Learn more about the basic cookware set for home cooks, from sturdy copper frying pans to non-stick frying pans.
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5 types of cookware
Material is important when choosing a new pan. Different materials have different levels of heat conductivity, heat retention and responsiveness. Some of the most common pan materials are:
- Cast iron: A cast iron pan will sometimes heat up slowly (give your pan about 10 minutes to preheat), but if it does, it will stay hot. The heat distribution of cast iron isn’t as even as aluminum, so if you’re cooking on a stovetop, the part of the pan directly above the heat source is warmest. Cast iron has a rough surface that forms a natural non-stick coating through a seasoning process. Highly acidic foods, soap, and heavy scrubbing can damage this seasoning, but you can always reseason a cast iron pan. (Cast iron cookware is not dishwasher safe.) Cast iron is affordable, and if treated properly, it can last for generations. Use cast iron for searing steak, frying bacon, and slow cooking casseroles and casseroles.
- Copper: Copper is an excellent heat conductor that provides even heat distribution, but it is also one of the most expensive cooking materials. Because copper is reactive, it is usually coated with another non-reactive material, such as stainless steel or tin. Copper cookware is very responsive. Unlike cast iron, which takes a long time to heat up and cool down, copper-core pans heat and cool quickly. Use copper for foods that require accurate temperatures, such as caramels, sauces, and fish. Copper pots are also ideal for slow cooking stews and casseroles.
- Non-stick Coating: Non- stick pans are affordable and easy to clean. While the non-stick coating isn’t ideal for browning, it is useful for sautéing particularly delicate foods, such as fish or omelets. The disadvantage? The non-stick coating tends to disintegrate over time, so expect to replace your non-stick pan every few years; do not use metal utensils or spatulas on a non-stick surface, this will speed up this process.
- Carbon Steel Pans: Like cast iron, carbon steel is good at retaining heat. Carbon steel pans also need seasoning to keep food from sticking. The advantage of carbon steel over cast iron is that carbon steel pans tend to be lighter and have slanted sides, both of which come in handy when turning something in the pan.
- Stainless Steel Pans: Stainless steel is durable and non-reactive, making it a workhorse in the kitchen. It also tends to stick to food, so it’s not ideal for scrambling eggs or cooking fish. Stainless steel can work with almost anything, provided there is enough fat or liquid to prevent sticking, or if you deglaze the pan after cooking.
10 essential types of pans
Each type of pan is useful for a different cooking method.
- Saute pan: A sauté pan is a deep pan with straight sides at a 90-degree angle to the base, maximizing surface area and minimizing spatter. Ideal for sautéing food, sauté pans are usually made of stainless steel.
- Wok: A wok has a bowl-shaped cooking surface and a long handle to protect your hands from the high temperatures required for stir-frying. Most woks are made of carbon steel.
- Dutch Oven: Heavy-bottomed Dutch Ovens are ideal for slow cooking stews and casseroles. Many models can also travel from the hob to the oven, making them ideal for dishes that require browning first and then slowly cooked in an oven. Dutch ovens are often made of oven-proof cast iron or enamelled cast iron.
- grill pan: A grill pan is a pan with ridges that mimic the effect of a barbecue. Grill pans are often made of cast iron, which heats up slowly, retains heat well, and gives excellent browning. Preheat your grill pan to high heat about 10 minutes before cooking and use it for anything you would put on a real grill: kebabs, halved peaches, or mashed chicken breasts.
- Griddle: A griddle is a long, flat pan that is useful for baking pancakes, eggs, bacon, and burgers. Home versions of restaurant grills are usually made of cast iron and designed to accommodate two stovetop burners.
- Paella Pan: If you often make paella, the Spanish rice-and-seafood dish, you may want to invest in this specialized pan with a large, flat bottom and shallow, angled sides. Paella pans, like woks, are often made of stainless steel.
- Skillet: A frying pan is similar to a sauté pan, but with slanted sides. Also known as a skillet, the best skillets are often made of cast iron. Cast iron skillets take a while to heat up, but once hot they stay warm, making them a great choice for searing a steak. Their high, slanted sides are also ideal for shallow frying.
- Casserole: A roasting pan is usually rectangular with straight sides and sturdy handles, ideal for pulling a whole turkey out of the oven. Frying pans are often made of stainless steel, copper, or enameled cast iron — oven-safe materials that retain heat. Use a roasting pan for roasting anything that is too tall or heavy for a rimmed baking sheet, such as large pieces of meat or stews.
- Crepe bread: Just like a paella pan, a crepe pan is a specialty. Crepe pans are large, flat round pans with very shallow, slanted sides, ideal for cooking thin crepe batter. If you’re looking to make crepes for the first time, but you’re not ready to invest in a carbon steel crepe pan, use a stainless steel or carbon steel casserole.
- stockpot: A stockpot is a large pan that you can use for all kinds of things. For long braising and simmering you will need a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan, but if you’re only boiling water for pasta, choose a thin pan that heats up quickly.
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