A stack of stainless steel pots and pans showing the bare minimum

What Size Pots and Pans Do I Need?

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Stocking your kitchen with cookware is a lot like buying a new car. You go in, pockets full, expecting it to be fun. But instead, you wrestle for hours with the decision. Is that new feature really that important? Should I choose something efficient, or something cool? I didn’t realize there were so many sizes… what size pots and pans do I need, anyway?

Then, you make your choice, and fork over an eyebrow-raising sum of money. And after it’s all said and done, you still wonder if you made the right call.

Well, I’m here to tell you that buying new pots and pans doesn’t have to feel like shooting in the dark. 

So whether you’re fresh off a remodel looking to upgrade your kitchen arsenal or moving into your first apartment, read on! I’ll give you all the details so you can shop ’til you drop – regret and worry-free.

PS: the images on this post are of stainless steel cookware, simply because it is the most complete set I currently have. To determine what type of cookware is best for your kitchen, read this post. The type of stove you use, your cooking style, and your personal priorities will help guide you to the right choices.

Different Sizes of Cooking Pots

Before we talk about how to max out your cookware dollars efficiently, let’s take a look at the bigger picture.

Getting a nice, sweeping overview of the wide variety of cookware available will save you a whole lotta mental gymnastics while you shop. I’ve been that girl maniacally pacing the aisles of Sur La Table – trust me, it’s not a good look.

So, let’s get into it, starting with: saucepans.

Saucepan Sizes

A good saucepan will be your kitchen bestie, so it’s important to consider what size you buy carefully. Think about what you usually cook and how many people you typically cook for.

It’s not a bad idea to have multiple sizes of saucepans. Lots of households have one for actual sauces, and another for heating soups, cooking pasta, etc. 

But if you’re trying to keep your spend light or your cabinets uncluttered, opt for one that’s big enough for all your cooking needs.

You’ll want it to have a tight-fitting lid, too. You can ruin a dish if too much of its moisture boils off.

1-1.5 Quart Saucepan2-2.5 Quart Saucepan3-3.5 Quart Saucepan4+ Quart Saucepan
Cooking/heating small dishes and sides for 1Cooking/heating small dishes and sides for 2Cooking dishes for 2-3 peopleCooking dishes for 3+ people
Poaching eggsPoaching eggsBoiling pastaBoiling pasta & cooking rice
Making syrupsMaking syrupsCooking riceHard-boiling eggs
Boiling small amounts of pastaSteaming with a steamer basketSteaming with a steamer basket
Three sauce pans stacked on a gas stove.

Frying Pan Sizes

Even in the most sparsely stocked Airbnb kitchen, you’ll find a frying pan (aka a skillet). There’s a reason for that: you’ll need one to make pretty much every dish known to man.

Sauteing, searing, pan-frying, stir-frying, browning, toasting… I could go on, but you get the idea. You’ll probably use your frying pan more than anything else.

There are some situations where small frying pans really shine. But even if you’re only cooking for one or two, bigger is usually better. You risk overcrowding otherwise.

8 Inch Frying Pan10 Inch Frying Pan12 Inch Frying Pan
Fried eggs & OmeletsFried and scrambled eggsFried and scrambled eggs
Searing single servings of fish and meatSearing 2-3 servings of fish and meatSearing 2-4 servings of fish and meat
Toasting nutsReducing sauces & deglazingReducing sauces & deglazing
Pancakes/CrepesSautéing veggiesSautéing veggies

Sauté Pan Sizes

Not everybody needs a sauté pan. But if you want to be prepared for any recipe your Pinterest feed throws at you, I’d highly suggest having one on-hand.

Think of sauté pans as the middle-ground between saucepans and skillets. Their tall sides prevent liquid spillage and oil splatter, but you can’t exactly boil pasta in them.

They’re good for braising and shallow-frying, and they hold their own in the sauté and stir-fry department, too.

3 – 3.5 Quart Sauté Pan4 – 4.5 Quart Sauté Pan5+ Quart Sauté Pan
Shallow-frying for 1-2 peopleShallow-frying for 2-3 peopleShallow-frying for 3+ people
One-pan dishes for 1-2 peopleOne-pan dishes for 2-3 peopleOne-pan dishes for 3+ people
Stir frying for 1-2 peopleStir frying for 2-3 peopleStir frying for 3+ people
Sauteing for 1-2 peopleSauteing for 2-3 peopleSauteing for 3+ people

Casserole/Stock Pot Sizes

Alright, so technically a casserole and a stockpot aren’t exactly the same. But since “short stockpot” is another name for casseroles, they’re close enough that I felt like I could group them together.

These pots run the gamut of sizes from 3-40 quarts. They have 2 helper handles and a tight fitting lid. Both are amazing for anything slow-cooked.

