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I have to admit, I've been pretty ignorant about cookware terminology for my whole life - I've had a set of pots and pans of various sizes, and I've used them. Now I'm in the market for a nicer, new set, and am pretty confused. My question here is if there's really any difference (aside from size) between sauce pans, dutch ovens, and stock pots.

I'm looking at a few sets:

The T-fal set has a "5.5 Quart covered Dutch oven." The other two sets have 8 quart stockpots. They all have sauce pots of various sizes (1 to 3 quarts).

Are these all just pots that happen to be different sizes, or is there something fundamentally different? What advantage does the dutch oven have over the stock pot? In other words, is there something else I need to consider other than just buying the sizes that make the most sense for me?

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related : cooking.stackexchange.com/q/18774/67 –  Joe Jan 24 at 19:27

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

While all of these are large pots (or may at least come in large sizes) they have different purposes, which lead to differences in typical construction.

  • Saucepans are intended for general purpose cookery, and usually have solid construction, and permit searing in the pot, reducing, and a variety of other tasks.

    They are the most difficult to characterize as there is tremendous variation in quality levels and design among the products available.

  • Stock pots are purpose built to make large quantities of stock. Since they are not used for searing typically, and liquids circulate via convection making hot spots not a priority, they are typically constructed from thinner metals (steal or aluminum) and don't have good general purpose cooking qualities.

    The main virtues in a stock part are low cost, size, and light weight.

  • Dutch ovens (at least real Dutch ovens) are a legacy from the time when cooking was done in hearth or campfire. They are designed to be nestled into the coals or embers, with more coals or embers placed on top of the lid, creating a hot oven like interior--thus the name.

    True quality Dutch ovens will be fairly thick, usually cast iron, possibly enameled, and may have little legs to help nestle it into the fire above the coals; similarly, a the lid may actually fit into the pot, allowing coals to easily be piled on top.

    Dutch overs are actually fairly versatile cooking implements, and can serve for searing, roasting, braising, stewing, biscuit making, soup making, and even some bread applications even in the modern kitchen. Many are large enough to make stock in for home purposes, although they are not absolutely ideal for the task.

You will have to ask yourself, given your own cooking patterns, would the general versatility of a dutch oven, or the size of a stock pot serve you better. None of the sets you linked to has a true dutch oven, however; the one that purports to be a dutch oven has a glass lid! It might be an okay pot, it is not one I would ever choose.

For stainless steel products (without the specialized legs and concave lid to nest coals in), there is very little difference between a dutch oven and a very large sauce pan.

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Stock pots also tend to be narrower than other pots of a similar volume, as this reduces the amount of loss through evaporation. Also, what you mention about the legs are dutch ovens -- the lid doesn't got into the pot of a camp oven; it has a significant lip, so that when you remove the lid, you don't drop ashes into what you're cooking. (they also tend to have little nubs across the inside of the lid, to more evenly distribute water condensing) You'd also never see a camp oven that's enameled. –  Joe Jan 24 at 19:34
    
Oh ... saucepans and stock pots are intended for stovetop use, and may not have oven-safe handles. There have been some dutch ovens that had problems w/ really high oven temps, but it's much less likely. –  Joe Jan 24 at 19:44
    
@Joe I cannot agree with that; quality saucepans should be oven safe. Stock pots won't fit so it is moot but i have never seen one that didn't have metal loop handles. –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 24 at 20:54
    
Good point on most stock pots not fitting ... although Calphalon makes some 6qt ones that would fit fine.. And I've seen a few stockpots that have bakelite or similar over metal handles. Of course, Le Creuset uses bakelite for the knob on their dutch ovens, so you'll damage them as you get over about 350F or so. –  Joe Jan 24 at 21:29
    
@Joe Agreed on the bakelite; one of my standard for sautee and sauce pans is all metal construction. –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 24 at 21:36

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