Whether you’re looking to minimize your kitchen clutter or start stocking your space from scratch, here are the tools every home cook needs. Carbon-plated stainless steel will stay sharp over time, but go to a specialty store to find the best match for you.
It should feel balanced in your hand, easy to hold and control, not too heavy, but definitely not flimsy. Joshua Re snick/Shutterstock A sturdy metal (or high-quality plastic) spatula is vital for flipping, tossing, and serving all kinds of foods.
Think eggs over easy, puffy pancakes, roasted veggies, sautéed meats, baked salmon…we could go on. Shutterstock / New Kitting A silicone spatula is crucial for scraping out the food processor or the sides of the mixing bowl, swirling frosting onto a cake or folding egg whites into cake batter.
Make sure your spatula is silicone and not rubber, or else it may risk melting under high heat. Use it to mix dry ingredients together before baking, stir eggs for a frittata or emulsify a vinaigrette.
Shutterstock / Pixel-Shot For a few bucks you can buy a cheap pair of metal tongs that’ll last you a lifetime. I’m always finding new uses for mine, from turning chicken breasts in the pan to reaching into the oven to check on my roast.
Shutterstock / v74 Easy to clean, lightweight nonstick pans are ideal for scrambling eggs or wilting greens. Look for ceramic coating, as some nonstick pans are made with PFO As, chemicals that may be harmful to your health and the environment.
Agnes Kangaroo/Shutterstock A large saucepan is essential for making pasta, boiling potatoes or corn, and simmering big batches of soups and broths. Shutterstock / Arena P Habit Ah, the classic Dutch oven, another cast iron essential.
Taste of Home Sheet pans are fab for baking cookies, but I use mine for dinner all the time. Taste of Home Bake up a hearty casserole or sweet sheet cake with this versatile dish.
This handheld tool makes it so easy to blend soups, smoothies, and pesos with the push of a button. I find much easier to handle than a traditional blender, and it’s great because it takes up much less space, too.
A wooden cutting board will help protect your knife from dulling quickly, as well as make cleanup a breeze. My personal “essentials” lists evolve slowly over time, based not only on minor refinements in selection or new product availability but also on my own cooking style.
Nearly every recipe on this site can be cooked in a kitchen equipped with these bad boys, so if you or a loved one has been extra nice this year, listen up! Because of its thick gauge, cast iron is also great for slow-cooking or for baking, delivering crisp, golden-brown crusts on everything from cornbread to pan pizza.
It offers plenty of bottom surface for browning, performed well in all tests, and costs less than $150, which is a hard-to-beat price given its ample six-quart size. If looks matter to you, it's one of the few affordable pots with a design that rivals that of heritage brands like Le Crest.
What a sauté pan is good for: Unlike a skillet, a sauté pan has tall sides set at a right angle to the base, which makes for a larger surface area for searing, better protection against splattering, and plenty of volume. A sauté pan also features a tighter-fitting lid, which makes it great for slow-cooked braises or in-the-oven cooking.
Sauté pans excel at searing or frying large batches of food, like a whole chicken's worth of parts. They're also great at reducing sauces and braising enough food to feed four to six hungry adults.
They're especially good for dishes like this braised chicken with Hatch chilies and white beans, or these red wine–braised turkey legs, where its wide surface area can accommodate plenty of beans or sauce while still leaving the surface of the meat exposed, allowing it to crisp as it stews. Better design and construction helps it heat faster and more evenly while still delivering plenty of searing capability.
The All-Clad heats faster and cooks a little more evenly, but most folks will be perfectly satisfied with this more economical option. It's by far the best vessel for deep-frying ; its wide shape and large volume make it easy to fit plenty of food in there, with minimal contact and oil use, and virtually no danger of splattering the stove top with hot oil (or, worse, overflowing).
As long as you follow our care and maintenance guide, your wok should, will achieve a deep black, lustrous nonstick sheen within a few uses. It doesn't heat quite as evenly and has steeper sides that make looking into it a bit tougher, but with a saucier, you're stirring and shaking for most cooking tasks anyway, so it's not a huge issue.
Large enough to cook at least four to five pounds of pasta, it'll also solve all of your crowd-feeding problems, making entertaining a snap. Unlike an enameled Dutch oven, you're not really going to be searing or sautéing in your stockpot, so heat distribution and retention aren't much of a concern.
