of pots and pans

New Year's Eve seafood boil

New Year’s Eve seafood boil

While cooking with my mom and two daughters over the holidays, I asked my younger daughter to get out a medium saucepan. She retrieved from the cupboard what I would call a medium frying pan. When I showed her the one I was looking for, she said that she would call that a pot. This led to a discussion about what was a pot vs. what was a pan, and if the difference in nomenclature was a generational thing.

What I’ve since discovered is that pots and pans are two distinct breeds. Nope, it’s not a generational thing, just a specificity thing. A pot is taller, usually has two small handles, and is commonly used to cook some kind of liquid. Think Dutch oven. A pan is more shallow, has one long handle, and is used for sauteing or frying. Think skillet. A pot has sides that go straight up, while a pan’s side can either be straight or angled out. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to these definitions. For example, a roasting pan usually has two handles. I could also get into all the details about how they conduct heat differently—blah, blah, blah—but that’s more than I really care about on this fine morning.

So it turns out that a saucepan is really a pot in disguise, albeit a pot with one handle. Point awarded to my daughter—her middle school home ec teacher would be so proud. Or should I say FCE (family and consumer education) teacher? Now that is definitely a generational thing.

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