Pots and Pans: When to Use What

Welcome to the complete guide to your overwhelmingly confusing pot and pan collection. Here you’ll learn which types of pots and pans to use when you’re practicing different cooking techniques, as well as why the material that the pot and pan are made of matters.



This pot can be used to cook food in water (within a perforated insert [or strainer]) and steam food above the water line, depending on the perforated insert used. The larger insert is used for cooking within the water while the smaller insert is best for steaming above the water. The larger insert can also be used as a strainer for copious amounts of food.


This pot is similar to a multi pot but does not include the perforated inserts and is generally larger in both diameter and height than an average multipot. It is best used to boil pasta or seafood and cook stews, soups, or stocks (fitting to the name).


dutch-ovenDutch Oven

Characterized by its wide diameter and sides that are slightly shorter than the total diameter this pan is best used during slow cooking. It has two loop handles on the side for easy manipulation and a heavy lid that fits tightly atop it to keep the heat contained. It is best used when cooking stews, roasts, and casseroles.

pressure-cookerPressure Cooker

A pressure cooker has the same basic physical qualities of a saucepan with one major adjustment, it includes a lid that seals completely to allow trapped steam to increase the internal temperature and pressure (hence the name), which supports faster cooking times than conventional cooking methods.


double broilerDouble Broiler

This is the combination of two pots, one placed atop and slightly within the interior of the other. The bottom pot acts as a heat barrier between the ingredients and the heat source. It is best used when cooking delicate sauces that may separate if they are cooked over direct heat.


Fry Pan (Skillet)

The shallow flat-bottomed design of the fry pan is optimal for air circulation and provides the chef with easy access to the food (s)he may need to flip or turn during the cooking process. It is best used for frying, searing, and browning meats, fish, and vegetables.


A wok is a flat-bottomed pan with high sloped sizes that are designed to contain ingredients during the stir-fry cooking process. It is deeper than both a traditional fry pan and a saute pan which means that it can be used to (carefully) deep fry foods.

sauteSaute Pan

The sides of this pan (in relationship to its diameter) are marginally shorter than the sides of a saucepan, but taller than those found on a fry pan. It is best used for cooking with food that may need to be tossed, shaken, or stirred during the cooking process.


sauceSaucepan (similar design of a pot)

The walls of a saucepan are known for measuring about as tall as the pan is wide. This means that the wider the saucepan is, the higher the sides will stand. It is best used for boiling grains, making sauces and cooking anything that requires using a large amount of liquid.


The flat non-stick style of a griddle is designed to easily fit atop a stove over one or two burners for even cooking. It is best used to prepare foods like: pancakes, grilled cheese, and bacon, which cook quickly and benefit from large cooking surfaces.


grill-panGrill Pan

The grill pan faintly resembles the design of the griddle, but with a ridged cooking surface much like that of a traditional outdoor grilling surface. It is best used for grilling and searing foods at high temperatures, and is especially convenient if you do not have access to an outdoor grill.


This pan is easy to recognize by its rectangular shape.chicken It’s low sides are ideal for allowing the heat of the oven to reach as much of the food as possible during the cooking process. A roasting rack is often used in conjunction with the roaster, as a way to elevate the food from the cooking surface. It is best used in high temperature oven cooking.



In many cases the material that your pots and pans are made of matters just as much as the design. Choosing the material that works best for your cooking style is important as there is not one material that is inherently better than any other; there are only materials that work better in different situations.


Aluminum is relatively inexpensive but you get what you pay for and although it is a good heat conductor it does not react well to acidic and alkaline foods. It tends to corrode in the presence of these types of foods, which can affect the way they taste. While some aluminum pots and pans are designed to be dishwasher safe, it is best to handwash them instead.

anodizedAnodized Aluminum

If you choose aluminum as your cookingware material I would highly suggest this anodized aluminum. The special coating not only protects against corrosion but is also stick resistant, without compromising in heat conductivity. The one downside to this material is that it (like its uncoated counterpart) is not dishwasher safe.


cast-ironCast Iron

This material will definitely take some time to heat up, but the good news is that it heats evenly and will hold the heat well. It is best used for slow cooking and deep frying and can conveniently be used on top of the stove or within the oven. Cast iron is susceptible to rust and stains so it is suggested to clean them quickly and with a damp paper towel, rather than allow it to sit in soapy water for any extended amount of time.

copperLined Copper

These pots and pans conduct heat evenly and will both heat up and cool down quickly and efficiently, which is important when sauteing, and cooking, delicate foods. Since copper can form a poisonous film when met by moisture in the air these pots and pans are lined with tin, stainless steel, or silver to protect the foods they come into contact with.



This is a convenient coating added to pots and pans that assists in the cooking process of eggs and the reheating process of rice. It makes clean up faster and easier as the foods will not stick to the cooking surface, requiring a soak in warm soapy water. The downside to these are that the coating interferes with the heat source making it an unreliable material to use when cooking sautes.

porcelianPorcelain Enamel

Much like non-stick, this is another coating that is added to pots and pans that are made of other materials. This coating keeps the pots and pans from corroding and thus having any reaction with the food. This material cannot be used when frying or sauteing but is suitable to be used in the oven.


stainless-steelStainless Steel

Quite possibly the most versatile cooking material, stainless steel excels in most cooking situations because it does not react with acidic or alkaline materials and it will not corrode. The downside to this material is that it does not conduct heat well, or evenly. A copper core must be added to the bottom of these pots and pans to help with heat conduction.

tempered-glassTempered Glass

Can be used either on the stove top OR in the oven, depending on the type of tempered glass purchased. Since it is not heat responsive it is known to hold heat well, but unevenly, which can result in burnt areas. If you purchase flameproof tempered glass you can use it on the stove, in the oven, and in the microwave. If you opt for the less expensive ovenproof glassware, you will be able to use it to cook within the oven and the microwave, but not on top of the stove (unless you also invest in a diffuser).

Now that you know the different uses for each pot and pan as well as why their composition materials matter, you will be better prepared to more effectively, and efficiently, cook your future meals. This guide is merely that, a guide, to helping you understand the differences in design and material of different pots and pans to make your life in the kitchen easier. Do not assume that you need all new pots and pans, unless the one’s you’re using aren’t working for your individual needs. Remember that each cooking experience is specifically unique, and thus a specifically unique tool is recommended to accomplish greatness.


colored meal prep containers

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