Cookware. Pots & Pans. Whatever you call them, they are the second
most important tool in your kitchen, right after knives. But how to you get
the best performance out of the cookware that you have in your kitchen?
And how do you choose from the multitude options that are on the market?
I have an affinity for cookware. My pans are an extension of how I cook and even part of my personality. To me they are like people - some can be difficult, attitude-y, some are my best friends and I know that they'll do what I ask, every time. And some of them I only get to see a few times of the year, but it's such a special visit that I look forward to it year after year.
If you want to get me on a tangent, ask me a question about cookware. I can talk about it for hours. So in this first cookware guide installment I am going to start at the beginning and talk about the different shapes and what they do. What's the best selling piece of cookware in the US of A? A 10" Non-Stick Fry Pan. My next two must haves: A 4qt saute pan and a 3qt saucepan. Three pieces of cookware and you're ready to cook.
But I'll share something obnoxious with you - I can count 23 pieces of cookware from where I sit on my couch writing this. Not even in our kitchen, but in the dining room. Whoops...someone has a pot problem! I even have two chipped Le Creuset French Ovens with plants in them. Stainless steel, cast iron, blue steel, it's all there. Fondue pots, dutch ovens, saute pans, apple shaped Le Creuset...whoa!!! So, if you want some good information on how to use and how to choose your pots and pans, look no further. I am the one you are looking for.
This is a quick guide that we hope will help you decide what to purchase, become an informed consumer and learn how you cookware works. It’s more complicated than you think!
Let’s start at the most basic. What are the different shapes of cookware and what do they do? Have you been calling them the right names? Do you know which one to use for which recipe? It can and WILL make a difference in your finished dish.
Shapes of Cookware:
Tall like a stockpot yet much more narrow. Its long, slender body is ideal for steaming asparagus, corn, baby carrots, any long vegetables and small amounts of tamales. Also great for hard-boiled eggs – make removal and cooling easy. Generally not made of 18/10 stainless steel, but also not necessary.
A tall, straight-sided stockpot that includes inserts for pasta and more, expanding its versatility beyond soups and stocks. Steamer basket is usually used for vegetables. A multi-pot is also perfect for large amounts of tamales. If you steamer basket fits inside your electric pressure cooker it also makes a great steaming basket or rack to suspend items above water. Some are made from 18/10 stainless steel, while others are not. It is best for longevity if the inserts are made of 18/10 to prevent rusting at the welds or handles.
A versatile essential that can double as a serving piece available in a wide range of materials, styles, shapes and designs. Generally made of glass, ceramic, cast iron or stoneware. Can be round, square, rectangular or oval. Should be high heat safe. If made of stoneware or glass these are NOT stovetop safe and will break into pieces if you place it directly on heat. If ceramic or glass, these are one of the few pieces of cookware that can go into the dishwasher.
For faster cooking, this pot has an airtight lid that builds up pressure raising the internal temperature higher than otherwise possible. Great for high-altitude cooking, this vessel is the only way to change our air pressure. It will speed up cooking as well as maintain moisture. Avoid aluminum models as it is a soft metal and can warp. Look for high-quality stainless steel.
Shallower than a Dutch Oven and wonderful for sautéing, browning, braising and slow cooking. The braiser is perfect for pot roast, cut chicken dishes and even sides like roasted potatoes. Keeping the lid on retains moisture while cooking and decreases cooking time. An enamel coated cast iron braiser is one of my must have cookware pieces.
A sturdy pan essential for roasting chicken, turkey, ham, beef and more. Often includes a V-shaped rack, a nice bonus. Can be made of coated aluminum, stainless steel, iron or cast iron. This piece is not critical for even-heating, so spending extra money on expensive manufacturing techniques is not necessary. A good solid, thick walled pan will do just as well.
Often larger and deeper than a typical baking dish, a casserole lets you take its namesake dish easily from oven to table. Sometimes used in conjunction with dutch oven, they often have the same shape. Contrary to their name, these dishes are not best used for casseroles, but for slow cooked, roasted and braised dishes.
Round with relatively high, straight sides, a long handle and a tight-fitting lid. This pan is used for making sauces, soups or anything with a high amount of liquid. The high straight sides minimize reduction and help retain sauces and moisture. You will see these in both uncoated and non-stick versions. Non-stick is great for candy, caramels and any sugar work.
Similar in shape to a skillet, the crepe pan has extra-low sides that allow for easing lifting, turning and transfer of crepes. Can be made of any material. My personal favorite is a steel crepe pan that is well seasoned. A crepe pan is also great for making flatbreads, tortillas or grilled sandwiches since it is easy to get under these items and turn them over.
A broad, bowl-shaped saucepan with gently curving sides that allow whisking, stirring, sautéing and reducing of sauces. Can be uncoated or non-stick – this is personal preference.
A standard saucepan with an insert that nests inside designed to gently cook delicate foods without fear of scorching or burning.
Straight, high sides and a tight-fitting lid make this versatile pan useful for sautéing as well as browning foods. Often confused with a fry pan or skillet, the saute pan has deeper, straight sides for tossing food. It is also great for larger one pot meals. The deeper sides also assist in reduction and making of sauces.
Traditionally constructed of heavy cast-iron, this essential for one-pot meals has a flat bottom, high sides and a tight-fitting lid. Dutch ovens do also come in aluminum and stainless steel, however, for this cooking technique cast iron is most efficient.
Skillet, Fry Pan, Omelet Pan
The most used pan in the kitchen. A shallow pan with flared sides available in a variety of sizes and materials from cast iron to stainless steel. Can be coated or uncoated. Often comes in 8”, 10” or 12” sizes, the 8” being a standard omelet pan and a 10” being the most utilized pan shape and size in a home kitchen.
A metal insert with cavities that fit a cracked egg. It sits in a covered saucepan, keeping eggs perfectly shaped as they cook.
Tall, straight-sided pot typically stainless steel and aluminum, designed for making stock but convenient for soups, pasta or chili.
Traditional sets include a pot, long-handled forks, and base to hold fuel for keeping cheese, chocolate or oil hot for dipping.
A traditional Moroccan vessel made of terra-cotta, with a shallow base topped by a conical lid to circulate flavors during cooking. There are also cast iron bases with ceramic tops available on the market that are stovetop ready. If you use the terra-cotta on your stovetop you will need a conversion plate.
A stovetop pan with a flat surface used for cooking pancakes, burgers and more. Two-burner versions create a large cooking surface. Aluminum with nonstick coating is the most popular material for this pan, with cast iron also being very popular. Stainless steel is NOT a good material for this use.
The indispensable pan of the Chinese kitchen with high, sloping sides and curved base, for cooking food quickly over high heat. Carbon steel is the most economical and efficient material for a wok. There is little to no use for cast iron or stainless steel as they are not great heat conductors.
Grill pans have a raised grid or ridges that leave dark grill marks on the surface of steaks, vegetables, sausages or other foods. Available in cast iron, aluminum or stainless steel. Cast iron is the best material for this type of pan.