Whatcha gonna do with all that food in your fridge?
Eat it obviously, but much of it needs to be cooked. While microwaves are convenient, it doesn’t always produce the best texture and taste. While we live in a society of convenience, better meals are prepared the old fashioned way – on the stove and/or the oven.
Stove and oven cooking requires cookware, namely pots and pans.
The thing is there are all kinds of cookware options these days. You can buy a specific pot or pan for pretty much any type of dish or purpose.
While I’m all for the convenience of a cookware set, maybe you prefer to buy high-end individual items. If that’s the case, below we set out all the main types of cookware found in most kitchens.
Table of Contents
A. What is cookware?
In a nutshell, cookware is pots and pans. However, with the advent of many different materials being used for cookware plus new cooking techniques entering the kitchen, cookware now spans many options.
Below we unravel your cookware options.
B. Main Types
1. Types of Cooking Pots
Posts are cookware with higher walls that can hold water or sauces. You can certainly cook with a pot food that you’d cook in a pan, but it’s more difficult to manage. One exception is scrambled eggs. Most people cook scrambled eggs in a frying pan with low walls or on a griddle, but they can be very nicely cooked in a small pot so that you can mix them continuously while cooking.
Pots can be used on a stove or in the oven. Most can’t be used in a microwave because they contain some form of metal.
Here’s a list of different types of cookware pots:
a. Sauce pots
There are two main types of sauce pots (kinda). Those with handles on both sides and those with one long handle. Here are examples.
The two-handle sauce pot is technically the only type of sauce pot. The second one I set out below is technically a saucepan, but it’s often also referred to as a sauce pot.
One long handle
The single handle sauce pot is also referred to as a sauce pan.
b. Dutch oven
A dutch oven (see dutch oven alternatives here) is a large cast-iron pot that can be used on the stove or placed in the oven. It’s terrific for cooking large meat dishes that require a lot heat. Other dishes include soups, stews, roasting, frying, casseroles and even baking bread. In some ways, you could probably get away with cooking most meals with a dutch oven. FYI, the enamel-coated dutch oven is also called a French Oven [source: Thekittchn].
c. Stock and soup pots
A stock or soup pot is a large, deep pot for making large quantities of soups, stock or stews. We have a massive stock pot which my wife uses all the time. Every time we finish a turkey or chicken, she makes incredible stocks from which she makes amazing soups. If you use such a pot, you can end up with healthy, delicious meals. Here’s an example:
A steamer pot is one with a metal screen that sits inside above the bottom. You place water on the bottom and the steam cooks whatever you put in the steam insert. This is great for steaming vegetables. Steamed broccoli this way is one of my favorites.
e. Pasta pots
A pasta pot is designed to cook pasta. There are two main types of pasta pots.
The first is one with a perforated locking lid so that you can pour the water out and be left with cooked pasta. Here’s an example:
The other type of pasta post is one with a metal strainer insert that goes inside a large pot. When pasta is done cooking, you life the metal strainer out and end up with cooked pasta in the strainer. Basically it’s a large, deep steamer. Here’s an example:
f. Double boilers
A double boiler is like a steamer, except the insert is a pot with no holes. These are good for for food that cooks best with steam heat such as melting chocolate. Here’s an example:
g. Casserole pots
While you can definitely cook casseroles in a dutch oven or slow cooker, you can also buy specific pots designed for making casseroles such as the following low-rise casserole pot.
h. Milk warmer
Most kitchens won’t get a milk warmer, but if you like warm milk and prefer not doing it in a small sauce pot, you can actually buy a pot designed for warming milk on the stove. Here’s an example. Who knew, right?
2. Types of Pans
Pans also go on the stove or in the oven but have lower walls or none at all. They’re ideal when you need to handle the food such as flipping and rotating it.
a. Frying pan (sauté pan)
Most people know what a frying pan is. It’s technically a sauté pan. It’s a flat, circular pan with low-rise, straight walls. Here’s a classic example:
A skillet is much like a sauté pan, but the low-rise walls are slanted. Here’s an example:
c. Grill pans
A grill pan is designed to replicate grill cooking on the stove. Here’s an example:
Griddles are great if you like cooking big breakfasts. You get plenty of flat surface area for eggs, pancakes, hashbrowns, etc. Speaking of pancakes, they’re brilliant for this because you can cook an entire batch so much more quickly than relying on a single frying pan. We have a griddle and it’s so handy.
