Pot and Pan Essentials

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"What are the essential pots and pans?"

This is a question I get asked a lot, especially by friends who are getting married and registering for gifts. I've been cooking in the Test Kitchen for 8 years and have made thousands of meals. In that time, I've whittled my must-have cookware list down to these 5 basic pots and pans:

1. Stainless 3-quart saucepan

2. Stainless Dutch oven (preferably about 8 quarts)

3. Stainless 12-inch skillet

4. 10 to 12-inch cast-iron skillet

5. 12-inch nonstick skillet

Kitchen Tip: Your nonstick skillet does NOT have to be expensive. These must be replaced more frequently than just about anything else in your kitchen because the non-stick surface will wear down over time.

If you want other opinions about kitchen essentials, check out this story, where fellow TK staffers weighed in with some tips on choosing pots and pans.

When it comes to cooking dinner, is there a greater feeling of relief than knowing there won't be a pile of dirty dishes waiting for you after the meal? We don't think so. That's why we rave about one-pot recipes that bring a whole new meaning to quick and easy weeknight dinners.

But a great one-dish recipe doesn't get there on its own whether it's by way of baking sheet, skillet, or casserole, there's a hard-working piece of cookware (not to mention the cook!) behind its success. This collection includes lots of recipe ideas for sure, but its main purpose is to highlight the actual equipment that serves as the vessel for so many of our one-dish dinners.

For those new to the world of one-pan recipes, it can be hard to imagine much more than soups and casseroles being possible. While those categories are great, when you're armed with the right equipment (and a delicious recipe), a one-dish dinner can be anything from a cozy skillet of Baked Salmon with Creamy Orzo to fiery Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas, shown here. You'll never need to decide between feeding a crowd or making a one-dish meal when you cook with a Dutch oven or stockpot, you'll be able to fit in everything from a One-Pot Pasta with Broccoli and Lemon to a Classic Chicken Noodle Soup.

If you're not sure you're ready to dive in and outfit your kitchen for the full one-dish experience, then start with these three essentials: a good skillet, a sturdy rimmed baking sheet, and a Dutch oven or stockpot. Once you are convinced that this style of cooking is worth the investment, consider tricking out your kitchen with the other great options for one-dish cookware that can be found ahead.

1. Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is my favorite vegetable pasta dupe, but it always frustrated me how freaking long it would take to cook in the oven (sometimes over 45 minutes!). Finding out that you can cook it in the Instant Pot in under 20 minutes was a serious time-saver. Though this method does make the squash a bit more watery, it’s easy to drain out the extra liquid. This recipe by Detoxinista is my go-to.

Courtesy of Damn Delicious.

Healthy One Pan Dinner Essentials

Cookbook #5 is my best yet. Healthy One Pan Dinners is now for sale on Amazon and just about everywhere also books are sold.

Weeknight dinners can be a chore, especially when they require multiple pots and pans. Simplify dinner with 100 easy recipes that come together quickly and require only one sheet pan, skillet, Dutch oven, multicooker, or slow cooker. Healthy recipes feature fresh, whole food ingredients and lightened up versions of family favorites. Short on prep but big on flavor, these homemade meals are easy, flexible, and quick to prepare–exactly what you need to get dinner on the table with minimal fuss.

Healthy One Pan Dinners makes weeknight cooking attainable with:

• 100 recipes for satisfying, one-pan dinners that will please the whole family including Skirt Steak with Chimichurri, Ginger Shrimp with Carrots and Snap Peas, Eggplant Parmesan Stackers, and Thai Chicken Lettuce Cups.

• Helpful tags to identify Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegetarian, Under 30 Minutes, and Freezer-Friendly meals.

• Complete nutritional information for every recipe.

• Tips for repurposing leftovers, meal prep, storage, and reheating.

Need One Pan Cookware?

Visit the Healthy One Pan Dinners Amazon Shop for my top picks in various price ranges for sheet pans, cast iron skillets, pressure cookers, slow cookers, casserole dishes, Dutch Ovens and accessories.

3) Less Stress

Anyone who has ever cooked a meal on multiple burners knows, timing is everything. But when you’re camping it can be a lot harder to make sure the each part of the meal is ready at the same time. Not so with one pot meals! Since you’re adding all your ingredients to a single pot, everything is ready when everything is ready.

Take a load off and just let this Shakshuka simmer down.

Recipe Summary

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 (3 pound) boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pinch seasoned salt, or to taste
  • 1 pinch onion powder, or to taste
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can beef broth
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 large onion, cut into 4 wedges
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces

Heat oil in a pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Brown roast on all sides in the hot oil season with pepper, seasoned salt, and onion powder.

