If you could only own one pan, what would it be?
November 29, 2018 1:13 PM   Subscribe

My niece wants an all-in-one type of pot to do EVERYTHING in.

She is living in very tight quarters at the moment and really doesn’t want more than one pot to cook in for space reasons. She has opted to have a lot of cold dishes because it saves her space to do so, but obviously wants to be able to cook as well. So naturally I looked up “all in one pan” and this came up. It looks great. It’s 4 qts and kinda large, but has two handles which makes it easy for fitting in an oven and iit looks like you can use it to fry and saute too… but It doesn’t look very soup friendly. 4 qts might be too large too since my niece only cooks for two, but when we make soup for two in our house we use a 4 qt pot… so maybe 4 qts is the way to go?

I also saw this- “essential pan” Which seems much more soup friendly. But I can’t tell if you can fry in it and the long handle might make it hard to fit in an oven?
There’s also this “weeknight pan” which looks kinda like the first pan, but it’s deeper and doesn't have the two helper handles.

These are very pricey pots! I’d like to get her something nice that will last, but I don’t want to get her a pot she won’t get ultimate use out of considering the price point. And I could go less expensive too, but it’s hard to find websites that tell you the dimensions of pots. I like that William Sonoma website actually tells you how much a pot weighs and how big it is in diameter and depth (though it would be nice if they also mentioned what surface area of the pots was actually making contact with the burner.
This is for a gas stove by the way. Any suggestions for a great EVERYTHING pot for two would be a great help.
posted by fantasticness to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'd get the second one, the "essential pan" with the long handle. That is something that you could use safely in the oven or on the stovetop (the two short handles mean using it on the range would require a potholder or a towel, and I feel that you unnecessarily increase the risk of fire.)

For a while a very similar pan was one of two pots/pans that I used to cook nearly everything including pasta dinners for myself and my roommates. (The second was a stock pot. Between the two of those you can cook a great deal.)

(N.B. With gas, contact with the burner isn't really a thing: there's just an array of flame under the pot or pan that is heating the metal, which sits on a rack above the burner.)
posted by gauche at 1:27 PM on November 29, 2018

I like those half-woks like the weeknight pan. I've seen them in stores and have thought it would be a good replacement for a couple of old bits that I have. It's not completely flat so you don't have surface area problems like you would if you were trying to make clam chowder in a frypan, and it's wide enough to throw things around like in a wok.

4qt is enough for two, and not too large for that purpose, or in general. Plus, I prefer stick-handle for things this size. I once got a tall stock pot with loop handles that I was then going to make allll my pasta in, but lo and behold, pouring everything into a colander to drain involves a clean sink, two hands, a big cloud of steam, and awkwardness that will more often than not result in discomfort if not burns, and there is no way to hold a strainer with one hand and pour the stuff with the other.
posted by rhizome at 1:29 PM on November 29, 2018

We have a nonstick Scanpan - it's fantastic to use, durable, has a great warranty, and is dishwasher- and oven-safe. They're expensive, but we got ours half off on the clearance shelf at one of those cooking supply stores and it would have been worth it at full price. (This doesn't answer the question of which specific pan, just wanted to recommend the brand. If you're interested in nonstick it'd be nice to get one that you don't have to replace after two years, at least not for money.)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:34 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is a really hard question because it depends heavily on what kind of cooking you do.

If it were me, I'd get a fairly big, deep cast iron skillet, with a lid. If you will allow for some slight rule-bending, what I'd actually get is the Lodge Combo Cooker, which replaces the traditional (somewhat useless) skillet lid with... [drumroll]... another skillet. But it's still technically only one pan, right? (Right?) So you can use it as a covered skillet / dutch oven or you can do any number of recipes that require you to saute something while brazing or building a sauce in another pan.

About the only reason not to go cast iron, assuming you are okay with not dishwashing it, is if you do a lot of tomato-heavy or otherwise acidic foods. You're not going to have a good time if you want to make red pasta sauce in them, for instance. For that, you'd want to go to enameled cast iron, and unfortunately Lodge doesn't make the Combo Cooker in enameled (and neither do any of the hoity-toity enameled brands, like Le Creuset, that I can find).

