The Cooking Pans You Actually Need

Dance Time in the Kitchen

Boil, fry, roast, and soup it up to your heart's content with these must-have pans for every kitchen.

The Four Must-Haves



What you'll use it for: Boiling, blanching, steaming, and simmering

What to make in it: Pasta, vegetables, soup

What to look for: Weighty heft, with a lid and two handles. Some stockpots have a colander insert that makes it easy to drain pasta and vegetables. Go for at least 8 quarts so that you have maximum flexibility.


What you'll use it for: A little of this, a little of that — this pan is a workhorse and multitasker extraordinaire.

What to make in it: Soup, rice, pasta, noodles, baking tasks

What to look for: Check how the handle attaches to the pan; the connection should be sturdy. Sometimes there's a single small hand-hold to give balance when you use the handle. The lid should fit snugly. A lighter-weight construction may mean that ingredients in your saucepan are more prone to scalding and burning. Start with a two-quart size for ease of use with a variety of cooking needs.

Family Cooking Time

Sauté pan/skillet

What you'll use it for: Searing, frying, sautéing, and cooking

What to make in it: Meat, vegetables, sauces, one-dish meals, risotto, stir-fry

What to look for: Thick construction helps you avoid hot spots and burnt areas and helps the pan withstand very high heat when quickly browning something. A 10-inch size is a good starting pan, and some people prefer a non-stick finish. Again, a tight-fitting lid (with a heat-proof handle or knob on top) is a must. Make sure the handle on the pan is oven-proof, in case you need to quickly broil or warm a dish. As with a saucepan, check for a secure connection between handle and pan.

Family Cooking Time

Rimmed baking sheet(s)

What you'll use it for: Roasting, cooking, and baking

What to make in it: Cookies, brownies, vegetables, fries, freezer-friendly mains (such as chicken)

What to look for: Go heavier for longer life and even distribution of heat. If your budget allows, buy at least two full-size sheets and one half-size sheet (this makes cooking in batches easier).

The extras you might like:

  • A cast-iron skillet: Some people swear by frying, searing, and cooking in this, while others don't like the cleanup (soap is a no-no). But it can be a useful tool.
  • A Dutch oven: Go for the nicer enameled versions and use it for day-long braising.
  • Miscellaneous baking pans such as a loaf pan and pie pan. These are good building blocks as you start to add to your baking skills.
  • Round metal cake pans: 8-inch or 9-inch versions are perfect for layer cakes or biscuits.


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