When you're shopping for new cookware, you are faced with a ton of options. Material, design, and price are just a few of the decisions you'll make. But one of the most important aspects of the cookware you buy is the size of the pieces.
The three main things to consider when deciding on sizes are:
- What you typically cook
- How many you typically cook for
- How much storage space you have
When it comes to cooking, having extra room is better than not having enough. Larger pieces are versatile, letting you cook numerous dishes without running out of surface space or boiling over. On the flip side, larger cookware needs more cupboard room, of course, so a large set might not be for you if you have limited storage.
Let's take a look at the different cookware sizes you'll see and what they are best used for. (Note: we're only talking about basic pots and pans, not more specialized such as grill pans or dutch ovens).
Frying Pan Sizes
Frying pans, also called skillets, have rounded sides and tend to be an item cooks use every day. They form the foundation of a good set of cookware. We like stainless steel skillets for pretty much everything, but many home cooks like having a nonstick skillet on hand for certain foods.
A 12" stainless steel frying pan can handle nearly any dish, and it's large enough to fry, saute, and brown without hassle. Even smaller families can benefit from a larger pan as foods that need lots of room can sometimes be crowded in a 10" -- even if you're only cooking for two!
A 10" frying pan is great for eggs, reducing sauces, or browning a few cutlets. A 10" is fairly easy to clean and store (most don't have a helper handle, unlike the 12").
An 8" frying pan isn't common, but a lot of people swear by it (usually in addition to a larger size, like a 12"). This article highlights some of the foods the 8" skillet does particularly well.
The downside to a 12" stainless pan is that it can be heavy once full. It can also be more cumbersome to clean and store. The 8" is much too small to have as your only pan unless you're cooking for one and don't use it much. A 10" is fairly versatile overall, but some cooks still find that the 12" is better suited to some recipes.
The saucepan is another staple of the kitchen, required for heating any kind of liquid. There are a few common sizes to choose from, including 1–1.5 quart, 2–2.5 quart, 3 quart, and 4 quart. Saucepans should come with a tight-fitting lid.
Small saucepans, ranging from 1-2.5 quarts, are great for portions of soup, sauces, oatmeal, and grains. These are easy to wash and store and are good for small families, single cooks, and those who often heat small amounts of liquids.
Larger saucepans, 3-4 quarts, are super versatile. For some, just having one 3 or 4 quart pot is enough for everyday use.
Having two saucepans is a good balance for most homes. A small, 1.5 or 2 quart saucepan and a 3 or 4 quart saucepan is a great combo for most purposes.
Saute Pan Sizes
While plenty of cooks get by without a saute pan, they can be very useful. The tall sides and large surface space make it perfect for frying and braising. Saute pans can even do some of the work of a frying pan, making it pretty versatile overall.
Though sold in quart sizes rather than in inches, saute pans are similar in size and design to a frying pan. The sizing as "quarts" has to do with the fact that saute pans are often used for liquid-based recipes. In fact, saute pans are less ideal for actually sauteing than skillets as they tend to be heavier (and thus harder to 'jump' the food in the pan).
You'll find saute pans in sizes such as 3, 4, and 5 quart (and sometimes half sizes). 4 quart is a good standard size that can accommodate most meals, but depending on how many you cook for, a 3 quart might work.
Stockpots are larger than saucepans (typically 5 quarts and larger) and are used for making stock, cooking pasta, creating large batches of soups, and more.
Smaller sized stock pots, like a 5 or 6 quart, are good for small batches of pasta, soups, and so forth. However, a 6 quart is a bit too small for a full pound of spaghetti noodles, so choose an 8 quart if your stockpot will be acting as a pasta pot, too.