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What basic pots & pans do we need in a starter set? (sizes & shapes)

We are planning to buy a small (7-piece?) cookware set to replace the worn-out anolon non-stick pots we have, and the awful fry-pan from target that we happily abandoned at our last rental place.

We are a couple who scratch-cook everything we can, in our compact kitchen (gas range), and we are vegetarians. I have figured out I can convert my Amex points to WS giftcards at a decent ratio, so price point doesn't matter so much, but i will be purchasing from WS. I don't want to throw money (or Amex points) away, but splurging for quality that will last forever is absolutely fine.

I'm looking at the 7-piece D5 and Copper-core sets at Williams Sonoma.. These sets include
10 inch fry pan
3 qt saute pan with lid
4 qt saucepan with lid
7 qt stockpot with lid

The WS staff I spoke to said that they allow people to swap out one of the pieces in a set with another if there's a size they won't use (they subtract the retail cost of the swapped-out item and add the retail cost of the swapped-in item, fair enough).

Are these the pots I need, given that i'm going to be starting from absolutely nothing? We definitely need a fry pan (10-or 12-inch?) and the stockpot. And we'll need a saucepan -or two?.. But I'm not sure about sizes. and what do vegetarians do with saute pans? Is there something else I should consider?

TIA ---

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  1. What do you like to eat? How do you cook? How do you use the pots you currently have?

    For me, I would also like to have a 6" or 8" to cook eggs-for-one in the morning, as well as a 1 or 1.5 qt saucier for oatmeal, rice, and the like. In face, I would probably rather have a 1 qt and 2 qt saucier, and I'd swap the 4 qt saucepan out for a slightly larger size enameled cast iron dutch oven. For me, even when I was a family of 5, we never had a reason for a 4 qt saucepan...no need to boil 4 qts of water. We don't eat THAT much mashed potatoes!

    2 Replies
    1. re: E_M

      THanks E_M! You've reminded me that families change over time... we are just two of us now, but with any luck our family will grow in the next few years :) And til then we'll definitely need a 2qt saucier or saucepan for oatmeal, rice etc. I have a smallish (2.5 qt?) le creuset, cute but wish I'd gotten a bigger one, for soups, chili etc.

      1. re: E_M

        This family of two finds a 4 qt saucepan useful as a mini stock pot.

      2. "I'm looking at the 7-piece D5 and Copper-core sets at Williams Sonoma.. These sets include
        10 inch fry pan
        3 qt saute pan with lid
        4 qt saucepan with lid
        7 qt stockpot with lid"

        The 10 inch fry pan is too small. Even cooking for just myself I find it to be too small. When you add the curved sides, it is too small to use for example:
        2 quarter pound frozen hamburger patties
        more then two large eggs over easy
        etc.

        An extra two inches (12") in the fry pan/skillet makes it a lot more versatile and really helps when I cook for more then one person.

        I really like a larger stock pot. 5~7 quart stock pots don't get used as a stock pot in my kitchen. While a 12 quart can be overkill for some uses, I can always fill it half way or two thirds full. I can't fill a 7 quart stock pot to 8 quarts and if I fill it to 6 I can get splatters. A 12 quart will be a little larger in diameter and slight taller but, a whole lot more versatile.

        I own and have used a Copper-Core Dutch Oven. Save your money IMHO. They are over rated. A similar Staub enameled cast iron pan is a huge improvement. If you want precise heat control, the Allclad Coppr'core is better but, I find the heat retention and even cooking of Staub (or Le Crueset, Lodge) to be better for my style of cooking and the appliances I normally use.

        I just bought a Demeyere Pro-Line 5 star 12" in fry pan for acidic cooking and look forward to trying it out when it gets here. I also replaced my 10" Lodge skillet with a 12" model. Those two inches make a big difference when you factor in sloped sides taking away from the rim diameter. My De Buyer Mineral fry pan is kicking my Lodge cast iron out the kitchen though. That smooth surface, pan shape, and handle are proving themselves to be superior to Lodge cast iron. Don't worry though, the Lodge will still find a good home with my out door grill.

        Don't forget the ~2 quart sauce pan for noodles, pasta sauce, vegetables, etc.

        Consider pans with the "no drip" rims. It is a small thing but really nice. Also, welded handles are nicer then riveted ones though I use both. Demeyere Atlantis is wooing me into their products with the welded handles and superior heat control features (pan specific). Though, if I started with De Buyer mineral pans, I probably wouldn't have any stainless steel pans today.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sid Post

          Yep i had a hunch that 10" would be kind of small for our one and only fry pan. Thanks for the advice re: the dutch oven. I haven't ever looked into de buyer minerals -- I'll take a look. I'm not a huge cast-iron fan --- weak wrists make them a pain to handle and clean. (In fact i have that concern about the copper core -- i need to get to a store and fondle them for a while, see how they fit). Thanks!

        2. I think your suggested set looks good. Of course, it depends what kind of things you like to cook. If you like pan frying, then having another fry pan may not be a bad idea. If you like slow cooking, then having a pressure cooker or a Dutch Oven is something to think about. If you like to stir fry, then a wok is great. So it really depends what you like to do on a daily/weekly basis.

