Trying to expand your kitchen arsenal? I’ve pulled together a list of the best cookware that every home cook should own. While this list doesn’t cover everything I use, these are the items I personally use on a regular basis, and they’ve made my life so much easier! Having the best possible cookware will make cooking so much more enjoyable.
Today, I’m sharing a list of my top 12 cookware items. I think anyone who’s serious about cooking should seriously consider most if not all of these items. Not only will the right cookware improve your capabilities, it makes cooking easier and more fun.
This list does not include electronic equipment like blenders or bakeware such as cake pans. I’ve also skipped kitchen tools, which you can find in a different roundup: The Best Kitchen Tools.
A few notes
- Many of the brands I use are on the pricier side. You’ll see some high end brands listed below like Le Creuset, All-Clad, and Calphalon. However, I have no doubt you can find more affordable options that are just as effective.
- I’ve accumulated all of this cookware over many years. I’m definitely not recommending that you to go out and buy all of this at once.
- None of the items shared below are sponsored by companies, but I have included affiliate links. This means I get a small percentage if you decide to purchase through my links, at no additional cost to you.
- Many of the items below are sold as “dishwasher safe.” I highly recommend you wash nice cookware by hand. Dishwashers wear down surfaces over time. Cookware will last much longer if you wash it by hand, and you want to get the most out of your investment.
A Quick Overview of Cookware Materials
In case you’re not familiar with some of the terms listed in my roundup, here’s a quick overview of the types of cookware materials and when to use them:
- Stainless steel: good for most cooking methods
- Anodized aluminum: good for most cooking methods, cheaper than stainless steel (avoid acidic foods if using non-anodized)
- Enameled cast iron: good for most cooking methods
- Seasoned raw cast iron: good for most cooking methods, gets the best sear, avoid acidic foods
- Nonstick: best for low-heat cooking with no or minimal caramelization required
- Copper: good for most cooking methods, but avoid acidic foods and get ready to spend $$$$
The Best Cookware
1. enameled cast iron dutch oven
If you were to only buy one item from the entire list I’ve compiled, an enameled Dutch oven is my #1 recommendation. I use this pot more than any other because it’s ridiculously versatile.
While I mainly use this for soups and stews, I’ve also used it to sear meat, sauté vegetables, cook pasta, blanch vegetables, and deep-fry delicious things. It does almost everything.
Cast iron Dutch ovens are excellent conductors of heat (which means you get a great sear), and the enameled coating makes them much easier to clean than seasoned cast iron.
In my opinion, Le Creuset offers the best enameled cast iron in terms of durability. However, Lodge (my top pick for seasoned cast iron) also offers great options that are much more affordable if you’re on a budget,
2. medium-Sized Saucepan
My Recommendation: All-Clad Stainless Steel 1.5 Quart Saucepan
A medium-sized saucepan (1.5 to 2 quarts) is a true kitchen essential, in my opinion. After my Dutch oven, this is the second most used piece of cookware I own.
It’s not just for sauces. I use this for cooking grains, reheating smaller batches of soup/stews, and boiling smaller quantities of water (for example, if I’m making ramen eggs).
3. Sautoir (Flat-Sided Skillet)
My Recommendation: All-Clad Stainless Steel Sautoir with Lid
There are several skillets included in this roundup, and this one is my favorite. I’m not worried about doing any fancy chef flips when I’m sautéing, so I can usually take or leave the rounded edges. Having the flat sides of a sautoir opens up so many more possibilities.
The flat sides help contain liquid, so this is perfect for searing meat if you plan to finish up with a pan sauce. It’s a perfect pan for risotto, as well as pasta dishes that require you to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, such as cacio e pepe. You can also use it to wilt large batches of spinach.
I could keep going, but you get the idea.
4. Half-Sheet Pans
My Recommendation: New Star Foodservice Aluminum Half Sheet Pan
Sheet pans fall into both bakeware and cookware, but I find them to be essential for cooking.
For cooking, I use sheet pans for roasting vegetables, cooking meat, and sheet pan dinners (like my sheet pan shrimp scampi). For baking, they’re perfect for cookies, sheet cakes and slab pies. (Bakers, check out my yellow sheet cake and pumpkin slab pie for examples).
You can also purchase parchment sheets cut to fix these pans perfectly. Bulk parchment sheets are more economical than the rolls sold at the grocery store, and you don’t have to fight to keep them flat!
5. Large-Sheet Pan
My Recommendation: New Star Foodservice Aluminum Sheet Pan
This might not be an essential for everyone, but I have one large sheet pan that I absolutely love. This size is a great time saver; it spreads across almost the entire oven shelf. This means that if you’re feeding a crowd, you can cook larger batches at once.