Pour in beef broth and Worcestershire sauce, add the quartered onion, and seal the lid. Bring the cooker up to full pressure. Reduce heat to low, maintaining full pressure, and cook for 30 minutes.

Use the quick-release method to lower the pressure. Mix in carrots and potatoes, seal the lid again, and return the pressure cooker to the heat. Bring the cooker up to full pressure and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Use the quick-release method again and transfer the roast and vegetables to a serving dish.

Dorm Room Pantry Staples

There isn’t a ton of storage space in dorm rooms, but you can still keep a few pantry dorm room cooking essentials on hand. What you add to your pantry is very personal, depending on what you like to eat. We have a complete pantry-stocking guide and shopping list here – pick and choose what strikes your fancy. Some pantry basics that we suggest are:

  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Rice noodles
  • Coconut milk
  • Cinnamon
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Canned salmon or sardines
  • Canned beans
  • Applesauce
  • Dried fruit

6 Things You Should Never Cook in an Instant Pot

If you’re anything like us, the Instant Pot has become your go-to gadget in the kitchen. After all, the pressure cooker makes it unbelievably easy to whip up weeknight dinners, grab-and-go breakfasts and decadent desserts. However, even the best things have their limits — and the Instant Pot is no exception. These six dishes are best prepared outside the pot.

1. Creamy Sauces

If there’s one food group you should avoid in the Instant Pot, it’s dairy. The high heat and pressure can cause milk and cheese to curdle, separate or clump together. Instead, try adding in the dairy after the pressure cook cycle is complete, like we do in this 5-Ingredient Instant Pot Mac and Cheese.


Food Network Kitchen’s Air-Fryer Chicken Tenders for NEW FNK, as seen on Food Network.

2. Fried Chicken

The best fried chicken is crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside and perfectly golden brown. When you’re cooking in an enclosed, moist environment like the Instant Pot, that crave-worthy classic quickly becomes a pale, soggy mess. Though nothing beats a deep fryer for fried chicken, you can use the Air Fryer to make easy, mess-free chicken tenders.


Chef Name: Food Network KitchenFull Recipe Name: Simple Chocolate Chip CookiesTalent Recipe: FNK Recipe: Food Networks Kitchen’s Simple Chocolate Chip Cookies, as seen on Foodnetwork.comProject: Foodnetwork.com, FN Essentials/Weeknights/Fall/HolidaysShow Name: Food Network / Cooking Channel: Food Network,Chef Name: Food Network Kitchen Full Recipe Name: Simple Chocolate Chip Cookies Talent Recipe: FNK Recipe: Food Networks Kitchen’s Simple Chocolate Chip Cookies, as seen on Foodnetwork.com Project: Foodnetwork.com, FN Essentials/Weeknights/Fall/Holidays Show Name: Food Network / Cooking Channel: Food Network

Photo by: Renee Comet ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

3. Cookies

Desserts that are steamed or baked in water baths, like cheesecake, can flourish in the Instant Pot (case in point: this mind-blowing Instant Pot Cookies-and-Cream Cheesecake). However, because pressure and moisture build up inside the pot, cookies won’t get the chewy edges and pillowy insides that make them so delicious. Plus, you can’t fit a lot of cookies on the bottom surface of the pot. Our advice? Stick to the oven next time you want a big batch of chocolate chip cookies.

12 Things No One Tells You About Using an Instant Pot

Obsession is all but guaranteed. But first, there are a few key facts to know before you get cooking.

Photo By: Heather Ramsdell

Everything You Need to Know About Instant Pot Cooking

The Instant Pot is the shiny new apple of our eye. We just can't get enough, and we'll shout it from the rooftops if you ask. But that doesn't mean it was all smooth sailing from the start. Whether you're considering the purchase of an Instant Pot or have one but still feel like a newbie, these important truths will make your cooking experience easier.

Cooking in an Instant Pot Takes Longer Than You Think

You may have heard an IP can poach chicken breasts in 8 minutes and make steel-cut oatmeal in 3 minutes &mdash mind blowing, right? Well, the reality is that the minutes you enter on the control panel indicate cooking time. And that clock doesn't start until pressure has built up inside the cooker (kind of like preheating). And it doesn't end until the pressure is released. How long that takes depends on the quantity of food and temperature &mdash colder foods will take longer to come to pressure. Anticipate 5 to 20 minutes for a machine to come to pressure and up to 30 minutes to release it naturally. So, the more accurate cook time for that chicken is 28 minutes and 23 minutes for those oats.

