Photograph by Jodi E., National Geographic Your Shot
Photograph by Jodi E., National Geographic Your Shot

Making Chicken, Stew, or Stir-Fry? There’s a Pot for That

Every kitchen is full of tools taken for granted—tongs, peelers, spatulas, you name it. But perhaps no kitchen workhorse is as essential as humble pots and pans.

Cooking vessels are as essential to our diets as the foods that go into them—after all, those hot chicken pieces and sustainable chickpeas aren’t worth a hill of heirloom beans without a pan to cook them in. Yet with all their dings and scratches, stockpots and woks will never be the stars of the show.

Not that cooks don’t revere their pots and pans, mind you. Every home cook can pull out their favorite, and if it’s been in the family for decades, they’ll likely have a story to share about it, too. They’re just not as glamorous as say, the gleaming Kitchen-Aid mixer that may take pride of place on the counter.

So let’s share a little love this week for the unsung cooking pots. They come in all shapes and sizes (and how! Check out the bathtub-sized vats in the gallery below), and reflect the kitchens in which they’re used.

In South Asia, for example, where cooking fuel is scarce, expensive, or gathered by hand, you’d be hard pressed to find a kitchen without a pressure cooker for the rapid preparation of legumes and rice. Traditional Chinese woks, with their round bottoms, are perfectly suited to cooking over the hot flames of a fire pit. And the world over, clay pots have been used for centuries. Clay is readily available, but also excels at cooking because it retains heat and moisture. Check out the clay curry pot and other tools no self-respecting Sri Lankan cook can do without.

There are as many cooking vessels as there are global cuisines, but here are a few of our favorites: