Types of Pots and Pans Every Kitchen Needs

Types of Pots and Pans Every Kitchen Needs

Publish Date March 17, 2023

Pots and pans come in all different sizes, shapes and materials. But what do you really need to get dinner on the table? We’ve got the basics covered.

How Do I Choose a Material for My Pots and Pans?

Iron, steel, copper, aluminum and nonstick…how do you tell what’s right for you? The good news is that no matter what you choose, you’ll be able to get a great result with a little effort and experience. But read on for some quick info on each of these common types of pots and pans, so you can pick the one that will work best for you, for years to come.

Stainless steel: Durable and easy to clean, stainless steel pots and pans are a great choice all around for cooking. Stainless steel pots tend to stand up well to everyday use, and since they’re nonreactive, they won’t impart a particular flavor to acidic dishes (like homemade tomato sauce).

Aluminum: Lightweight and quick to heat up, aluminum pots and pans are an inexpensive option, too. One thing to note is that aluminum will react with acidic dishes, causing a slight metallic flavor in the finished food. Aluminum also scratches more easily than stainless steel.

Copper: As excellent heat conductors, copper pots and pans are beautiful to look at and have a brilliant shine. Copper cookware can be on the pricey side and does require regular polishing to maintain that great look, so it’s a good option for experienced cooks.

Cast iron: Your great grandmother knew that this kitchen favorite wasn’t going anywhere. Cast iron pots and pans are nearly indestructible and retain heat well, so they’re great for searing and slow-cooking foods. But they can’t go in the dishwasher and they need to be “seasoned” with oil or fat to build up a good cooking surface and prevent rusting.

Nonstick: If you’re looking for a truly nonstick skillet or pan, this is the way to go. Nonstick surfaces are available for aluminum and stainless steel cookware, but be careful to use only with wood or silicone spatulas and spoons (so the nonstick surface doesn’t scratch or wear away).

What Should I Use My Pots and Pans For?

Pots and pans come in an almost limitless variety of sizes and styles, but you’ll only need a couple for most cooking projects…even big meals like holiday dinners. With higher sides, pots and Dutch ovens are good options for any food that requires (or contains) a lot of liquid – think soups, stews, chili and sauces. Pots are also essential for boiling and simmering everything from pasta to potatoes.

Pans are going to be your go-to for quicker cooking like stir-fry and sautéed dishes. Sautée pans have higher, straight sides to prevent splashing, while skillets have lower, sloping sides to make it easy to transfer an egg or a pancake to a plate. Saucepans will be deeper and come in a variety of sizes for – you guessed it – making sauces (and grains, and other things too).

When picking a pan, consider how much food you’ll be making – you might be able to sautée one onion in a small skillet, but if you’re doing a one-pan meal, you’ll want a larger pan since everything else has to fit in as well. A good everyday pan size is 12”, especially if the pan comes with a tight-fitting lid for maximum versatility. Pretty much all cooking done in a pan will require some butter, oil or water – check your recipe (and your fridge) to see what’s needed.

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When Should I Use Lids When Cooking With Pots and Pans?

Lids trap moisture and heat, which can speed up cooking or keep a dish tender and moist. Have a pot of water on the boil but your potatoes aren’t peeled yet? Pop on a lid and turn the heat way down – the lid will help make sure your water holds the heat. Or, if you’re simmering a sauce or braising meats or veggies, a lid will help ensure the right amount of evaporation.

If you’re sautéing, using a lid probably isn’t necessary. And if you’re frying something, avoid using a lid entirely, so that your fried food stays nice and crisp.

Can I Put Pots and Pans in the Dishwasher?

The answer to this depends on the material your cookware is made from. Stainless steel and most nonstick pots and skillets are dishwasher safe (though you should always check the manufacturer’s recommendation before tossing them in and running a load). Copper, aluminum and cast-iron cookware should be hand-washed, and may require additional care to keep looking and cooking great. For example, cast iron should be washed without soap (use very hot water and a nylon scrubber to dislodge any stuck food), and then thoroughly dried and given a very light coat of oil.

Now that you’ve got your pots and pans master plans, why not put them to good use with some of our delicious meal planning ideas?