When you’re into cooking, it’s easy to get sucked into the world of buying the coolest new culinary gadget. You’ve probably got plenty of these—zucchini spiralizers and pineapple corers alike—shoved deep into the recesses of your cabinets. What you probably don’t consider, though, is just how many of those pots and pans in your cupboard go entirely unused.
Cookware is often purchased first as a set, then replaced or added to as needed. You’ve probably moved beyond the basic pots and pans that you purchased right out of college, but maybe that flimsy little saute pan is still floating around in your kitchen arsenal. Depending on what you cook, these six pots and pans are all you really need to survive in the kitchen, and can help you free up some much-needed space. You know, for more gadgets.
A cast-iron skillet is the true workhorse of a kitchen, especially if you do a lot of stove-top cooking. Naturally non-stick and excellent at retaining heat, a cast-iron skillet can be used for everything from searing steaks to baking cakes and cornbread. If you didn’t inherit an old piece of cast iron from Grandma, hit up your Mom for a functional family heirloom.
If those prized possessions are already claimed, buying your own cast-iron skillet doesn’t have to be expensive. For the money, the 12” cast-iron fry pan from The Lodge is only $35, and is quite sturdy and heats evenly. You can even buy it from Williams-Sonoma to feel even more fancy. If you’ve got more cash, the sky is the limit on how much you can spend on a nice piece of cast iron. A 10” Staub skillet is $170, but you can bet that you’ll be passing this kitchen treasure down to your grandchildren.
If you’ve got a Dutch oven, you can damn near do anything. Roasting, boiling, and even frying is easy to do in a Dutch oven, but slow-cooked soups and braises are the best application for this sturdy kitchen necessity. Enameled cast iron is the most versatile choice for your Dutch oven, thanks to its non-reactive finish and heat-retaining surface. Going from the stove to oven to fridge is also a bonus, especially if you’re used to feeding a crowd.
Of course, you can splurge on a Le Creuset Dutch oven, a beloved tool among many home cooks, but at nearly $300 for a piece with a volume of less than 6 quarts, you could also pay your car payment or buy groceries three times. The above-pictured 6-quart cast-iron beauty from The Lodge is less than $70, and will probably last you for the rest of your life.
The right stock pot can be an incredibly multi-functional tool, perfect for everything from making pasta to canning pickles, especially if you’ve got a big one. You can always fill a bigger stockpot with less water, but of course, the reverse isn’t true. A 10-quart stock pot, like this budget-friendly aluminum Cuisinart model, is the perfect size for small families and couples, and will give your pasta plenty of room to wiggle. There’s really no need to spend more than about $100 on a stock pot, unless you regularly feed an army. A 12-quart pot is probably best for bigger families, or if you regularly make soups and stocks at home.
For stir-fries and simple skillet dinners, there’s really no better choice than a wok. The sloped sides provide plenty of surface area for even heating, and you can fit enough food into one pan — seriously — to feed the whole family. Woks are the kind of kitchen tool that is blissfully inexpensive, like the Joyce Chen carbon-steel wok that clocks in at less than $30, and there’s really no need to spend much money on a pricey wok.
You’re probably never going to make a jelly roll, but the pan can be an indispensable kitchen staple (in professional kitchens, similar pans are referred to as “half sheet pans”). It’s perfect for baking small batches of cookies or roasting chicken and veg, and can be lined with non-stick coating that makes cleaning up even the delicious burnt bits a breeze. A set of two Chicago Metallic jelly roll pans is a steal at $30, and will likely pay for itself in just a few uses, especially when you don’t have to drag out your heavy roasting pan every time you want something crispy.
You can technically survive with just a skillet, but even if you don’t spend tons of time mixing up bordelaise and beurre noisette, a saucier can help you make fancy sauces, soups, and emulsions much easier. The sloped sides and pour spout on this quality (and cheap!) Cuisinart saucier make it easier for you to whisk a thick bechamel or corn grits. If you’ve got cash to splurge, this All-Clad 2 qt. saucier is $120, and can serve plenty of kitchen purposes. French master Jacques Pepin calls the saucier his favorite kitchen pan, and after a few uses, so will you.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor.
Photos via Amazon
Lead image: Flickr/Tavallai CC BY-ND