Casseroles are smaller and oven safe: hello, one-pot meals! Usually, they’re made of enameled cast iron.

Stock pots, on the other hand, come in larger sizes. They’re typically stainless steel. They sometimes have strainers at the bottom for easy liquid infusions or steaming.

Which one you’ll need depends on what you like to make (and what you have the space for).

2 – 4 Quart Casserole5 – 6 Quart Casserole6 – 40 Quart Stockpot
CasserolesCasserolesSeafood boils
Small batches of stews, stocks, soups, chiliMedium batches of stews, stocks, soups, and chiliLarge batches of stews, stocks, soups, chili
Pot roasts for 2Pot roasts for 3+Risotto/pasta/quinoa dishes for 4+ people
Side dishes for 3+ people (mashed potatoes, veggies, etc.)Side dishes for 4+ people (mashed potatoes, veggies, etc.)Side dishes for 5+ people (mashed potatoes, veggies, etc.)

What Pots and Pans Do I Really Need?

Now, we get down to brass tacks: to function in the kitchen, you really only need three of the pots and pans I listed above.

First things first, get a saucepan. I’d recommend getting the biggest one you think you’ll need- you can always underfill a pot, but you can’t overfill it. For most people, a 4-4.5 quart saucepan is the biggest they’ll need.

You can also get a smaller saucepan for sauces and syrups if you’re looking for a more rounded out cookware collection, but it’s certainly not absolutely necessary. 

Then, you’ll need a good frying pan. Once again, the larger, the better, no matter how many people you cook for. Unless you’re cooking for one and almost exclusively use frying pans for breakfast foods, in which case, go for the 8 inch skillet.

Finally, choose one of the three: a sauté pan, casserole, or stock pot. Consider how many people you cook for, what you usually cook, and your space limitations. Reference the sizes and best uses listed above to determine which is best for you.

Of course, you don’t need to limit yourself to just three pots and pans. If you have the space and budget for every style/size of cookware listed above, go for it! When it comes to options in the kitchen, I’m a firm believer in “the more, the merrier”.

Do I Need a 10 or 12 Inch Pan?

A 10-inch frying pan is a convenient choice for a family of 1-3 people. It doesn’t take up a lot of room in the cupboard or the sink, and it’s usually roomy enough to accomplish all of your kitchen tasks.

But, fair warning: if you frequently use frying pans to sear or pan-fry cuts of meat, you may want to size up. Even when I cook for two, 10-inch pans can start to feel cramped. If I were cooking for three, some of the meat might be too close together to cook properly.

That’s why I say if you’re between a 10 inch pan or a 12 inch pan, opt for the 12 inch. There will be a situation where it’s extra room will be worth its keep.

How Big is 1qt in Serving Sizes?

1 quart is pretty much the smallest a pot or pan can be. So it should come as no surprise that you’re not going to feed a family of 5 cooking in a 1 quart vessel. Unless you’re okay with cooking in 5 batches!

1 quart saucepans give you enough room to serve one person – as long as you/whoever you’re serving isn’t ravenously hungry.

How Big is 2qt in Serving Sizes?

2 quart saucepans/sauté pans are a step up from 1 quart, but, admittedly, not by as much as you’d think.

You still won’t have enough room to cook for a group. Using a 2 quart saucepan will serve no more than 2 people, and that’s pushing it. If it’s a 2 quart sauté pan, expect more like 1 serving.

How Big is 3 Quarts in Serving Sizes?

A 3 quart saucepan is much more flexible than smaller sizes. It should give you enough room to work with so long as you’re cooking a side dish for a small group, or a main dish for 3 people or less.

A 3 quart sauté pan gives you enough room to make a side dish for 3, or a main dish (like a cut of meat) for 2.

Top vies of three stainless steel saucepans on a neutral countertop.

What Size Pots and Pans Do I Need? My Final Thoughts

Remember how I said shopping for pots and pans is like shopping for a new car? Well, here’s another reason why: there’s no single right choice. There’s only the right choice for you.

Some people can’t do without a backup camera, while others need lots of seats to cart around a large family. Similarly, what size pots and pans you’ll need isn’t one-size-fits-all. It depends largely on your cooking habits, family size, and space limitations.

Get the basics first and then see what you’re missing. Would another saucepan make weeknight dinners easier? Pick one up. Adding as your needs expand is the best way to avoid clutter of unused pieces while curating a cookware set that’s bespoke to your cooking needs. 

About Author

Tia Goodnight

Hey! I'm Tia, and I started this site to bring you the best information on all things kitchen so you can enjoy and elevate your everyday life.

I love trying new techniques and tools, living for the thrill of pulling off a new skill. On weekends you'll find me at the local farmer's markets or hosting friends and family for an evening of yard or card games and delicious food.

If you're looking for honest, real-world advice on all things kitchen and cooking, you're in the right place!