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Ask Kelly: What pots and pans do I really need?

Welcome back to Ask Kelly, a regular feature where our Director of Programs Kelly Lake answers all of your burning kitchen and cooking questions. Have a question you'd like Kelly to tackle? Email it to

Q: What pots and pans do I need in my kitchen?

A: Not as many as you might think! Read on for our minimalist approach to maximizing a small kitchen.

The Pot: 8 Quart Stainless Steel Stockpot, $32

Every kitchen needs a pot, and whether you’re boiling some water for a quick pasta dish or simmering a big batch of soup all day long, this pot will get the job done. Stainless steel is virtually indestructible, so it will last for a long, long time. If you’re short on space or money, one big pot is all you really need. However, its size makes cleaning it a little tedious – which is why a small pot made it onto our honorable mentions list down below.

The Pan: 12 Inch Cast Iron Skillet, $26

We are a fan of cast iron because it is cheap, lasts forever (literally), sears like nothing else, and is easy to take care of once it is properly seasoned. The most amazing thing about cast iron is that the more you use it, the better it gets – you can’t say that about any other item on this list (or in your kitchen, for that matter). People get fussy about cast iron, but in my opinion all you have to do is scrub it after use with hot water and chain mail (it cleans easily), then rub it down with a little fat of your choosing (something that can handle high heat, saved up bacon fat is a great option) and dry it over a burner for a few minutes. Okay I’ll admit, it does sound a little fussy – but the whole process takes about 2 minutes and you’ll be rewarded with a true workhorse of a skillet for the rest of your life (not to mention perfectly seared steaks, fish, and veggies).

The Baking Sheets: Stainless Steel Half Sheet Pans (2 Pack), $26

Sheet pans come in handy for roasting vegetables, baking cookies, and – of course- making weeknight sheet pan meals. For a long time I used and loved the Nordic Ware Aluminum Sheet Pans, but after deciding it was time to break up with aluminum I switched to Stainless Steel Sheet Pans and haven’t looked back. I also line the pan with pre-cut parchment paper instead of aluminum foil when I’m anticipating an especially messy project.

The Braising Dish: Lodge 7.5 Qt Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $80

If you do any braising (and you should!) this is a great bargain. A similar Le Creuset or Staub braising dish will run upwards of $400. (And this one is just as pretty!) Great for moving from the stove top (for searing) to the oven (for braising), this doubles as an attractive serving dish as well. Just be sure to use wooden utensils, as the ceramic can get scratched by metal.

Honorable Mentions:

Small Nonstick Pan: 8″ Calphalon Ceramic Nonstick Pan, $33

If you do a lot of cooking for 1, a small, lightweight nonstick pan is worth investing in. Especially great for cooking eggs and reheating leftovers, it is dishwasher safe and more convenient for small jobs than the heavy cast iron pan.

Small Pot: 1.5 Quart Cuisinart Stainless Steel Sauce Pot, $17

It can’t do anything the larger pot can’t do, but if you’re cooking for 1 or 2 people, a smaller pot can come in handy for every day tasks like boiling water or heating up sauce.

Baking racks: Stainless Steel Baking/Cooling Racks, Set of 2, $14

Can you survive without these? Sure. But they make baked chicken or fish ten times tastier since the meat doesn’t steam in its own juices or get soggy on the bottom, and they allow any skin to crisp up all the way around. Place on top of  parchment paper and clean up is a breeze.





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