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Cookware Buying Guide

BY: EDITORIAL TEAM | 4.25.2017 |

Choosing what cookware is best for you begins with an honest assessment of your cooking preferences. Are you the master of your kitchen? A 30-minute-meal whiz? Or are you on friendlier terms with your microwave than your stove? Below, we outline some of the most common pieces of cooking equipment and the range of materials from which they're made, so you can find the exact right pots and pans for your unique cooking needs.

The Essentials

Frying Pan

Useful for everyone, even if you rarely turn on a burner. Frying pans handle the basics—add a splash of oil or a pat of butter to a hot pan and quickly whip up just about anything.

  • Best for: omelets, chicken breasts, burgers, anything that needs to be flipped just once or twice

  • Pro tip: Inexperienced cooks will find the most success if they start out with a nonstick frying pan. You won't be able to sear a steak, but it cuts down on the amount of cooking oil needed and makes cleanup a breeze.

Sauté Pan

A sauté pan is larger and deeper than a frying pan, and its straight sides—as opposed to a frying pan's curves—enable food to "jump" (the literal translation of sauté).

  • Best for: chopped veggies, cubed chicken or beef, anything you're constantly moving around; its higher sides also make it good for shallow frying

  • Pro tip: Look for one with a helper handle and a lid, which increase its versatility and let you quick-braise foods, for instance. Bonus points if the pan is ovenproof, which lets you slip it into the oven to brown food or finish cooking at a slower temperature.

Saucepan

 

Saucepans boil liquids in a flash and usually come with a lid to control the amount of moisture trapped inside.

  • Best for: sauces, of course; cereal grains such as rice, oatmeal, and quinoa; steaming veggies

  • Pro tip: Even nonstick-averse cooks will appreciate the ease with which rice comes out of a nonstick saucepan.

Beyond the Essentials

Griddle

Usually associated with breakfast foods, griddles have a large, flat surface and a relatively short handle, since you won't move it around much as you cook.

  • Best for: pancakes, grilled cheese, bacon

  • Pro tip: If you cook up giant Saturday breakfasts for the family, look for a griddle that stretches over two burners

Grill Pan

It won't replicate the smoky flavor of charcoal, but it's a good excuse to whip out your Grill Master apron in January.

  • Best for burgers, shish kebab, chicken—whatever you're apt to throw on the grill

  • Pro tip: Grill pans are notoriously tricky to clean. Pick up a specialized scraper with ridged edges to remove food and excess oil.

Stockpot

These large, deep pots are for liquids, whether you're gently simmering broth or bringing pasta water to a rolling boil.

  • Best for: homemade soups, stocks, stews, and chili; boiling pasta, corn, lobster, or potatoes

  • Pro tip: Stockpots can run quite large, which makes them unwieldy. Go for a biggie only if you're planning on making party-size chilies or pasta for a crowd.

Dutch Oven

Designed to go from the stove top to the oven to the table, dutch ovens have thick walls and a handle on either side to make transportation easier.

  • Best for: braises, stews, pot roasts, beans, and no-knead bread

  • Pro tip: Look for a dutch oven made of cast iron. If cared for properly, it will last you a lifetime.

Cookware Materials

There are many factors to consider when looking at the wide range of materials used for cooking equipment. Think about expense, the frequency with which you cook at home, what you tend to cook most often, how vigorously you want to clean up, and whether you want to display your cookware. You don't want to be saddled with a heavy cast-iron pan if you usually opt for spaghetti.

Hard Anodized

Made from aluminum that's treated to gain a coating of aluminum oxide on its surface, hard-anodized pans are very strong and heat conductive.

  • Benefits: stick resistant (but not nonstick) and long-lasting

  • Compatible utensils: all types

  • Oven safe?: yes, and to high temperatures, provided the handles are metal

  • Induction safe?: not usually unless otherwise noted

  • How to clean: hand wash

Hard Enamel

Similar to hard-anodized aluminum, hard enamel is strong, highly heat conductive, and typically budget-friendly.

  • Benefits: Where hard-anodized aluminum comes only in plain gray, hard enamel can come in any color.

  • Compatible utensils: wood, nylon, or silicone

  • Oven safe?: yes, but not broiler safe

  • Induction safe?: not usually unless otherwise noted

  • How to clean: Some types are dishwasher safe, but hand washing is recommended.

Stainless Steel

Long favored by professional chefs, stainless steel is handsome and long-lasting. To heat up to high temperatures quickly, look for tri-ply stainless steel, which is constructed in three layers: two layers of stainless steel sandwiching a core of highly conductive aluminum or copper.

