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Aug 30, 2014 09:06 AM

Which cookware for cooking for 1, 2, or 3 people?

One of the reasons I have cabinets full of cookware, even though I'm quite the amateur, is that I most often cook for 1, 2, or 3 people. Could be any one of those scenarios on any given day of the week. Less frequently, I'd cook for 4-6 (when family visits).

Anyway, in addition to having different materials of everything (stainless steel, cast iron, stone, etc.), I have different sizes of everything.

Given that I mostly cook for 1, 2, or 3 people (two of whom do not like leftovers), what do you think the ideal collection looks like in terms of types of pans and sizes? We do chicken breasts w/veggies on the side, casseroles, steak, pot roast, tacos, and sometimes pasta. Just basic stuff.

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  1. I cook for two people, and, depending on the dish, I sometimes like to have enough leftovers for one or two more meals, max. I surely have more cookware than I really need, but I enjoy having a choice of pieces depending on what it is I'm preparing. Though I have a few larger pieces, my go-to sizes tend to be in the 3-quart/10-inch arena. But everyone's "ideal" collection is different! Since you seem to have so much (and maybe are looking to pare down?), why not keep a little notepad in the kitchen and just jot down what you use and for what. Do that for a week, a month--you'll quickly get an idea of what YOUR ideal collection is based on what you naturally gravitate towards. Then you can pick a few other pieces you want to keep (larger ones for cooking for company, a specialty item you love, whatever) and pack up the rest. Don't get rid of it right away, just get it out of your kitchen for a month or so and see if you miss any of it. If not, you probably have arrived at YOUR ideal collection!

    2 Replies
    1. re: herring

      Herring has a great idea. I also do most of my cooking for two or three, and most of my favorite cookware pieces are about 3 quarts in capacity. I have a small kitchen, with limited cookware storage, but I still manage to have four pieces with this capacity. All my other cookware is just one piece per size--from two to eight quarts.

      1. re: herring

        Hi kimbers,

        Ditto one more on Herring's advice.

        Cooking for 2 is my daily regimen. My most used pans are right there in the 10", 3 quart size. 3 quart includes my sauté pans.

        We don't eat many casseroles, and I've had one bitch of a time finding something the right size for a casserole for two. 5" square is too small, 8" is too big. 5x7 oval is close.... and so it goes. If you've got a casserole dish that's perfect, I hope you'll clue me in.

        I really think Herring's idea of keeping a list of which pans you reach for, maybe adding a tick mark for each time you use a pan, will tell you what your set will look like. Then if any of those pans aren't the quality you want, upgrade. You can be confident it will be money wisely spent, because you use the pan frequently.


      2. Herring's advice is unbeatable.

        And would be a good m.o. for anyone who's interested in paring down, whether cooking for one or many.

        1. Hi Kimbers324,

          Herring's approach wouldn't work for be because I cooked differently before with minimal cookware so I'll be specific.

          For me, minimal would be a 10" fry pan, 1 1/2 qt. sauce pan, 3 1/2 qt. saucepan, 3 1/2 and 4 qt. Dutch ovens, 2 1/2 qt. stoneware, and separate 4 qt. steamer for veggies.


          3 Replies
          1. re: drrayeye

            I cook for two. Using herring's method (several years before this thread), I determined that my most-used cookware, hence minimum "set", was:

            medium skillet (9.5 inch)

            boil pot (4 qt, 9 inch diam) <--part of a pressure cooker set; I use it more often with a regular lid than as a p.c.

            small saucepan (2 qt)

            large saucepan (3 qt)

            baking sheet with fitted grid rack <--used as often for prep as for baking

            1. re: ellabee

              Hi ellabee,

              I have and use the equivalent to all of the pans you have, but I require a larger set due to the incompatibility of microwave, convection, and induction. None of my enameled cast iron or stainless steel can be used in the microwave. My stoneware cannot be placed directly on either an induction or an electrical stovetop. So, my stoneware is for reheating or cooking in the convection or microwave ovens. My larger enameled cast iron pieces are not used that often, but are individually critical when I choose to make certain special "one pot" meals.


              1. re: drrayeye

                I was thinking entirely stovetop & oven, and it is a very minimalist list. In real life, vs. a "go bag" scenario, I use a bunch of additional stovetop/oven pieces regularly: sauciers, a rondeau/braiser, a crepe/omelet pan, the bigger 6-qt pot in the pressure cooker set (stovetop only, usually the induction unit), a cast iron skillet, a set of enameled cast iron gratins, and small to large-ish ECI casseroles.

                When I cook in the microwave I use tempered glass -- but usually things that have other uses, too (mixing bowls, measuring cups, prep bowls, fridge storage containers). Or, for just heating things up, everyday plates or bowls.

          2. I cook for 2 almost all the time. I use a small saucepan, a chef's pan, 3 CI skillets, a non stick fry pan and a CI grill pan for most things. But I also use a wok, small soup pots, and a small saucier from time to time. I use more rarely, a CI Dutch oven and a large rondeau.