Rather than having a rack filled with stock pot and pans of all shapes and sizes, owning a few well-chosen pieces will give you the flexibility to cook whatever you want and the performance you need to cook it better.
I polled some of our authors to find out which pans were the most valuable to them and why. I then came up with six pieces, starting with two indispensables: an anodized-aluminum stockpot to handle stocks, soups, stews, some sauces, blanching, boiling, and steaming; and a high-sided stainless-steel/aluminum sauce pan with a lid for frying, deglazing sauces, braising small items like vegetables, making sautés and fricassées, cooking rice pilafs and risottos, and a whole lot more. The other four pieces I picked make for even more cooking agility and add up to half a dozen ready-for-action pots and pans that you’ll really use (see For every pot, there’s a purpose…).
All good pans share common traits
In a well-stocked kitchen store, you’ll see lots of first-rate pots and deep fry pan. They may look different, but they all share essential qualities you should look for.
You get more heat. Mass holds heat (heat is vibrating mass, so the more mass there is to vibrate, the more heat there will be). The more grill pan there is to heat, the more heat the pan can hold, so there’s more constant heat for better browning, faster reducing, and hotter frying.
For sautéing and other cooking that calls for quick temperature changes, a pan should be responsive. This means that the fry pan is doing what the heat source tells it to, and pronto. For example, if you sauté garlic just until fragrant and then turn down the flame, the pan should cool down quickly so the garlic doesn’t burn. Responsiveness isn’t as crucial for boiling, steaming, or the long, slow cooking that stocks and stews undergo.