disc bottom rhat will prevent your caramel from scorching. (Of course you must still keep an eye on the progress of the boiling sugar.)
We have the 3 quart and 5 quart Ikea 365+ sauce pans and have never had a problem with scorching. The best part is, you can give it a go for 13 bucks and if it isn't what works for you, you could always spend more money on a copper sugar pan with the double spouts that is the classic pan for making caramel.
re: Becca Porter
I agree, however you can go a little smaller if you're making small quantities. I'd recommend a 4 qt Farberware, I have an old one that is great for many uses. It's straight sided, thus takes a clip on thermometer well, great for small batches of pasta, marinara sauce, soups, etc. You can see the color of the caramel, and no copper polishing! Mine has two grip-style handles rather than a long handle, which I also find helpful although you need potholders. Someone here also suggested a Cuisinart saucepan, which I also can recommend, although the edge is larger and a clip on thermometer is more awkward. I don't know how old you are, but if you're young you can buy a copper saucepan and treasure it, it will bring you many years of pleasure. Not just caramel, but great for many sugar dishes. If I was 35, I'd go for it!