Owning a ton of pots and pans isn’t necessary (even if you cook a lot). But owning a mix of the right ones is. No one is more familiar with the intricacies of day-to-day cookware use than chefs, and while some depend on fancy, professional-grade brands like Mauviel in their homes just as much as their work (and recommend them if you can afford it), most say a mix of dependable stainless steel, decent nonstick, and workhorse cast-iron (everyone loves Lodge skillets) cookware does the trick for anything and everything you’d need to whip up in the kitchen.
We asked a handful of chefs from some of our favorite restaurants to share their thoughts on the very best pots and pans for daily cooking. Here’s what they recommend.
The best cast-iron skillet
Yes, we just said that everyone loves Lodge skillets. And that’s true. But if there is one cast-iron skillet that might have a leg up on Lodge, it’s Joan from Butter Pat Industries. It’s polished, which the Lodge isn’t, meaning your food is less likely to stick to its surface, and it’s lighter, too. “The Joan from Butter Pat Industries sits on my stove perpetually, waiting for the next use,” says North Carolina chef Katie Button of Katie Button Restaurants. “I use it for just about everything that I could possibly use it for, and sometimes for more than I should. Steak, scallops, fish, vegetables — they all brown up perfectly.”
[Editor’s note: This skillet is backordered, but you can pre-order it now and it will ship when it’s back in stock, according to the retailer.]
The best (less expensive) cast-iron skillet
We at the Strategist are huge fans of Lodge’s classic cast-iron skillet, which, at just $18, is not only a steal but also an investment. If you want to spend a tiny bit more, Lodge also offers this slightly pricier — but still ridiculously affordable — skillet with dual handles and gently sloping sides that make it similar to an especially heavy wok. “This pan will last you forever,” says Daniel Cutler, co-owner and chef of Ronan in Los Angeles. New Orleans–based chef and restaurateur Alon Shaya can’t live without his. “From frying eggs to making a delicious saffron Persian rice, it always comes in handy and never disappoints,” he says. Because the pans are so durable, if you want to spend even less money, Lani Halliday, founder and owner of Brutus Bakeshop, notes that you can often find them at thrift shops, yard sales, and antique stores, too. “All you have to do is clean them up,” she says.
The best cast-iron skillet set
Anyone looking to buy one, and only one, set of skillets for the rest of their life should invest in the pricey but long-lasting skillet set from Smithey, an ironware company based in North Charleston, South Carolina. Steven Devereaux Greene, the executive chef at Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina says they’re his new favorite pans. “They come pre-seasoned and built to last. They cook unbelievably even and hold the temperature longer than most pans I’ve used.”
The best griddle
No less than six chefs we spoke with declared their unending love for Lodge, and if you already own its skillet, consider stocking up on its equally beloved griddle. “The griddle lives on top of our stove nonstop, and we basically use it like a restaurant flat top,” says Gracie Nguyen, the chef and owner of East Side Banh Mi in Nashville. “Bacon, eggs, hash browns, handmade tortillas, pressed sandwiches, searing meat and fish. It gets so hot and cooks super-even.”
The best carbon steel pan
Sometimes cast-iron pans can be a little too hard-core, especially when cooking delicate foods like crêpes and seafood. Carbon-steel pans, with their smoother surfaces and lighter weight, are ideal for having all the qualities of cast iron minus the rough surface. “They basically act like a nonstick if they’re well-seasoned,” Cutler says. Luckily, chef-favorite Lodge also makes carbon-steel pans. “I use mine for everything from paella to pressing Cubanos because they are quite heavy,” says chef Jordan Wallace, the culinary director of Denver’s Pizzeria Locale. “And over a coal or wood fire camping, these are clutch.”
The best Dutch oven
“Le Creuset pans are workhorses, and they’re made to really, really last,” says Sohui Kim, chef at Insa. “They’re very durable, conduct heat tremendously well, and look super nice.” She uses hers for brazing, soups, stock, anything she wants to stick into the oven, and even a “lazy bowl of quick instant ramen.” If you’re interested in a Dutch oven but don’t want to invest quite so much (though, we really do believe it’s worth it), check out our reviews of the best Le Creuset dupes.
The best (smaller) Dutch oven
A few years ago, Strategist editor Maxine Builder wrote about her surprising affection for Staub’s very mini Dutch oven. At first, she thought it was so small it wouldn’t be useful. Turns out, she ended up turning to it all the time for rice, lentils, oatmeal, kimchi jjigae, braised chicken thighs, and more. “The pot is pretty much all you need for two people,” she says. “I bust this out at least three times a week.”
The best nonstick frying pan
If you’re the kind of person who likes a quick, no-fuss breakfast that you can clean up in a jiffy, you’re going to need a dependable nonstick frying pan. “We go through a ton of eggs, and we use the Zwilling nonstick almost every morning to cook eggs, whether they’re scrambled, fried, or the Spanish-style huevos con puntilla,” says Button. “A nonstick makes those turn out perfectly.”
The best nonstick frying pan set
“This is the best nonstick deal you’ll find,” says Cutler. “I like that they’re anodized [a heat treatment done to the aluminum to turn the surface nonstick] as opposed to coated with Teflon, which is toxic if it gets scraped up.” Nonstick isn’t meant to last your whole life the way cast iron is, even if you take good care of it. But after a couple of years of everyday use, Cutler’s pans are only just now starting to show some wear.
The best lidded frying pan
The beauty of a lidded frying pan is not only can you toast a grilled-cheese sandwich in it, but you can also fry up alliums, deglaze, and start a hearty stew all in one. Robert Guimond, the chef and owner of restaurant Public Display of Affection in Brooklyn, swears by his All-Clad. “I love this sauté pan because it cooks evenly, it’s durable, and it’s beautiful,” he says. “I often find myself daydreaming about sautéing some gnocchi or scallops with it right after I’m done washing it.”
The best DTC frying pan
The Always Pan is actually more of an everything pan than a frying pan. You’ve probably seen the do-it-all cookware targeted to you on Instagram in one of its many gorgeous colors, boasting that it can fry, braise, steam, and more. Turns out, it holds up. Halliday has been coveting the Always Pan, which is from a queer- and POC-owned company, ever since she started using one at her friend Eric See’s kitchen at Ursula in Brooklyn, where she sells her pastries. “The weight, the shape, the size, the finish are all excellent,” she says. Not only does it come with its own spatula that has a specialized nesting spot in the handle and a steamer basket that fits perfectly inside, but the “proportions are such that it really works for so many things. It’s shallow and sleek enough to fry an egg in, but deep enough to make sauces in,” she says.