The Kitchn’s Guide to Essential Cookware

updated May 2, 2019
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What are the essential tools and equipment every cook needs in the kitchen? We’ve already shared our guides to essential prep tools and utensils and essential cooking tools. Today it’s all about cookware.

As in our last guide, we’ve offered a few product recommendations in each category based on personal preferences, experience, and editor and reader reviews. Most of these tools can be bought on Amazon, but a terrific and cost-effective resource for basic kitchen tools is a restaurant supply store. Just buy the best quality you can afford!

1. Small 2- to 3-Quart Saucepan with Lid: The saucepan is your kitchen’s workhouse. Use it for boiling or steaming vegetables, making sauces, or cooking grains and pasta.
All-Clad Stainless Sauce Pans ($89.95+)
Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Sauce Pan ($43.97)
2. Large 4-Quart to 2-Gallon Saucepan or Pot with Lid: Every kitchen should have at least one really big pot! Use this for making pasta sauce, or chicken stock, or a large pot of soup you plan to freeze and have on hand for future meals.
Cuisinart MultiClad Unlimited 4-Quart Saucepan with Cover ($69.95)
Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stockpots with Covers ($54.05)

3. Medium 10- to 14-inch Sauté Pan with Lid: a sauté pan has straight sides and a larger surface area, which makes it great for searing meat or reducing a pan sauce. The taller sides also mean sauces and slices are less likely to slosh out!

Calphalon Unison Sear Nonstick Sauté Pan ($99+) – read our review here
All-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 3 qt. Saute Pan w/Lid ($224.95)
Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Triple Ply Stainless Steel 3.5 qt. Saute Pan ($79.99)

4. Medium 10-to 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet or Heavy Skillet with Lid: While a skillet and a sauté pan are almost interchangeable, a skillet has slanted sides instead of straight, which make it perfect for quick cooking techniques like stir-frying.

Lodge 10-inch Cast Iron Skillet ($22.95) – read our review


All-Clad 5112 Stainless 12-Inch Fry Pan ($139.95)

5. Medium 10-inch Nonstick Skillet: Yes, cast iron should be nonstick, but if you’re still working on creating the perfect seasoned pan, then try one of these non-Teflon nonstick options. They’re good for egg and breakfast dishes, like frittatas, omelets, and pancakes. DO NOT use them over high heat.

Scanpan Professional 10-1/4-Inch Fry Pan ($110)
The 10-inch Green Earth Non-Stick Frying Pan by Ozeri ($32.95)

6. Medium 5- to 6-Quart Dutch Oven: A Dutch oven is a heavy metal pot, usually made of cast iron, with thick walls and a lid. Durable, versatile, long-lasting, you can use them for everything from braising to bread baking.

Lodge Color 6-Quart Dutch Oven ($50)
Staub 5-quart Dutch Oven ($150)
Le Creuset 5.5-Quart Signature Round Dutch Oven ($265)

Readers, what are your essential pots and pans? Tell us below!

Related: The Kitchn Reviews: Our Favorite Pots and Pans

The Kitchn’s Other ‘Essentials’ Guides
The Kitchn’s Guide to Essential Prep Tools and Utensils
• The Kitchn’s Guide to Essential Cooking Tools and Utensils