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5 Must-Have Pans in Your Kitchen (...and Why They Should Be There)

Avid cooks know the benefit of multiple pots and pans for making big meals with many moving parts. But for true essentials, here are the top five pans we believe everyone should have in their cooking arsenal.

  • Small Frying Pan or Skillet
    Why? Frying pans (also called skillets) typically come in 6-, 10-, 12-, and 14-inch sizes. For an all-around handy pan, a 6-inch pan allows you to cook a single egg for a sandwich, toast handfuls of nuts or chopped pancetta for garnishes, and quickly brown butter and garlic for a fast pasta sauce. Non-stick varieties are the most versatile.
  • Mid-size Sauté Pan
    Why? Sauté pans have flat bottoms and straight sides, and usually have lids that make slowly cooking things like chicken breasts or pork chops a breeze after browning them in the same pan. A 12-inch pan is a good middle-of-the-road option since it can be used not only for sautéing, but for browning and braising, too. Look for one that is oven-safe, which makes it easy to brown on the stove, cover, and then finish cooking in the oven. Long handles are a safety must.
  • 10- to 12-inch Cast Iron Pan
    Why? A true workhorse, cast iron pans are some of the oldest in existence and can be bought second hand at antique stores or new wherever you buy home goods. However, it takes some extra care to get the most out of them. They should never be washed with soap as they work best when “seasoned” and patina builds up. But they conduct heat so evenly that they can be used for creating a deep and even crust on foods on top of the stove, or for baking casseroles and many bread recipes in the oven.
  • Small Sauce Pan (1- to 1 ½ quart)
    Why? The "sauce" in saucepan is a dead give-away for why you shouldn’t be without one. For melting butter or chocolate; heating milk; reducing berries; or making hot cereal on the stovetop, this one won’t fail you.
  • Stock Pot with Lid
    Why? You can’t make a soup without a big enough pot, and a stockpot will do the trick. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes (typically 6-20 quarts), so select one that both fits the type and amount of cooking you do, and one that can do double duty (such as make soup, and also fit tall strands of spaghetti or linguine).