  • Benefits: cooks steaks and chicken to perfection and leaves behind browned bits that make excellent pan sauces and gravies

  • Compatible utensils: all types

  • Oven safe?:usually

  • Induction safe?: yes, if the base is magnetic

  • How to clean dishwasher safe

Copper

Along with stainless steel, copper is one of the more expensive options, but it's prized for its beautiful luster and its quick, even heating—you won't find any hot spots in a copper pan.

  • Benefits: highly versatile and worthy of display

  • Compatible utensils: wood, nylon, and silicone

  • Oven safe? Yes, so long as they're not lined with tin

  • Induction safe? No

  • How to clean Gently hand wash and then dry right away; remember that you'll need to polish regularly to maintain luster.

Cast Iron

The workhorse of the cookware world, cast iron is heavy, takes a while to heat, and requires lots of care, yet it's prized by chefs. Why? For one thing, it lasts forever if properly maintained. There's also nothing better for getting crispy skin on a roasted chicken or a crunchy sear on a steak.

  • Benefits: holds heat very well; builds up a stick-resistant surface the longer it's used

  • Compatible utensils: all kinds (including metal!)

  • Oven safe? Yes

  • Induction safe?Yes

  • How to clean: When a cast-iron pan is properly seasoned—that is, it's coated in a layer of polymerized oil—it can be gently cleaned with hot water and a sponge (forgo the soap).

Enameled Cast Iron

 

While similar to cast-iron, the enameled version comes with one key difference: it has a porcelain surface that requires barely any seasoning, making it easier to clean and maintain.

  • Benefits: heats evenly and consistently; holds heat very well; can come in any color

  • Compatible utensils: nylon, silicone, or wood

  • Oven safe? Yes

  • Induction safe? Yes

  • How to clean dishwasher safe, but hand washing with soapy water is recommended

Aluminum

Aluminum pans conduct heat and retain it well, making them suitable for a wide range of dishes. However, they may warp and their surface might pit if cared for improperly.

  • Benefits: lightweight, highly heat conductive, and inexpensive

  • Compatible utensils: nylon, silicone, or wood

  • Oven safeYes, so long as the handle is oven safe as well

  • Induction safe? No

  • How to clean: hand wash and then dry right away

Nonstick

Though it won't sear or brown very well, a nonstick pan has its place in the kitchen. Use it for sticky foods such as eggs and grains, and grab it when you don't feel like spending much time cleaning. Make sure your nonstick pan is PFOA-free; PFOA was deemed toxic by the EPA, and most reputable brands manufacture items without it.

  • Benefits: cuts down on the amount of oil or butter necessary; easily releases food; easy to clean

  • Compatible utensils: nylon, wood, and silicone—no metal!

  • ven safe?No, unless otherwise noted

  • Induction safe?Yes, usually; check to make sure

  • How to clean simply give it a good swipe with a soapy sponge and rinse

Ceramic Coated

An attractive alternative to traditional nonstick, ceramic-coated cooking equipment is typically made from coated steel or aluminum. It's naturally free of PFOA, as well as PTFE, from which Teflon and the like are made.

  • Benefits: cuts down on the amount of oil or butter necessary; easy to clean; white surface makes it easy to gauge level of doneness

  • Compatible utensils: nylon, wood, and silicone—no metal!

  • Oven safe?: yes

  • Induction safe?: yes, usually; check to make sure

  • How to clean: hand wash

Kitchen Storage

In Cabinets

Stack cookware carefully, using a cloth to separate them so they won't scratch or dent. Be sure to put your most-used pans and pots in easy reach, toward the front of a cabinet or top of a stack. Store rarely used pieces, like that turkey roasting pan, in high cabinets or even the basement. If you have a say in the matter, consider installing pullout shelves in your cabinets to make it easy to find and put away unwieldy vessels.

On Display

Nice-looking pots and pans double as kitchen decor. Keeping them out on racks also makes them easy to grab. Consider one of two main types of racks:

  • Ceiling rack: Especially useful in tiny kitchens, ceiling racks put vertical space to good use. They make items easy to grab, and they lend your kitchen a lived-in, professional look. If low ceilings are an issue, you may want to consider ...

  • Wall rack: A wall-mounted rack is useful, and it gives your kitchen a visually interesting look. If you have a cookbook collection, find a rack with a shelf on top to keep everything cooking-related in one place. Just be sure to keep cooking equipment clean in order to avoid scuffs and grease marks on the wall.