In the Kitchen

Your Guide to Different Types of Pots and Pans, And When to Use Them

Pots and Pans. It’s a phrase often thrown around with cooking, but it’s not actually so easy to know which type of pot (or pan) you should be using in the kitchen. Does nonstick function the same as those other ones? (No). Can you stick a castiron pan in the dishwasher? (Definitely not). And, what’s the difference in sizing between small, medium, and large? Let’s get those details straight.

Small Pan

Think of a small pan as a frying pan: small, round, and used for one-ish servings of a protein or for another ingredient that won’t be the star of your meal. For cooking two eggs over-easy, a small pan is your go-to. Small generally means 8 inches in diameter. The pan can be a regular stainless steel or nonstick (more on that later), though in Plated recipes, we’ll always specify which to use. For our two serving plan, you’ll often be using a small pan.

Medium Pan

A step up in size, a medium pan should be about 10 inches in diameter and used for 2–3 servings of protein. These types are generally regular stainless steel, or nonstick if specified.

Large Pan

No surprise here. This pan is the biggest one you’ll need. Generally 12 inches in diameter, we use a large pan for cooking up hefty amounts of ingredients. Pro tip: when cooking with any size pan, if you’re sautéing or searing, you’ll want enough oil or butter to cover the entire surface area.

A few extra tips:

Stainless steel pots and pans are generally dishwasher safe, which makes them extra-easy to clean. If you’re without a dishwasher, though, stay away from using steel wool or other harsh scrubbing methods, which can cause damage. Always allow the pots or pans to completely cool before washing. Hard to remove food scraps can often benefit from soaking in hot water with dish soap.

Nonstick Pan

Nonstick cookware comes in all shapes and sizes. Nonstick (as the name suggests) is for items that could easily stick to the pan and be difficult to release, like fish or fried eggs. Another benefit to nonstick: it’s usually much easier to clean. For Plated meals, we sometimes recommend nonstick pans, and they follow the same sizing we use for regular pans (see above). Nonstick pans are sometimes ovenproof, but generally can’t withstand the high temperatures like cast iron and stainless steel.

Ovenproof Pots or Pans

This is a pretty self-explanatory descriptor, but when we say ovenproof, we are generally referring to a stainless steel or cast iron pan that can be placed in the oven. These are usually for dishes that begin on the stove and finish up in the oven.

Cast Iron

While we don’t often suggest cast iron pans (they can be complicated to clean), they definitely have an important place in the kitchen, largely because when they heat up, they stay that way. The key to cast iron pans, though, is seasoning them with a thin layer of oil, which bonds to the metal over time. Not looking to put in the work? Find one that’s enameled (like the one pictured above, or these other Staub ones) and you won’t need to season them or avoid putting them in the dishwasher. Anything overly saucy or acidic doesn’t have the best effect using a cast iron, so keep that in mind.

High-Sided Pan

When we suggest using a high-sided pan, it’s usually because something starts out as a simple sauté, then gets more ingredients, or is sure to become extra-saucy. Though there are many different sizes, three inches high will generally do the trick.

Small Pot

When we say small pot, we’re usually thinking of a stainless steel vessel, about 6 inches in diameter and able to contain 1.5–2 quarts, depending on height. Pots are often referred to as saucepans, so keep that in mind when shopping around. In Plated recipes, small pots are frequently used for boiling rice or other grains. When buying pots, make sure they come with tight-fitting lids, as we’ll often instruct to cover the pot.

Medium Pot

Though medium pots generally carry anywhere from 3–4 quarts of liquid, depending on height, we specify them as about 8 inches in diameter. A medium pot may be used for boiling grains for a larger recipe, as well as if other items need to be mixed into the grain, requiring more space.

Large Pot

Depending on its height, a large pot can either be the kind you’d think of for boiling pasta water, or a shorter soup casserole-style pot. Regardless of the height, when we think of a large pot, it’s generally 12 inches in diameter and used for boiling or cooking large quantities.


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