Have you ever gone to the store or online to buy a new pot or pan? There are so many choices and so many options, how do you decide which one is best for you?
When purchasing new cookware, there are a few things you need to ask yourself:
- Do you already have a preference for the material?
- Do you have other cookware you are trying to match?
- Do you have a specific need or just looking to stock the kitchen?
- Do you have a budget in mind?
By answering these questions, you can start to narrow down your options, so it isn’t as overwhelming. I want to start today by explaining the most basic cookware choices and the ones that almost all kitchens should have at the ready. There are four main pieces of cookware that you probably want to start with if you are stocking a new kitchen or just need to replace your current ones: a frying pan, a saute pan, a saucepan and a stockpot.
A frying pan has a flat bottom and rounded sides. They are perfect for frying with oil or butter and can be used at high heats or low heats. Most skillets don’t come with a lid since they are not made for covering the food.
The shape of the frying pan, with the rounded sides, is designed to allow air circulation within the pan and make it easier to flip the food. You can purchase skillets in a variety of sizes measured by their diameter. I have an 8″ and 10″ frying pan. I use the small pan for things like scrambled eggs, and the larger one when I am making something like roasted asparagus. You can also purchase in other sizes, but those are the two most common.
Ideal for: frying, scrambling, sauteing, or searing
Saute is defined as being able to fry food while it’s moving around in the pan with the lid on. A saute pan is very similar to a frying pan in design as it has a flat bottom as well, but the sides are usually a bit deeper, more vertical, and it comes with a lid. They are made to have the food shaken, tossed, or stirred whether with the cover on or off. Because of the deeper sides, the saute pan has a variety of uses and is not limited to only sauteeing your food.
I hardly ever actually saute my food since I don’t put the lid on and shake it around. Even though I don’t use the pan as intended, my 3qt saute pan is my go-to pan in the kitchen. I like the vertical sides to keep the food in the pan easier, and the option of the lid is perfect. The only time I bring out my 5qt pan is when I cook something that takes a lot of space, such as chicken fried rice.
Ideal for: sauteing, searing, braising, or stir-fry
The saucepan is a round pan with a flat bottom and high, vertical sides. They almost always come with a lid and are an extremely versatile piece of cookware. Because of the high sides, a saucepan can be used for, you guessed it, making a sauce! Of course, there are so many other uses as well. We used ours to boil any pasta since we aren’t making a massive amount with only two adults eating here (the boys don’t eat much still).
You can use the lid to control evaporation as well, meaning you can control how much heat is held in the pan to cook the food. I have two saucepans, one small and one medium sized. The medium one gets used most often, but the small is good when we are using it to reheat something or just need to warm up some sauce that’s been in the refrigerator.
Ideal for: boiling, simmering, poaching, reducing sauces, or warming liquids
Stockpots are similar in shape to a saucepan, only much taller. My stockpot is at least twice as tall as my bigger saucepan. They are perfect for the foods you want to slowly simmer since they have a thicker bottom. With the shape, the bubbles are forced to go through all of the liquid and other ingredients, meaning more of the flavor is transferred to everything in the pot. Some stockpots come with a steam basket as well so you can use it to steam vegetables or other foods.
Another advantage to the size of a stockpot is cooking pasta at full length and keeping all of it submerged in the water. Personally, I prefer to break my pasta in half before cooking, so I can use my larger saucepan. But there are times that I want the full noodle, so this makes that much easier. My stockpot is used mostly when I am making chicken noodle soup or chicken gnocchi soup or other soups.
Ideal for: soups, stews, pasta, or stocks
Ok, that’s a lot of information, so in the next Back to the Basics post, I will describe the different types of materials that you can commonly purchase your cookware and the difference between them all. I know buying cookware can be overwhelming, so I don’t want to make that worse with information overload!