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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

        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.

              2. I disagree that a 10" fry pan is too small to be of use. Of course you can fry up 2 quarter pound burgers in one! With cheese, and sauteing onions on the side. Although I assume that'd be 2 Boca burgers in your house, LOL!

                That said, a 12" fry pan would be better - you can manage a stir fry in it, which would be tough in the 10".

                And that's what vegetarians do with a "saute" pan - make stir fry. Oh yeah, and boca burgers. And grilled cheese.

                I've also found my 8" fry pan to be very useful for those times when I want to make something just for me - like ONE grilled cheese or one burger (or boca burger). Much quicker to clean out as well. Not an immediate necessity by any means, but something that will come in handy.

                1 Reply
                1. re: KitchenBarbarian

                  Ha, its been years since i've had a boca burger :) we tend to stir-fry in a fry pan but true, a higher rim and larger capacity would be great now and then (3 qt saute pan). thanks!

                2. I don't care for sets, but this selection does not seem bad for cooking for just two people. I have a 3-qt All-Clad sauté pan. It's a little small, but useable. You can make risotto in it. I also have a 3.5-qt A-C sucepan, which I use to make spaghetti sauce. The 4-qt is a useful size. Likewise, the 7-qt stockpot is plenty big enough to make soup for two, with leftovers. My ten-inch fry pan is my second most frequently used fry pan (the most frequently used is only seven inches). I like small pans for their ease of use and they will be easier to store in a small kitchen.

                  It is true that it is frustrating when one's pans are not quite large enough. The answer, I think, is to add to your collection as needed. If you really need a 10 or 12-qt stockpot, for example, you will be able to get a good one for much less than you will spend for All-Clad. There is no need for D5 technology in a large stockpot, in my opinion. As for the fry pan, you might want additional fry pans in other technologies. I have one D5 skillet, but also have non-stick, carbon steel, and cast iron fry pans. Each has its advantages. So I would say get the small set if you like it and it seems reasonably priced, but plan to add a couple of pieces later. If you want to swap a piece, I would suggest trading the fry pan for a small saucepan, and shop separately for a frying pan or two, taking into account the various types available and how you will use it.

                  The 7-qt stockpot, by the way, will take a pasta strainer insert. I like the tall profile of the 7-qt for that function.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: GH1618

                    good point, risotto! i forgot that I love making risotto --- fall is just starting to close in here so thanks for reminding me that needs to go back onto the menu rotation :) Once i have a pan i can use for it. It sounds like you have every size that's in the set I'm considering, and although I'm attracted to buying a set because it works out cheaper, rather than the matchy-ness, you've actually encouraged me to go ahead with it. Thanks for the tip about the pasta-strainer insert -- I'm going to ask about that in-store!

                    1. re: Rivard

                      There is a good value in buying a set rather than separate pieces. I did find the 3 qt saute a little small and too shallow for sauces. The saute pans have a really large flat bottom, (which can fill in for a larger fry pan), but if you could change out for the 4 qt saute I think you'd be happier. The big flat bottom saute is great for browning veg and making a sauce, but the 3 quart just doesn't quite hold enough. The sauces spatter over the sides and if you cover with the lid it boils over easily. A four quart should give more space for sauce veggies and even to add pasta and toss if necessary.

                  2. Go Iron, season with crisco (vegan shortning) and be happy forever. and avoid them naughty chemicals. relly despite all the lard based stuff in iron cooking crisco really works best for the seasoning part, and cooking.

                    a # 16 dutch oven for day use a #24 for well your never roasting a bird nm

                    and 16 12 8 and 6 skillets dubbels of your most used size

                    and cast iron is completely non toxic usa for lodge and produced ecologicly.

                    and a griddle. for buckweat bluberry pancakes

                    1. Oh lord how I hate cast iron!

                      If you're even considering cast iron, get ONE PAN first. It is a huge pain to care for, it weighs a frickin' ton, and getting it seasoned to start with often turns out to be an exercise in futility.

                      Cast iron is not one of those things most people are iffy about. They either love it, or they hate it. I would strongly recommend AGAINST loading up on cast iron before you determine which camp you fall into.

                      1. The Williams Sonoma set includes a 10" skillet and a sauté pan that's 10 1/2" in diameter. For me that's redundant, and I'd swap the sauté pan for a 12" skillet or sauté pan with a lid. The extra cooking surface is plenty of space to spread out what you're sautéing instead of piling it up. But the 10" skillet (or even an 8" skillet) is useful too, for small quantities that you want to keep compact such as an omelet.

                        If you're cooking mainly for yourselves and occasionally for a couple of guests, the 4 quart saucepan is pretty big. No problem when you're boiling or steaming green veg, but when I make rice or oatmeal for one or two, my 3 1/2 qt saucepan is bigger than I like, and I use a little 2 qt saucepan instead. For what it's worth. All saucepans need lids, of course.

                        I don't make stock but use my stockpot for pasta. The one pot or pan I use that's not in the Williams Sonoma set is a Dutch oven or casserole, an all-purpose vessel for slow cooking in the oven or soup making on the stovetop, for which a stockpot is way too big.

                        If you do baking, you'll also need various pans for that depending on what you make, but that's a separate issue.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: John Francis

                          A fry pan is no substitute for a sauté pan. The sauté pan has straight sides. This one is 10" across the bottom on the inside, and 2 1/4" deep. The volume is what you need in this pan, not merely the cooking surface, and sides which contain the food while stirring. And it comes with a lid, which fry pans do not.

