Essential Pots & Pans

Recently, my stepdaughter Tara asked me for cookware recommendations. She's had a full set of a popular brand that her mother gifted her about twenty years ago. Today she's looking to replace this set. Maybe you're in the market also? If so, read on.

This is not my kitchen. It's a photo I took during a tour of Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina.
My kitchen and yours will be a bit more practical.

Every kitchen is different, and every cook has different needs, likes and dislikes. I am going to make a few recommendations based on what I've found to be very useful to me. You might be surprised that it's not all top-of-the-line professional cookware.

My List of Essential Pots & Pans:

  • One large enameled cast iron dutch oven or stewing pot. It doesn't have to be the most expensive (although you do get what you pay for here), but it should have handles and a lid that can go into a hot oven. You'll need to clean the interior with Barkeeper's Friend periodically to get some of the stains out, but this is not crucial. What is crucial, however, is that you're able to lift a full pot. They are heavy and even heavier when filled with whatever you're cooking.
  • One 8" non-stick omelet pan. It's the only pan I use for making scrambled eggs and omelets. I use it to make a small frittata or to sear a small piece of fish or a few shrimp. If you can get it with a handle that can withstand a hot oven or broiler, that's definitely what I'd recommend. Perfect for a kitchen that serves one person. When the interior gets scratched, toss it and get a new one. This seems irresponsible, but if you use only wooden or plastic tools, it may be two years or longer before you need a new one.
  • One 10" cast iron pan. In my previous post, I shared seasoning tips for cast iron. This is one of the most useful pans for a home cook, but you've got to take care of it. Seasoning is a skill that you have to master in order for your cast iron cookware to work properly. This is the best pan for searing a steak or thick-cut pork chops, and it's the only way to get a good crust or cornbread. If you love using cast iron, you may want to invest in an extra-large 15"/16" or 20-inch pan, which is useful for cooking indoors or outside over a grill or an open flame to fry fish or chicken or to roast a split chicken (spatchcocked) with vegetables.
  • One set of stainless steel pots & pans. This is where you can spend a lot of money. My preference is to find a set that seems sturdy and has thick bottoms. This means food will not burn easily, you can use the pans and dutch oven to sear, brown and saute without sticking. Spending just a little more money will guarantee any home cook useful cookware for many years. I recommend hand-washing only and using Barkeeper's Friend to get a nice shine on the interior and exterior about twice a year. Here are a few links to a good sampling of options.
  1. Cook's Tools has a nice set for someone just starting out. It's under $50.00 and available in most department stores. It won't last forever, but if it fits your budget, this is one you may want to try.
  2. For a little more money, you can find a set from Tools of the Trade at your nearest Macy's.
  3. Another option might be Cooks Standard available online from
  4. If you can manage to spend a bit more and don't mind the maintenance of copper cookware, this is a great place to start via
  5. Or you can try the tested and proven winner at America's Test Kitchen. More of an investment, but you may never have to buy another set. Ever. I say, go for it! Spoiler alert! The brand of stainless steel that most professionals would probably recommend for home cooks (if you can afford it) would be All-Clad 3-ply cookware. Have a look through their shop.
  • One slow cooker. Yes, call me old-fashioned, but I own two--one large enough to cook a big Boston Butt roast or to make bone broth, and a smaller one for a small family dinner or to cook one whole chicken. I'm still a huge fan of slow cooking, and with a slow cooker, there's time to be at work or run to the grocery store or pick up kids while it does a perfectly slow and steady kind of delicious food preparation. 

Get a second opinion from the folks at Cook's Illustrated magazine by reading this article about how to build a cookware set.

No air fryer? No InstantPot? Nope! And I'm not buying the next greatest kitchen tool either.

Sear the pork chops on both sides and finish in the oven.

So many family dinners looked like this over the last 30 years. A bed of vegetables, The pot roast on top with a layer of seasoning. I did this the night before and put it in the refrigerator. The following morning, out it came. I put the crock in the cooker, set it on "low" and went to work. Came home and assembled a salad. Presto! Dinner for four or six.

This is how I get my weightlifting workout. Engage the core and liiiiiiffffftttt!!!

This came from an inexpensive set that Dewey and I purchased when we were first
married. Every other piece was passed on, but I kept this one. It has been used to cook
many family dinners and braised meats and vegetables...and it keeps on
keeping on.


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