Many kitchens are full of cookware, but a lot of it isn’t necessary. All you really need is a handful of pots and pans. That’s particularly helpful for anyone downsizing to a smaller home or buying cookware for a young adult who is just starting out.

Purchasing only the essential pots and pans makes it possible to buy high-quality cookware without busting the budget. Example: All-Clad stainless steel cookware is pricey (a 10-inch fry pan costs $115) but so well-made that it should last a lifetime (

If you opt for a less-expensive brand, choose one that has metal, not plastic, handles. Metal won’t melt in the oven, and metal handles can suggest higher overall quality.

Five key pots and pans…

Pot 11. One-to-two-quart saucepan, with lid. Every kitchen needs a small pot for heating up sauces, cans of soup or other small portions.

Pot 22. Three-to-four-quart, one-handle saucepan, with lid. This midsized pot is useful for cooking vegetables and for preparing and reheating soups and stews that don’t require a large stockpot. Choose one with straight sides and medium depth (four to eight inches deep).

Pot 33. Six-quart, two-handle stockpot, with lid. This is the perfect pot for making soups and stews or for cooking grains, pasta or vegetables in larger quantities.

Pot 44. Slope-sided 10-inch fry pan. This is appropriate for pan frying, sautéing or searing. A straight-sided sauté pan, or sautoir, is a reasonable alternative, though this type of pan’s straight sides make it a bit more difficult to toss food or turn it with a spatula.

Pot 55. Cast-iron skillet. Cast iron is durable and inexpensive, conducts and holds heat very well and facilitates the development of a deep, appealing crust on pan-fried dishes that you won’t get from any other cookware.

Cast-iron skillets are relatively interchangeable—even a cheap $20 skillet will be just fine. Or spend around $165 for Le Creuset’s Signature 11¾-inch Iron Handle Skillet, a cast-iron skillet with an enamel coating that makes it much easier to clean and care for than other cast-iron skillets (

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