Selecting cookware can be daunting at first. Terminology, designs, and cooking concepts can be so confusing, that even a seasoned chef can get analysis paralysis. But what really matters when selecting cookware? Reality is there are only 9 cookware essentials that are needed.
Getting the best performing cookware for your budget is your primary goal. Good quality cookware will last a lifetime, making the investment worth it over time. If your cookware does not perform well, then it can affect the quality and consistency of your dishes. Poorly constructed pieces need to be replaced over time, making the investment higher than if you chose quality cookware built to last. Similar to knives, cookware are your kitchen work horses.
Four main considerations in selecting Cookware
Excellent heat conduction Look for cookware that delivers even and consistent heat throughout. Copper and Aluminum core coated with at least 3 layers of non-reactive material are the design features you want for best results.
Sturdy construction Look for well made cookware that is built to go the distance and will stay balanced on your burner over time. When selecting stainless, make sure it’s 18/10 stainless steel.
Ovenproof Cookware must be able to sear your proteins hard and fast , and ideally be used to finish cooking in the oven versus having to transfer to a bakeware piece.
Budget Ideally you find all these features within your budget. We recommend various cookware at different price points that offer you the best bang for the buck and reduce investment in pieces that are not essential.
I do not recommend non-stick cookware. The non-stick surface inhibits caramelization and does not allow for a good hard sear. It also flakes, scratches, and off gases at high temperatures, and has a limited lifetime of a few years at most. The only non-stick you really need to consider is an 8” skillet for omelets and egg dishes.
Your 9 Cookware Essentials
Sauce Pans with lids 2- and 4-quart.
2-quart for sauces or smaller batches of vegetables and rice, and 4-quart for soups, stews, steaming vegetables, and cooking pasta.
Skillets (Fry Pans) 8” or 10” and 12” Skillets for searing and frying , and one 8” nonstick skillet for omelets and eggs.
“Don’t buy expensive nonsticks” was the advice I received from many restaurant chefs. They will eventually lose their nonstick ability, so why keep throwing expensive pans away.
Saute Pan 2 to 3-quart sauté pan
This is a great addition, but you can use a large skillet for pan-frying a steak or use a lid on it to poach a fish if you have space or budget constraints.
Stockpot 8-quart stockpot for larger soups, stews or stock.
Cast Iron Dutch Oven is a versatile go-to cookware item that can be used on the stove top or in the oven. A part of easy entertaining is to select recipes that are not labor intensive. The low and slow cooking method of braising or stewing does this, and there is no better cookware for that than a Dutch oven with efficient heat distribution and retention.
Bamboo Steamer I am in love with steaming for a couple of reasons, it keeps food moist and by adding aromatics to the food and water, it can impart a lot of flavor without added calories. I use an inexpensive bamboo steamer. Keep in mind that a steamer should fit securely to the top of a pot or wok. You can use 1 level or 3 for multiple batches or items to be steamed at once. If you want to steam a whole fish, be aware of the size of your steamer, it may not fit. Also, remember to use parchment paper so your food doesn’t stick to the steamer. It would be a shame to have the carefully assembled dumpling you steamed stick and fall apart.
Pots, Pan, and Skillets
My favorite is the All-Clad 401488R Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded 10-Piece Cookware Set.
It’s a solid choice that will deliver the performance you want without paying for the high end options that are primarily designed for seasoned chefs.
If you want to invest in the best performing cookware, then go with the All-Clad 600822 SS Copper Core 5-Ply Bonded. This cookware is prepared to handle anything you throw at it and grow with you as you perfect your cooking skills.
A budget friendly choice is the Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set. This is a solid choice, but keep in mind this cookware is not oven safe to 500 degrees F. If you don’t plan to use it to that high of a heat, which most people don’t, then this choice will work for you.
There’s one thing you need to know about stainless, keeping it looking shiny perfect all the time does take some work. This is not so important to me, but everyone has their own level of aesthetics. Here is a stainless steel pan cleaning guide to help from Food52. ADD GUIDE
Cast iron Dutch Oven
Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven is my favorite. They are so durable that you can pass it on to future generations. That’s how good it is. I have seen French families that still cook with their great grandmother’s pot. The company was founded in 1925 and still makes a quality product from France. Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round is a good size for a family of 4. I have to admit, I love these Le Creuset Dutch Ovens so much that I have 5 of them in different sizes. They come in so many beautiful colors and can play double duty, by cooking and serving in the same vessel.
A non-coated budget-friendly version would be Lodge L8DOL3 Cast Iron Dutch Oven with Dual Handles, Pre-Seasoned, 5-Quart. It comes pre-seasoned but you will need to maintain the seasoning every so often and these should never be cleaned with soap.
I use the Helen Chen's Asian Kitchen Bamboo Steamer, 12-Inch for all of my steaming needs over a wok. I steam everything from dumpling to whole fish using this versatile item.