The other day a friend of mine asked me my thoughts on what are the essential pots and pans every kitchen should have. I thought this was an interesting questions because with so many different sizes and styles, knowing which are the essentials can be difficult to figure out. Some things I think every cook needs to factor in before purchasing any cookware are; cookware material, maintenance, storage space and what if needed can work double duty in the kitchen.
Cookware material and maintenance are the big ones for me. There are certain materials that I do not want to work with like aluminum, because it is a reactive metal which means I need to avoid cooking high acid foods like tomato sauces. As for maintenance, I do not want to spend a lot of time caring for my cookware which, is different than abusing your cookware. Copper for example, is something that needs a bit of maintenance. Copper is an awesome heat conductor which is important and I enjoy cooking with my copper pot but, it is also a reactive metal that can colour food if not taken care of. For this reason, I only have a couple of copper pots that I keep on hand when I am cooking.
Here is a snapshot of the essential pots and pans that you will find in my kitchen, It isn’t everything I have but these are my go to pots and pans that I couldn’t live without.
The following is a list of different pots and pans that you may want to consider when looking at essentials for your kitchen. it isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will get you started. These are the pots and pans that you’ll probably find that you use the most.
- Large Saute Pan: Has straight sides and a large surface area. I recommend having one that is at least 12-inches in diameter and 2 inches deep, which is ideal for sautéing, braising, frying, and making quick sauces.
- Sauce Pan: A saucepan is something that you will want to own if possible, in a couple of different sizes. I have 2 sizes, a 2 quart and 4 quart. They are great to use for anything that needs gentle even heat like warming milk. They are also great for cooking vegetables, soups, rices, and pastas.
- Non Stick Skillet: A skillet is essentially a frying pan. Non stick is great to have on hand for food that you know there is a high probability of sticking, like omelets or frittatas. The thing to keep in mind with non stick is that they have a short life span and it is important not to use any metal utensils. For this reason, you may want to also have a metal skillet. I have both non stick and metal skillets in my kitchen.
- Cast Iron Skillet: Very sturdy and durable. I have had mine for almost 20 years and I use it all the time. I would also recommend a 10 – 12-inch size. Cast iron skillet retains its heat for a very long time. These skillets need to be seasoned before using for the first time.
- Enamel Dutch Oven: I love dutch ovens. They are coated cast iron pots that can go directly from the stove top to the oven. They are great for cooking hearty dishes like stews, soups and chili. If you are tight on storage space or budget, this pot can work double duty so you don’t have to by a stock pot.
- Roasting Pan: They are great because they come with a rack that allows the bird to sit above the drippings and get nice and crispy. You could get away with using a cast iron skillet if you can’t afford one but the challenge is keep the bird off the bottom and the size of the bird will matter.
- Baking sheet: Baking sheets are a must have for being able to bake cookies and dough but they also come in handy for roasting veggies in the oven. I have 2 sets of baking sheets, one for strictly baking purposes and a set for roasting. Using baking sheets to roast things like vegetables can beat up your pans quickly so it is helpful if possible to have a set for roasting and a set for baking, if your budget can afford it. I prefer aluminum or metal baking sheets vs non stick because the life span of non stick is a lot less.
Nice To Have
- Stock Pot: Most of what a stock pot does a dutch oven can do. However, if you want to make a larger quantity of something like chili or stock, then a stock pot can be a great essential in any kitchen.
- Casserole Dish: Functional for both baking and cooking. Casserole dish is great because it can go from the oven to the table and look good. It can also due double duty and be used to bake cakes and squares. I would recommend a 9×13 as the size tends to work for most cooking and baking needs.
There are different types of cookware materials to choose from. It is important to think about what will suit your needs and budget before purchasing. I am of the mindset that you get what you pay for and it is important to do your homework. I would rather have fewer good quality essentials and add on over time vs having more essentials and having to replace them because of a short lifespan. Below is some information on the different materials that hopefully you will find helpful.
- Stainless Steel: Non reactive, durable but can be expensive.
- Copper: Awesome heat conductor, expensive need to take special care, reactive and can colour food.
- Aluminum: Heats up quickly, reactive metal so avoid cooking acidic foods like pasta sauce.
- Non Stick: Shorter life span vs stainless steel, coating will wear over time , avoid using metal utensils.
- Cast Iron: Retains its heat for a very long time. Need to be seasoned before using for the first time, special care so they do not rust.
I hope the above helps you find the essentials you need for your kitchen – enjoy!