Which pans do what? These are the most common pieces of cookware. Keep in mind that most cookware is versatile enough to do more than one job, so only the most passionate home chefs would need every item in the list.
For starter sets, we generally recommend:
A sauce pan, a fry pan, a stock pot, a sauté pan, and a nonstick griddle.
These shallow pans (usually 1- to 2.5 inches deep) are used for cooking close to the heat source.
These pans have long handles, to help cooks handle the pan without getting fingers too close to the heat.
|Fry Pan (aka, skillet)
||An essential workhorse of the kitchen, fry pans/skillet pans are designed for fast cooking with oils over high heat.
||The sauté pan is designed for sautéing (that's frying food while moving it around quickly in the pan), frying-and because it's deeper than a fry pan, it can be used for deep-frying-and searing.
A little deeper than a fry pan, it can also be used for preparing marinara and other sauces.
||With a large, flat bottom and a moisture-locking lid, the braiser pan is a multi-tasker: It can be used to brown food on the stovetop and/or slow-cook it in the oven, then serve it at the table.
||A popular, all-purpose Asian pan, woks have high, sloping sides. They're traditionally 14 inches in diameter and made of carbon steel. These pans have a hot cooking surface on the bottom, and are cooler up the sides. Moving ingredients around the pan gives cooks great control and versatility over temperature.
||A griddle is a piece of cookware that has a relatively large, flat surface. It can be used with fairly little oil, and is often selected for cooking breakfast foods like pancakes, hash browns, and eggs. It can be square or round, but generally does not have the longer handle of a fry pan.
|Sauce Pans: A sauce pan has a rounded bottom and taller sides, which make it ideal for many uses-everything from reheating leftovers and preparing grains (like rice or oatmeal), to boiling eggs and making sauces.
||The sauce pan has a rounded bottom and tall, straight sides, which means it's a versatile choice for making sauces and soups, as well as vegetables and hot cereals. It can be used with or without a lid to control evaporation.
||The curved sides of a saucier contour to whisks and stirring spoons, making it an excellent choice for building sauces and preparing dishes like risotto, which require continual stirring.
||A Windsor pan has a narrow bottom and flared sides to facilitate evaporation, which is why it's the ideal selection for reducing sauces. The wide mouth also makes for more precise pouring.
||The stockpot is a large, deep vessel with a flat bottom. It is used to cook liquid foods that don't need to be super-close to the heat source.
Stockpots allow you to sauté or brown, and then add liquids when you're making stocks, soups and stews. Their tall profile also keeps pasta submerged during boiling.
These pots come in a variety of sizes; many cooks buy multiple sizes for small and large gatherings.
|Dutch Oven: Pieces called Dutch ovens are made for use on top of the stove and in the oven. They're normally used with a lid to contain moisture, which can baste ingredients while cooking.
||The Dutch oven is a larger vessel designed for slow-cooking generous volumes of stews, braised meats or pot roast. Traditionally, Dutch ovens are round and made from cast iron. A pair of short handles makes lifting safe and easy.
||The French oven is much like a Dutch oven, but can be either round or oval, and made from a range of materials. Perfect for loins of lamb, beef or pork, roasts, briskets and poultry.
|Sauteuse with Domed Lid
||This pan-which is about the shape of a sauté pan, but with two short handles-excels at browning foods for braised meat and vegetable dishes, as well as for making a variety of stews and sauces.
|Bakers: These are generally low-sided pans, with or without center tubes, for use in the oven.
||Casserole pans usually have higher sides and are used for both cooking and serving. A buffet casserole has a securely fitted stainless steel lid that makes it perfectly suited for slow simmering one-pot main courses and side dishes.
||Gratin dishes are bakers with low sides and handles, and they're great for dishes that require some finishing time under the broiler.
It can also double as a small roaster for poultry, meats and fish.
||Cassoulet (pronounced kasu-let) is named after a beloved French casserole. The pan is versatile and designed to be carried straight from the kitchen to the table.
||Also called Roti, roasters are taller, larger bakers. Some have a lid to keep ingredients from drying out. These are the essentials for roasting turkeys, chickens, or other roasts.
When looking at pots and pans, there are three key factors to consider: The cookware's conductible metal, its cooking surface, and its handle. Each will have a big influence on how you use and care for it.
Conductible metal is the part of the cookware that gets hot and delivers heat to the food (this is called transferring heat). Some metals heat up and cool down quickly; others stay hot longer once they've hit the right cooking temperature. The qualities you'll prefer will depend on what you're cooking.
Keep in mind that not every metal in a pan is there for its conductive properties-you'll see stainless steel in many pans, but it's not there for heat transfer (good stainless steel cookware has a core of another, more conductible, metal).
