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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.

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  1. 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.

    1. I recommend aluminum with SS lining. If you want an inexpensive pan with aluminum disc bottom, there's this:


      1. 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.


        1. I recommend a five quart pan for candy making. I don't try any in so small a pan.

          1 Reply
          1. 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!

          2. does anyone know if the unlined aluminum pot would discolor/give foul taste to the caramels?

            1 Reply
            1. Are you caramelizing your sugar dry? Using the wet method gives you a little more leeway. Mix sugar with enough water to moisten it all, put on fairly high heat, and don't touch it until it starts to color. Turn heat down to medium and swirl pan occasionally until desired color/temp is reached.

              1 Reply
              1. re: babette feasts

                i have done both, you are right that wet is more tolerant (or at least seems that way).

                maybe my post didn't make this seem very clear but i have made *a lot* of caramels, some successes, some failures. i could continue to get by in the saucepan i have, but it's so temperamental that i need to be extremely cautious which is annoying and time consuming. on top of that it is 1qt, which is smaller than i'd prefer, so i would still purchase a new pan if only to have something larger, but less than my giant stockpot. i have also experimented with using my saute pan (to see if my pan was the issue) and the caramelization process was significantly easier, but i can't actually use that pan for the whole process since its dimensions would make using a thermometer impossible (and i'm not keen on not using one)

              2. I started housekeeping with club aluminum and used it until the scare came out. My grandmother who made fabulous candy without a thermometer, used aluminum. I switched to old revereware. I found a wide 2 qt pan secondhand, that I like. If you buy revereware, get it with two rivits in the handle to have the full amount of copper on the bottom. They cut the amount in half in the sixties. I recently bought some Baumalu 2mm pans for around $30 a piece at TJ Maxx. Here is an article from Rose Levy Beranbaum

                http://www.realbakingwithrose.com/201.... I don't like a dark pan though because I want to see the color of the caramel. It shows there are lots of opinions and will depend on just what you like. Some people even use skillets. The size will depend on how much you are making and how much it will bubble up when you add liquid.

                2 Replies
                1. re: wekick

                  yeah this is something i don't understand.. above in the thread it says "definitely no aluminum", and i've seen a couple other sentiments on other forums through google but always from the perspective that aluminum is always bad and never "i made this with aluminum and my caramels were grey and tasted like a car bumper".

                  thanks for the tip about revereware, i will keep that in mind if i go that route

                  1. re: asfoch

                    The only problem with aluminum is cooking very acidic foods, which can react with the aluminum -- darkening the metal and giving a metallic taste to the food.

                    Unlined copper is not safe to cook in except for foods that are mostly sugar, as in the traditional jam pans.

                    This makes me think that unlined (but thick) aluminum would be ideal for a pan devoted to caramel; it's the next-best to copper among pan metals for conductivity and even heating. Go with your first option above -- a restaurant pans that's the best size and shape for your batches of caramel -- and make your prep much more relaxed and enjoyable.

                2. As odd a choice as this may sound, my wife took a carmel making class with our adult daughters, and the instructor, a professional in the fiield, told them copper was the best choice, but, and here's the odd part, his number two choice was enameled cast iron. We all know cast iron doesn't heat evenly, but appearantly it heats slowly enough that you're less likely to scorch the carmel. They have been making carmel this way for several years now with great success. Although they use a French brand, you can pick up a lodge color for a reasonable price.

                  1. I'd actually recommend aluminum. It'll heat very evenly.

                    The reason people recommend against it is because there is evidence that people with Alzheimer's have more aluminum in their brains. However, there's no evidence that the aluminum is the cause of the problem: it may well be a result of it instead. Furthermore, the aluminum you ingest from aluminum cookware is negligible compared to say, food. In other words, I wouldn't worry about it. On top of that, if you're not cooking something acidic, aluminum really isn't a problem. And caramel isn't particularly acidic.

                    So, unless you are the type to worry a lot, use the plain aluminum. If you do worry a lot, use the steel/aluminum clad (I've got Tramontina, and it's very nice). I grew up with Revereware. Trust me when I say that the copper is so thin that it doesn't do anything.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: celesul

                      On Revereware, it depends on when it was made as to how thick the copper is and how evenly it heats. All I can say is that I have the oldest kind and it works well. I've found making caramel is one of the best ways to see how evenly a pan heats. The amount of copper was cut in half in the 60s and decreased until now it is just a flash coating. No one has ever determined how thick the copper was on the earliest pans but it is heavy enough to balance the handle on the small sauce pans which is not the case on the later ones and they are tippy. This would be another way to make sure you are getting pans with the full amount of copper.
                      You can often find great aluminum pans very reasonably in antique malls now because people are afraid of them. I agree that caramel is not acidic and even if you were worried about aluminum dissolving in you food, this would be more of an issue with acidic foods. Aluminum will dissolve as evidenced by the pitting you will see in old pans but the jury is out as to if this causes Alzheimer's.

                      1. re: celesul

                        No, the reason I say no aluminum is that I might want to make creme fraiche caramel but I can't, because you shouldn't cook with acidic ingredients in an aluminum pan. (Longest sentence ever.)

                        Or I might want to use the pan for tomatoes, lemon curd, or any number of other things.

                        1. re: celesul

                          Actually, there is no such evidence. Someone did a study some years ago which suggested that there may be a link, but subsequent research has failed to confirm it. This is the sort of thing that gets picked up and passed around by some people as if it were established fact, when it isn't.

                          1. re: GH1618

                            This what the Alzheimer's Society has to say.

                            "The expert view on aluminium

                            Since the idea that the metal might be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease was first proposed there have been numerous conferences on aluminium and health. The medical research community, international and government regulatory agencies and the aluminium industry all review the evidence at frequent intervals. The overwhelming medical and scientific opinion is that the findings outlined above do not convincingly demonstrate a causal relationship between aluminium and Alzheimer's disease, and that no useful medical or public health recommendations can be made − at least at present (Massey and Taylor 1989).

                            It has proved extremely difficult to devise studies to resolve this problem one way or another. Alzheimer's is a common disease with multiple causes, while aluminium is widespread in the environment, and there are no methods that allow us to measure an individual's 'body burden' or lifetime exposure to this element.

                            In the future, it is possible that suitable 'transgenic' animal models (which develop the pathological features of Alzheimer's disease in animals' brains) will enable scientists to determine if such changes are accelerated or exacerbated by aluminium at levels that correspond to normal human exposure."

                            1. re: GH1618

                              Oh, really? So even the correlation isn't certain? That's good news. I always heard that the correlation was found but that obviously doesn't mean causation...

                          2. I never had a problem with any pan. But I usually reach for tri-ply stainless, because that is what I have.

                            I'm not sure heat distribution is even that important. David Lebovitz's pictures of (presumably) himself making caramel show dark amber, light amber, melted clear, and unmelted crystalized sugar all in the same shot: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/01/...