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Your sweet aunt Mildred bought you a beautiful 14-piece set of pots and pans…and after all these years, you still use only the frying pan and the saucepan. It’s time to get the other guys into the rotation (and, um, maybe finally find out what they’re actually for). Presenting the ultimate guide to the many types of pans (and pots, too) you have in your kitchen, plus a few you might want to add to your collection.

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1. BRAISER

What it is: A wide, shallow pan with a heavy bottom and a lid that fits tightly on top. It’s typically made of a heavy-duty material like cast iron or glazed ceramic, so it can withstand high heat on both the stovetop and in the oven. With a braiser, you can sear meat on the stove at a high heat, then add liquid and cook it (or braise, if you will) at a lower temperature in the oven. You can basically think of this one as a cross between a skillet and a Dutch oven.

What to make: Skillet Lasagna with Italian Sausage, Butternut Squash and Spinach

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Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

2. CASSEROLE DISH

What it is: This square or rectangular dish, typically made of ceramic or glass, is perfect for baking dishes in the oven on high heat. From polenta to French toast, this versatile vessel can cook way more than tuna noodle casserole. (Although it cooks that nicely, too.)

What to make: Cauliflower Gratin

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3. SAUCEPAN

What it is: You probably have at least two or three of these in your cupboard. Use the little half-quart to melt butter, the two-quart to heat up tomato sauce and the four-quart to boil pasta. (Just remember: It’s always better to have a little extra room than to crowd the pan.)

What to make: One-Pot Macaroni and Cheese

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4. SAUCIER

What it is: Think of it as a rounded saucepan with a wider mouth—it’s designed to help sauces cook evenly while they’re reducing and often has a pouring lip. It’s great for gravy and risotto, too.

What to make: Cheater’s White Pizza with Bechamel Sauce

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5. ROASTING PAN

What it is: This workhorse is usually made of aluminum or stainless steel, or if you really want to get fancy, copper. It’s perfect for cooking meat and veggies at the same time in the oven at high temperatures. So pile 'em high and drizzle the whole thing with olive oil.

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6. FRYING PAN

What it is: If you have one non-stick item in your cupboard, it’s probably this guy. It makes a killer omelette, but pretty much anything else you cook in it will probably turn out OK, too. Keep it on hand at all times.

What to make: Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry

Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

7. CAST IRON SKILLET

What it is: It’s a total pain to keep clean (it involves salt and olive oil), but because it conducts heat evenly in and out of the oven and at any temperature, we’re sold. Best of all, you don’t need to transfer the food into another dish before you dig in.

What to make: Skillet Nacho Dip

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8. DUTCH OVEN

What it is: OK, this isn’t the Dutch oven you put on your registry, is it? More about that later. This deep, cast-iron pot was invented by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1700s and is designed to cook a large batch of food almost anywhere: the stove, the oven, the grill, over a campfire, you name it. (You still have to clean it with the salt and oil process, though. See above.)

What to make: Any one of these camping recipes

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9. FRENCH OVEN

What it is: This beauty is probably what you’ve been calling a “Dutch oven” all this time, and that’s totally cool. Le Creuset and other French companies made their own high-end enamel-coated variation as an update of the original cast-iron version. But typically, the Dutch oven and the French oven can be used interchangeably in recipes.

What to make: Cream of Mushroom Soup

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10. SAUTÉ PAN

What it is: It looks kinda like a frying pan, but the sides are vertical instead of slanted out. This gives it a larger surface area, making it great for sautéing veggies and cooking saucy pasta dishes—best of all, your food won’t spill over the sides.

What to make: Shrimp Scampi Spaghetti Squash

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11. GRIDDLE

What it is: It has a large, smooth cooktop without sides or edges. A griddle is ideal for cooking up breakfast items like pancakes, egg and bacon but can also be used to grill meat, fish and veggies when it’s too cold or rainy to throw them on the barbecue. Whether you plug it in or heat on your stovetop, most griddles are rectangular which means they’re typically more cooking space than a standard round pan.

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Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

12. WOK

What it is: This round-bottomed Chinese pot is ideal for cooking food quickly at extremely high temperatures. Cook lo mein, stir-fry veggies, fried rice and even a 10-minute pad see ew, in this one.

What to make: Steak Stir-fry

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13. STOCK POT

What it is: This is easily the largest pot in your kitchen (typically at least 12 quarts). Cook soup, chili or stew for a crowd, or freeze it and keep it all for yourself. Keep it simmering on the stove for hours to bring out the best flavor.

What to make: Overnight Chicken Soup

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14. Tajine

What it is: An eye-catching cooking vessel that hails from North Africa, the tagine (or tajine) is an earthenware number that consists of a wide shallow pot, which doubles as a serving dish, and a conical lid designed to trap moisture for slow, stovetop cooking. These clay or ceramic pots are sometimes embellished with intricate painted designs, and most often used to make the namesake dish, tagine—a mouth-watering savory stew and a staple of Moroccan cuisine.

What to make: Vegetable Tagine with Fluffy Couscous

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15. Paella Pan

What it is: Shallow and wide with splayed sides, paella pans are available in a variety of different materials, including carbon steel, stainless steel and even non-stick. You can find these guys in a range of sizes; that said, the larger ones make a great deal of sense, since the classic Spanish rice dish they’re designed to cook is a seafood-laden labor of love, often prepared on special occasions for friends and family. The best paella pans are thin and capable of conducting heat like nobody’s business but respond quickly when you turn down the flame so you can get the rice right without cooking the seafood beyond recognition.

What to make: The Ultimate Paella

Photo/Styling: Katherine Gillen

16. Sheet Pan

What it is: Sheet-pan dinners are the low-profile equivalent of one-pot meals—and they’ve been all the rage for quite a while. But what is a sheet pan exactly? These medium-to-large baking pans have shallow sides—so don’t confuse them with cookie sheets, which have no sides at all. (But don’t worry if you used one for your favorite oatmeal raisin recipe—cookies will turn out just fine when baked on a sheet pan.) You can use a sheet pan for most anything you make in the oven, be it savory or sweet, provided the dish isn’t so saucy it sloshes over the side.

What to make: Sheet-Pan Gnocchi with Sausage, Peppers and Onions

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