Oh, and with a deep skillet and lid, you can do no-knead bread. If I can only have one pan, I definitely want one that can do that!
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:42 PM on November 29, 2018 [17 favorites]

All-Clad is fantastic and worth the price. I have this 3 quart cassoulet from them and it is one of my favorite pots. The bottom is quite rounded though, not enough flat surface to double as a fry pan for, say, fried eggs. I mean any single pan is going to be a compromise but I'd go for something with a flatter bottom. The 3 pans you link all sound nice.

The All-in-One and Weeknight pan look almost identical except for the handle. But I'm baffled by the dimensions; the Weeknight pan is significantly bigger. The All-in-one looks awfully shallow for soups or other things you need to stir. The Essential pan is significantly narrower and taller, and therefore harder to use as a fry pan.

I'll differ with gauche and suggest the two small handles. The one long handle is awkward to store or put in the oven.

BTW: don't get the anodized All Clad. It looks nice but it's not dishwasher safe.
posted by Nelson at 1:44 PM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yes, good cookware is often worth the cost, and it'd be nice to splurge. But honestly? Don't overthink this. The best pan is the one that gets used, so you're looking for a workhorse, not a show pony. Seriously, go down to Target and look at things like this. It'll last 10 years at one-tenth the cost.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:46 PM on November 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

I vote for a pan with a longer handle. Only because I find it more user friendly. Either the weeknight or essential. All three are very nice and all versatile. I don’t think you can go wrong with any. They remind me of a chicken fryer with a lid, which is very versatile. I use this type of pan for dinners most followed by an enamel Dutch oven.
posted by loveandhappiness at 1:49 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

The "essential pan" is sold by many other manufacturers as a "chef's pan". You can get one of those on Amazon for <$30. If it were me, and I only had room for one thing, I'd probably do that or an enameled dutch oven.
posted by hammurderer at 2:01 PM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

To riff off of hammurderer's comment: it also gets sold as a saucier. I've got a 3qt Calphalon one I've owned for a decade, and it's a very flexible pan in terms of what you can do with it. I usually default to a saute pan for most cooking, but my saucier still lives on my stovetop.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 2:03 PM on November 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

If it were me, I'd get a fairly big, deep cast iron skillet, with a lid.

This is my choice too. You can roast a chicken in it, cook pancakes, roast vegetables, make most soups (the notes about tomato based stuff is right on the money). They're a little fussy in that they require seasoning but it's really "set it and forget it" and you buy one and you have it for life. I store mine right in the oven and if I had to keep one pan out of all the ones i have, that would be the one.
posted by jessamyn at 2:06 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

You really need two pans - a sauce-pot and a saute pan.

Making a meal where you have two foods with dissimilar cooking methods is hard with one pan, think pasta and sauce at the same time.

Put em in the oven when not in use.

All-Clad is nice and will last a long time, but not worth the price. The brand I linked to above, Cooks Standard, is good and about a third the price. I've used both All-Clad and Cooks Standard, and they feel about the same.
posted by gregr at 2:16 PM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

How much does she actually cook? I say that because as a person whose solution until now has been to just eat cold foods she probably doesn't cook a whole ton and that's the same kind of person who won't cook stuff because the pain is a pain in the ass to wash (cast iron, enameled dutch oven, heavy all clad). I would get something from target with about 2-3 inch sides and is not bigger than a 12 in diameter with a lid and is non stick.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:19 PM on November 29, 2018 [12 favorites]

I've done everything you can name with this Le Creuset brazier. It looks great on the table, too. I've baked bread in it, used it like a tagine, used it like a wok, cooked Thanksgiving turkey in it, made roux and sauces in it, roasted beef and vegetables in it, made chilis and soups in it, fried in it, baked in it, sauteed in it, baked quiche in it. The dutch oven is deeper whereas this is shallower. I have both. I prefer the brazier because it's easier to stir food in, and also to use with an immersion stick to blend soups and gravies, and like I said, it just looks great on the table. Plus when you make omelets in it, they will slide easily out of the curved sides. It will last her lifetime, and is easy to clean. Looks good sitting on the stove too, no need to store it.
posted by the webmistress at 2:31 PM on November 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

I would get something from target with about 2-3 inch sides and is not bigger than a 12 in diameter with a lid and is non stick.

