We love our frying pans and skillets, don’t get us wrong, but when we need to whip up a meal to feed our family and friends, we turn to the underrated cookware stars: the dutch oven, the stockpot, and the saucepan. These are our vessels of sacred liquids, our beholders of broth, our favorite oh-man-I-hope-this-chili-feeds-everyone partner, so we need the best versions of them.
If the idea of searching for pots and pans is too intimidating, we’ve also put together a guide on the best pots and pans sets. Truth be told, though, you’re much better off buying cookware one piece at a time — so why not start with your pots?
A bad pot can turn a smooth soup into a burned mess or make every boiling a toiling. These are our top picks for making sure every meal is as easy as it is tasty and plentiful.
Our dutch oven basically lives on the stove, and that’s not just because it’s heavy and we’re very weak. It’s our go-to for everything from gumbo to bread to deep frying. They’re great on the stovetop, in the oven, and even over the campfire.
They’re the kings of slow simmering and beasts of braising; their solid weight and construction carry heat extremely well and for long periods of time. We’re going to stick with enamel-coated cast iron dutch ovens here — in our experiences, they’ve got the best combination of function and ease of use.
Surprisingly enough, the Amazon Basics Enameled 6-Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven is actually kind of impressive. At $44.99, it’s a decent budget option that held up to standard dutch oven expectations. It’s not dishwasher safe, which is a bummer, but it lives up to its name: this is a basic dutch oven that’s great for novice cooks. That being said, we’d advise you to look into our professional choice, too.
So we’ll be honest, there isn’t going to be a huge gap between amateurs and pros here — a good dutch oven is a good dutch oven. Enamel and cast iron are two generally quality materials, so don’t worry about missing out on some ridiculously expensive version of the same product. And as well as the Amazon Basics dutch oven performs, it’s nearly impossible to beat our choice for pros.
The Lodge 6-Quart Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven is our favorite by a mile. For some reason, we find better success cooking with the classic red version more than any other color, but every version of this cookware is Instagram chic.
To be clear, this pot isn’t just for making stock. It’s a big pot with tall walls and a thick bottom for boiling pasta, simmering stews, creating sauces, and uh...making stock.
The things we’re looking for here are solid construction, good visibility (a dark interior makes a burned sauce look normal), a decent size, and easy-to-use handles. Lids are going to be lower on the importance scale, although they’re arguably more important for stockpots than any other form of cookware.
While a metal lid is ideal in terms of durability, a glass lid is going to perform just as well for the most part. Although glass doesn’t help visibility once the ingredients are producing steam and its possibility of shattering makes us a little uncomfortable, there won’t be any noticeable differences between the two materials a vast majority of the time.
The Tramontina Stainless Steel 12 Quart Covered Stock Pot is a fantastic option for home cooks. It’s a good size — you might not use all of it all the time, but it’s better to have it when you need it — and at a decent price of $45. It can handle enough chicken noodle soup to cure a sick household or make a stew that’ll last for the week.
Its base emulates the legendary cookware brand All-Clad. All-Clad cookware has a core of aluminum, which heats faster and more evenly than most other metals. This core is sandwiched between two layers of strong stainless steel. While we’d frown at the idea of just the base having the aluminum core for most cookware, it works fine for a stockpot. While All-Clad is known for its top-tier quality, it’s also known for its top-tier price, so a cheaper imitation is incredibly welcome.
On the other hand, the Cook N Home Stainless Steel 20-Quart Stockpot is the next step up in size if you want to break down a full turkey carcass or expect to cook for a massive group. It’s got the same kind of base as the Tramontina, but its sides are a little bit wider and thinner, which we prefer for such a large pot.
At $87.99, the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Stainless 12-Quart Stockpot is a beast. Unlike the earlier options, the entire pot is steel-covered aluminum for consistent heating throughout the pot. It’s a professional level piece of equipment at a home enthusiast’s price.
If you’ll only settle for the best, we’d advise the All-Clad Stainless Steel 16-Quart Stockpot. All-Clad is legendary for a reason, and their stockpot clearly shows why. Often well-imitated, All-Clad is rarely beat. At $199.95, though, the legend just might not be worth it. Stockpots are the one piece of cookware that can get by with the cheaper version of All-Clad’s aluminum core.
Sure, you can make your sauces in your 12-quart stockpot and have them come out perfectly, but let’s be real: No one wants to clean 12-quarts when you’ve only used 2 quarts.
Saucepans are perfect for those things you need to make in smaller quantities or keep simmering while you work on the main course. They’re great for everything from instant ramen to Béarnaise sauce.
Like all of our pans, we want a pan that’s got even and consistent heating to make our cooking a whole heck of a lot easier.
When it comes to quality without costs, the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel 3-Quart Saucepan is our choice. As we’ve mentioned before, Cuisinart does a pretty dang good job imitating All-Clad’s line of products at less than half the price of a new piece of All-Clad. This saucepan is no exception, with a thin, easy-to-hold handle that makes pouring or draining a breeze. It makes the perfect companion for a big skillet or sauté pan, allowing you to keep your gravy or glaze at the perfect temperature without being worried about burning it.
We’re sure it’s not a surprise at this point, but All-Clad once again thunders into first place here. The All-Clad Stainless Steel 3-Quart Sauce Pan is the gold (or rather, stainless steel-covered aluminum) standard, but brace for the price: $149.95.
A 4-quart version is available, but All-Clad’s pricing problem is probably at its worst here. At $238, this saucepan almost costs as much as a low-end stove. Quality is king, but at a certain point, we’d rather spend that cash on fancy ingredients or a new set of utensils than on an extra quart for a saucepan.