Do you like to cook? Then you probably own pots and pans for your cooking. We’re sure you already know the value of these things in your kitchen, and how you can never live without them, but did you know that you don’t need a lot to cook well? The truth is, a couple of pieces that are of good quality are better than owning a 12-pc mediocre set. The secret is in the choosing. And it all starts with knowing what to look for.

1. Start with the basics.

What are the two most important pans you cannot live without in the kitchen? The answer: a stockpot and a sauté pan. Both are highly-versatile; and you can do many things with them, not just cooking soups and frying food.

A good stockpot can handle stews, sauces, steaming, soups, boiling, and blanching. The best ones are midweight, anodized aluminum ones, which are aluminum pans with a strong protective coating. Also, you can never go wrong with cast iron pots if you like cooking stews.  Choose those that can be easily lifted even if it is filled with water. Remember that you will be doing a lot of steaming and boiling in there as well, so you have to be able to handle it with water. And speaking of handles, make sure that they are easy but firm on your grasp–you wouldn’t want it to slip off your hands while filled with hot, scalding water, would you?

A sauté pan is valuable when it comes to making sautés and fricassées, deglazing sauces, frying, braising small items like vegetables, and much more. The best ones are made from stainless steel with an aluminum core.  They should easily heat up and cool down in one quick turn as well. Think of it this way: What if you got too absorbed with what you’re watching that you almost forgot the onions? You quickly turn off the pan to prevent it from burning. Now, if the pan is responsive to temperature, it will quickly cool down and save your onions a sad fate; and if it didn’t cool down as quickly, then your onions would have kept on frying even when it’s taken out from the fire. The result: charred, bitter onions.

2. Choose “good conductor” materials.

This brings us out to our next point: choose pans that are good heat conductors. The best ones here are aluminum and copper pans, and they are extremely effective in responding to temperature changes–they heat up and cool down almost instantly. Pans with good heat conductors are also effective in equalizing temperature on the surface, which means that heat flows more easily–and faster in the pans.

3. Choose “heavy-gauge” materials.

Thicker pans spread heat more evenly than those with thinner materials, which have the tendency to hold more heat in some areas than the rest of the pan. Also, thicker pans have more distances between the heat source and its surface, which gives time for the heat to diffuse more evenly, unlike a thin pan.

Want to save gas and electricity? These pans can hold more heat, so you can turn them off earlier than your set time and still cook your food as well.

Choosing the right pans is easy if you know what to look for. Start with the basics first, and then build from there. In time, you will choose better and more effective pans that will serve you for a long time to come.