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.
You’ll want handles and a lid that are sturdy, heatproof, and secure. Handles come welded, riveted, or screwed. Some cooks advise against welded handles because they can break off. But Gayle Novacek, cookware buyer for Sur La Table, has seen few such cases. As long as handles are welded in several spots, they can be preferable to riveted ones because residue is apt to collect around a rivet.
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.
The volume expansion during the seasoning cycles is reversible. The diagrams and SEM images in Fig. 3(d–e) show the vertical formation and growth of Fe3O4 nanoballs. We can clearly determine that when an iron pan is seasoned at 450 °C, the smooth surface of the iron pan gradually becomes coarse during the first two cycles, and nanoballs begin to appear. Interestingly, the nanoballs shrink after the 3rd seasoning cycle (Fig. 3(d) and Fig. S2). For each seasoning cycle, the beef tallow first provides a low Po2 and then evaporates to provide a high Po2. During this process, the coordinate number of the surface iron atoms repeatedly changes between six and four. The formed Fe3O4 repeatedly shrinks and expands and finally large particles crack into small nanoballs.