I love pots and pans! I love to cook, so it makes sense that I have my favorite pots and pans. Here are some of my favorites with the good and bad things about them. I have also included some that I would caution you against using.
#1 - CAST IRON
If I could only have one pot/skillet, it would be my cast iron skillet. People have been cooking in cast iron for millennia. Whether you are cooking on an induction stove top or over a wood fire, cast iron is fabulous. There are some things that I would never cook in anything but cast iron – cobbler, cornbread, frittata, to name a few. Cast iron just makes the crispiest, most delicious crusts on these things.
They're affordable. You most likely can find them in your grandmother's kitchen cabinet. Antique stores and garage sales are great places to buy them.
They come in a great variety of sizes, shapes and uses – from Dutch ovens, to grill pans, to cornbread pans with corn-shaped holes, to muffin tins, to bread pans, and on and on.
They're durable. If you take care of them, you can pass them down from one generation to the other.
They can handle high heat and can go from the stovetop to the oven (and in my family, to the table). They retain heat well, which means foods cook more evenly.
You can use any kind of utensil on them. Maybe not technically, but I have never had a problem with using metal spatulas, tongs, spoons, etc.
All you do to clean them is rinse with hot water and scrub with a stainless steel scrubber thing, set them on the heat to dry and maybe rub with a little oil.
They are heavy. Look at them as an arm work out.
You have to clean them properly. No soap. No dishwasher. No soaking. No leaving food in them to store. Just rinse with hot water and scrub with a stainless steel scrubber thing. They can rust if not maintained properly.
They must be seasoned if you buy them used, but not if you buy them new. This is easy to do. There are tutorials all over the internet. You might have to do this if your pan starts sticking.
#2 – ENAMELED CAST IRON
If I could have only two pots, my second choice would be enameled cast iron.
They have a porcelain coating that prevents rust and makes for easier cleaning. You can wash them in the dishwasher.
They are beautiful! They come in many different colors.
They can transition from stovetop to oven to table.
They have the cooking benefits of cast iron as far as heat retention.
They don’t require seasoning.
You can cook acidic foods in them. You don’t have to worry about stripping the seasoning or food reacting with the material.
There is a large variety of shapes and sizes. IMO, everyone needs an enameled Dutch oven. When people ask me what is my favorite food, I say anything I can cook in my red Dutch oven.
Some of the brands have LIFETIME guarantees.
They are expensive. My first Le Creuset cost the same as a round-trip ticket to Phoenix.
The nonstick quality isn’t always as strong as that of a well-seasoned regular cast iron pan.
They are also pretty heavy.
You have to be careful how you treat them, especially if they have a guarantee. I still use tongs and other metal utensils in mine with no issues.
You have to be careful what you use to scrub them.
They're addictive and might cause marital discord. All the pretty colors!
#3 – CARBON STEEL
I have one carbon steel skillet that I use almost every morning to cook bacon and eggs. I love it.
Carbon steel pans are made mostly of iron and some carbon. They are durable like cast iron but much thinner. These pans are used in restaurants.
Like cast iron, carbon steel retains heat well which cooks food evenly. They are great for searing and sauteing.
As long as they are seasoned properly, they remain naturally nonstick.
They are lightweight.
You can clean them just like cast iron. Just rinse with hot water and put on the heat to dry.
They are a little bit more expensive than regular cast iron, but not much.
They require seasoning to maintain.
They are not dishwasher safe.
You shouldn’t cook with acidic foods when using carbon steel pans.
#4 - STAINLESS STEEL
Stainless steel is a popular material for cookware, but they are not all created equal and the higher-end lines deliver better results.
I love stainless steel and have two All Clad pots that I use several times a day, but I have a stainless All Clad skillet that sits in the bottom of the drawer.
They are nonreactive, so you can cook anything in them. Except eggs. Never cook eggs in a stainless steel skillet unless you are a glutton for punishment.