          All in all, I think your basic set is good. Sid Post is correct about the fry pan. One thing to realize is that a fry pan has a curved side. A 10" fry pan probably has a ~6" bottom. So the cooking surface is actually smaller than many expected. For example, I have a 10" skillet (straight side) and it has a noticeably larger cooking surface than my 10" fry pan (curved side).

          1 Reply
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            thanks Chemicalkinetics --- and may I say, I found your contributions to the "D5 vs Copper Core" thread some time ago and am in awe (and am very appreciative of) your cookware geekery. Thank you!

          2. My set (from Macy's, at a ridiculously cheap clearance price ) cam with 1, 2, and 3-quart saucepans (w/lids), 8" saute, 10" saute, 16-qt stock, and wok (also with lids)

            I don't use the wok that often, have added a 12" saute (the kids are now teens, and just eat more, so I need more pan!) and an 8-quart all-purpose stock pan that gets used **all the time**.

            But for two people and young kids, it's done yeoman's duty every day for 4 years.

            If I were to start over, I'd choose 1, 2, and 3-quart saucepans, a 10" and 12" saute, and an 8-quart stock pot (low and wide, rather than tall and narrow, for soups, stews, chili, etc). would be my must-haves.

            I like having the big stock pot and the wok, and I do use them, but the other 6 are used nearly every day in some combination.

            2 Replies
            1. re: sunshine842

              thanks Sunshine, this was really helpful. I guess we'll be adding larger ones over time as needs change -- we're in such a tiny kitchen right now, I think I need to make some strategic choices (can't let myself get talked into a ten piece set!). I think I'm gonna need an extra little saucepan, though, for sure..

              1. re: Rivard

                I use the one-quart for rice regularly -- you can make the standard 2-cups-water-and-1-cup-rice in it with plenty of room to boil and steam.

            2. I'm not a big fan of sets. If you really are going to be buying from Williams-Sonoma because you have 'free money' in the form of credit card points, consider buying a few individual pieces that you know you'll use, and fill in what you're missing as you find you need it.

              A medium skillet (9.5-10") is likely the single piece you'll use most, and one that you manipulate a lot while you're using it (compared with, say, a soup or stock pot). So it matters that you find one you're comfortable using, and the best way to do that is to go to the store and handle them.

              A skillet is used for high- and low-temperature cooking, often in quick succession. For those reasons, and because you cook with gas, a skillet is a great candidate to take advantage of copper's responsiveness and even-heating qualities. But that won't mean much if you find it too heavy. Check out the Mauviel 2mm 9 1/2" skillet at a W-S store (ignore the thinner M365 line, you will not get your money's worth). Compare it with a 10" All-Clad. Then compare it with a 9 1/2" Mauviel M'Cook (which is the equivalent of A-C d5). If you're going to go with a stainless-ply because of the lighter weight, you might find the M'Cook has the more comfortable handle.

              If the weight of the brass-handled 2mm copper skillet isn't objectionable, try out the 10 1/4" 2.5mm Mauviel Professional with the iron handle (stays much cooler than brass). If you can comfortably manipulate it, it's a significantly better piece of cookware, currently selling for $100 less than the 2mm. W-S carries a stainless-ply frying pan that actually weighs as much as the 2.5mm copper, the Demeyere Atlantis; it makes sense only for people with induction stoves.

              Most cooks need a small-to-medium saucepan (1.75 to 2.5 quarts) as well as a larger one. Dimensions (wide and shallower vs. tall and deeper) may matter as much as capacity. You will fairly often be picking up and pouring the contents of a medium saucepan into another container, so try that out at the W-S store. Can you accomplish it with one hand? Is there enough room to whisk and stir, if you're often making sauces or caramel or thick soups?

              For a household of two, a 4-quart pot is very useful for soups and pasta and potatoes. One with two loop handles makes more sense on a modest stove than a long-handled version, and is easier to handle safely while draining boiling contents. But maybe you mostly make big batches of soup, for freezing and/or multiple meals, or regularly cook lasagna noodles or corn on the cob; then a 6-quart might be a great addition (the two-handled point applies with even more force here).

              If I were in your situation, and determined to buy a set rather than a few pieces, I'd look very hard at the 8-piece Mauviel M'Cook set. The quality is equal to All-Clad, the handles much more comfortable, and the dimensions of the saucepans easier to cook with. See if they'll replace the saute pan with the M'Cook 6 1/4 qt. stock pot.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ellabee

                ellabee thanks for your thoughtful reply! I was aiming at a set because there is a huge price break.. $ isn't the be-all of this purchase, but it's always going to be a bit of a consideration. that said, I'm not much of a matchy-matchy person and I like the idea of taking a look at some other brands. I admit I was orienting to Allclad b/c at this point I at least understand what their different lines are --- your explanation on the different flavors of Mauviel is really useful! I will definitely buy in-store, and will try lifting/manipulating before i pull the trigger on anything. I'm kinda weak-wristed and don't want to push it, weight-wise.
                thanks for the steer --- i think yours is one I'll take with me to the store!

                1. re: Rivard

                  Don't worry, if your family expands, your weak wrists will strengthen enormously.

                  Also remember that if your family expands, it will still be a few years before you will need to increase your cooking portions.