                          1. re: GH1618

                            I beg to differ. Of course the pans are shaped differently, but where sautéing is concerned they are essentially the same. There are certain dishes that may be more conveniently prepared in a sauté pan than a shallower skillet or a narrower sauce pan - goulash for example. But Rivard says they are vegetarians and asks what vegetarians do with sauté pans, and I can't think of any vegetable dishes that require just that size and shape of pan. But maybe you can?

                            1. re: John Francis

                              I already suggested risotto. There are also vegetarian stews for which a 3-qt sauté would work well.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                For what it's worth, I make risotto in a saucepan, like the Venetian chef in an episode of "No Reservations," and it comes out fine, Jacques Pepin made it on TV in a Dutch oven, Gordon Ramsay uses a saucier, Mark Bittman recommends a "large deep nonstick skillet," like the Anolon Advanced Bronze 12-Inch Covered Deep Nonstick Skillet. I've even seen a cast iron skillet used in a YouTube clip. A sauté pan will certainly work too. Just about any pan with enough volume and high enough sides will do - it's not the pan but the technique.

                              2. re: John Francis

                                Just last weekend I made Green Beans Braised with Tomatoes from Molly Steven's "All About Braising." She has many vegetable braises that benefit from exactly that type of saute pan. The advantage is the saute pan comes with a much needed lid and larger floor space - 10 inch flat bottom as compared to about 7 1/2 flat bottom in the fry pan.

                                1. re: Cam14

                                  Again for what it's worth, I braise Brussels sprouts, celery, and other vegetables in my 12" skillet, no problem. It has a 9" flat bottom which is big enough for my purposes. I do actually have a sauté pan but hardly ever use it.

                            2. re: John Francis

                              America's Test Kitchen that found the 6 quart All Clad stockpot rated just as well for a dutch oven as the Le Creuset 5.5. All Clad does make a low, wide 6 qt stockpot.

                              1. re: John Francis

                                If the set comes with a 10" fry pan and a 10.5" saute pan, trade ONE of those for a 12" saute pan. You don't need 2 10" (or thereabouts) fry pans - and sorry, purists, but a saute pan is still a fry pan to me.

                                Especially if you want to do any sort of stir fry, you need the 12" saute pan. I can and do do stir fry in my 10.25" saute pan, but it would be easier and better in a 12", when making stir fry for 2 people.

                                Keep the shallower fry pan if you plan to do crepes or pancake type of things. That sort of thing is the one place where the shallower fry pan has a clear advantage over the deeper saute pan. Plus, if you get the 12" saute pan, then you'll already have a saute pan so you won't really miss the 10.5" saute pan.

                                It all depends on what type of cooking you're going to do.

                                You can manage stir fry for 2 in a 10.5" saute pan but it'll be a LOT easier and better in a 12".

                                You can manage a pancake in a saute pan, but it'll be a LOT easier in a shallower fry pan.

                                Pros and cons, pros and cons, it all boils down to pros and cons for YOUR type of cooking.

                                And before somebody brings it up - OF COURSE a wok is "better" for stir fry, but it isn't necessary. A wok is something you can always pick up later if you decide you really really really want one. I stir fry 4 or 5 times a week and I STILL don't have a wok. I keep meaning to get one - but I get by with what I've got and nobody's complaining. Sure, I'd like to have one - but my kitchen is like 12x6 and already stuffed to overflowing with my kitchen gear!

                                1. re: KitchenBarbarian

                                  The 4-qt sauté pan is the same diameter as the 3-qt, with higher sides. To get a larger diameter, it would have to be the 6-qt, a large and expensive pan for two.

                                  For crêpes, it is best to use a plain steel pan made for the purpose. These are small and inexpensive.

                              2. Hi, Rivard:

                                This is a good set you have in mind. And I echo ellabee's advice.

                                I might add a second, smaller saucepan (this would be a good slot for a heavy copper Windsor), and perhaps swap the stockpot for a shorter lidded casserole in about the same size. You can always add a larger (like 10-14Q) stockpot as your family grows, and a stocker doesn't really require a $$$ clad pot, just a heavy bottom.


                                1 Reply
                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  Yeah, but the 7qt stockpot would be really useful for pasta, and apparently it comes with, or you can get, a pasta insert for it.

                                  There are all kinds of pans that we'd like to have, but space gets to be a problem pretty quick for a lot of people. Also, it's better to figure out what kind of cooking you're going to end up doing before investing in extra pans above and beyond the basics.

                                2. 3 critical pots and pans for vegetarian cooking:
                                  A 4 qt stainless steel sauce pan is the most important, and hardest to find. It cooks soups, spaghetti sauce, popcorn and anything that would fit in 3 qt. pan. This is the one pan I wish I would have bucked up and bought a good tri ply stainless early on.

                                  I would skip the fry pan (slanted sides) and go for a 12 inch stainless sauté (straight sides) pan. For vegetarian cooking the deep straight sides are good for veggie casserole type dishes. I like and have the two grab handled style, though a long handled pan with grab loop also works. You want to go from stove top to oven or broiler and these pans full of veggie main dishes get heavy. This is my go to “fry pan”.

                                  An 8 Qt. stock pot, stainless for easy clean up. Look for one with a pasta insert. This doubles as a huge steamer for steamed vegetables.