It’s pretty simple, in a way–there’s dry heat, moist heat, and combination.

We’ll tackle dry heat methods first.

Broiling uses hot air as its medium, and you accomplish it with a broiler (of all things!), a salamander, or a rotisserie.  Grilling also makes use of hot air, but the equipment is different; you need a grill.  Imagine that.  Roasting and baking are two more hot air methods, and they both require an oven.

Sautéing is another dry heat method, but it doesn’t rely on plain old hot air–it requires a bit of fat and a stovetop.  Pan-frying is similar, although you can also use a tilt-skillet to get it done.  Finally, there’s deep-frying.  I don’t have to explain what that is, do I?  Hope not.

Okay, moist heat methods.  Poaching, first of all.  Poaching needs plenty of  water (and/or wine, stock, herbs, etc.), and you can do it on the stove, in the oven, or in a steam kettle or a tilt-skillet.  Boiling is pretty much the same thing, same equipment, but at a higher temp.  The last moist heat option is steaming, which involves–guess what–steam.  You can do it with stovetop gadgetry, and there are also dedicated appliances for that specific purpose.  Very nice to have.

Finally, combination methods:  braising and stewing.  They both start out in fat and then transfer to some kind of watery liquid and burble merrily along on the stove, in the oven, or in a tilt-skillet.

I have a hunch that we might benefit from some clarification of terminology.  What the heck is a salamander?  Steam kettle?  Tilt-skillet–wha?

Well, a salamander is basically just a screamin’ hot, free-standing broiler.  In the old days, it was more like a branding iron, and people used it to caramelize the sugar on top of crème brûlée and stuff like that.  Why’s it called a salamander?  No idea.  It’s one of those mysteries of culinary nomenclature.

A steam kettle starts life like any other kettle, but then it gets another outside layer or jacket of steel.  There’s some empty space between the two layers, and when you turn the thing on, that space fills up with steam.  Steam kettles get freaky hot, freaky fast–and, unlike that stockpot on your stove, they don’t get hot just on the bottom.

A tilt-skillet is kind of hard to describe.  It’s basically a huge griddle with high, raised edges, a spout front and center, and a hand-crank that lets you incline the thing and pour the contents out into a pot or a bucket or whatever.  Even though I find it hard to describe, it’s actually a very simple, straight-forward piece of equipment, and you can do practically anything with it.

If I owned a restaurant, I’d definitely want a tilt-skillet.  A steam kettle would be nice, but I could probably live without a salamander.