Pans & Pots

Materials

Stainless steel is durable and doesn’t require too much maintenance, but it also is an extremely poor heat conductor. What this means is that heat will not travel rapidly through it. Stainless steel pans tend to develop distinct hot and cold spots that match the heat pattern of your burners. This can lead to uneven cooking, resulting in, for example, an omelet that’s burned in some spots and still raw in others.

Aluminum is a great heat conductor, but it’s weak to acidic ingredients. Anodized aluminum has been treated to give it a ceramic-like finish that is reasonably nonstick, as well as resistant to acid. This is the ideal metal for cooking foods that don’t require an extraordinarily high level of heat: it doesn’t work for searing meat, but it’s great for omelets.

Laminated (a.k.a. tri-ply) pans offer the best of both worlds. Generally, they are constructed with a layer of aluminum sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. They have the high density of a stainless steel pan, with the great conductivity of aluminum, making them the pan of choice for most home cooks.

All-Clad is the benchmark for great tri-ply cookware, but it can be prohibitively expensive. Tramontina perform almost as well for every task at about a third of the price. – J. Kenji López-Alt

Copper is even more conductive than aluminum but it’s also quite dense and has great heat capacity. It’s also very expensive and hard to justify for home cooks considering laminated pans will do.

You’ll want to own at least one good nonstick (teflon) pan for egg cookery. The downside to nonstick is that you can’t heat it past 250°C or so, as the coating will begin to vaporize into toxic fumes. You’re also limited by the types of utensils you can use because metal will scratch off the coating. Stick with wood, nylon, or silicone utensils made specifically for working with nonstick pans.

Iron specific heat capacity is lower than of aluminum, but because it is so dense, for the same thickness of pan, you get about twice the heat retention capability. It’s absolutely oven-safe and highly durable if properly cared for. An iron-cast requires care and attention to attain its true longevity and qualities.

The Home Cook Kit

A 25 cm Nonstick Skillet

It’s the best vessel for all kinds of egg cookery, from perfect golden omelets to fluffy scrambles to crisp-edged fried eggs. Nonstick surfaces aren’t very durable in any case so there’s no reason to aim for high-end pans because they won’t last forever. The midrange skillets are ideal to do the job and not cause the overzealous cook be afraid of ruining them.

A 25 cm Cast Iron Skillet

It’s just the right size to sear a couple of steaks for two people, plus it’s a beautiful serving vessel. If caring for the iron-cast is too much, spending a little more on an enameled one should cover that. Caring for one or two cast iron pans is not that complicated, though, and it should only improve with time.

A 30 cm Carbon Steel Wok

Everybody, not just those who like to stir-fry, can benefit from a good large wok. There’s no better vessel for deep-frying, steaming, or smoking. A good one should be about 2mm thick to balance ease of handling and durability. Spun woks are the easiest to find with a flat base and flip-friendly handles. Being too flat defeats the purpose of its shape, but a good 10 cm diameter base is essential to make it work on a stove. The best handle style is the northern one: one long handle and an opposite helper handle. Avoid nonstick woks as these should not be used at the temperature woks are frequently used. The carbon steel is a compromise between iron-cast level nonstick and stainless steel lightweight durability and it does require special care.

A 28 cm Laminated Sauté Pan

A sauté pan is basically a skillet but with upward-straight sides. It has a larger surface area, which makes it ideal for tasks like searing meat, braising, reducing sauce or browning large quantities of vegetables. The straight side makes it less likely to slosh things over the side when stirring. It has a tight-fitting lid and is oven-safe, which means one can brown short ribs, add the liquid, cover, and braise in the oven, then reduce the sauce on the stovetop and serve all out the same pan.

A Roasting Rack

There are dedicated roasting pans that come with a rack. A good one can be used directly on a burner on the stovetop as well as in the oven. It should have comfortable handles and be thick enough that it won’t warp under the heat of the oven or the weight of a turkey. A baking sheet with a wire cooling rack on top of it does pretty much the same job for possibly a tenth of the price, though.

A 2~3 L Saucier

Preferably laminated and oven-safe for increased versatility. The difference between a saucepan and a saucier is subtle but important. Saucepans have straight sides while sauciers have gently sloped sides designed to keep their contents easy to whisk and stir.

A 6~8 L Enameled Dutch Oven

A good enameled Dutch Oven will stick around for life. Because of its weight and heft, it’s the ideal vessel for slow braises, in or out of the oven. All that heavy material takes a long time to heat up or cool down, which is a good thing for dependability and predictability in recipes.

A 10~15 L Stockpot

This is the pot that makes pasta for twenty. The good news here is that when it comes to stockpots, the absolute cheapest will do. Its only purpose is boiling or simmering vast amounts of liquid, so it just needs to hold water and stay level.