While it may feel like you need the fully stocked kitchen of your dreams to crank out delicious food…reality check… you need very little to make “can I have seconds please” food. Sure, I’d love to own all the cool gadgets, fancy cookware, and high end ingredients. Maybe one day… but for now I’m sticking with these cookware basics, adding to my collection as I can! Truth be told, if I never added another pot or pan, this list of cookware basics would be more than sufficient to cook and bake every single thing that gets pumped out of my kitchen. No lie.
And while I may not yet have a coveted Le Creuset or STAUB dutch oven gracing my stove top, or even a simple food processor, there are a handful of cookware basics I’ve managed with over the years. Ten to be exact. With these babies I’ve not only managed but grown my skills as a home cook. If they’ve carried me this far through my journey of kitchening, they’re definitely able to help you do the same.
Table of Contents
Say NO: To “Complete” Cookware Sets
One thing I never recommend. Buying a complete SET of pots and pans. Really buying anything in a “complete” set- knives, cutting boards, or utensils. I know it’s temping. It seems like such a fab deal, and that wam-bam-one-and-done feeling is an oh so delicious sensation. I mean, they are designed as a cookware basics set, right? You buy the box of everything you “need” and get down to business. What could go wrong?
You get down to business and realize… you never use 4 of the 8 piece set. You wish the fry pan was 14″ and non stick instead of stainless steel. That your pot held 8 quarts of liquid instead of 5. So you go purchase those items individually. If you’ve been here, I know you know this realization is infuriating!
If you haven’t yet succumbed to the more is better mindset… you win at life. Hopefully, I’ve caught you just in time. Before you purchase and then find yourself having to go back and re-purchase.
Don’t end up with a stack of pots and pans you never use.
If you’re double checking that picture up top, and saying….. Susanna. It looks like you’ve got a few from a set? You’re not wrong. I do. This is me wishing I didn’t! And sharing with you why, if I could go back and do it differently I would.
Pro Tip: Invest in quality and in the sizes you actually need. Personally, I’d prefer to have 3 quality pans that carry life time warranties than a set of 7 taking up precious space, that I’ll have to replace in 5 years, when 4 of them I’ll never use.
Well Then. How Do You Know What To Buy?
There’s actually an easy answer to this! Because you aren’t committing to purchase every single pot or pan at once, you can buy one at a time. This will allow you to economically explore different brands, which will help you determine your favorites. Your favorites might be totally different than mine, or your mom’s, or neighbor Becky’s. Why go deep on a product you’ve never personally used?
If you are a total kitchen newbie (even if you’re not), I’d encourage you to honestly answer the following questions:
- Not only- How many mouths am I feeding?- but How many of them will eat what I cook?
- Are you meal prepping a few meals at a time? A few days at a time? A few weeks at a time? Or not at all?
- Frequency. Do you already cook/bake once a day, or once a week? -VS- How many meals a week would you like to cook/bake?
- Food you actually eat? -VS- Food you’d like to try?
- What metals or coatings are you averse to?
- Do you have any joint pains in your elbows or fingers? Weak wrists from a bad accident?
Answering these questions will help you make the most educated purchases. You might think you need an 8 quart pot, because you like the idea of meal prepping soup for the entire week. When in reality, you are the only one in the fam who likes soup, and honestly, you aren’t a huge fan of leftovers AND don’t have extra freezer space for storage. What good is that 8 quart pot for you?
Maybe you eat a ton of veg (big pat on the back) and roasting large batches all at once makes the most sense for your lifestyle. You get to use those veggies in stir fries, as sides, and often blended them up for a quick bowl of soup. Or, maybe you love making large batches of sweet treats like my Cornmeal Jam Bar Crunch? If that’s you, it would make perfect sense to purchase 1 or even 2 half sheet pans as opposed to only quarter sheet pans, often called cookie or cake sheets. Talk about maximizing oven space and time!
You’ve spent hours on Pinterest and purchased a few awesome cookbooks, but when push comes to shove, you’re not really going to make a rack of lamb… because you and your fam love ground beef and pasta. Sure, you might make lamb one day, but you shouldn’t purchase based off what might happen twice a year. At least for starters.
