Brides-to-be have been asking me for years what they should register for. Now that my son is marrying a smart, beautiful, wonderful girl who likes to cook, I have finally decided to post a list of each and every pan you want in order to have a well-equipped kitchen. My recommendations are based on spending most of our days (I work with my husband, David) creating recipes for magazines, cookbooks, restaurants and corporate clients. Together, we are like the crash test dummies of the kitchen. We learn the flaws and advantages of tools, pots and pans, and equipment very quickly.
Let’s start with the type of cookware, and then we will get to the specific pieces you’ll need.
Get really good nonstick for everyday use: I read somewhere that 90% of cookware sold in the US is nonstick– and that makes sense. Nonstick pans make cooking and cleanup easier and require less fat (oil in the pan). But you don’t want just any nonstick cookware: flimsy pans can easily overheat and degrade. That is not the case with the good stuff, though. We work with a number of cookware brands, and the pans we choose to to use for our own meals and much of our work are Anolon Nouvelle Copper. They heat evenly and they don’t scratch. I also like the way they look– and that counts. You are going to be looking at your pots and pans for a long, long time, so register for cookware you find visually appealing.
Cast iron: A cast iron skillet gets very hot and holds its temperature well. It goes from stovetop to oven, which means you can brown chicken and then bake it. I often serve food directly from it, because I love its old school, rustic look. We use ours to make dinner, dessert and everything in between. (Check out this complete meal in just one skillet.)
The Best Size and Shape Pans to Register For
Here is a list of the pans it takes to create a well-equipped kitchen. To get exactly what you want and need, you are often better off choosing them individually than buying a set. The list below comes out to 10 pans in total (which is about the size of many cookware sets), plus 5 pieces of bakeware and some stoneware (the oven-to-table-to-freezer baking dishes you will use forever). I have linked to specific brands I like– but regardless of the brand, take a look at the links to better understand the size and shape.
12-inch skillet with angled sides: This is the workhorse of the kitchen. It is the pan in which you’ll sear chicken breasts or pork chops for dinner. It is the pan you’ll use more than any other. Note that it is different from a skillet with straight sides. (See Braiser, below.)
8-inch skillet: Perfect for cooking an egg or two, melting butter, cooking a little garlic.
12-inch cast iron skillet: Cast iron goes from stovetop to oven and retains heat really well. It also looks great on the table, especially when you get an enamel-coated one like my personal favorite, shown below. (We created this super easy, super impressive Banana Bread to showcase the pan.)
It boils down to (cooking pun, get it?) this: you need a small, medium and large pot. Below, I have listed 2, 4 and 8 quart sizes, but if it was 3, 5.5 and 8, for example, that would also work. A good way to think about it is that your small one should be just big enough to cook 1 cup of rice and the large one to cook 1 pound of pasta.
2-quart: To cook rice, quinoa and couscous; heat up sauce or a little soup
4-quart: Cook pasta for two, rice or quinoa for a gang (or the week), blanch vegetables
8-quart stockpot: To make pasta and soup
These large, heavy pots with lids are perfect for cooking pot roast or brisket, mussels or cioppino, or basically any dish you braise (cook in liquid), particularly for a long time, such as stew. Dutch ovens come in many sizes and depths.
Large deep Dutch oven: Owning one of these is nearly incentive enough for a vegetarian to make pot roast. But you needn’t be a meat eater to lust after a Dutch oven: it is perfect for ratatouille. This is the pot in which your Grandmother made Sunday dinner, and from which all those great smells emanated. Every home needs one, even if you don’t use it often.
Braiser: This shape pan goes by many names, (sauté, rondeau, brazier) but you are basically looking for a less deep Dutch oven. To say it another way, it is a straight sided, deep skillet with a lid. It may be part of your everyday cookware (it might be bundled in a set) or it may match your larger Dutch oven. I prefer the latter, since the braiser is, like all my cast iron, something I like to bring to the table (or the buffet spread).
Cast iron: I like a good, heavy cast iron grill pan that I can get really hot. A thick steak (be it beef or swordfish) can get a beautiful sear on top of the stove, and finish cooking in the oven. This beauty is expensive, but worth it. This classic one does an equally good job cooking for a whole lot less money, but you will need to keep it well-seasoned.
You will need one roasting pan, and it should last you forever. Get a really nice one, like this, for roasting turkey, prime rib and other large hunks of meat or large birds. A roasting pan can never be too big (unless you have an unusually small oven), but it can be too small.
Bakeware (It’s not just for baking!)
Baking sheet pans (and racks): You can never have too many of these. This is the pan on which you roast asparagus, cauliflower and whole pork tenderloins; bake cookies, chicken breasts and thighs, and so very much more. We use our baking sheets nearly every day, and often make our entire dinner on them. Register for two.
Muffin pan (and frankly, a mini muffin pan, because they are so much fun)
Loaf pan – meatloaf, quick breads and more
9-inch spring form pan: This round pan has removable sides, which means it is really easy to get the cake out of the pan. Even if you don’t bake much, you will likely eventually want this. Recipes that call for a springform pan cannot be made in a regular cake pan.
9-inch round cake pan: You need two of these to make a layer cake.
9 x 13 baking pan: For casseroles, sheet cakes and bigger batches of bar cookies. I tend to bake casseroles in stoneware, which is pretty on the table, and cakes and bar cookies in these metal pans.
You want stoneware that goes from the oven to table, in the microwave, dishwasher, and freezer. The links below are to one of several brands I use. Pick a good brand, and then choose a color or colors you’d like on your table. (I tend to go for ivory, white, blue and red: four colors that make food look great).
Oval gratin: Perfect for side dishes, like vegetables and potatoes. These look lovely on the dining table or buffet, because it’s nice to break up all the square and rectangular shapes.
9 x 13 Rectangle: Lasagna, most casseroles and fruit crisps are usually made in a 9 x 13 baking pan. If you think you will be hosting barbecues or other gatherings (including holidays) it would be useful to get a couple.
Trivet Get a pretty trivet to rest hot pans on when they come off the stove or out of the oven. Pick one that goes with your kitchen or dining room decor.
Ultimately, I hope that no matter what pans you get, you have as much fun in the kitchen together as we do.
Please note: We have financial relationships with many, but not all, of the cookware companies to which I have linked above, although I am in no way compensated if you buy your cookware from them. I am not being compensated to write this post, although I think I may receive pennies if you buy product through the Amazon links.