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Saucepans: At least two, a 2-quart and a quart. Get sturdy, stainless steel with copper or aluminum embedded in the bottom. They should have lids and comfortable plastic handles long enough to support the weight of the pan with one hand. Plastic or wooden handles will stay cooler than metal, but the tradeoff is that they should not be placed in a hot oven or dishwasher.

Frying pans: A 10-inch stainless steel skillet that heats evenly, and a 7-to-10-inch omelet or sauce pan with a nonstick coating. The steep sides of the larger skillet hold more and are good for frying or cooking food in liquid. The sloped sides of the omelet pan make it easier to use a spatula.

Dutch Oven: Used for baking, braising and for browning meat on top of the stove before placing it in the oven to bake. It should be made of stainless steel or cast iron to hold heat and have metal handles.

Stockpot: Designed to cook food in water by convention. Usually have a relatively narrow bottom, high sides and a lid, Except for being sure it has a thick enough bottom to resist dents, the material is not important.

Lids: make sure you get a lid with each pan you buy. Lids are hard to buy separately

A double boiler for delicate sauces or steaming vegetables; a cast-iron skillet for pan broiling; and a large, inexpensive pot to boil pasta or corn-on-the-cob are very useful additions to your cookware.

Follow these simple rules to extend the life of your cooking utensils:

Match pan size with burner, and use the lowest possible heat for the food you are cooking.
Use plastic or wooden utensils on nonstick steel. Don't use abrasive cleaners on stainless steel
Remove from heat and soak pans as soon as they are emptied. By the time dinner is over, most will be easy to clean.

Dishwashers are okay for stainless steel, but their shiny finish will become streaked and dull. Wood and some plastic handles may eventually split when washed repeatedly in a dishwasher.