Aversions. Let me explain. Some friends of mine hate the idea of cooking with aluminum. Others feel anything with a silicon coating causes cancer. I prefer enamel, but personally don’t mind aluminum or silicon. Knowing what you absolutely can and will not allow in or on your cookware is important. I cannot stress this enough. Once you dive into the world of cookware, you’ll realize real quick how many options you have. There’s a whole world outside of Marshalls, TJ Max, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond.
Why would joint pain or weak wrists affect what you choose for your cookware basics? Imagine buying an entire set of cast iron but not considering the actual strength and capability of your hands, fingers, and wrists. Have you ever lifted and dumped the contents of a 14″ cast iron fry pan with one hand? Whew. Not for the faint of heart! As someone who has had several broken bones, sprains, and stitches over the years (combo of sporty and clumsy), I need to be aware of my limits before I pick up a pot or pan filled with boil hot liquid and realize that I “can’t”. It’s always a good idea to check the weights of a pot/pan before purchasing. That information is listed right on the box or website.
Armed with your honest answers, you are almost ready to begin researching!
Cookware Basics That Are Multipurpose
Multipurpose can mean several different things. So let me clarify my definition of multipurpose. I’m limited on space. I hate doing the dishes. I like pretty things. Mash those all together, and I start to ask myself questions like… is this fry pan also oven safe up to 500F? Could this casserole dish also work as my serving dish on a holiday table? Can my cooling rack fit inside my sheet pan and is it oven safe? Ever wonder how folks get their baked chicken wings crispy? Wings that get baked on a cooling rack are get extra crispy. Awesome. I know. How important is “dishwasher safe”? Or maybe you don’t mind hand washing certain things, so no big.
When you realize that everything in your kitchen can double, or even triple duty, you begin to push pause before making a purchase. Do I really want to purchase a casserole dish that’s only safe up to 400F (broiling is 500F for reference), that isn’t microwave safe, and that I wouldn’t want to serve a holiday dish out of? Probably not. Especially when you can just as easily purchase a freezer safe, microwave safe, oven safe, dishwasher safe, cute dish for the same price!
Research Research Research
We’re almost there. You’re loaded with info. But now comes the part where you’ll have to research. Working to find what fits your needs, lifestyle, budget, and style. This is why everyones 9 cookware basics, while similar in function, will be vastly different from each other. We each have our own needs, and therefore our cookware basics will be unique to fit those needs.
To be honest. Research is one of my least favorite parts of life in general. I am NOT that person who enjoys reading product reviews, watching tutorials, and trying to find the best deal. My husband, Dan, lives for that stuff. He could spend hours diving down the rabbit holes of google and Amazon and YouTube. If that’s you, this should be fun! If you’re like me, I’m so so sorry. Maybe phone a friend? Call for reinforcements? Bribe someone to do your dirty work?
Regardless of the feels, if your budget is tight, research will save you from wasting your money. So take your time. And do it right.
While I haven’t had access to every pot and pan on the market, I can vouch for the ones I’ve used and loved. Maybe the list below, and corresponding recomendations, will help you save some precious time. At the very least, it will be a great place to start!
My Personal Top 9 Cookware Basics List
These are a step up from the 10 and 12er I own! Which is why I'm recommending them here! I don't normally suggest sets... but in this case, I would have purchased both sizes separately so. Why not order together and save?!
Cast Iron Skillet
Lodge is the king of cast iron. It’s budget friendly and nearly indestructible. From searing steaks, to crisping up fried rice, to frying eggs. I use this bad boy more than any other pot or pan in my kitchen. I started off with a 12″ and have since added a 10″ to my collection. Found the 10″ to be better suited for breads and desserts… think cornbread, apple pie, and cinnamon rolls.
These pans are heavy. But because they’re heavy the sear and fry like no other pan. Because they are so heavy duty, you can actually turn the stove off and continue to cook on residual heat for a while! I’ve never made a better steak. Never made better fried eggs. Never had crispier potatoes than on this thing.
Sauté Pan with Lid
I have a 4 quart and find it perfect for roasting a 4 pound pork butt, making large batches of sauce, and throwing together pasta dishes. This is the pan I sear and roast pork butts in every month. Stove top to oven, keeping all that juicy flavor right where it needs to be. I have a variation of All-Clad, known as Emerilware, gifted during my Freshman year of college. Still use that same pan today!