Just make sure that the metal is thick enough that you won't burn whatever is resting right against the bottom surface. For slightly smaller (but still large) cooking projects, the Cuisinart Multicar Pro is our 12-quart pick.
Its build is rock-solid, with riveted handles, a snug-fitting lid, and triple-ply stainless steel cladding from the base to the top of the pot’s wall. That thick base layer manages heat well, which means you’re less likely to burn your food.
Just be aware: You'll want to keep a separate set of pans and racks for high-temperature roasting and for baking, as the ones used for meats and vegetables tend to get a bit beat up. A good one should be made with high-quality glazed ceramic, meaning that not only will it heat foods evenly (and, more importantly, store that heat so your food stays hot while you're trying to corral the family around the table), but it's practically nonstick.
That makes for a simple clean-up, even with gooey foods like this Summer Vegetable Lasagna. We think the most practical number-- cookware only--for most Americans' general cooking and eating habits--is 5: a skillet, a sauce pan, a Dutch oven, a roasting pan, and a baking sheet (or two).
If you have these, plus a few good knives, a cutting board, and a few other tools (strainer, spatula, whisk), you can make just about any meal imaginable. All of our recommendations for essential pieces are good quality clad stainless cookware -- but if you can only afford one piece of good clad cookware, make it your frying pan.
This means you'll use it for everything from frying bacon and pancakes for breakfast to making burgers, chicken, or fish for dinner. You'll also use a skillet for frying potatoes, cooking down greens, and many other side dishes--so you're likely to need more than one.
You will also use a frying pan for stovetop-to-oven dishes (like frittatas), so you want one that can withstand high oven and broiler temperatures. The best frying pans have two equally important traits: durability and excellent heating properties.
Because a frying pan has to withstand high temps, hot oil, and heavy use, it has to be durable. Poorly made pans won't hold up to the heat, rapid changes in temperature, and frequent use that a skillet is going to get in most kitchens.
They'll warp, the handles will fall off, the lids will break, and they'll scratch, pit, and rust.) While many people love cast iron, we don't for this exact reason: anything larger than 10 inches in diameter is going to be hard to handle.
Understanding why is a topic worthy of a separate post, but suffice to say that inexpensive clad cookware can have thin layers of aluminum, causing it to heat unevenly. If you're interested in learning more, check out our article The Best Cookware Set for Every Budget.
Others have straighter sides, making for more cooking surface, like this Demeter Industry 5 skillet (which also happens to be our favorite pick): The difference doesn't look huge, but the bottom diameter of the Tramontina skillet is more than an inch smaller, or about 20%.
(Although, other than the smaller flat bottom, the Tramontina is a really nice skillet at a much lower price.) If you're making a stir-fry, with small pieces of food you can move around easily, this isn't a big deal.
However, if you're frying hamburgers, chicken breasts, or other large pieces of food, they are bound to cook unevenly if they don't fit in the pan. If you frequently make crêpes, omelets, or cook for just yourself, you may find an 8-inch frying pan useful.
If you decide to buy a set, pay careful attention to the size of the pieces. Having said you should invest in a frying pan, you don't need to break the bank if it's not in your budget.
Yes, our favorites are spendy: both Demeter and All-Clad will set you back more than a hundred dollars, even for the smaller 10-inch size. These frying pans are built like tanks and will last forever, and you will appreciate their heft and quality every time you use them.
You do everything with it, you can't do with a skillet: soups, making pasta, making hot cereals, boiling veggies (steaming too if you have an insert), sauces, custards and puddings, gravies, reductions, and so. Thus, even heating happens naturally and the amount of aluminum and/or copper in a pan isn't as crucial.
However, you do want a sauce pan with some heft just so it lasts, resists warping, and will work well even if you're using it for viscous foods (e.g., oatmeal, stew) or dry heat cooking. Even if you don't need the superior heating properties, you will appreciate the heft and excellent construction of a well-made sauce pan.
It should have a tight-fitting stainless lid, a handle that feels comfortable to grip and good for stabilizing and maneuvering. If it's larger than 3 quarts, a helper handle is a nice extra feature.
The cheaper Cuisinart MC Pro sauce pan does have a pouring lip--but it isn't quite as pretty or as heavy as the All-Clad. The best sauce pans are clad stainless: these will provide good heating properties and decades of durable service.
Once again, if you're buying a set, pay attention to the sauce pan size(s). This model, the triply (D3), has completely straight sides, lacking a lip for pouring.
