Unless you’re a professional chef, no one at home expects to you cook like one. But they do expect you to cook well enough so that your food doesn’t taste as if it came out of a poorly-ran fast-food joint.
A few things help you get there.
On the one side, it’s always better to use fresh, local, and in-season ingredients. As well as stick to the recipes that help those ingredients stand out (instead of overwhelming them with spices or drowning them in sauces).
On the other, you need a good set of tools by your side—I’m talking cookware—to help you brown bacon strips, sear salmon fillets, cook sunny-side-up eggs, stir-fry frozen veggies, or make stovetop french fries.
How much should you plan to spend on them, exactly?
With so many brands and too much choice out there, it’s no wonder that, every time they need to buy a new cooking vessel, home cooks like you and me find themselves asking this question.
To find out, I pulled prices from the Internet’s top retailers and the online stores of some of the best-known brands, then calculated and rounded up the averages.
Here’s what I found:
If you buy a frying pan, stockpot, and Dutch oven, you can expect to spend a total of $261 on average, of which $62 on the fry pan, $81 on the stockpot, and $119 on the Dutch oven.
This excludes any other equipment that you may need, such as cutlery (chef’s knife, paring knife, etc.), cutting board, kitchen utensils (spatula, whisk, fork, etc.) or cooking accessories (oven mitts, pot holders, etc.).
To lay it out on a table:
|Cooking Vessel||Cooking Methods||Key Factors||Price|
|Frying pan||Searing, sautéing, shallow-frying, browning, braising||Brand, model, diameter (inches), material, coating, construction||$62|
|Stockpot (pot)||Boiling, poaching, deep-frying||Brand, model, capacity (quarts), material||$81|
|Dutch oven||Browning, braising, stewing, baking||Brand, model, capacity (quarts), enamel||$119|
Questions like “How much should I spend on X and Y?” are always tricky to answer: their answers depend on way too many variables that I can’t factor-in.
So take these figures with a grain of salt and—knowing that they’re rough and intentionally imprecise—treat them more like a compass and less like a map.
Without a doubt, frying pans are the most essential vessel for a cook. They provide you with flat and even surface for cooking foods, with or without the help of cooking oil, on your stove. Some pans are oven-friendly, which makes them ideal for one-skillet recipes.
How much should you expect to spend on buying one?
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to assume you only need one type of pan—and that’s a skillet (short, sloped sides). So I’m not going to cover sauté pans (short, vertical sides) or saucepans (tall, vertical sides).
All details aside, the average price of a frying pan is $62.1. Non-stick fry pans are the most affordable ($35.8 a piece), followed by cast iron skillets in a close second ($37.5 a piece), and stainless steel pans coming in third ($113 a piece).
What determines the price?
Let’s just say that, when it comes to cookware, size does make a difference.
To get the most value for your money, think about the number of persons you cook for daily; it will determine how big of a frying pan you ultimately need.
Whether you cook for yourself or a household of two, I recommend skipping the 8-inch frying pan and going directly for a 10-inch one. A pan of this diameter is big enough for the majority of your cooking needs. The price difference between the two is also not that big.
Readers who enjoy more sizeable portions or those who cook for a family of three should go for a 12-inch frying pan instead. You’re going to need that extra space for larger cuts of meat and coarsely-cut veggies. Plus, you want to be able to maneuver foods comfortably and freely in the pan.
Cooking for a crowd? Consider buying a 13-inch or 14-inch frying pan. However, before you hit that “Buy” button, make sure your stove has a burner or zone that’s big enough to heat it. Pans of this size are already prone to cold spots—using them on a zone that’s not big enough will make the problem worse. Else, get a 12-inch pan.
Two more factors that determine the price of your frying pan are the material and coating.
While other types of frying pans exist, the three most common materials for frying pans are cast iron, stainless steel, and aluminum. Aluminum, and less so stainless steel, is coated with PT to produce non-stick cookware.
No matter what kind of material you pick, some brands’ products will always cost more than those of their peers, especially if they’re well-known among consumers and produce their pans in the USA. Still, you usually get higher quality with them than with those that outsource production to Southeast Asia.
