Have you ever wondered why your pans are so different? Short, tall, wide, deep. Or when should you cook in cast-iron, stainless steel, or non-stick? Today, I share my pick for 10 essential pots and pans every kitchen needs that will help you become a better cook.
Are you one of those that picks the first pan you get and start cooking only to be half-way through cooking and realizing you should have taken the other pan? I use to be like that many years ago. As my cooking skills improved so did my knowledge of my pots and pans.
There is a reason why a pan is short, tall, deep, or wide. They are meant for different uses and purposes. If you know what pan to use for the right recipe that in itself can take your cooking skills to a whole new level.
For example, slow-cooking in a Dutch-oven will give you very different results than slow cooking in a saute pan. Right?
Choosing the right pan to buy can be tricky, especially because every description uses terms like tri-ply, heavy-coated, complex materials and special features.
Over the years, my collection of pans has led me to buy a lot as well as discard a lot, which can be quite an expensive affair. Ideally, if you buy good quality pans they should last you a life-time. Often, people are surprised that some of my pans are as old as 15 years but still look brand new. I take care of my pans very well and I will give you some tips below.
So, today, I decided to share with you my list of 10 essential pots and pans that I know will help improve your cooking. Of course, you don't need all 10 just the ones that apply to your personal needs.
10 Essential pots and pans for your kitchen
1. Fry pans
You can buy these in stainless steel as well as non-stick. Personally, I like using stainless steel for my sauces, fillets, and french toast. And I prefer a non-stick for my eggs, so I can use less oil. These are a few pans that I highly recommend.
2. Saute pans
A saute pan is a flat pan with tall sides and a lid. The large surface on the bottom helps sear meats without too much spattering. If you cook greens often, then a large batch of greens in a saute pan is the best way to wilt them down. I make sides like sauteed green beans or asparagus in my saute pans.
You can cover and slow-braise meats as well as move the saute pan from stove-top to oven. The tall sides of a saute pan keep the sauces in while the large surface area helps reduce sauces quickly without over-cooking or stewing the food too much.
I like having a large and small size on hand. The small works great for small sides dishes while the large is perfect for meat dishes.
3. Saucier pan
I usually refer to it as my pasta and soup pot because I make all my soups and most of my pasta in this pan. A Saucier pan is between a deep saucepan and a saute pan. So, you have a large surface to saute as well as tall slopping sides to hold large volumes in. Need to reduce something down? Use a saucier. It's great for reductions.
I have a 3-quart saucier and that works best for our family
A saucepan is the most versatile pan in the kitchen. Need to make hot chocolate? Saucepans are deep and work perfectly to cook rice or Quinoa. You can use a saucepan to blanch your veggies and poach eggs. You can even make your caramel and butterscotch sauce in a small saucepan.
I use a small 1-quart saucepan for my sauces like caramel, and a large 3-quart saucepan for cooking rice, and yet a larger 5-quart when balancing veggies. You certainly don't need all, but it's good to have at least one at home.
A word of advice when choosing saucepan. My personal preference is those that are heavier in weight so no matter how little you have in the pan it won't topple over and also won't burn easily. My past experience was that every time I made a small batch of caramel my light sauce pan would burn quickly.
5. Cast iron skillet
If you have never cooked in a cast-iron, you are in for a roller-coaster ride. The beginning will need getting used to and then you won't feel like cooking in anything else. If I have to cook a steak, it has got to be in my cast-iron skillet and nothing else.
A cast-iron takes longer to heat up, but once hot, its the perfect base for searing meats and getting a nice brown crust on things. If you like making patties, latkes, crispy breaded chicken, then a cast iron is your pan. Cast-iron pans are surprisingly not so expensive, and yet they can last you a lifetime. If you take care of them well, you can leave them for your future grandchildren to use too.
I use a large 12- inch cast-iron when I need to do a big batch of lamb chops or steaks, so there is enough room. The smaller one works great for smaller dishes like my chicken and mushroom skillet, balsamic glazed meatballs or pan pizzas.
5. Enameled Dutch oven
If you love slow-cooking, then a Dutch-oven is a must-have. It's great to make slow-cooked braises like my lamb masala, slow-cooked lamb, Beef Bourguignon, Chillies, etc. Cast iron can sear meats at high heat and give you some good browning. If you love baking rustic bread, like my beer bread or rustic whole wheat bread, try baking them in a Dutch oven. The crust is absolute heaven
I have quite a few cast-iron in my collection, and yet, the ones I use most often are my large 5 quarts, which is perfect for our family of four when we want to make slow-cooked meats. My smaller 3-quarts works best when I want to bake my bread. I have this double dutch oven in fire red, which serves as two pans, a skillet, as well as a pot and I, love it.
6. Stock pot
Making homemade stock is something you get into, often without planning. Have some extra veggies throw them in a stockpot instead of the garbage. Make some vegetable stock. Have a few chicken bones leftover throw them in with the veggies and you have flavorful chicken stock.
You can use the stockpot for anything that requires a large quantity of liquids like soups, boiling pasta or potatoes.
For our family of four, my 5 quarts and 8 quarts works best for everyday use. When we have guests the 12-quarts works best for pasta and potatoes.
