We’ve all been guilty of frying eggs in a small pot when it’s the only clean cookware around, but do you really know what all those pans in your cabinet are really meant for? Hint: It’s not just for looks. From skillets to casserole pans, each pot and pan was intended for specific use based on its weight, size, and finish. Here’s the lowdown (and a killer recipe to make with each pan.)
Frying pans, or skillets, are likely the most-used pan in the kitchen. They're flat-bottomed with sides that fan out. Made of stainless steel or finished with a nonstick surface, frying pans cook food quickly and efficiently, and come in a variety of sizes. Note: Although they can mostly be used interchangeably, a frying pan is not the same as a sauté pan, which tends to be deeper and have straight sides.
While some people prefer to make bigger batches of sauce in stockpots, a saucepan’s high sides and round bottom are perfect for boiling eggs, making small batches of pasta, pots of grains, and (our fave) reheating last night’s leftovers.
Both of these pans are often called Dutch ovens, and while they can be used interchangeably, there is a difference. Dutch ovens are made of cast iron and should be treated similarly to any cast iron cookware you own. French ovens are essentially a type of Dutch oven, as they are cast iron pans covered in enamel coating; however, it’s best not to soak either pan in water for long periods of time. Both can be used to make a hell of a soup, stew, or even loaf of bread.
Ideal for pan-frying, steaming, and deep-frying, woks are a staple in Asian cooking. These large pans have wide, sloping sides—the bottom stays very hot, while the sides are cooler—ideal for tossing food at various temperatures as it cooks.
These large pans are both the cooking and serving vessel, and can be used to make most crowd-friendly dishes, from lasagna to baked oatmeal.
Cast iron skillets make the most golden potatoes, the crispiest sear, and can move from the stove to the oven like it’s nothing. It may sound like you’ll only ever need one pan, but keep in mind that cast iron pans need some TLC. Though most come pre-seasoned (a cooking word for rubbing the pan with oil to create a nonstick surface and prevent rusting), never soak your pan in water. After a quick rinse, you can help it dry completely by heating it on low for a few minutes before storing.
The primary use for a stockpot is (you guessed it!) stock. The bottom of the pan gets hot enough for ingredients to brown; add liquid and its tall sides will keep a dish simmering for hours. Stockpots are ideal for everything from soup to pasta to DIY French fries.