Other All-Clad lines do have a lip (such as the Copper Core and the D5), but these cost quite a bit more without having wonderful heating properties. The grooved shape makes it easy to stabilize even if wet--if a sauce pan full of hot liquid has ever slipped out of your grip, you'll appreciate how nearly impossible it is for that to happen with this handle design.
It's design it a bit deeper and narrower than we like (harder to wash, but possibly easier to store), but it's well-made and has the grooved lip that the D3 lacks. The finish isn't quite as polished and the stainless may not be quite as high quality as All-Clad, but that is reflected in the much lower price.
If you buy a set of clad stainless cookware, it's likely that you'll get a Dutch oven in the mix. Even so, you won't regret investing in an enameled cast iron Dutch oven.
A Dutch oven is primarily for braising-- covered, wet heat cooking in the oven --but it's a great all-around pan you can also use as a skillet, stock pot, or even a large sauce pan. This makes it ideal for soups, stews, and braises, which start out with searing Firefox and meat, then adding liquid and simmering.
First, the cast iron construction works a little differently than clad stainless. Another reason you want to cast iron for Dutch ovens is the heavy lid.
This means enameled cast iron pots will lose less liquid, making them the best vessel for braising. But in general, these pots are tough as nails: they'll take a lot of use and abuse and last for decades.
If you bought a set of clad stainless and got a Dutch oven with it, you don't need to go out and buy a cast iron one. The clad stainless Dutch oven will be fine for many things--stocks, stews, and soups.
But for oven braising and deep-frying, it's hard to beat enameled cast iron. Mostly durability, but there are a few other considerations such as weight, balance, handle design, and shape.
If you routinely cook large batches, you can go larger, but we don't recommend going below 4 quarts unless you want it primarily for side dishes. Roasting is different from braising in that the meat is exposed to the hot oven air in order to produce a crispy, browned exterior.
You can use an uncovered Dutch oven for this, but the high sides discourage browning. Because it's made for oven use, a roasting pan has an entirely different set of criteria for what makes it “good” than other cookware on our list.
In fact, a designated roasting pan may not be essential even if you do eat meat. With a roasting pan, heating properties are less important than for any other piece of cookware.
You can use pretty much any type of pan for roasting, whether glass, ceramic, stainless, or nonstick, and it will produce fine results. You can even use disposable aluminum roasting pans as they will work just fine.
Otherwise, this pan is a good shape, it comes with a stainless rack, and it has decent handles for maneuverability. Well, it won't last as long as clad stainless, but hey, that's a small price to pay for easy cleaning.
Roasting pans can get stained pretty fast, too, so easy cleaning is a really attractive feature. Well, you should try to keep the oven temp below 400F to get the longest life out of your nonstick roasting pan.
Temps of 400F and above will take their toll on the nonstick coating, especially over time. You can even find some “lasagna” pans that come with a roasting rack, like this one.
Baking sheets have become hugely popular in recent years for making sheet pan suppers, easy one-pan meals where you toss the meat and veggies straight in the oven for a quick roast. Baking cookies baking sheet cakes and bars homemade pizza roasting bacon (best done with a rack) roasting veggies catching drips from pies and casseroles (Tip: cover it with foil for easy cleanup) under pie plates for easy lifting out of the oven without breaking the crust (Tip: cover it with foil for easy cleanup) under disposable pans (also for easy handling) dehydrating fruits and veggies sheet pan dinners heating leftovers and takeout food thawing frozen foods.
Quarter sheet pans--9×13 inches or so--make great, inexpensive trays to corral kitchen clutter, too. You don't want aluminum because it can react with food (and by some accounts is a potential health hazard).
Sheet pans should be a standard size, as well, so it's easy to find racks that fit them (such as for oven bacon). A rack essentially turns your baking sheet into a shallow roasting pan, so your meat browns all the way around and won't get soggy.
These are in no particular order, because what makes a piece good for you (maybe even essential) is based on your personal cooking style and preferences. A lot of people consider a nonstick frying pan an essential piece.
In fact, a lot of people buy entire sets of nonstick cookware. For one, it's incredibly fragile, with even the most durable nonstick coating lasting only a few years under most conditions.