They heat up fast and can be used on very high temperatures.
They are dishwasher safe and oven safe as long as the handles are all stainless steel.
The high-end pots are expensive.
Stainless steel doesn’t distribute heat as well as some other materials unless you buy the high-end lines that add aluminum or copper cores to help this.
They don't retain heat long either.
They are tougher to clean (see above comment about eggs), but you can use an SOS pad or steel wool to scrub and they will look like new.
They don't look pretty on your table if you're going for that, but they do look nice hanging on a pot rack.
#5 - COPPER
I don't own a copper pot. I am waiting to buy one in France. I don't want one bad enough to just buy one. I want one from France. Period.
Well, they are gorgeous! They look fabulous hanging on a pot rack.
Great heat retention properties and cooks food evenly.
They come in a huge variety of sizes and kinds and you can pass them down to future generations.
Prepare to sign away your first-born. They are not cheap.
You definitely cannot put them in the dishwasher.
They require polishing with lemon or vinegar and salt to keep them in good condition. Although some people love the patina they develop when they haven't been polished. (Shaye)
They react with acidic and alkaline foods unless you get pans with stainless steel on the inside.
#6 – NONSTICK
We all love a nonstick skillet! Who doesn't love something you can just wipe out with a paper towel? But Teflon- or similarly-coated pans have had their share of controversy over the years. There are still advantages to cooking with them as long as you keep a few rules in mind.
The most obvious benefit is wait for it.........they’re nonstick. The material is easy to clean.
They require less fat when cooking.
They are not expensive.
They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
You can put them in the dishwasher.
Once the coating chips, the high heat is believed to expose food to toxic chemicals often used in nonstick cookware (PFOA and PTFE, referred to as Teflon). Whenever possible, buy nonstick pans that don’t use these harmful compounds. However, they’re usually more expensive. The rule “you get what you pay for” especially applies here. Avoid heating without oil and don’t use too high of heat and you’ll get more out of this cooking material.
#7 – CERAMIC
I feel better about using these pans than regular nonstick pans. In fact, I just bought two new skillets for $50 for the set on Amazon. So far, I love them with one caveat which I will point out below.
While often referred to as ceramic nonstick cookware, they are actually often aluminum with silicone finishes that have a ceramic-like texture. They are free of chemicals like PTFE and PFOA and thought to be more environmentally friendly.
They are nonstick, though not as nonstick as regular nonstick pans.
They are not incredibly expensive.
They are lightweight.
The nonstick quality can fade over time.
Not dishwasher safe, but they do clean up easily, so you have to give them that.
You have to be careful how hot you let them get (see my caveat comment above).
You have to be careful what utensils you use in them.
#8 – GLASS
Most glass cookware are baking dishes – casserole dishes, pie plates, bread pans, etc.
You can see the food as it cooks, keeping a closer eye on progress.
They go from oven to table and usually look nice.
It’s not nonstick, and your food is more prone to burning.
Heat distribution is not really good
#7 - ALUMINUM
This is one material that I would caution you not to use. This was really popular in the 1960s and my mother had a whole set of them, but it is not good to cook in aluminum because of the whole aluminum and breast cancer/autism connection.
I use aluminum sheet pans and aluminum foil, but I always line the pans with parchment paper and put parchment paper between the foil and the food.
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHICH PANS TO BUY?
That's a hard question because it really depends on what you are going to cook and what your budget is.
If I was registering for bridal gifts, I would register for the following:
1 6-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven
2 very nice (All Clad if possible) stainless steel sauce pans in different sizes with lids
1 nonstick ceramic 10- or 12-inch skillet
1 10-inch cast iron skillet
1 large stock pot with a lid
You can cook pretty much anything with this small amount of pots and pans.
Add in some baking dishes like.....
1 pie pan
1 bread pan (or meatloaf pan)
1 8x8 inch baking dish
1 9x13 inch baking dish
and you are set for a long time.