While a stovetop grill can make simple easy grilled sandwiches it can also make tender moist and flavorful skewers in minutes. You can even use it to make your pancakes and paninis. In our home grilling happens at least once a week all through the year summer or winter.
Whether it's simple shawarma chicken or lamb chops and steaks. It's the best way to get both flavor and color.
You don't have to be Asian to enjoy a good stir-fry. It's a great way to eat healthy veggies or meat in minutes. A stir-fry cooks food on high heat easily and quickly while still keeping them crisp, juicy and tender. Buy a good wok and it will last you a life-time.
9. Roasting pan
You don't have to be a fancy chef to roast a good piece of meat at home if you have the right tools, starting with a good roasting pan. Whether you are making a roast chicken, leg of lamb, prime ribs or beef roast a roasting pan will be best for the job. A roasting pan has a rack that keeps the meat above the surface, this allows air to circulate all around which means you can have a nice crisp skin on your chicken. You can even place veggies around the chicken for a complete meal. The roasting pan goes from the oven to the stovetop so you can use all those pan juices to make a good gravy. What more can you
10. Ceramic roasting dish
This is not a pan, and yet I often use it as a pan when making lasagna or baking casseroles. While you can certainly use your roasting pan to make a large lasagna or casserole, a decent size ceramic baking dish is worth the investment. For our small family of four, a 13 x 9 casserole pan works perfectly.
6 Tips for taking care of your pots and pans (pin)
- Let your pans cool after cooking before you clean them.
- Pour hot water in the pans to release food stuck to the pan rather than harshly scraping them.
- If food is burnt or stuck - often a gentle reheat and scraping with a soft silicone spatula works best.
- Most stainless steel and aluminum pans need just warm soapy water. But to avoid discoloration, use a non-chlorine cleaner (looks like a white paste) and scrub with a non-abrasive sponge.
- Cast Iron is easy to clean with hot water. If you have food stuck scrape it off with a spatula. You can even use baking soda and hot water to get all the thick grime out.
Most importantly, after you are done cleaning, wipe it dry and season it with a light smear of cooking oil. Wipe off excess before you store it away.
- Non-stick pans clean easily with just warm water and dish detergents by hand and a non-abrasive sponge. Never put them in a dish-washer as it can cause discoloration.
What should I look for when choosing a pan?
- Cooking surfaces - Non-stick is good for using less oil and for easy clean-up but it won't give good browning or caramelization like stainless steel or aluminum does. Dutch ovens are durable, and if seasoned well, are non-stick too.
- Materials - I like to buy one with tri-ply or multiple-layers of metal. This is what makes the pan heavy but also durable and conducts heat evenly throughout the pan. You won't have food stick to it like poor quality pans. The caramelization or browning on a good pan will come off as soon as you add liquid but will stay stuck to the pan until you are ready to clean.
- Handles - Often you end up throwing a good pan because the handle was poorly made. Look for one that has a sturdy and well-hinged hand. I like to use metal so my pan can go from stovetop to the oven. Sometimes, I choose silicon, but never plastic handles. Low-quality brands often use plastic, which can burn at the connecting point when the temperature gets high.
- Rims or edges - For my saucepans, I prefer to have two pouring spots so I can use it with either hand. When possible, I like to choose rolled rims that make pouring or transferring from pan to platter easy and less messy.
- Lids - I will often choose a pan because I like the lid. I love glass lids so I can see through as well as an all-metal lid. My pet peeve is a lid that does not fit the pan well letting steam out. I find that good quality pans come with heavier lids and the weight is often what keeps them
closeddespite the steam.
Frequently asked questions
When I say good quality I don't necessarily mean expensive, and yet, the phrase - you get what you pay for is so true in this case. Good pans come with a price tag, and yet they do last a lifetime. So it's better to buy one good quality pan than 5 cheap ones.
Keeping to your budget is a great plan. It means you won't buy all the pans you need at the same time. That said, I'd rather you buy one good pan that fits your budget, than choose one that won't last you for long.
Both aluminum, as well as non-stick, have their own advantage. I like to use non-stick when I'm cooking and egg or pan-fraying fish. The non-stick surface allows me to use less oil and yet prevent it from sticking. But non-stick does not brown or caramelize chicken and meats which can be a huge flavor addition to a dish. So when I'm cooking the breaded chicken or braising meats I prefer aluminum.
Cast iron is durable. It heats slowly but once hot it retains heat well and evenly.
The advantage of an enameled cast iron is that it doesn't react with acidic ingredients like vinegar. The disadvantage of an enameled cast iron is that it does make it even heavier and often the enamel can chip easily if not taken care of.
Enameled is easier to clean than uncoated cast iron.
An uncoated cast-iron needs to be seasoned while an enameled does not. You just wash and put it away like any other pan.
In fact, I think this is the perfect list to plan a new kitchen. Wish I had a list like this when I started off I'd save a lot of money buying things I didn't use.
The secret to keeping your pans clean and looking new is proper care. Often the back of the pan gets neglected which makes them look old over time.
Once every two months, I do a thorough job of my most used pans. I use baking soda and vinegar on the back and scrub any black carbon build-up with a non-abrasive scrubber. It works like magic.
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