You can't use metal utensils, put it in a dishwasher, or use anything above medium heat (at least for PTFE; ceramic can withstand high heat, but even though it's more durable than PTFE in this way, it tends to have an even shorter life span, sometimes loving its nonstick properties after just few months of use). In other words, you really have to baby it in order to get the most life out of it--and even then, you're just not going to get anything near what you'd get out of a clad stainless pan.
Maybe the biggest reason we dislike nonstick pans, though, is that the slick surface is not conducive to developing fond: those brown, crispy bits that remain in a pan after sautéing and searing. Nonstick frying pans excel at sticky, delicate foods that do best with gentle heat and don't need a lot of browning for delicious results: eggs and fish are the two foods that come to mind.
You may also use a nonstick skillet to make sticky things like caramel and candied nuts. For sticky foods like this, nonstick provides easy cleanup that's hard to beat.
(If you've ever tried to clean burnt-on sugar from a stainless skillet, you'll understand the appeal of nonstick here.) The two options that come closest to PTFE nonstick are cast iron and carbon steel.
You still have to use cooking oil to get desired results, and it's never going to equal PTFE for slipperiness. But many people love it, and it's a viable alternative to nonstick if you're willing to keep the pan seasoned and don't mind the bulk.
Cast iron is inexpensive, and many consider it an essential piece of cookware. Well, it's heavy and hard to handle, and like we said, the heating properties don't match those of clad stainless.
But if you want a decent all-around pan that doubles as almost nonstick, cast iron is a good choice. In the last couple of years, some high-end cast iron has entered the market.
It's made the “old school” way, which actually does result in slightly better heating properties, as well as a smoother surface (i.e., closer to nonstick when well-seasoned). Unless you have a lot of disposable income, you'd be better off investing in a high-end clad stainless skillet like the Demeter Proline, and using your cheap-but-always-reliable cast iron for what it's best at: searing steaks, frying chicken, and other tasks that do best in pans that hold on to heat really well.
Instead, we recommend buying an inexpensive cast iron skillet--pre-seasoned ones are a good option if you don't want to go through the seasoning process (although it's pretty simple). It's also inexpensive, like cast iron, and many people are huge fans of carbon steel frying pans.
Carbon steel's drawbacks are that with its lighter mass and thinner walls, it lacks cast iron's ability to hang onto heat well--meaning that as far as heating properties, it has few appealing qualities. A lot of people will disagree with us on this and sing the praises of carbon steel.
But really, the main reason professional chefs use them is because they're cheap, they're lighter than cast iron, and they can hold up to a lot of abuse. Consider this, as well: carbon steel is lighter weight than cast iron, but it's still heavy.
Don't let that thin-looking wall fool you; this is dense stuff, and can be almost as heavy as cast iron. As with cast iron, you can buy pre-season carbon steel pans, which we recommend.
Size: If you're using the nonstick frying pan for eggs, a 10-inch skillet is probably big enough. Extras: As with your clad stainless frying pan, you may want a grooved lip for easy pouring (the Anglo Copper Novella has a grooved lip, the All-Clad HA1 does not), a great handle (stainless is our favorite), and a lid (some skillets come with lids, but most do not).
You might also prefer a nonstick pan with a rivetless cooking surface, like this one from Tramontina that we like (although it's a little expensive, particularly with that silicone handle). If you want a 12-inch, you may have to go above that number, but you should try to keep it low; you should have no problem finding a good quality 12-inch nonstick frying pan well under $100.
Ceramic is great while it lasts, but by most accounts (and personal experience), it has an even shorter life span than PTFE. PTFE is safe when used properly, but we recommend ceramic nonstick for people who have household members who may not use it correctly (too high heat, metal utensils, the dishwasher, etc.).
You can use a deep sauté pan for many cooking tasks: frying, deep-frying, poaching, sauces, soups, stews, making stock, braising, making pasta, rice, and beans, plus numerous other cooking tasks. Thus, in a pinch, you can do pretty much anything in it: it's shallow enough to work as a frying pan, yet deep enough to use for braises, soups, stews, and stocks.
Yes; you can do most of these things with a Dutch oven, also, but here's the difference: the deep sauté pan is a little shallower than the Dutch oven, so it's easier to use for frying, deep-frying, and sautéing. Yet it's as perfect as a Dutch oven or small stock pot for soups and stews.
The only thing it's not ideal for is sauce-making; if you do a lot of that, then a Chef's pan or large saucier is a better option--the sloped sides are easier for a whisk to reach. We prefer the more stable base and straight sides of this pan, but we may be in the minority, as chef's pans/large saucers are very popular.
