Our Essential Cookware Glossary: Here's Every Type of Pan, Skillet, and Dutch Oven You'll Need in Your Kitchen

·7 min read
lidded sauté pan and stockpot on stovetop
lidded sauté pan and stockpot on stovetop

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Maybe you're ready to finally upgrade those pots your older sister gave you when she moved into her first home, you're setting up a kitchen from scratch, or are compiling your wedding registry, whatever the reason picking out the right cookware for your home is a daunting task. So much so that it's easy to just click on the first cookware set you see and be done. Resist that temptation says Daniel Price, owner of kitchen supply store Kitch, in Mystic, Connecticut. "With kitchen equipment, you get what you pay for," he says, noting that cheap stuff never lasts. His advice is "look for the best quality."

Related: These Are Our Food Editors Must-Have Pieces of Cookware

Whether you prefer take out to turning on the stove, are building your cooking skills or are the cook all your friends turn to for culinary advice, we're here for you with this guide to cookware, ranging from the basic pieces every home cook needs to add ons you may use on the regular, depending on how and what you like to cook.

Many cookware pieces are available in various materials, such as stainless steel, copper, nonstick, or ceramic. Price recommends looking for stainless steel cookware, in a minimum of 3 ply 18-10 steel, but preferably 5 to 7 ply for most pots and pans. "Add to that a good 12-inch cast-iron skillet, and maybe one good nonstick for eggs," he says.

>> Make sure your registry includes a roaster like the All-Clad Large Stainless Steel Roaster with Rack so you can easily roast delicious meats and vegetables any time of the year. This large, durable steel roasting pan and rack can accommodate a 25-pound turkey for Thanksgiving, plus it's oven and broiler safe up to 600°F and compatible with gas, electric, and ceramic cooktops.

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The Basics

Even if you don't spend a lot of time in the kitchen, there are still a few items you should have. Start here when building out a kitchen from scratch.

Baking Sheets

Despite their name, these flat sheets are used for more than baking cookies. Available in half, quarter, and eighth sizes baking sheets are useful for roasting vegetables and making our favorite sheet-pan dinners. "Get at least one good quality baking sheet with a rack and a silicone mat that fits it," says Price. The most versatile size is a half sheet and opt for stainless steel. It's more expensive than aluminum but will last longer, won't warp, and cooks food more evenly.

Cast-Iron Skillet

Cast iron skillets can be intimidating. They're heavy, for one. Yet, they are super versatile pans that will last a lifetime. You can use a good yet inexpensive cast-iron skillet for everything from searing steak to sautéing vegetables to baking skillet cookies. Look for a 10 or 12-inch pan that is at least ⅛ inch thick.

Dutch Oven

As far as multipurpose cookware goes, a Dutch oven might be the most versatile item around. You can use it for cooking hearty stews, chili, and pastas, even braising large pieces of meat and baking bread. Opt for a 5-to-6 quart Dutch oven made of enameled cast iron.

Nonstick Fry Pan

A nonstick fry pan or skillet is useful for cooking eggs, fish, and other delicate foods. Price says he generally tells people to avoid nonstick but it is useful for a fry pan. Similar to other skillets, nonstick fry pans are available in several sizes. Look for one with a ceramic coating that is either 10 or 12 inches.

Roasting Pan

If you lean towards plant-based dishes, you could skip this, otherwise a good roasting pan is a solid investment. Sturdy and practical, they are great for cooking large pieces of meat, such as a whole turkey or chickenbrisket, or pork loin. The sides of the pan are low enough to allow the meat to brown while retaining the flavorful cooking juices. A roasting pan's size enables you to roast meat and vegetables together-and it can be transferred to the stove to make pan sauces (removing the meat and any vegetables first). You can use the pan to bake big-batch lasagnas or casseroles, too.

Straight-Sided Sauté Pan

Are you a fan of one-pot dishes? You need a straight-sided skillet or sauté pan. Wide, with a flat bottom, you can sauté, toss pasta, and cook an entire meal in it—like our favorite One-Pan Pasta or Creamy Chicken with Mushrooms and Egg Noodles. Choose one that is also oven-safe and is 10 or 14 inches.

Stockpot

While you could probably get by with either a stockpot or a Dutch oven if you're not that keen on cooking; Price says both are worth having. A good stockpot with durable handles is essential for making soups and stocks and for cooking pasta. While they come in various sizes, you'll get the most use out of an 8 to 10-quart pot.

Stock Your Kitchen With These To Take Your Cooking To The Next Level

For the couple who cooks together most nights or the home cook who likes to try out a complicated recipe on the weekend, you'll want everything on the basics list plus a few additions.

Casserole Dish

For a cozy, comforting dinner, turn to a casserole. The wide, shallow dishes used for casseroles are available in various sizes, but you'll get the most use out of a 9 x 13-inch rectangular pan. Look for either glass, ceramic or cast-iron one.

Grill Pan

No grill? No problem if you have a cast-iron grill pan that will cook chicken, steak, vegetables and basically anything else you would grill, complete with grill marks. Grill pans are available in various sizes, but if you're planning to cook for a crowd, choose one that fits across two burners.

Pizza Stone

Take your homemade pizza to the next level with a pizza stone that's the best tool for baking up crispy pies. It holds the heat in a way a baking sheet can't. Pizza stones come in several sizes, we suggest you opt for a 14-inch pizza stone.

Saucepan

For all kinds of tasks from steaming or blanching vegetables to making sauce, a 3 or 4-quart saucepan with tall, straight sides is helpful for most home cooks. Make sure to get one that has a lid. You'll also use it to cook pasta or rice for weeknight meals.

16-Quart Pot

For cooking large batches of pasta, potatoes or for boiling lobster or making a fish boil, a large, straight-sided pot is what you need. Many come with built-in strainers for easier draining.

Wok

Stir-fried dishes are some of the quickest, simplest meals to make on a busy week night and stir frying is easier and more fun when you use a flat-bottomed, fluted edge wok in stainless steel.

For the Martha-Level Home Cook

If your ideal afternoon involves making a four-course dinner for friends or making custard just because, you may also want these pots and pans.

Braiser

Of course you love braising and you'll relish this classic culinary technique even more if you have a braiser. Similar to a Dutch oven but with a wider bottom and shorter sides, these pots available in stainless steel or ceramic make it easier to sear and then sauté meat.

Crêpe Pan

Similar to a frying pan, crêpe pans have flat edges making it easier to flip a crêpe or even a pancake. And they're key to flipping enough crêpes for Martha's Raspberry and Chocolate-Hazelnut Crepe Cake

Griddle

This large, flat cooktop doesn't have any sides or edges and makes cooking up multiple pancakes at a time a snap. For the most versatility, look for one that is a griddle on one side and a grill pan.

Paella Pan

If in paella is on your go-to list of dishes or is one you plan to make for entertaining, opt for a paella pan. It's a large round shallow pan with sloping sides that allows the rice to cook in a flat layer in a way that using a regular skillet doesn't and helps you to achieve the delicious socarrat or caramelized rice crust.

Saucier

Sure you can use a saucepan for most of the tasks you'd use a saucier for but there's a reason that professionals kitchens rely on this pan. And once you start using it, you'll never go back. With sloped sides and a wide mouth, a saucier will make cooking everything from oatmeal to custards to reducing sauces easier as its design prevents food from getting stuck in corners and burning.

Tagine

Traditionally made of unglazed clay or glazed ceramic, a tagine has a rounded cone-like top with a wide, shallow circular bottom and is used for low, slow cooking like the North African dishes that are also known as tagines.