Cast Iron Skillet
Cast iron skillets are great for searing steak, cooking burgers, and making stovetop french fries. They also double up as bakeware for cornbread and homemade pizza.
However, cast iron cooking vessels leach a sizeable amount of dietary iron when you cook acidic foods in them. So they’re not the best choice for preparing recipes that call for tomatoes (ripe or canned), vinegar, and wine.
The price of a cast iron skillet varies tremendously with the make and model. How much you’re going to spend depends on which brand you decide to go for, and whether they have an automated production line or craft their products by hand.
For example, on the day of publishing this article, a 12-inch Lodge skillet sold for $27.95 at the company’s online store. A Finex cast iron skillet (the Finex brand was acquired by Lodge in 2019) sold for $195 a piece.
In a way, that’s understandable. Lodge skillets are simple and sturdy cooking vessels built to last and sold for a dirt-cheap price. Finex skillets are premium pieces of cookware that take more time and materials to make. While I don’t know that, the markup on them is most probably higher, too.
But this is Home Cook World. And, as regular readers of this blog very well know, you always get more than the general rule of thumb!
To give you a price range, I went through my list of cast iron skillets made in the USA, pulled the prices of cast iron skillets at brands’ stores and at a few online retailers, then evened out the ranges.
Here’s what I found:
|Cast iron skillet||10 inches||$20 – $120|
|Cast iron skillet||12 inches||$30 – $200|
|Cast iron skillet||13-14 inches||$40 – $250|
My two cents?
We’re talking about cast iron, so no need to go crazy on features.
A good ol’ single-piece skillet retails between $25 and $50. No need for enamel or fancy handles. A lid is nice to have, but certainly optional.
With the right care and attention from your side, an ordinary cast iron skillet that once cost you thirty or so bucks can last you a lifetime. Some even turn into family heirloom that gets handed down for generations.
If you take me up on the advice—and skip the bells and whistles—you can expect to spend on average $37.5 for a cast iron skillet. Of course, you can always choose to support a small business that handcrafts skillets at a higher price instead.
Your kitchen, your rules.
My favorite brands are, from lowest to highest-priced, Lodge, Smithey Ironware, and The Field Company. All three manufacture their cookware in the country, and most of them source their materials (recycled iron) domestically as well.
Stainless Steel Frying Pan
A stainless steel frying pan can cook just about anything. Though law-fat, protein-rich foods (eggs, chicken, fish) have the tendency to stick to it, you can counter that by preheating the pan for at least 2-3 minutes and cooking with a generous amount of oil or butter.
Those bits and pieces of food stuck to the bottom of your stainless steel pan? “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature,” as a friend of mine who works as a programmer likes to say. Add 1/2 cup of beer or broth and bring to a boil to release them, making the most delicious pan sauce to pour onto any meal.
Stainless steel is terrible at conducting heat, and pans and pots made of it are prone to having cold spots. But you can use metal utensils to stir and flip foods in them—and they’re dishwasher safe—which is why many professional and home cooks opt-in for this type of cookware.
How much you’ll spend for a stainless steel frying pan depends not only on the brand, model, and size, but on its construction and composition.
To counter the poor conductivity of stainless steel, manufacturers typically add aluminum or copper to their pans. Aluminum is affordable and good enough, copper is expensive and the most performant.
To help you understand stainless steel pans, I’m going to introduce you to two terms:
The “composition” of a frying pan, in other words, is the selection of metals that it’s made of. The way in which the metals are bonded together determines the “construction” of your frying pan.
Yes, I completely made these up! But, hopefully, they’ll make everything that I’m about to tell you below clearer.
A disc-bottomed pan is made of a thin layer of steel bonded to a thick plate of aluminum or copper. These heat okay, but the sides get scorching-hot and can easily burn your foods when they come into contact with them.
A fully-clad pan, on the other hand, is made of layers of steel and aluminum or copper, “sandwiched” and pressed in the shape of a pan. Fully-clad pans, also known as “clad pans,” heat quickly and evenly. They give you just about the best cooking experience you could get from stainless steel.
Both disc-bottomed and fully-clad pans can contain an aluminum or copper core (respectively, concealed inside the disc or layered in the middle of the cladding):
Some, more exotic models, can even contain a combination for optimal conductivity.