Yeah, my #1 pick for Everyone's First Pan (and I believe Wirecutter/Sweet Home agreed with me at some point) is the T-Fal 10" Fry Pan With Lid. It does have to be replaced every 3-5 years.

I would not start a non-cook on a clad pan. It takes knowledge to not stick stuff, they're heavy and hard to wash, you can't really cook every single thing. When I travel to hotels with kitchenettes/airbnbs/vacation cabins, the Tfal is the one pan I take.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:32 PM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

-Sorry, I misread the limited cooking because of space as non-cooking, but my opinion remains that everyone should have that T-Fal pan, and then the next pan might be a deep clad pan or maybe instead an enameled cast iron brazier/Dutch/French oven, whether that's a Le Creuset or more modest Kirkland or similar (Aldi has some dirt cheap right now), and probably the 6.5qt for real soup/stew action.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:37 PM on November 29, 2018

I have the exact Oneida pan cool papa bell mentioned, it's my most-used pan. Having a lid is a huge plus, high sides mean you can do liquids or saute functions. You can even poach in it as long as it is small servings for 1-2.
posted by assenav at 2:38 PM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Honestly, an enameled dutch oven would do for all the tasks you mentioned and then some. The downside is they're heavy and need two hands to go from stovetop to oven or back. The plus is the Lodge ones go on sale around Christmastime. They're normally around $100, but go on sale for $50-60, and even lower sometimes. (I snagged a couple for last minute gifts last year that had been discounted to $25!)
posted by lovecrafty at 2:47 PM on November 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

When I was a graduate student living in a 1-bedroom apartment with my child and a roomie, I bought a hammered wok and a stainless steel pot with a steamer basket in Chinatown. I think they cost me less than 20 dollars in all. I could cook everything anyone ever desired with those two things. Asian food, obvs. but also Italian food and traditional American food. My friends came over for elaborate couscous meals.
Since then I have hoarded all sorts of kitchen stuff, and I use it all and love it, but it really isn't necessary.
I think the first new stuff I got were different sizes of dutch ovens. I still use them a lot and I love them.

But if I were you and your niece didn't have one already, I'd buy a real Chinese wok.
posted by mumimor at 3:00 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

For me, it'd be a toss-up between a Le Creuset brazier and a Dutch French oven. The brazier is great for most things, but if she really needs just one pot, I'd have to go with a medium-sized oven—it'll be tricker getting down in it to turn a delicate fish fillet, say, but it affords the depth needed for making soups and stews, cooking pasta, etc. I think it's going to come down to what kinds of foods and preparation methods comprise her diet.

I agree that you can do an awful lot with a wok—a cheap wok was my primary pan for most of my 20s—but wonder how she'd make rice.
posted by mumkin at 3:13 PM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I spent the first 2 or 3 years of my adult life cooking almost every day with just a cast iron skillet and a steel saucepan for pasta/rice. My staple meals at the time were spaghetti or chicken and rice with veggies, so that combo served me well. If I had been making a lot of soups and stews I would have felt the lack of something larger and deeper, though.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 4:09 PM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seriously, what does your niece cook? Because my husband and I would have very different answers to this question. He would pick a wok, because his "default dinner" is stir fries. (But yes, those go over rice, and he would also be like, "Um, a rice cooker isn't a pot, it's just where you get rice every meal.") My answer would be a 10-12" stainless steel skillet, because it's the best all around for the way I cook (sauteed veg and meat, and I know how to make pasta in a skillet, and yes my default dinner of eggs would be *easier* in a nonstick, but I'll take the tradeoff of having to put oil or butter in to make eggs vs. not being able to get crispy skin on my chicken thighs if forced nonstick).

