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Cookware Buying Guide – Common Cookware

How do you choose the best cookware? Understanding the different materials used in making your pots and pans is the first step.


Common Cookware

Frying Pan (Skillet)

Frying pans, often referred to as skillets, feature moderately high, slightly flared sides and are used for frying, searing and browning food. They are excellent for cooking foods like cut onions and vegetables, chicken, steak, shrimp and more.


Quality frying pans are constructed with metals that conduct heat efficiently like stainless steel-wrapped aluminum, anodized aluminum, cast iron and lined copper. They are typically used to sauté food, which involves rapidly cooking ingredients in a small amount of fat.


Non-stick frying pans are often preferred for searing delicate items that have a tendency to stick or break apart such as fish, eggs, pancakes and stir fries. Cleaning a non-stick pan is easier than with a traditional metal-based frying pan, a benefit many people prefer. It is recommended that you look for non-stick and/or traditional frying pans with a thick base for even heat distribution.

Sauté Pan

Similar to a frying pan but with straight sides and often with a lid, sauté pans have a greater capacity for holding liquid than frying pans and a slightly wider cooking surface. Also like frying pans, they are often constructed with metals that conduct heat quickly, efficiently and evenly. Its wide, flat base allows for room to avoid crowding, which helps ingredients to brown quickly without burning or poaching them. Its straight sides help to keep liquids from spilling over the rim.

Their design makes sauté pans a good option for curries, mussels, risotto, smaller to medium batches of sauce and more. With the help of a secure-fitting lid (which prevents liquid from evaporating), sauté pans are also excellent for braising dishes like lamb shanks and root vegetables.

A comfortable, long sturdy handle enables you to manoeuvre the pan easily. Look for metal handles that are oven-safe or phenolic (made from heat-resistant plastic). Some models are outfitted with a second shorter handle for help when moving from the pan from stove to oven and from oven to counter.

Sauce Pan

An extremely versatile cooking tool, sauce pans are useful for more than making sauce. Designed for boiling and simmering, they are ideal for cooking rice, mashed potatoes, gravy, steaming vegetables, and reheating soup and other liquids.

A non-stick finish is worth considering when choosing sauce smaller pans to prevent food like oatmeal and reheated leftovers from sticking. A comfortable, stay-cool handle is desirable, and it should be long enough for two-handed carrying when the pan is full. Look for sauce pans that are not too heavy but still offer a feeling of substance. Inexpensive or poorly crafted aluminum sauce pans easily dent, burn, warp and develop hot spots.

Dutch Oven

The Dutch oven, sometimes referred to as a ‘casserole,’ is a large metal cooking pot ideal for frying, stewing, braising and anything that may need to go from the stovetop to the oven or vice versa. A Dutch oven is usually the largest, heaviest pot in a cookware set. It is generally wider and shallower than a conventional stock pot, making them easier to reach and see into, and provide a wider surface area for browning. Its solid heft provides high heat retention, which is ideal for keeping deep frying oil hot or maintaining a very low simmer over long periods of time. Dishes like soup, pulled pork, chili and large batches of tomato or meat sauce are well suited to cooking in Dutch ovens.

You might wish to consider Dutch ovens that have sturdy looping handles that are wide enough to grab with thick oven mitts. Its lid should be tight-fitting to retain liquid and moisture and heavy enough not to clatter when contents are simmering. Popular sizes include 6 to 8 quarts (5.7 to 7.6 litres) models. Some manufacturers make Dutch ovens from enamel, which produces a sturdy, often colourful and durable pot.

Stock Pot

In addition to making stocks, stock pots are useful for bigger jobs. They are ideal for pasta, soups, braised meats like pot roast, tomato and meat sauces, steaming lobsters, boiling or steaming corn, chili, canning and more. Home use models are typically available in sizes ranging from 6 to 20 quarts (5.7 to 18.9 litres). Some experts advise purchasing a pot that can handle most big jobs and that is small enough to store in your space. Desirable features can include a tapered rim for easy pouring, dishwasher safe cleaning capability, oven and broiler safe construction, and a tight-fitting lid to seal in flavour. A thick, heavy bottom helps prevent burning, scorching and sticking during longer periods of cooking.

Additional Cookware


Often featuring a basket design, a steamer has perforated holes in its base and sides, allowing steam to rise through to cook ingredients. When placed inside a covered pot or pan, steamers are effective for cooking broccoli, corn on the cob, Asian-style buns, chicken breasts, shrimp, fish, mushrooms, carrots, artichokes, zucchini and more. Steaming is a method of cooking many regard as health-promoting, as boiling ingredients can lead to greater nutrient loss when vitamins and minerals are leached into the water. Steamers are popular cooking tools for those on vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic and raw food diets.

Pasta Colander Insert

These perforated inserts are included with some cookware sets, often fitting securely within a stock pot. Pasta colanders are useful for boiling pasta and are easily removed from the water via two handles, for draining. They are also good options for steaming vegetables, corn, mussels and other seafood and more.


Lids are useful and sometimes essential components in cookware sets. Tight-fitting lids are necessary for keeping moisture in your cooling vessel and preventing liquid from evaporating. Some lids include a small hole or vent to allow excessive steam to escape, which in turn keeps the lid from rattling during use.