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These Are The Pots And Pans You Really Need

08/21/2015 01:33pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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BY ROCHELLE BILOW | PHOTOGRAPHED BY ALEX LAU

Whether you're building your first kitchen's arsenal of tools or just decluttering and purging the outdated and old equipment, it can be tough to know which pots and pans you really need--and which are just taking up precious cupboard space. This guide takes the mystery out of it all: These are the pots, pans, and skillets you really need. Read on to learn more about what sizes are best, and how to use each one.

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Cast-Iron Skillet
This is truly your kitchen's workhorse. It's durable, lasts forever, and is up for just about any task you need.
Use it for: Recipes that start on the stovetop and need to be finished in the oven; anything that needs a good, hard sear (like steak). You can also use it for shallow frying, sautéing (it's a great substitute for woks), and baking.
Buy these sizes: A 10″ pan will serve you well. If you're looking to branch out, and have the storage space, consider investing in specialty sizes from massive (17″!) to teeny-tiny (3.5″; great for single fried eggs).

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Nonstick Skillet
Coated with a tough lining (Teflon is the most common), these pans are convenient to have on hand for sticky, wet foods, or anything that has a high probability of adhering to the surface. A well-seasoned cast-iron serves the same function, but consider the nonstick your bulletproof (and fool-proof) option. "If you cook eggs regularly, a nonstick pan is a must," says Rick Martinez, BA's associate food editor. Many nonstick pans have plastic handles that are not heat-proof (a.k.a. plastic) so be aware that you most likely won't be able to put them in the oven.
Use it for: Scrambled and fried eggs.
Buy these sizes: Cooking for one? You really only need one good nonstick pan--8″ will do the trick. If you often find yourself scrambling eggs for a crowd, go ahead and pick up a 12″, too.

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Stainless Steel Skillet
These heavy-duty pans can go from the stovetop to the oven (most are able to handle temperatures in the 450-500˚ range; just make sure the handle is heat-proof), and can do just about...anything you need them to.
Use it for: Browning and roasting meat, sautéing veggies, stir-fries, pan sauces, toasting spices.
Buy these sizes: Start with a 10″. If you have more room and want to invest in another, add a 12″ to your collection.

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Large Stainless Steel Stock Pot
DIY stock isn't hard to make if you've got the time and the right equipment. Thankfully, investing in a quality stock pot means you can do everything from simmering bones to making big batches of soup, and even canning sauces and pickles, if you are into preserving produce.
Use it for: Boiling pasta (the noodles need plenty of room to swim around), simmering beans, making stock, canning.
Buy these sizes: A 12-18-quart pot will serve you well; your stock pot should be large enough to hold a chicken carcass or two.

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Rimmed Baking Sheets (a.k.a. Sheet Pans)
You can find these on the cheap, but paying a little extra means they'll last longer and make better cookies and roasted veggies (inexpensive pans are flimsy, and often result in burnt bottoms.)
Use it for: Cookies, roasted vegetables, jellyroll, and sponge cakes.
Buy these sizes: Buy two or three half-sized sheets, so you can cook in batches without having to swap them out. (Full-sized sheets are enormous, and are typically only found in commercial kitchens. Half-sized sheets are the most commonly available sizes; the measurements you want are 18x13x1″.) It's worthwhile also buying one or two quarter-sized sheets for toasting nuts, and other small batches of baked goods and roasted veg.

Have more Room In Your Cupboards? Buy these:
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Enameled Dutch Oven
Stainless Steel Sauce Pot
Glass Baking Pans
Glass Pie Pan
Muffin Tin
Round Cake Pan
Bundt Pan
Springform Pan
Tart Pan
Loaf Pan

Don't Bother Buying:
Double-Boiler
Don't waste space with a double-boiler. You can hack one by setting a heat-proof bowl over your sauce pot.

Aluminum Pots and Pans
They don't conduct heat efficiently, ding and knick easily, and can impart "off" flavors in your food. Pass.

Copper Pots and Pans
They may look handsome, but copper pots are challenging to keep clean, and can be fussy to cook with.

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