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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.
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
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.
Demeyere Apollo Sauté Pan with LidFrom $219
Demeyere Apollo Saucier PanFrom $169
Cristel Space-Saving Fry Pan, 10.2"From $44
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
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.
Staub Fry PanFrom $99
Staub Round CocotteFrom $269
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
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
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!
Laurel Pie Dish$125
Bake your pastas, crimp your pie crusts:
For showing off those bubbly edges: Borosilicate Glass
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.