For a variety of reasons, it might be desirable to have a selection of cheap pans in a kitchen. The inexpensive nature of some pans does not necessarily mean they will function any differently than a more expensive pan, although factors such as the amount of care required during use and the overall lifespan of the pan might become issues. Many cheap pans are made from materials such as aluminum, stainless steel — or even cast iron — that have special care requirements both while being used to cook and for general care. The construction of a pan and the way the handle is attached also can make a large difference over the long run. In some instances, a good way to get a large number of cheap pans is to buy them as a set, although this also could include pans or other items that are not necessarily needed in the kitchen.
Cheap pans sometimes can be inexpensive because of the materials from which they are made. One of the most used materials is aluminum, which heats very quickly but does not distribute heat well across the entire surface and can develop hot spots. Aluminum also is a reactive metal when it has not been anodized, meaning acidic foods such as tomatoes can take on a slightly off taste when cooked in the pan. These aspects of an aluminum pan can be overcome by carefully controlling the heat, being very watchful of food made in the pan, and by not using it to cook acidic foods.
The other materials from which cheap pans can be made include cast iron and stainless steel. Steel pans are durable but do not retain heat well and can take some time to come to temperature. Cast iron pans are durable and hold heat well but require seasoning with oil on a regular basis and other special care to remain usable. A cast iron skillet also can weigh much more than a steel or aluminum pan of the same size, potentially making it more difficult to handle.
The handle on some cheap pans can be an area that requires some investigation. It is an important component and can be welded, bolted or riveted to the body of the pan. Bolts tend to be less desirable than other types of attachments, also but they also can be easily fixed if they loosen, because the nuts can be tightened. Rivets work well but can be very difficult or impossible to tighten once loose. Welded handles, if the weld is secure, can be very effective during the life of the pan.
There are some small aspects about the construction of cheap pans that can make some more effective than others. The shape of the rim of the pan is more useful for pouring contents onto a plate or into a bowl if it is rounded. When a pan is held in the hand, the more even the balance of the pan is, the more level it will sit on a burner and the easier it will be to handle. In some cheap pans, the surface might be coated with a non-stick material that can help to keep food from sticking and prevent reactions if the pan is made of aluminum. The coating should be examined, however, to ensure that it is solid and does not have any nicks, because they can cause the coating to come off the pan very quickly, sometimes reducing the lifespan of the pot to only a few uses.