When I went off to college, I bought an inexpensive cookware set from one of those big-box stores. The pans were all incredibly lightweight, scratched easily and warped (especially when committed the cardinal sin and did this to my pans). It didn’t really matter because I was only using them to cook packaged ramen and Hamburger Helper.
As I became a more experienced cook, I started to explore the wide world of pots and pans. Oh man, there were so many types of pans and choices when it came to cookware material! It was overwhelming at the time, but today I know that you can get away with cooking almost any meal with a small saucepot, a large stockpot, a Dutch oven, a small nonstick egg pan and a large skillet or frying pan. That said, you better believe that I’ve collected almost every pot and pan on this list over the years, just in case! (Yes, I totally take advantage of many of these creative solutions for storing pots and pans.)
Whether you’re looking to upgrade your existing cookware set or are just in the market for one or two new pans, here’s the ultimate guide for every type of pan you’d need to complete any cooking task.
Editor’s note: The prices listed in this guide were current as of the time this article was published.
If you love making braised dishes but a heavy, cast-iron Dutch oven isn’t right for your kitchen, look for a brazier. These short, wide pots have a similar capacity to Dutch ovens, but they’re made from stainless steel. That makes them friendlier for induction and glass cooktops.
Our favorite brazier: Update International 20-Quart Stainless Steel Brazier with Cover ($100)
A casserole pan is similar to a Dutch oven but with shorter sides. The most versatile models are made with cast iron and contain a lid, allowing you to use them on the stovetop or in the oven. They maintain steady heat and are great for low-and-slow cooking, like stews or oven-baked casseroles.
Our favorite casserole pan: Lodge 3.6-Quart Enamel Cast Iron Casserole Dish with Lid ($90)
These pans are very similar to egg pans and frying pans, but they have flat edges instead of fluted sides. It’s so much easier to get a spatula under a pancake or crepe when the pan’s lip doesn’t get in the way! They’re available with and without nonstick coating, but we prefer the latter because they’re easier to use for beginners.
Our favorite crepe pan: Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Nonstick Hard-Anodized 10-Inch Crepe Pan ($20)
If you’re looking for one pan to make soups, sauces, stocks, braises and more, the Dutch oven is it. You can even deep-fry food and bake bread, chicken and pasta in these tall-sided pans. They’re slow to heat up but retain heat well, thanks to their cast-iron construction. Some models contain porcelain-enameled interiors for added nonstick and ease of cleaning.
Our favorite Dutch oven: We can’t choose just one! Check out our favorite Dutch ovens in every size, color and budget.
An egg pan is essentially a small frying pan, but they always contain nonstick coating. There are a few different nonstick materials these days, so check out our nonstick pan buying guide to find the best one for your kitchen. We like 8- or 10-inch egg pans because they’re small enough to fry a single egg but large enough to make a killer omelet.
Our favorite egg pan: Calphalon Classic 8-inch Nonstick Omelet Fry Pan ($30)
A frying pan is made with a long handle and wide, sloped edges. They’re a kitchen powerhouse for sauteing vegetables, building pasta sauces or pan-frying food. There are several different types of frying pans — nonstick, ceramic, stainless steel, cast-iron and more. If you’re only going to buy one, we suggest a heavy-duty, try-ply or multi-clad stainless steel pan. They’re expensive, but they’ll last a lifetime with proper use.
Our favorite frying pan: All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Fry Pan ($135)
A griddle is a large, flat cooktop without sides or edges. It’s great for breakfast items like eggs or pancakes, but you can also use it over high temperatures for searing steaks or burgers. Most griddles are large enough to straddle two burners on your cooktop, and our favorites are two-sided to include a grill pan. Depending on your range, you may not be able to use a cast-iron griddle, but luckily there are several electric griddles available today.
Our favorite cast-iron griddle: Lodge 20″ x 10″ Pro-Grid Cast Iron Reversible Grill/Griddle Pan ($45)
Our favorite electric griddle: Presto 22-inch Electric Griddle ($50)
These pans are specifically designed to make the perfect paella. They’re wide, round and shallow to allow the rice to cook in a flat layer so it absorbs more liquid and retains more flavor. Some of these pans are made with cast-iron, but we prefer the lighter carbon steel pans because they heat up and cool down more quickly.
Our favorite paella pan: Lodge 15-inch Carbon Steel Skillet ($49)
A pressure cooker has a sealing lid that traps all the liquid and steam inside the pot. The pot pressurizes as soon as the contents come to a boil, cooking the food inside up to 70% faster. Stovetop pressure cookers used to be kind of dangerous, but today’s models are better rated for safety.
Learn the difference between a traditional stovetop pressure cooker and an electric pressure cooker like the Instant Pot? We can help with that!
Our favorite stovetop pressure cooker: Fissler Vitaquick Pressure Cooker ($300)
Our favorite electric pressure cooker: Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker ($100)
A roasting pan is great for making a Thanksgiving turkey, but it has a variety of other uses, like cooking large quantities of vegetables or lasagna for a crowd. These large, rectangular dishes are oven-safe and look like an oversized casserole dish or a tall-sided baking sheet. You can use them with the rack for cooking large cuts of meat, or ditch the rack for cooking foods like roasted vegetables.
Our favorite roasting pan: Viking Culinary Stainless Steel Roasting Pan with Nonstick Rack ($200)
Unlike braziers, Dutch ovens or stockpots, saucepans contain long handles and are sized significantly smaller. They come in a variety of materials, but we like try-ply or multi-clad stainless steel best for even heating and heat retention. It’s good to have a 1-quart saucepan for heating small amounts of sauce (like barbecue sauce for a cookout), and a 2-quart saucepan is perfect for making rice or quinoa. A 3-quart saucepan isn’t necessary if you have a Dutch oven, but it can be helpful for making small amounts of soup.
Our favorite saucepan: Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel Saucepan with Cover ($39)
A saute pan is similar to a frying pan, but it has tall, straight sides, and it always comes with a lid. The tall sides keep liquid from evaporating as quickly and also helps to prevent splatter. They’re great for poaching eggs, pan frying or cooking large quantities of greens.
Our favorite saute pan: Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel Saute with Cover ($67)
A skillet is essentially the same thing as a frying pan, but it has slightly taller edges. It also generally refers to a pan made with cast iron. These heavy-duty pans can be used on the stovetop or the oven. If you head out camping, you can even put it directly on the fire!
Our favorite skillet: Lodge Seasoned Cast-Iron Skillet ($38)
These large pots are perfect for boiling water, making broth or stock, steaming vegetables or tamales (with a steamer insert) or cooking a large batch of soup. Unlike Dutch ovens, most stock pots are not intended for use in the oven, so we don’t recommend them for braised dishes.
Our favorite stockpot: Cooks Standard Classic Stainless Steel Pasta Pot with Steamer Multipots ($70)
A tagine is an earthenware or clay cooking pot used for North African and Moroccan cuisine. It has a high lid that controls the way the steam escapes, forcing the condensation to drip down on the food as it cooks. You can make Moroccan chicken in a slow cooker, but it’s more fun when you make it the authentic way!
Our favorite tagine: Emile Henry Terracotta Flame Tagine ($100)
These small-bottomed, fluted-edge pans are typically used for Asian cuisine. They heat up quickly for stir-fried dishes, but you can also use them for steaming dumplings or deep-frying food. Carbon steel woks are the most traditional, but there are several options for stainless steel or nonstick woks.
Our favorite wok: Here’s how to choose the best wok (and our favorite picks in each material).