While I love my cast iron pan and Dutch oven now, early 20s me would have wept out of frustration if I was told one of those two was my only pan - they're heavy, which makes doing anything where you need to tip or move the pan at all frustrating (draining pasta noodles from a Dutch oven, NO THANK YOU). And I do SO many tomato-based dishes that cast iron never would've passed muster unless it was enameled, which is more expensive. That's why I'd go with stainless steel. But that's based on what I cook.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 4:47 PM on November 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have a lot of nice pans, but about 75 percent of my cooking happens in an older version of this: cooking eggs, heating up stuff, sautéing things, etc. If I could have only one of my pans, this would be the one (my enameled Dutch oven would come in close second place).
posted by heurtebise at 5:05 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

As others above, if it were me it'd be cast iron. Cast Iron is great but it requires care, is heavy, and hand cleaning - which some people are cool with but I know my 20 something self would have said "F that" and would have went to have a gyro. (As an aside, there's a couple comments regarding acidic foods and cast iron above - if it is well seasoned and you don't let the food sit it will be fine I do it all the time with no ill effect to me or the cast iron or the food).

So I guess I'd nthing an inexpensive but well made 2 to 4 quart pot with a lid that was oven & stove top friendly as others suggested. I think I saw a Cuisinart 4 quart stainless steel sauce pan and a 3.5 quart sauté pan for sale recently, either would likely work. If you want to splurge a bit but not dip into La Crueset territory, Calphalon makes a 3 quart "Chef’s Pan" (I'd call it more a saucier) with a lid.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:08 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

You're not gonna find one pan that does everything. Best you'll get is one pan that does lots of things. You want something on the large side, that's deep enough to boil pasta, wide enough to sauté, has a lid, and which can go in the oven. I would not recommend nonstick, because it's delicate, or unenameled cast iron, because you can't cook acidic foods in it. Enameled cast iron or stainless steel (with steel handles, not plastic ones) is the way to go here. I'd probably go stainless because big cast iron cookware is heavy and I wouldn't want to deal with that every single time I wanted to cook something. The Essential Pan you linked originally looks great, but it's more expensive than necessary. Look for something similar, but from a mid-range brand rather than a prestige brand. Unless you want it to be special and you have the budget, in which case go nuts.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:08 PM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I agree with rhizome about the "Weeknight" model. I've had this similar pan for 15 years.
posted by jgirl at 5:14 PM on November 29, 2018

I would advise against cast iron unless you know she likes it. I'm 30 with some nice cooking equipment but I rarely use my cast iron stuff because it's heavy, requires specific care, and while versatile, it has more limitations than cast iron fanatics like to admit.
posted by Aranquis at 5:50 PM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would want a non stick for my “one pan”. I’d get a deep skillet with a lid. Mine is 5.5 quarts. It’s made by Bialetti and called a deep sauté pan.
posted by vunder at 6:43 PM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

My favorite pan to cook in has for several years been the Le Creuset brasier. I also have the oval dutch oven and love it, but if I could only keep one, it would be the brasier.

If I were starting out buying pieces again; however, I would be tempted to go with this multifunction pan. I am not willing to give up my brasier for it, though.
posted by augustinetill at 8:33 PM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

The All-Clad 3-qt tri-ply saute pan w/lid is $99 on Amazon right now. I'd go for that unless your niece is a frequent preparer of really large portions of soups or stews. And throw in a sauce pan, you'll still be under the "everyday pan" cost. That's the most practical combo to me.
posted by praemunire at 8:40 PM on November 29, 2018

I do have to say, unless they're hanging them individually on the wall, any of these all-in-one pans doesn't take up any more space than a 3qt sauce pan sitting in a 10" skillet.