Some cooks prefer a sauté pan to a skillet, and that's perfectly fine. For these reasons, we consider a sauté pan a nice extra, but not a kitchen essential.
A sauté pan is essentially a skillet with straight, rather than sloped, sides. And it's true: sauté pans, with their straight sides and lids, are perfect for cooking down big batches of greens, for poaching chicken breasts, and even for deep frying--whereas the sloped sides of a skillet, as well as its lack of a lid, make it less than ideal for any of these jobs.
But its straight sides make it less than ideal for many pan frying tasks: it's harder to get a turner in there to flip foods. Their squarish shape also gives them a bulkier, less maneuverable feel than skillets.
), and a nice balance that makes the pan feel good in your hand. The most important thing is that the pan is not too big so that it's bulky and hard to work with.
This is a bigger problem with sauté pans than skillets because they're squarer, so they can feel a lot harder to maneuver. This is roughly the equivalent of a 10-inch diameter skillet, but with considerably more flat surface area.
And if you want it to double as a skillet occasionally, you're going to want it to be durable and have excellent heating properties. The Cuisinart MC Pro is a really nice pan, but the All-Clad is going to win on performance.
Either way you decide to go, it's a great investment, and both come with a lifetime warranty. Should you want to go even cheaper, you can find sauté pans with bottom cladding only.
If you're going to use it primarily for wet heat cooking, a bottom-clad sauté pan works great. However, if you're ever going to use it as a skillet, too, you want fully clad sides so you have good heat transfer throughout the entire pan.
BUY the Cuisinart MC Pro sauté pan ON AMAZON NOW: They're a good addition to your cookware collection if you like Asian food and have the storage space for this large, bulky piece of cookware --because if you buy one, you should get a large one: the most common size for home use is 14-inch, measured across the top diameter.
Because the pieces are small, the food cooks rapidly and almost always at the highest heat possible. The small bottom on the wok creates little contact with the heat source, which is problematic.
But if you like Asian stir frying, home working can be a lot of fun. This allows the wok to stay hotter and produce results closer to those of an Asian restaurant.
You can find all sorts of “Americanized” woks, some with nonstick coating, or made out of triply clad stainless, with covers, or so flat-bottomed that they're not much more than an extra large chef's pan. They hold heat decently (as a wok should), they provide good performance, and they're as close to “authentic” as you're going to find.
You want a large, deep wok so you can stir-fry with vigor and not have to worry about food flying out of the pan. NOTE: If you have an electric or induction cook top, you may want to bypass a wok altogether.
Induction heats only the bottom surface, and won't travel up the sides of a wok like the flames of a gas burner will. Saucier pans are so called because they're used primarily for making sauces: their rounded sides leave no spots for a whisk to miss.
So if you're cooking for just one or two, or like to make a lot of sauces in small amounts, go for the saucier instead of the chef's pan. You may be able to find less expensive ones if you're willing to live with a glass lid and/or nonstick coating, neither of which we recommend.
Sets are a great way to get a lot of pieces all at once for a good price. For example, you could invest your money in a Demeter Proline skillet, an All-Clad Deep Sauté pan, and a LE Crest Dutch oven, then choose Cuisinart MC Pro or Tramontina for the rest of your pieces.
It's usually going to have the best prices (unless you hit a sale at a kitchen store like SUR la Table), and if you've got Amazon Prime, you're guaranteed free shipping. Amazon also supplies their own warranty above and beyond the seller's and the manufacturer's, so you've got even more buyer protection than you'll get at other sites.
What we do caution against is choosing a cookware brand based solely on the number of positive reviews on Amazon. First, most reviews are written in the first days of ownership, when buyers are still in the honeymoon phase with their new cookware.
In fact, it doesn't even mean it's the best quality cookware at a certain price point. You might get lucky and find a closeout price at Williams-Sonoma or SUR la Table.
In general, prices will be higher at this boutique stores--but check anyway, because you don't want to miss the stellar deals they can sometimes have. We have a number of excellent articles in our Cookware Archives that can get you started.
Or, if you trust us and believe we know what we're talking about, you can just take our word: the best clad stainless brands are Demeter, All-Clad, Tramontina, and Cuisinart Multi clad Pro. Most cooking sites have an article on essential pieces, and the list varies considerably.