If these terms are intimidatingly new to you, I’ve got you covered:
|Stainless steel frying pan||Disc-bottomed||Stainless steel and aluminum||$30 – $90|
|Stainless steel frying pan||Fully-clad, Tri-ply||Stainless steel and aluminum||$125 – $250|
|Stainless steel frying pan||Fully-clad, Tri-ply||Stainless steel and copper||$250 – $500|
In terms of brands, my two favorites include All-Clad (costly, USA-made, broiler/oven-safe) and Costco’s Kirkland Signature (low-cost, China-made, mostly for stovetop use or it might warp).
Have your reservations towards Kirkland Signature?
So did I, especially given the origin, reputation, and unsurpassable quality of All Clad. But chef George Giannaris managed to convince me otherwise in a YouTube review. If budget is indeed a constraint—and it normally is!—getting a whole set from Costco is one of your best plays.
What’s the bottom line, then?
On average, you can expect to spend $113 for a stainless steel frying pan, with disc-bottom pans on the lower end, clad pans with an aluminum core somewhere in the middle, and clad pans with a copper core on the higher end.
To a large extent, the price of a fully-clad pan is determined by the type of metal and number of layers used for its production. Tri-ply pans are less pricey than five-ply pans, which cost less than their seven-ply counterparts. Pans with an aluminum core are much more affordable than those with a copper core.
In my opinion, a fully-clad, tri-ply frying pan made of a stainless steel exterior and an aluminum core offers the best price/performance ratio for home cooking.
Could you get a better pan? Most certainly yes. Will you be able to tell the difference when you cook supper? I highly doubt it. So, once again, you can hardly make a mistake if you stick to the basics.
Non-Stick Frying Pan
Non-stick frying pans excel at basic cooking tasks, such as making sunny-side-up eggs, cooking up omelets, and preparing pancakes.
The PTFE coating also keeps fish fillets and bacon strips from sticking to the surface. All in all, this type of pans is a good choice if you’re looking for a no-frills cooking experience.
As a bonus, non-stick cookware is ridiculously easy to clean. 99.9% of the time, you can simply wipe down the food residue with a paper towel, then clean the vessel effortlessly in the sink.
Keep in mind that you should only use silicone or wood utensils in a non-stick frying pan. Metal forks and spatulas can scratch the coating and damage your pan beyond repair.
Don’t put non-stick cookware in the dishwasher. Floating eatware and utensils can scratch the non-stick coating during the cleaning cycle, and the chemical harshness of the detergent doesn’t help.
How much can you expect to spend on a non-stick frying pan?
It ultimately comes down to the brand, model, coating, and core. To produce non-stick cookware, manufacturers usually spray PTFE coats on aluminum pans (more affordable) or fully-clad stainless steel pans (pricier, more performant).
As we already established, fully-clad stainless steel with an aluminum core and a non-stick coating is significantly cheaper than the same type of pan with a copper core.
|Non-stick frying pan, aluminum||10 inches||$15 – $30|
|Non-stick frying pan, aluminum||12 inches||$20 – $50|
|Non-stick frying pan, aluminum||13-14 inches||$25 – $75|
What averages does that give us, exactly?
The average non-stick frying pan costs $35.8, with aluminum-core cookware on the lower end and PTFE-coated stainless steel on the higher end.
Don’t be tempted by the cheap stuff out there, and buy your frying pan from a reputable brand—like T-fal or Made In Cookware—instead.
Compared to most of their counterparts, non-stick frying pans generally retail for less, but that’s not the whole story.
The coating eventually wears off and starts to peel, at which stage you should throw the pan in the bin (or seek out a recycling site that accepts this type of cookware). So, depending on how well you care for your pan, you’ll need to buy a replacement for it every 2-3 years.
When you factor that in, the total cost of ownership gets pretty high!
This, along with the fact that I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of non-stick coatings, is why I use cast iron and stainless steel cookware for 90% of my day-to-day cooking.
A stockpot, which many of also call a “pot,” is another piece of cookware that every cook should have somewhere in their cabinets. It can help you make any dish that requires a sizeable amount of liquid—like stocks, sauces, soups, chilis, and stews—or cooking oil—like battered fish or deep-fried chicken.
