8 Cookware Essentials That Are Worth the Cabinet Space

updated Jun 5, 2023
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Wok, dutch oven, and saucepan on graphic colored background
Credit: Left: Smithey Ironware, Top right: Lodge, Bottom right: Zwilling

There’s no shortage of kitchen gadgets and cookware available to the modern home chef. The question is, what is really necessary? I, for one, am not a fan of cabinets stuffed to the brim with hardly used objects that take up precious kitchen real estate. But whenever I deem my go-to pan utterly useless or get that urge to shop for a nifty little gadget, I have to remind myself that people have been cooking phenomenal, memory-making meals for centuries — and for most of history, they had very few cookware items. 

So, in the spirit of less is more, here are the eight cookware essentials (all under $400!) that are worth the cabinet space they inhabit, because they deliver — meal after meal, year after year.

1 / 8
was $133.00

It’s not an exaggeration to say the Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven is a cooking game-changer. From whole chickens to a loaf of sourdough, the beautifully crafted piece stands the test of time. Since 1886, Lodge has made cookware that can be passed down for generations at surprisingly reasonable prices — this 6-quart Dutch oven is under $80! I especially love that this hard-working, long-lasting pot comes in a huge variety of punchy hues, so you can choose the one that suits your style. Editors at Kitchn even dubbed Lodge the best Dutch oven for bread.

2 / 8
Made In

Made In’s Non Stick Frying Pan comes in every size you need, from an 8-inch version that’s great for solo meals, to a larger 12-inch one fit for a family. Crafted in Italy, Made In’s pan features 5-ply construction, a stay-cool handle, and a frictionless nonstick surface. It’s safe in the oven up to 500°F and, best of all, it’s made without harmful chemicals and materials. Several editors at Kitchn have been using this pan for years, so there’s no doubt that you’ll reach for this pan for your morning eggs or weekly stir-fry, making the $150 price tag a worthwhile investment (plus, it’s induction-compatible!).

3 / 8

I’ve been through my fair share of baking sheets. Some are too shallow, others too deep, and the worst of them warp, dripping cooking oil onto my oven and setting off the smoke alarm. But those days are behind me, thanks to Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Baking Sheets. These unbeatable baking sheets were ranked among the best that Kitchn editors tested, and the benefits go beyond cookies: The tall rim is suitable for roasting vegetables or making a sheet pan pizza. Best of all, they don’t warp, thanks to their encapsulated galvanized steel rims (remember to use parchment paper or silicone baking mats to keep them looking shiny). They come in a variety of sizes to fit any need, too.

4 / 8
was $249.99

Reliable, versatile, and enduring, cast iron pans are truly a kitchen workhorse. Staub has long been in the business of making beautiful, functional cast iron cookware, and the French-made 11-inch Cast Iron Traditional Skillet is ideal for everyday cooking. High sides mean less splatter, and you can transfer this skillet from the stovetop to the oven, and then straight to the table (on a trivet!) for a cozy, rustic look.

5 / 8
Williams Sonoma
was $260.00

Whether you're roasting a honey-glazed ham or a 25-pound turkey, you won’t be disappointed by All Clad’s Large Stainless Steel Roaster with Rack. Kitchn editors even named it the best overall roasting pan they tested. There are two sizes to accommodate your kitchen, and both include a sturdy rack that ensures your roast won’t get soggy while retaining the juices you might want for gravy. The large handles are also easy to grab — which is essential when dealing with heavy poultry — and the pan is dishwasher-safe.

6 / 8

I use my stockpot for way more than just stock: tamales, enormous batches of spaghetti, corn on the cob, the list goes on and on. Cooks Standard 12-Quart Classic Stockpot is highly rated because of its sensible cost at just around $50, sturdy feel, and easy-to-clean surface. It even works on a wide range of stovetops (including induction).

7 / 8
was $259.99

Nothing is quite as satisfying as a sauce simmering on the range. The only saucepan you’ll ever need is the Demeyere Atlantis 2.25 Qt Sauce Pan in Stainless Steel. It offers unbeatable heat retention, easy washability, and a curved, cool-to-the-touch handle. Dishwasher-safe and extremely easy to clean, this pot will last through so many marinara sauces you make.

8 / 8
Smithey Ironware Co.

If you’re in the market for a truly unique, hand-crafted item with a lifetime guarantee, look no further than Smithey’s Carbon Steel Wok. Lightweight for a wok at only three pounds, this piece is made for high-heat, high-energy cooking — and that includes grilling over an open flame. It’s not a one-trick pony, though: The bottom of the wok is flat so you can still use it on your stovetop. Hammered by artisan blacksmiths in South Carolina and rooted in a rich history of wok making, Smithey’s $325 wok is worth every pretty penny. Make it an heirloom by adding a special engraving.