The Sauté Feature Is Everything

This is what sets the Instant Pot apart from other pressure cookers and slow cookers. With the sauté option, you can do things like caramelize onions or toast spices without pulling out another pan. It can also be used at the end of cooking to reduce soups and sauces at a brisk simmer, something that can be a drag in a slow cooker.

The More Presets the Better? Wrong.

The Instant Pot has So. Many. Buttons. Do you really need them all? No. You'll find most IP recipes simply call for the manual or pressure cook setting because they allow more control. Cooking is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The pre-sets for, say, beans or rice, won't work for every recipe, for the same reason not all cakes cook at the same time and chicken thighs take longer than chicken breasts.

It's Not Just a Pressure Cooker

The size of an Instant Pot is probably one of the biggest reasons people hedge on buying one. Who needs another space-hogging appliance? But an IP does much more than pressure cook. It's a slow cooker, rice cooker and yogurt-maker too. Eliminate one of those from your pantry and you'll have room for your new friend.

The Recipes Need Liquid to Work

You must have liquid (broth, water or juices) in your recipe to build up pressure for cooking. You'll need around 1 1/2 cups of liquid for the 8-quart, 1 cup for the 6-quart and 3/4 cup for the 3-quart Instant Pot. Pro tip: To speed up the time it takes for the pot to come to pressure, warm the liquid on the saute setting first. This could save you up to 10 minutes.

You Can't Smell- or Sight-Check Your Food

You'll need to get used to dumping ingredients in the pot, then sealing it up out of sight and smells for the duration of the cooking (no peeking under the lid here). It's a weird one for cooks to comprehend, but the time saved on long braises is totally worth it.

You Can Start with Frozen Meat

Unlike slow cookers, which are unsafe for cooking frozen meat because of major food safety concerns like bacteria growth , the Instant Pot cooks quickly and at a high temperature, making it possible to put frozen chicken legs in the pot and sit down to a chicken adobo dinner 1 1/2 hours later. The drawbacks: You will need to add about 50 percent more cooking time to the recipe, during which time the other ingredients may overcook. And it'll take longer for the pot to come to pressure (the warmer the ingredients, the faster it goes).

You Need to Buy an Extra Sealing Ring

Two words: garlic cheesecake. That's what you could end up with if you cook a pungent braised pork one night and a dessert the next day because silicone rings are great flavor absorbers. Keep two rings on hand, reserving one for savory cooking and the other for sweet, and replace them every 6 to 12 months depending on how often you use them.

You'll Want to Spring for a Few Accessories

Accessories are key to making many of our favorite Instant Pot recipes, like this super silky cheesecake, which requires a 7-inch springform pan and a lifting contraption to get the pan out (either silicon or a homemade foil sling will do). There are egg racks for making lots of jammy, soft-boiled eggs, steamer baskets for cooking healthy vegetable dinners and glass lids for when you just want to use your Instant Pot as a slow cooker.

Not Everything Is Better in an Instant Pot

You wouldn't cook everything in a slow cooker or on the grill, so you can't expect the same of your Instant Pot. There are some obvious things, like fried foods, which won't stay crisp in the moist environment of the pot. But the number one item to avoid is steak. A nice New York strip steak will emerge from your IP steamed, gray and rubbery. For anything best served medium-rare with a good sear, stick to the grill or a smoking hot pan.

Ignore the Max Fill Line

The max fill line on your Instant Pot insert isn't designed for pressure cooking. It's designed for the slow cook setting (so follow it then). When you use the pressure cook setting, fill the pot no more than two-thirds full. And if you're cooking foods like beans, rice or any other dehydrated food that will expand while cooking, only fill halfway. Any more and you'll clog the valves and have leaky seals.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

If you cook for your whole family nightly, opt for a 6- or 8-quart model, which can hold a whole chicken. Smaller tasks, like making rice and beans, or preparing dinners for one are perfect for a 3-quart pot. Though most Instant Pot recipes are designed for larger pots, you can scale down almost any recipe to a 3-quart pot if you keep in mind that once the IP it comes to pressure, the cook times will remain the same.

Place the joint in the slow cooker stoneware and arrange the vegetables around the joint.

Mix together the wine or stock and tomato puree, pour over the brisket and cook on Low for 5-6 hours, or until the meat is tender and the vegetables are cooked through.

The meat juices will make delicious gravy. If thicker gravy is preferred mix a little cold water with some corn flour and a couple of spoonfuls of juice in a small pan, add the remaining liquid and bring to the boil to thicken.

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