There are two types of griddles. One is an electric with its own heat source. Anther is a stock-top griddle that you place on top of the stove. Here’s an example of an electric-powered griddle.
A saucepan looks like a pot (tall walls) with a single long handle.
For a lot more info on saucepans, check out our expansive article on the different types of saucepans here.
Here’s an example:
f. Omelet pans
There open-topped and lid style omelet pans. Check them out:
Lid-style omelet pan:
Open-top omelet pan:
g. Roasting pans
A roasting pan is for roasting large pieces of meat. The pan is usually rectangle in shape with a rack sitting on the bottom suspending the meat above the bottom. Here’s an exampe:
A wok is kind of like a frying pan except the bottom surface area is smaller and the walls rise higher in a slanted fashion. They’re ideal for cooking rice and vegetables at high heat for stir fries. I love cooking in woks (probably because I love stir fries). Here’s an example:
C. By Material
Ceramic is a material made from clay that is hardened by high heat. It’s a non-toxic cookware option, withstands high temperatures and does a pretty good job at being non-stick [source: Xtrema.com].
Here’s an example of a ceramic cookware set:
I did not know this, but aluminum is the most abundant metal on earth. It’s an element in the boron group on periodic table of elements (AI) [source: Earth.com]. It’s used for making all kinds of things, including cookware. Here’s an example:
Glass ceramic is also used for cookware. It’s not cheap though. It’s selling feature is it’s a pollution-free cookware option. Here’s an example:
4. Stainless Steel
If you want high-end, top-notch cookware, stainless steel offers some good options. Stainless steel’s benefits include easy-to-clean, reasonably decent heat transfer, no toxins and lasts quite a long time.
The following is an expensive, but outstanding 10-piece set:
You’d think copper cookware would be frightenly expensive, but it’s not. It’s not the cheapest either, but for many households, it’s a viable option. The main reason you’d opt for copper kitchenware is it distributes heat evenly and heat adjustments take effect almost immediately. It’s also easy to clean. I think it looks awesome too – imagine the following set suspended from a pot rack.
Note, however, that the better copper pots and pans are those lined with stainless steel because they last longer (as opposed to tin) [source: Cheftalk.com].
Here’s an example:
6. Cast Iron
If you’re a diehard cast iron fan, you can get cast iron cookware sets that pretty much provide most of what you’ll need with kitchenware. Cast iron is popular because it can handle high heat, it’s indestructible, improves with age and if handles properly, develops a non-stick surface (without the use of chemicals). Source: Americastestkitchen.com.
Here’s an example of a 7-piece cast iron cookware set:
D. By Feature
1. Dishwasher safe
If you loathe hand-washing dishes, be sure you check whether any cookware you buy is dishwasher-safe. Many are these days, however, I’ve been told that even if rated as dishwasher safe, they won’t last as long. I spoke to a woman in a kitchen store and wanted a high-quality dishwasher-safe frying pan. I asked her about a specific item which stated it was dishwasher safe, but she told me that while it was dishwasher safe, it would last longer if we didn’t put it in the dishwasher. I bought it and we put it in the dishwasher. I’m fine with it not lasting as long because I’d rather that than handwashing it every time.
Non-stick pans are fantastic for eggs and pretty much most food. However, there are many non-stick options, some of which are reportedly healthier than others. Teflon was the coating used for years, but some suggest the fumes are not healthy, which makes you wonder whether actually cooking on it is any good for you.
I strongly recommend you read this very good article about healthy non-stick pan options.
Simplify Cookware with a Set
A cookware set is a set of a variety of the main cookware options that pretty much cover what most kitchens would need to be well outfitted for cooking most meals.
A typical cookware set is comprised of anywhere from 8 to 17 pieces. Here are a few examples:
8 piece cookware set:
12 piece cookware set:
17 piece cookware set: