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.”
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.
The best professional cookware set
“We got our copper Mauviel pots and pans as a gift,” Cutler admits, “but if I had unlimited money, I would only use these.” They’re a dream to cook with, because “copper conducts heat, retains heat, and then cools down in an incredibly exacting way,” he explains. “Stainless steel is decent at that, too, but not quite as good. Copper just gives you ultimate control.” (Cast iron, for its part, holds piping-hot temperatures really well, but takes a long time to cool down.)
If you want to keep your copper cookware looking like it has a place in Gusteau’s in Ratatouille (i.e., sparkling clean), people swear by Bar Keepers Friend. Cutler, however, has let his grow a patina over time. “I wash it with hot soapy water and an abrasive sponge as soon as I’m done cooking, because otherwise it’s hard to get food off — but that’s it,” he says. “I don’t mind the aged look.”
The best professional saucepan
Mauviel also makes stainless-steel cookware that is considered the best of the best. Back in 2017, we asked chefs for recommendations on the kinds of pots and pans they use in a professional manner, and the brand came up time and again. Four years later, that still stands. “This is a stockpot, where you begin your stocks for sauces that become demi-glaces and rouxs to be used in mother sauces like béchamel and velouté,” chef Bryan Hunt of Crafted Hospitality told us. “This is my most important building block for developing flavor.” At $225, it isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a pot with pedigree, you can’t do better than Mauviel.
The best professional (smaller) saucepan
If you love the idea of owning Mauviel cookware but can’t quite afford such a big set, consider their butter warmer. It is, of course, good for that singular purpose — but also, according to Flynn McGarry, the owner and head chef at New York City’s Gem restaurant, “you can heat up any sauce with it.”
The best (less-expensive) saucepan
If you don’t have Mauviel money, then your next best bet is to go for an All-Clad three-quart, which costs as much as a 1.7-quart Mauviel but is nearly double the size. “I use the All-Clad three-quart because it’s perfect to cook one or two portions of risotto,” says chef Jamie Knott of the Saddle River Inn & Cellar. “It has a heavy bottom, heats evenly, and lasts forever.”
The best rice cooker
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with electric rice cookers, but if you’re interested in cooking rice the old-fashioned way, you may want to consider investing in a gorgeous ceramic rice cooker. Chef Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s and Mamahuhu loves the Kamacco, which has been produced in Japan by Tsukamoto Pottery since 1864. “It has a double lid that helps concentrate steam to cook rice better,” Jew says. “The pot can go over a low flame on the stove, but recently I took it camping with me and was able to cook rice over an indirect campfire. It can be used for heating things up, like stews, and retains heat really well, so serving food in this vessel will keep food at the table hot longer as well.”
The best sauté pan
If you’re cooking larger quantities of food, like a risotto or seafood pasta, consider the saucier pan, which is slightly taller than your standard frying pan. “A large sauté pan with two-thirds-inch sides is the most important pot you should own,” says chef Tony Cacace of Jackson’s Eatery. “It’s perfect for almost anything that has a longer cooking time but needs a gentle hand. It will handle everything from oatmeal and black-rice porridge for breakfast to risotto for dinner and ice-cream bases for dessert.”
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