Unless your stockpot is overly big, it can double up as a handy piece of cookware for boiling eggs, rice, Italian pasta, or Asian noodles. Though you could probably argue with me whether or not you need a separate, smaller pot for the purpose.
Most stockpots are made of stainless steel, as it yields cookware that heats well enough, isn’t overly heavy to carry around (imagine lifting a cast iron Dutch oven with 9 quarts of water inside!), and can be cleaned in the dishwasher.
Some pots have non-stick coatings. Personally, I fail to see the utility in that. The coating wears off in two to three years and renders your pot unusable. So, from a total cost of ownership point of view, it’s much better to invest in a high-quality stainless steel pot that you can use for life.
All other things being equal, the price of a stockpot is influenced mainly by the brand, the construction, and the capacity. It can vary anywhere from $40 for a 6-quart pot to $150 for a 20-quart pot. On average, you can expect to spend $81.25 on a stockpot.
Here’s a rough representation of how price changes along with capacity:
|Stockpot||6-8 quarts||$40 – $70|
|Stockpot||8-10 quarts||$50 – $90|
|Stockpot||10-12 quarts||$60 – $120|
|Stockpot||18-20 quarts||$70 – $150|
What stockpot capacity do you need?
A pot from 4 to 6 quarts is ideal for making soups, stews, chilis, currys, and pastas. 8 to 12 quarts are best when cooking for a large family as well as preparing bone broth or vegetable stock. Use larger pots when cooking for a crowd or canning foods.
More reputable brands tend to put a higher markup on their cookware. At the same time, they use higher-quality materials, have more rigorous quality assurance processes, and offer a reliable warranty for their products (despite the fact that the warranty coverage on cheaper products is usually better).
In other words, when you buy a stockpot from a well-known brand that you can trust, you’re paying for everything else that’s not explicitly written on the label.
If you plan to cook with that pot daily, this can make a tremendous difference.
The Dutch oven is like the stockpot’s bulkier cousin.
You can use it on the stove or bake with it in the oven. The heavy lid turns it into a cord-free, no-B.S. substitute for pressure cookers and slow cookers.
While both are considered pots, Dutch ovens are typically wider and shorter than stockpots. Instead of stainless steel, they’re made of cast iron, which makes them heavier, but capable of distributing heat more evenly and holding on to it for longer periods of time.
How to decide if you actually need one, some of you are probably asking?
That’s easy: if you’re a cooking beginner, get a stockpot. If you’re an intermediate cook who already has a good stockpot and wants to master the art and craft of braising and stewing using a better-suited cooking vessel for the job, go for a Dutch oven.
Considering you just found yourself in the second group, here’s what you need to know:
Generally speaking, there are two types of Dutch ovens: those made of bare cast iron and their enameled cast iron counterparts.
Bare cast iron Dutch ovens can withstand higher temperatures to the extent that you can even use them over a campfire. But they need to be seasoned as protection against corrosion and rust. Also, you shouldn’t simmer acidic foods in them because they’ll leach dietary iron into your food, imparting an unpleasant metallic taste to it.
Enameled Dutch ovens are basically cast iron Dutch ovens with a porcelain enamel coat that’s been fused into the metal. The enamel keeps the iron from reacting to your foods, so you can cook any recipe in them. However, it’s prone to chipping and cracking—so these pots can’t be heated above 450°F and shouldn’t go in the dishwasher too often.
The difference in price ranges between the two, as you can see in the table below, is staggering:
|Cast iron Dutch oven||6-7 quarts||$50 – $75|
|Enameled cast iron Dutch oven||6-7 quarts||$50 – $300|
What does this tell us, exactly?
Clearly, cast iron Dutch ovens are less expensive. Though you could get an enameled one on the cheap, for example from Lodge or Cuisinart, higher-end pieces like those by Le Creuset are rumored to be of better quality and last longer as a result. Given the price of this purchase, you may want to “buy it nice, or buy it twice.”
On average, you can expect to spend $118.75 on a 6-quart to 7-quart Dutch oven, with cast iron on the lower end and enameled cast iron generally on the higher end.
Great article. Very helpful. Thanks, Jim.