Essential Cookware

Here are the core pots and pans we rely on in the test kitchen and recommend for yours.

1. All-Clad Stainless Steel 12-Inch Fry Pan

Price: $134.95 This roomy skillet can cook a family-sized meal. The traditional finish allows food to stick, developing the crusty brown bits of fond that contribute flavor.

2. All-Clad Stainless Steel 4-Quart Saucepan (with lid)

Price: $184.95 For even cooking, we prefer saucepans made of stainless steel sandwiching an aluminum core in a style of construction known as "tri-ply." A 4-quart saucepan is just the right size for making rice or blanching vegetables.

3. All-Clad Stainless Steel 2-Quart Saucepan (with lid)

Price: $139.95 For even cooking, we prefer saucepans made of stainless steel sandwiching an aluminum core in a style of construction known as "tri-ply." A 2-quart saucepan is good for smaller jobs like heating milk or melting butter. For a cheaper alternative, consider nonstick. Best Buy Alternative: Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 2 1/2-Quart Shallow Saucepan ($39.95)

4. T-Fal Professional Total Nonstick Fry Pan, 12.5 inches

Price: $34.99 This pan had the slickest, most durable nonstick coating, releasing perfectly throughout testing. It is well proportioned, with a comfy handle and generous cooking surface.

5. Lodge 12" Cast Iron Skillet

Price: $33.95 Nothing tops cast iron when it comes to creating a flavorful, deeply browned crust on steaks and other foods.

6. Le Creuset 7 1/4-Quart Round French Oven (with lid)

Price: $269.95 This incredibly versatile Dutch oven made of enameled cast iron is ideal for soups, stews, stocks, braises-even frying and baking. Best Buy Alternative: Tramontina 6 1/2-Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven ($44.97)

7. Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless Steel 12-Quart Stockpot (with lid)

Price: $69.95 Lighter than a Dutch oven, a 12-quart stockpot is used mainly for boiling water for pasta, corn, and lobster. This brand's inexpensive price tag is just right for a pot with limited use.

8. Calphalon Contemporary Stainless Steel Roasting Pan with Rack

Price: $119.95 Don't buy nonstick; the dark finish camouflages the crusty brown bits you need to make gravy for roasted meats. This pan's gently flared shape makes stirring and deglazing easy.

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