Essential Kitchenware for Modern French Cooking

Bistro cooking relies on fundamental cookware, and we have favorites in each category.

Wandering around Paris while munching on a croissant or popping into a boulangerie for a baguette is magic. But there's another staple of French cuisine that we love just as much: a leisurely dinner at a comfy, cozy bistro. Our latest cookbook, Modern Bistro, doesn't come with a view of the Eiffel Tower, but it allows you to replicate the experience at home. Bistro cooking relies on fundamental cookware such as Dutch ovenscarbon-steel skillets, and saucepans. After years in the kitchen testing these products, we have strong favorites in each of these categories. This week’s guide has all the cookware you need to make these comforting, classic recipes at home.

—Carolyn Grillo, Senior Editor, ATK Reviews

This reliable pot performed almost as well as a traditional cast-iron Dutch oven. Its fully clad construction ensured stellar heat retention and distribution, helping it sear meat efficiently and evenly. Its broad cooking surface meant that we didn’t have to sear meat in extra batches, and its large, easy-to-grip handles and low, straight sides allowed us to maneuver and reach down into the pot with ease. It was large enough to fry in, and it baked bread adequately, though its loaf was not as satisfyingly browned and crusty as those from our favorite cast-iron pots.

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Like our favorite highly recommended full-size Dutch oven, this smaller pot’s light-colored interior and low, straight sides allowed us to easily monitor browning, and its large looped handles made it easy to move, even when filled with 4 pounds of short ribs. It had excellent heat retention, and French fries emerged golden brown and crispy. The one drawback? Its shorter stature meant that a pile of short ribs were slightly cramped; however, the end result was still excellent.

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This budget-friendly pot aced nearly every test: White rice was fluffy, meatballs were browned, and French fries were crispy. We liked its light interior, which allowed us to easily monitor browning. Though its helper handles were a bit smaller and the pot was nearly a pound heavier than the Le Creuset, it was still fairly easy to lift and maneuver. The Cuisinart’s smaller size and cooking surface did mean that a full batch of short ribs were a bit too snug and we could fit fewer meatballs. Overall, though, this is an excellent Dutch oven at a bargain price.

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Our top-ranked braiser had several features that contributed to a solid performance in test after test: a light interior that made it easy to monitor browning; a moderately thick bottom that helped ensure good heat retention and even browning; a generous cooking surface that fit every recipe from whole chicken to meatballs to pork ragu without crowding; and large, comfortable looped handles and a stainless-steel lid knob that gave us a secure grip, especially important when the pan was heavy and full of hot food. While pricey, this versatile braiser made great food, was easy to use, and looked good enough to double as a serving dish.

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This pan performed just as well as our favorite braiser but had smaller handles that were tough to grasp. Because of its thicker cooking surface, it took a bit longer to heat up and to brown chicken thighs. This braiser had the largest cooking surface area, which ensured proper liquid reduction and a rich, flavorful ragu. It was easy to clean and withstood being whacked with a spoon and having its lid slammed down repeatedly. This pan delivered excellent results at a bargain price.

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Our previous favorite still excelled with power; precision; and a compact, streamlined design that takes up less space than most food processors, despite having one of the largest capacities, all at a moderate price. Its smooth, simple bowl and blade design are easy to handle, monitor during use, and clean. Its unusual feed tube placement allows for increased bowl visibility. It comes with just three blades for chopping, shredding, and slicing that can all be stored inside the bowl, with no accessories box to deal with. However, since we last tested it, the chopping blade was redesigned and leaves slightly bigger gaps between it and the bottom and side of the bowl, so it couldn’t effectively incorporate egg yolks into single-batch mayonnaise. We didn’t discover any other adverse effects from these slightly bigger gaps, which were still narrower than those of lower-ranked models. It did chop mirepoix uniformly and was one of only two models to give us perfectly green-colored yogurt in our dye test. Although it lacks a mini bowl for very small jobs, a double batch of mayonnaise worked well.

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The lightest of the stainless-steel models, this nearly perfect spoon had a long, hollow handle that felt like it was molded to fit our palms; its wide, shallow, thin bowl made it a breeze to scoop up food. Quibbles were minor: The bowl got a few scratches in the dishwasher, and a few testers thought the steep, ladle-like angle between the handle and the bowl upset the balance of the spoon.

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Our winning spoons had a simple design that allowed for a continuous, bump-free sweep, with a ball-chain connector (similar to what military dog tags hang on) that was easy to open and close. This set's metal construction felt remarkably sturdy, and ingredients didn't cling to the stainless steel. And while the 1-tablespoon measure did not fit into all spice jars, it was a minor inconvenience for an otherwise easy-to-use set.

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Our longtime winner excelled, with uniform, steady heating and good visibility inside the saucepan to monitor browning. Its cup-shaped stay-cool handle was easy to grip, and a helper handle provided another grabbing point when the pan was full. Even after brutal whacking on concrete, this model emerged with only tiny dents inside and one slight dent on the bottom, and it still sat flat on the counter.

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With one of the largest, longest grating surfaces and ultrasharp teeth, our previous favorite effortlessly shredded foods of all sizes and textures, taking the least time to do so and generating virtually no waste. While testers wished this paddle-style grater’s wire handle was a bit more comfortable to hold, its length made it easy to grip in a number of ways. Rubber-tipped feet kept the grater from slipping, and testers also loved how easy the grater was to clean and store.

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Our longtime favorite aced every task we gave it. Featuring a midsize head with plenty of sturdy yet flexible wire loops, it provided both coverage and agility, whipping cream and scraping up fond for pan sauce with equal aplomb. It was the perfect length for keeping our hands splash-free and away from the heat. Best of all, it remains the easiest whisk to use for long periods without fatiguing, thanks to its lightweight, long, grippy, well-cushioned handle.

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