Pots vs. saucepans, skillets vs. sauté pans – learn about the different types of cookware and which pots and pans you actually need.
How many pots and pans do I need? What pots and pans do I need? You'll get a different answer depending on who you ask. For me, it's all about effiiciency and the enjoyment of cooking.
If you know me at all, you know I'm all about efficiency. I love finding simple ways to make mundane tasks a little easier, freeing up more time and energy for the things that matter to me.
Using the correct pot or pan not only results in tastier food, it also makes for a more enjoyable cooking experience. If you've ever tried to simmer sauce in a too-shallow pan or stir-fry veggies in a small skillet, you know what I'm talking about. But with all of the different terminology, it can be a little confusing to select the right pan, even if you're trying to strictly follow a recipe. No worries, I'm here for you!
I've put together a simple guide outlining different types of cookware, including common uses. You by NO means need all of these! Unless both your budget and kitchen space are unlimited, you're likely going to want to pick and choose. I've tried to organize by which pots and pans I find to be the most essential cookware but, of course, use your own judgment based on your cooking style and what you already have.
Of all the different types of cookware, these essential cookware items are the ones you'll find again and again on our Prep Dish meal plans, and the ones I constantly use myself. While there are tons of different choices out there, if you have these pots and pans, you'll likely be able to make just about anything you want.
What is it? A sheet pan / baking sheet is a rectangular, flat baking pan with a raised rim. Sizes vary (quarter sheet pan, half sheet pan, full sheet pan). I recommend having multiple sheet pans.
While you'll find cookie sheets listed separately below, you can absolutely use a baking sheet instead, especially if you're not a big baker.
What is it? A baking pan is a deep, usually rectangular pan designed to go in the oven. It can be made of glass, ceramic, metal, silicon, etc. I recommend having both a 9×13 and a 9×9 baking pan.
What is it? A small (1-2 quarts) pot is a deep, circular pot with two short handles, meant for the stovetop. You can use either a small pot or a small saucepan (see below) – you do not need both.
Uses: These are great for making sauces.
What is it? A medium (4 quarts) deep, circular pot with two short handles, meant for the stovetop. Similar to the small pot, you can use either a medium pot OR a medium saucepan (see below). You do not have to get both!
Uses: Medium pots work well for cooking grains (or cauli rice).
What is it? Large (8 quarts +) deep, circular pot with two short handles, meant for the stovetop.
What is it? Deep, circular pot with one long handle, meant for the stove top. 1-2 quarts
Uses: Small saucepans work well for low-volume items like sauces or my favorite paleo oatmeal.
What is it? Medium (4 quart) deep, circular pot with one long handle, meant for the stovetop. You can use a medium pot in place of a medium saucepan if you like.
Uses: Medium sauce pans work well for smaller batches of grain, like quinoa, or polenta.
What is it? a medium saute pan is a round pan with straight sides, 9-10 inches in diameter, 2-4 inches deep, with one long handle.
Uses: This pan works well for sauteing veggies or cauli rice.
What is it? A large saute pan is a round pan with straight sides, 10-13 inches in diameter, 2-4 inches deep, with one long handle.
Uses: This is useful for sauteing larger batches of veggies, especially items like kale that take up a lot of room before cooked. You could also use it in place of a skillet for dishes like this one skillet pork Cajun pork.
What is it? This is similar to a large saute pan, but deeper, 4-5 inches deep, for larger quantities or saucier items.
Uses: Anything you'd like to saute that's large in volume or has a sauce. It would work well for stir fry if you don't have a wok.
Types of Cookware – Nice-to Have
While I would not consider the below pots and pans to be essential cookware, they are nice to have if you do a lot of cooking.
What is it? Cookie sheets are rectangular, flat baking pans without a raised rim, though one edge is often slightly raised to enable easy removal from the oven. These are great if you make a lot of cookies because it makes it easier to get cookies off of the pan without squishing them out of shape.
What is it? Pie pans are round baking dishes, 1-1 1/2 inch deep with slanted sides. They're usually 8 or 10 inches in diameter, though sizes vary. These are not just for pies! Pie pans work great for frittatas as well.
Uses: Pies and frittatas.
What is it? A loaf pan is an 8×4 or 9×4, deep rectangular baking dish.
What is it? A round pan with straight sides, 10-13 inches in diameter, 2-4 inches deep, with one long handle that can go in the oven as well as on the stovetop. This could also be made of cast iron.
Uses: Anything you want to start on the stovetop but finish in the oven, like steak.
What is it? Deep, rounded pan with either one long handle or two short handles. Woks distributes heat evenly. They're great for stir fry but you can use a deep saute pan if you don't have a wok.
Uses: Stir fry!
What is it? Broiling is a method of cooking food in the oven at a high temperature, with direct heat generally coming from the top of the oven rather than the bottom. A broiling pan has two parts, both rectangular. The top has slots, allowing any liquid / drippings to drain into the deeper bottom pan below it.
Uses: Broiling pans are great for crisping up meat you cooked in the slow cooker or Instant Pot, like in this recipe.
What is it? A collapsible steamer basket is a metal steamer basket you can add to any pot of boiling water to steam things like veggies. This is a great choice for anyone who likes to steam on occasion but does not want another large cookware item taking up space.
Uses: Steaming veggies, like the broccoli in this firecracker chicken with chili sauce, broccoli and rice.
What is it? A skillet is a round pan with outwardly slanted sides, 9-13 inches in diameter, 2-4 inches deep, with one handle
Types of Cookware – Fun-to-Have
While not essential cookware, the below items are fun to have if you love to cook! These can also make great gifts.
What is it? A pan you can put vegetables or fish on that goes directly on the grill.
What is it? A large, flat, rectangular pan, great for foods that need to flipped, like pancakes. You can use a griddle like the one linked above that fits over two burners, or an electric griddle.
Uses: My favorite use for a griddle is pancakes!
What is it? Often made of bamboo to absorb moisture, tiered steamers enable you to steam multiple items at once.
Uses: Tiered steamers work for dumplings, meat and veggies.
What is it? A double boiler is a stack of two pots – the bottom pot is filled with water and the top pot, which nests on top, cooks food using the steam produced by the bottom pot. Great for melting chocolate without burning.
What is it? A standalone electric appliance, allowing you to grill items indoors.
Uses: Anytime you want to grill when the weather's not cooperating or you don't have time to fire up the grill. Try it with burgers!