These are the most common conductible metals:
||How it conducts heat
||Copper is highly conductible-it heats up and cools back down fast. That makes it a good fit for cooks who make dishes that require a lot of temperature control, like delicate sauces.
(Note: Copper can react to acidic foods like tomatoes, so it's often lined with another metal.)
|Great temperature control for advanced cooks
Beautiful to look at
If unlined, it can react to acidic foods like tomatoes.
||Cast iron takes longer than most other conductible metals to get hot. But once it heats up, it holds that heat extremely well. That makes it ideal for cooking things like stews.
||Holds heat well
Extremely durable-can last a lifetime
|Heavier that other metals, so it's not a good fit for glass cooktops.
Sometimes requires seasoning before use.
Can rust if not cared for.
||Aluminum is also a highly conductible metal. It heats quickly and evenly, and retains heat longer than copper (although not as long as cast iron). Aluminum is a great all-rounder in the kitchen, equally suited to cooking breakfast eggs and more delicate sauces.
(It is also very pliable, so it's usually combined with layers of another metal, such as copper or stainless steel. This combination is sometimes called tri-ply.)
Provides even heat
|When not combined with another metal, easy to dent or damage.
Aluminum will react with acidic ingredients (like tomatoes).
||This is a specially made aluminum that's been treated to make the metal harder, heavier, darker and non-porous. It will heat up fast and get very hot. Hard anodized aluminum is a great all-rounder in the kitchen, equally suited to cooking breakfast eggs and more delicate sauces.
||Heats hotter than regular aluminum
Very durable-It won't chip, crack or peel
Creates a surface less prone to sticking
|Dark surface can make it difficult to judge browning.
Can take a while to heat up.
Some cooks worry about health impact of man-made conductible materials.
Surface will wear over time.
Whatever conductible metal you choose, look for cookware that has conductible metal throughout the pan-not just on the bottom. This will allow for more even cooking.
The material that comes into contact with the food being cooked is incredibly important. It will determine how evenly the heat is distributed, how likely food will be to stick to the pan, and how hard the pan will be to clean. It can also affect how attractive the pan is (hey, looks count too!).
These are the most common cooking surfaces:
||Keep in Mind
||Stainless steel (an alloy of steel, carbon, and chromium) is by far the most common cooking surface. It's durable (resists scratches and dents), distributes heat evenly (no hot spots to burn your food), and looks great.
- Stainless steel is not a great heat conductor, so it shouldn't be the only metal in your pans.
- Avoid scratching stainless steel with abrasive cleansers.
||Non-stick cooking surfaces have been treated with a coating (usually a variation of the polymer PTEE-or polytetrafluoroethylene) that keeps food from clinging. The cookware's lack of stickiness makes it easy to clean. It also makes non-stick pans a great choice for lower-fat cooking, because there's no need to add any fat to the pan when using them.
- Metal utensils must not be used with nonstick pans, because they damage the surface.
- Look for multiple layers of non-stick material.
- You can't use non-stick sprays with non-stick pans.
- Do not use non-stick pans in the oven.
- These aren't for use with extremely high heat.
- Some people are concerned that the polymers will leach into their food.
||Infused non-stick surfaces are not merely coated with a polymer; they are made with the non-stick material permeating the pores of the cookware itself. This results in more even heat and better temperature control for cooks.
- Metal utensils must not be used with nonstick pans, because they damage the surface and release potentially harmful chemicals.
- You should not use non-stick sprays with non-stick pans.
- Do not use non- stick pans in the oven.
- People worry that the polymers will leach into their food.
||Stick resistant pans haven't been coated-they simply have a less "sticky" surface to which you can add oil, another fat, or nonstick sprays to keep food from sticking. Stainless steel and pre-seasoned cast ion pans are stick resistant when used at a moderate temperature with some oil or shortening.
- You will need to use oil or cooking spray to prevent sticking.
||This coating is applied to conductors like cast iron. It's most common in Dutch ovens, stock pots, and slow roasters, where slow, even heat is key. Porcelain enamel's smooth surface will also make the pot easy to clean. It also comes in a wide selection of colors, so it can add a real pop of fun to the kitchen.
- Take care to avoid scratching or chipping the surface of porcelain enamel cookware.
The way your cookware's handle is constructed will impact how you use it and care for it.
These are the most common types of handles:
||A riveted handle is permanent and extremely sturdy. It's applied through the pan, so it is permanently attached and never needs tightening. Pans with rivets need to be properly cleaned to prevent food buildup around the interior rivet.
|Welded or Screwed On
||These handles are applied to the outside of the pan with either a heating technique or a screw. These are not as sturdy as riveted handles; however, they do provide a smooth interior surface.
||Cool V construction, also known as an arch vent handle, is a hollowed out and rolled handle design that disperses heat and enables handles to stay relatively cool during stovetop cooking. Stainless steel is often the material for these handles because it's a poor conductor of heat.