Are your kitchen cabinets cluttered with a random assortment of pots and stray pot lids, some of which never see the light of day? I feel you. When the hubby and I first got married many moons ago, we dutifully registered for a full set of shiny cookware. But over the years I’ve realized that a complete set of cookware, while it may be matchy-matchy and pretty to look at, isn’t really the way to maximize usage out of your cookware and streamline your kitchen. That’s why today I’m sharing the only cookware you’ll ever need — promise!
Start small with this little 1.5 quart saucepan, which is perfect for making gravy to go with a beautiful roast chicken. Alternatively, reheat soup or melt chocolate to drizzle over a scoop of ice cream. Either way, you’ll need a small saucepan, and this KitchenAid saucepan has a copper core, which helps for fast, even heat distribution.
A stockpot is a large pot with tall sides that’s good for making — well, stock. The high sides allow you to add lots of water without splashing, and there’s plenty of room for a whole chicken. But beyond making stock (because really, who has time for a whole day dedicated to making chicken stock when you can buy it), a stockpot is also an essential for cooking pasta, making stews or even having a stovetop shrimp boil. This All-Clad Stainless Steel Stockpot isn’t the cheapest, but it’s lightweight yet sturdy. With All-Clad’s lifetime warranty, it’s worth it to spend a little on this stockpot, because you will literally use it forever.
Like a good pair of shoes or a fabulous leather handbag, the Staub 5.5-Quart Round Cocotte is the investment showpiece in your kitchen. It’s pretty enough to stay on your stove all the time, ready to spring into action for the next braised pork shoulder or fall-apart beef short ribs over creamy grits. Don’t skip the steamer basket insert, which turns this handy little Dutch oven into a super useful way to steam veggies. Sometimes I’ll boil quinoa or pasta in my Cocotte while also steaming broccoli for the kids at the same time. The first time I did it, the pasta turned out al dente and the broccoli was that perfect bright green and crisp-tender, and I only had one pot to clean up afterwards. Mind. Blown.
A heavy-bottomed round braiser — a pan with rounded, low sides and a domed lid — isn’t just for making delicious wilted greens with hearty meatballs. The braiser pulls double duty, with its wide, flat surface, making it the ideal non-stick surface for caramelizing onions, or sauteing large amounts of veggies for a soup or spaghetti sauce. The large 5-quart version is better suited for families, and make sure you measure your stovetop before investing.
The real no-brainer on this list is this Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet. It’s affordable and, when seasoned properly after each use, will last you a lifetime. Use it to sear steaks, then finish them in the oven; make skillet cornbread or the softest, meltiest chocolate chip cookie. Advice abounds online about how to properly season your cast iron, but for me, I find that the easiest no-fuss option is to use running water (no soap) and steel wool to clean off the grime after cooking, then wipe it down with a clean dishtowel. Then, put the skillet back on the stove over low heat and pour 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of coarse salt into the skillet, moving the skillet around over the burner to spread the oil and salt evenly over the surface of the skillet. Let the oil and salt mixture simmer for a few minutes, then turn off the heat and let the skillet cool completely. As a last step, wipe out the oil and salt before storing the skillet.
You didn’t think I’d make this list without including something British, would you? I discovered UK-made Falcon Enamelware when we moved here, and I have to say that the pieces in this 5-piece bake set is one of the most-used items in my kitchen. Enamelware dates back to the 1870s and is basically coated tin or aluminum, which makes these pieces incredibly light and virtually indestructible. I’ve roasted salmon, made spicy zucchini casseroles, and browned the top of a creamy mac and cheese in my Falcon Enamelware bake trays, and each time the dishes have come out evenly baked and gorgeous. The kicker? These baking dishes are incredibly easy to clean; for tougher or stubborn stains, use Barkeeper’s Friend Cookware Cleanser, which will leave your bakeware white and shiny again.
No kitchen is complete without at least one lightweight non-stick skillet for scrambling eggs and pan-searing delicate fish. Unlike cast iron, which sometimes might be temperamental for cooking softer foods, a good non-stick will release even the daintiest foods. Calphalon’s nonstick cookware consistently shows up as some of the best around, but be aware — nonstick coating will eventually wear out, meaning you’ll have to replace it more often than any of the other cookware items on this list. Save some money by buying these Nordicware tempered glass lids to cover your pots while still being able to see inside.
Okay, so is the Instant Pot technically an appliance? Sure, but this appliance replaces so many other cookware items that you’d otherwise need that it deserves a mention. When we moved from the United States to London, I left behind all of our countertop appliances because the UK runs on 220-volt power (the US runs on 120 volt). I shuddered at thinking about all of the money we’d spend replacing our beloved rice cooker, slow cooker and pressure cooker — until I realized that the Instant Pot would fill all of those gaps. The Instant Pot is now a daily use item in our household, from setting up oatmeal to be ready in the morning to making a quick weeknight chickpea curry. The Ultra version is available in a variety of sizes, from an adorable 3-quart version (perfect for two-person households) to the mega-giant 8-quart version (for large families); it also includes a “multigrain” function for cooking quinoa or mixed wild rice and a “cake” function for — well, cake.
Okay, so a roasting pan isn’t something you’ll use every day, but it’s one of those “when you need it, you need it,” items. A roasting pan fitted with a wire rack is important to have because excess fat — whether it’s from a pot roast or a whole chicken — can drain off of the meat while it’s cooking and allow the bottom of the meat to become nice and crispy as well. In addition, the heat from your oven circulates more evenly around the meat, allowing for a more even cook. This Imperial Home version is on sale for $20, down from $60, making it a no-brainer.
Rounding out the only cookware you’l ever need is this gleaming All-Clad Stainless Steel 3-Quart Saute Pan. If you’re short on funds, make this purchase the last on your list, because a good nonstick skillet with a matching glass lid and your cast iron skillet will carry you a long way before you’ll find yourself reaching for this one. A stainless steel skillet is lighter than a cast iron, making it preferable to some who don’t want their kitchenware to be heavy. Plus, this All-Clad pan is ovensafe, making it a great option for searing meats before adding some braising juices (like chicken stock) and finishing your meal in the oven. Again, at $230, it’s not a bargain, but All-Clad’s fantastic lifetime warranty makes this a worthwhile investment piece. As with Falcon Enamelware, you can clean stainless steel cookware and restore its shiny surface with Barkeeper’s Friend Cookware Cleaner.