Weeknight Cooking

The Right Cookware For Every Dish

May 21, 2016

In the same way that you spring for certain recipes depending on your cravings—Absurdly Addictive Asparagus on the first 70º day of May, perhaps—your pots and pans are each uniquely suited for certain kitchen tasks. Knowing which one to pull from the shelf depends mostly on what you want to cook, but how you're feeling (or how much cleanup you feel like doing) can enter into the equation just as much.

The following are our favorite cookware materials, organized by when it makes the most sense to cook with them.

Photo by James Ransom

And if you'd like a heads-up, here's what we're covering:

For easy-does-it (and easy clean up) cooking... Non-Stick

When you're making eggs or reheating anything, you want a pan that stays slippery as silk over steady low heat. (We even love nonstick pots, too, from which soupy dregs can be wiped out with just a swipe.)

Breakfast loves a nonstick skillet:

For when you're feeling saucy (or acidic): Stainless Steel

Photo by James Ransom

Since stainless steel is non-reactive, it can hold up to even acidic ingredients like wine or tomatoes. And if you're going to make a pan sauce after browning, your stainless will catch more of those brown bits (called "fond") than any other, which means all kinds of flavor as soon as you deglaze it.

Pan-saucing, deglazing, and getting a damn good sear—what can a stainless steel skillet not do?

For when you need a pan that can do everything: Enameled Cast Iron

Photo by Bobbi Lin

In case grandma didn't leave you her perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet, an enameled version will act the part for shallow frying and searing, too. It's also nonstick, no seasoning required, and can handle acidic ingredients.

And caring for it, since it's A-OK to use soap on these puppies, couldn't be more of a breeze:

For the cook who is not-so-secretly a chemist: Copper

Photo by James Ransom

In addition to having naturally antimicrobial properties, copper is prized for its excellent heat retention (so your sauces won't separate, your chocolate will melt as if on cue)—and if they're lined with tin, you can cook alkaline or acidic dishes in them, too.

You might need the help of an expert to restore and tin vintage copper (we know one), but caring for it is easier than you think:

For bakers and oven-lovers: Ceramic

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Safe for slipping right into the oven, ceramic cookware is heavy-duty and versatile with a tough glossy finish—just take care not to drop it!

Bake your pastas, crimp your pie crusts:

For showing off those bubbly edges: Borosilicate Glass

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Borosilicate glass, which is so strong it's used to make beakers in labs, is our go-to material when we want a baking dish we can see through.

Just add trivet:

What's your favorite kind of cookware? Tell us which pot or pan you couldn't live without, in the comments.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • SandyToes
  • pierino
  • witloof
  • Susan Wozniak
    Susan Wozniak
Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


SandyToes May 24, 2016
For crepes, frying eggs over mellow heat, and grilling sandwiches my carbon steel crepe pan is a winner. My All-Clad Copper Core 12" skillet is a pure joy on my induction range, providing even heat and quick response. For cheesy skillet dinners I love my Zwilling Spirit Thermolon coated sauté pan. The matching 8" frypan is perfect for scrambled eggs and French omelets. My Zwilling Sensation sauté pan gets a lot of love, too. Honorable mention has to go to the 10" Bakers & Chefs stainless skillet from Sams Club. It's got as much aluminum in it's core as All-Clad, but only cost $19. Unbelievable bargain! My saucepans are all Vollrath commercial stainless wares, cheap and bulletproof. My skillets are rounded out by more carbon steel for searing steaks and smashburgers, a Staub skillet that i keep around for Kenji's pan pizza, and a pair of lonely nonstick pans that really need to be donated.

You're right about nonstick for soups, I've got an Anolon Nouvelle Copper 2-qt saucepan that's perfect for heating soups and leftover saucy things. Wouldn't trade it for the world.
pierino May 21, 2016
I must have one hundred or more pans and casseroles. Sometimes I forget that I actually own something already. What I'm using now depends on the job. I really like the Zwilling Madura Plus line for versatility. The deep 11" pan is especially useful. I like the fact that I can use it on every type of cooktop even the portable induction burner I keep around. After that I'm a big fan of the Emile Henry "Flame" series. I like earthenware because it breathes and takes on seasoning. Most earthenware vessels are tricky around gas flame but the Emile Henry can go right on the burner without a flame tamer.
witloof May 21, 2016
I have given away all of my non stick cookware and don't miss it. For most kitchen tasks that don't involve acid, an inexpensive Lodge cast iron skillet does a superb job. It is completely non stick when it is properly seasoned and can put a sear on food like nobody's business. For everything else, All Clad is definitely worth the investment. It is a joy to cook with. And I love my Le Creuset dutch oven for soups and beans.
Susan W. May 21, 2016
Why not copper lined with stainless steel? The tinning came off a copper stock pot the first time I used it, forty years ago. I could not find anyone in New England to reline it.

I love stainless steel, enameled cast iron and ceramic. I detest aluminum.