Note that Sweethome likes the Tramontina brand sold at Walmart.
posted by rhizome at 8:45 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is a $30 pan at Target that solves all my kitchen needs. I see recommendations above that are very nice pans indeed. However, I don't have space to store pans, nor time to do a lot of clean up, and cooking is not my hobby. It's true I cannot bake with my pan, but I just don't care. Your niece sounds like she might be similar.
posted by studioaudience at 9:22 PM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would lean against cast iron, as fun as it is. If she hasn't been cooking regularly and is learning, cast iron just adds all sorts of complications of time (it takes a long time to heat up and cool down) and weight (awkward to wash, awkward to store) and temperature (watch the hot handle in tight spaces!) that are unnecessary for a small space. If I want to fry an egg for a quick breakfast, I grab anything nonstick, not my cast iron pan. I'm much more likely to want to stir-fry, boil, or saute something than I am to sear meats or char vegetables, so as long as I don't have a need to use metal utensils, it's nonstick for me.

Stainless sits sort of in between nonstick and cast iron for convenience. It's not nearly as finicky--leave it soaking in the sink if you like--but it is often heavier and will require more effort to clean than nonstick. You can get a good fond and a better pan sauce from it than nonstick, but again, is that the ordinary weeknight cooking she wants to do? If so, sure!
posted by pykrete jungle at 10:19 PM on November 29, 2018

When I was young and didn't know how to cook yet, nothing made me crosser than being expected to use some damn quality pan almost too heavy to lift with both hands. As to keeping a seasoned pan in good nick, no. Seconding people saying go to Target and get a usable cheap enough LIGHT WEIGHT non stick medium sized pan. Only caveats, if it has metal handles/knobs it's more versatile and can go in the oven, and if it's the better type of non stick surface it will survive longer than a couple of months.

Personally I think you should get her a cheap non stick medium frying pan as well.
posted by glasseyes at 2:36 AM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Does she have a microwave? If so, she can do a lot of cooking in it (e.g., sauces and soups), which narrows down what she will need to cook in her all-in-one pan and, hopefully, simplifies your decision.

Re microwave: I have several pieces of Pampered Chef microwave cookware that I love, but wouldn't own if I had had to pay full price (I got mine at Goodwill). Nice gift, though.
posted by she's not there at 4:00 AM on November 30, 2018

As the owner of a relatively recently purchased, huge $150 all clad pan from William and Sonoma - yes it is expensive, but oh it is what is appropriate in this situation. Figure out the size that works, and the handle setup that works, and by all means go all out on this. It’ll last a long long time, and will be a joy to cook with, especially as the primary cooking mechanism in the kitchen. We wanted something bigger that could handle weekly meal prep sized portions. What do they need it for? Size appropriately and save money (and space!)
posted by oceanjesse at 7:04 AM on November 30, 2018

I received this Farberware pan as a wedding gift in 1979 and still use it every day. It was part of a set, but I rarely use the other ones. When my kids were still at home and I was cooking for more people, I used the Dutch oven a lot, but I rarely need it when I'm just cooking for myself. If your niece wants to get by with one pan, I assume that entertaining by making meals for people isn't a big part of her life.

Cast iron is great, but it is a pain in the neck. I've followed all sorts of seasoning instructions and have heard that it's really quite easy to care for, but that's not my experience. Maybe it would be great for your niece, but I would have a tough time if my only pan were cast iron.
posted by FencingGal at 7:47 AM on November 30, 2018

I think you need to say more about what your niece wants to do. Typically when people say they want to do "everything" they actually mean a handful of dishes from one cuisine.

There is not a single pot that would be great for both stir-fries and a roast chicken, although a wok would be at least passable for every stovetop technique I've ever heard of and it's entirely possible to have a rich and varied diet with only a wok. If you really want to buy the most versatile single pot you can find, I would recommend a wok.

However, as with the pasta-and-sauce example above, many common meals require multiple pots just so you can cook in parallel. Unless by "everything" your niece means "all one-pot meals."

Have you considered the Tefal Ingenio? It's a line of not all that great nonstick pots, but they're fantastic for cramped kitchens because the handle detaches. So you can have a flat skillet and a couple of saucepans nested perfectly and the handle inside the smallest pot.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:01 PM on November 30, 2018

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