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Consumer Reports’ cookware buying guide: The few pots and pans you need at the right price

Whether you have lots of holiday cooking on the horizon, or you'd just like to simplify your life, Consumer Reports has some good news: you don't necessarily need a ton of pots and pans to get the job done.

Whether you have lots of holiday cooking on the horizon or you’d just like to simplify your life, Consumer Reports has some good news: You don’t necessarily need a ton of pots and pans to get the job done. In fact, according to Consumer Reports’ latest testing, there are a few really good pans that can do a lot at a great price.

“One great pick -- a Dutch oven,” says Consumer Reports Home Editor Mary Farrell. “These enameled cast iron pots maintain extremely high or low temperatures, and so are great for searing steaks or slow cooking stews. And they’re easy to clean when you’re done.”

Consumer Reports recommends the $80 6-quart Lodge Dutch Oven, which turned out bread that was browned and crispy. It withstands heat up to 500 degrees and can be used on an induction stovetop.

Another pan you can live with for generations is a cast-iron skillet. They are extremely durable and can withstand high heat. Bake cornbread for a crowd or brown delicate fish to perfection.

CONSUMER REPORTS: Best nonstick frying pans

The cast-iron Tramontina fry pan got excellent marks for browning and searing. The small side handle makes it easier to maneuver, and it pours from both sides.

And is the popular Always Pan really for ... always? Consumer Reports checked it out. Although the high sides allow you to stir-fry without losing your veggies, the nonstick surface can’t sear as well as cast iron, because the pan can’t be used over a high flame.

The manufacturer also warns against using metal utensils, so use the metal steamer that’s included carefully. Can it go in the oven? No. Because of the materials used to keep the handle cool, this pan must always be used on a stovetop.

Cast-iron pots and skillets are heavy to handle, but they have another plus. Once they’re seasoned, they can be cleaned easily with a paper towel and a bit of water or scrubbed with some coarse salt. For stuck-on stuff, just simmer a little water in it for a few minutes.