Pots and pans for stocks, sauces, searing, and more.
Photo: Courtesy of the retailers.
Whether you cook only on occasion or consider yourself an amateur home chef, owning the right pots and pans for the job — from braising a pork shoulder to frying up eggs for breakfast — is essential. No one is more familiar with the intricacies and day-to-day use of cookware than professional chefs. And while they may depend on fancy brands like Mauviel in their work kitchen, at home, they’re cooking with decidedly more hardy (and affordable) hardware. (Hint: Everyone loves Lodge skillets.) So we asked a handful of chefs from some of our favorite restaurants to share their tips on the very best pots and pans for daily cooking. Here’s what they recommend.
In the incredibly wide world of cast-iron skillets, only one is consistently touted over Lodge, and that’s Joan from Butter Pat Industries. It’s polished, meaning your food is less likely to stick to its surface compared to other cast-iron skillets, and it’s lighter, too. Spending $200 plus on a skillet may seem a bit extreme, but the Joan comes with a 100-year warranty, so there’s no doubt that, in the long run, it’ll pay for itself and then some. “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 in a cast-iron skillet.”
We at the Strategist are huge fans of Lodge’s classic cast-iron skillet, which, at just $15, is not only a steal but also an investment. If you want to spend a tiny bit more, Lodge also offers a slightly pricier — but still ridiculously affordable — skillet with dual handles and gently sloping sides that make it similar to an especially heavy wok. “I can’t live without a Lodge cast-iron pan,” says New Orleans–based chef and restaurateur Alon Shaya. “From frying eggs to making a delicious saffron Persian rice, it always comes in handy and never disappoints.”
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. “My new favorite pans are the cast-iron pans by Smithey,” says Steven Devereaux Greene, the executive chef at Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina. “They come pre-seasoned and built to last. They cook unbelievably even and hold the temperature longer than most pans I’ve used.”
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 and its “double” Dutch oven. “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.” She says she also bakes bread in the double Dutch oven, which has a lid that doubles as a 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 beauty of a lidded frying pan is not only can you whip up 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.”
Back in 2017, we asked chefs for recommendations on the kinds of pots and pans they use in a professional manner, and the name Mauviel came up time and again — and three years later, it’s still among the best. “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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
A great rondeau can be the workhorse of your kitchen if you let it. These large pots are ideal for big meals, braising, stewing, and even dessert-making. “I use it to make gelato, fruit preserves (especially in the summer months), perfect browned butter, and it’s my favorite to make quick but evenly cooked brittles,” says Paola Velez, executive pastry chef at Maydan and Compass Rose in D.C. and co-founder of Bakers Against Racism. “But what I love about it the most is how much surface area it has for quick evaporation.”
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. 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.”
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