I've had the pleasure of using this pan, and I still dream about that experience. Move from stove top to oven and back again without a stick in the world. I love the 12" because I love leftovers. If you don't dig leftovers and are solo or just 2, consider an 8 or 10" instead!
While my fry pan is also a variation of All-Clad, known as Emerilware, I dream of the day I can upgrade to this non stick from ScanPan. While I’ve never owned one, I’ve had the pleasure of cooking on one for years during my time as a sales rep for a boutique kitchen store. I’ve always had a 12″ and it’s never failed me. Great for searing, pan frying, and bustin out a mean frittata with little to no oil/fat.
Recommended add on: splatter screen. Because who like cleaning up gobs of oil or grease? I picked up my 14″ splatter screen from Lodge! It fits over every size pot and pan I own.
If you want to nerd out a bit, here’s a helpful bit on understanding the differences between a sauté and skillet also known as a fry pan!
1 to 2 Half Sheet Pans (18″ x 13″)
My Half Sheet Pan is actually an XL (20″ x 14″) and cooling rack insert are from USA Pan. There’s plenty of space for veg to roast instead of steam- which is important because you need plenty of space in between veggies in order for them to caramelize instead of turn mushy. I’ve roasted a spatchcocked chicken. Made dozens of cookies. Dehydrated orange slices. NACHOS. And nachos. I’ve had them for about a year, and they’ve both held up wonderfully. No complaints on my end!
Recommended add on: oven safe cooling rack insert (like the pair I own below)
1 to 2 Quarter Sheet Pans (9″ x 13″)
There is a difference between a Cookie Sheet, Half Sheet Pan, Quarter Sheet Pan, Jelly Roll Pan, and Full Size Sheet Pan. Yah. I know. Rock your word by poppin here for that info. Maybe you’ll decide one of these other sizes fits your needs better than the 2 options I’ve just listed.
Casserole Dish (at least a 9″x13″)
Casserole Dish (8″x8″)
I have both sizes in CorningWare and Pyrex for different reasons. Both are a dream. Both look clean and present nicely on any table. Often, these sizes come with a lid. Certainly recommended, or you’ll blow through a ton of foil.
Both are perfect for baked goods like cakes, brownies, cookie bars and jam bars. For casseroles, puddin’, baked potatoes, mac n’ cheese, and countless other main meal and side dish combos!
Large pot with lid (8 quarts)
Also knowns as a Stock Pot, which is ideal for pastas, soups, stews, stocks etc.
Medium pot with lid (3-4 quarts)
Also know as a Saucepan, which is great for every day cooking sauces, grains, and smaller amounts of liquid.
Both of my pots are also a variation of All-Clad, known as Emerilware. Again, I’ve had these for over 15 years at this point, and they’re still cranking along. My pots have clear lids, which I prefer. I’ve got my eye set on actual All-Clad and STAUB. We’ll see where life take me!
The reason I put this list together is, well, that I know how overwhelming this all is. What a money pit it can all be. How frustrated it is to not have the right tools. How annoying it is to walk into a kitchen store and be bombarded by a sales rep who really has no interest in understanding what you actually need to make your day-to-day life enjoyable.
I truly believe that for the beginner home cook even just 3 or 4 items off this list will make the biggest of differences! I know they’ve made a huge difference for me. Armed with this information, and the tidbits found in my Kitchen Basics in 7 Practical Steps, you can do some serious damage.
As you get more comfortable understanding you/your families needs, and the reality of how often you’ll “actually” be in the kitchen, you’ll be able to add other pieces to your line up. Like a Dutch oven. A wok. A paella pan. Or crepe pan.
And yes. The kitchen is so much more than just pots and pans. You can also check out my Kitchen Knives Guide which covers everything from how to select the perfect knife for you, as well as how to properly clean, store and sharpen!
Let Me Know!
If you found this helpful, let me know! Are there any Beginner Must Haves you feel I left off the list? Especially ones that are multipurpose and economical? Share down below!
And while you’re at it, Save to Pinterest or Share on Facebook. Because sharing is caring, and I’ll need all the support I can get to keep on growing this dream of mine. A dream that helps me help frustrated home cooks find joy in their kitchens.
Hugs, because handshakes are awkward~