I also use it when I’m baking triple layer cakes (like my chocolate espresso layer cake). This pan fits three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans, which makes it easy to take the cakes in and out of the oven at the same time.
If you decide to look at options aside from the one I’ve recommended, keep in mind that this pan isn’t technically a full sheet pan, which is the size used in professional kitchens. Full sheet pans won’t fit in most home ovens. This is considered a 2/3 sheet pan.
Full-size sheet pans are 26×18 inches. 2/3 sheet pans (also sometimes referred to as 3/4 sheet pans) are 21×15 inches.
6. Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
My Recommendation: Lodge 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet
It took me a long time to fall in love with seasoned cast iron (non-enameled). I don’t care what anyone else says; these take longer to clean that enameled cast iron. Seasoned cast iron can also rust if you’re not careful (but that can be fixed; stay tuned for an upcoming tutorial).
The bottom line, though, is that nothing gets as good of a sear as regular cast iron. It fries an egg like nobody’s business. And if you take good care of it, cast iron will last you a lifetime. These skillets come in a variety of sizes, but in general, I find 10 or 12-inch skillets to be the best all-purpose size.
7. Large Stainless Steel Skillet
My Recommendation: All-Clad 12-Inch Stainless Steel Skillet
Depending on what your needs are, you might not need both rounded and flat-sided stainless steel skillets. However, I think it’s still worth recommending one here, because a large stainless steel skillet is a powerful pan for most cooking methods including searing, pan-frying and sautéing.
While it’s not as good a conductor of heat as cast iron, stainless steel still does an excellent job, and it’s a more all-purpose cooking surface. There are certain acidic ingredients (tomatoes, etc) that shouldn’t be cooked on seasoned cast iron, and that’s where stainless steel really shines.
If you’re shopping around, large anodized aluminum skillets are also a good option that get similar results.
8. Casserole Dish
My Recommendation: Le Creuset Heritage Stoneware Covered Casserole Dish
If you bake casseroles, you need a good casserole dish. What else is there to say? This is perfect for my eggplant lasagna, zucchini lasagna, baked macaroni and cheese, and Mexican tortilla casserole.
9. Large Stockpot
My Recommendation: Cuisinart Stainless Steel 4-Piece 12-Quart Pasta/Steamer Set
Do you make homemade chicken stock? If you do, or if you’re interested in trying it (do it!), you’ll need a large enough pot to hold the ingredients. This pot can be used for making stock, as well as large batches of pasta, soup and chili, You can use it for deep-frying. My recommendation above also includes pasta and steamer inserts. While not essential, those can definitely be handy.
10. Large Nonstick Skillet
My Recommendation: Cuisinart Nonstick Hard-Anodized 12-Inch Skillet
Another skillet??? Indeed. This pan is perfect for frittatas (for example, my Swiss, Mushroom and Spinach Frittata). The eggs won’t stick, and it can go directly into the oven.
I also use this skillet when I’m pan-frying ingredients that could burn easily, like my sesame chicken fingers with peanut sauce. I’m not trying to sear the meat in this scenario, so I don’t need something uncoated like stainless steel. I wouldn’t use this pan if I’m going for crispy skin, as I do in this crispy baked chicken thighs recipe.
Lastly, while I don’t personally worry about fat while cooking, I know many of you do. Nonstick pans allow you to use less fat.
11. Small Nonstick Omelette Pan
My Recommendation: Carlisle 7″ Non-Stick Aluminum Fry Pan
I make eggs or egg sandwiches almost every morning for breakfast, and the pan I’ve recommended above is amazing (and commercial-grade). I acquired it many years ago at culinary school, and it took 9 years of regular use before I needed to replace it. When that day arrived, I made sure I bought the exact same pan.
The only place I’ve been able to find it is Webstaurant Store, and the pan itself is a fraction of some of the other cookware I’ve listed. The only negative is that this store has some hefty shipping costs, but even with that included, this pan is still a great deal. I plan to try replacing my pricier nonstick pans with this brand when the time comes.
12. Roasting Pan with Insert
My Recommendation: Calphalon Stainless Steel Roaster with Insert
If you don’t roast poultry, you can skip this one. It’s not large enough for a Thanksgiving turkey, but it’s the perfect size for chicken (this buttermilk chicken recipe is one of my favorites).
Ideally, you want a pan with a fitted insert, so that the juices fall away from the meat instead of pooling around it. The insert will ensure perfect crisping every time!
I hope you’ve found this roundup helpful! Feel free to ask questions in the comments if you’d like more clarification on how and when to use them.
If you liked this roundup, you may also enjoy my 20 Kitchen Tips I Learned at Culinary School!