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Whether you’re a now-and-then casual chef or a wizard in the kitchen every night, you can’t whip up dinner without at least a few pots and pans. And while a haphazard collection of cheap cookware might get the job done, for the best results – and the most enjoyable experience while cooking – it pays to buy a quality set of cookware that includes all the elements you’ll need.
Buying a set of pots and pans is typically less expensive than buying the pieces separately. But choosing your set can be confusing. Which metal is best? What pieces do you need? Answering those questions is where BestReviews steps in.
We never accept free products or manufacturer perks in exchange for a good review. Instead, we do our own research, talk to experts in the field, and listen to feedback from actual owners of the products. That allows us to give you unbiased product recommendations and buying guidelines.
So if you are ready to buy a new set of cookware, consider the five options in the matrix above. You can learn more about each set by clicking on the included links.
And if you’d like to learn more about choosing the right set of pots and pans for your own needs, please read on. We’re ready to help you get cooking.
There are four common metals used to make cookware: copper, aluminum, cast iron, and stainless steel. Each type of metal has its pros and cons.
Copper is an excellent heat conductor, providing even, quick heating and sensitivity to changes in the flame temperature. This makes it the preferred cooking material of many professional chefs.
Copper is also beautiful, and it makes an attractive display in your kitchen. The downside of copper cookware is its high price, need for polishing, and tendency to react with acidic foods. Copper also is prone to scratching and discoloration.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply
In terms of versatility, it’s hard to do better than the All-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware Set. The manufacturer uses a triple-layer construction method, sandwiching an aluminum core between two types of stainless steel. The outer stainless steel layer is flat-bottomed and magnetic, making it ideal for gas, electric, and magnetic induction stovetops. The inner cooking surface does not have a nonstick coating, but it does have a special "starburst" finish that discourages food from sticking. The lids are lightweight and engineered to fit securely.
Aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat, but it’s soft and easily scratches or dents. It also reacts with acidic foods, potentially leaching into your food. To prevent these problems, aluminum cookware is usually anodized. This creates a scratch-resistant surface that resists leaching.
Commonly, aluminum cookware has a nonstick coating as well, making cleanup a breeze.
Anodized aluminum pots and pans are very easy to find at bargain prices, but generally, a super-low price corresponds with low quality.
Trying to cut calories? Choose a nonstick aluminum pan that will allow you to cook without oil or butter.
Although cast iron is a poor conductor of heat, once it does heat up, it stays hot for a long time due to its mass. It is very durable and relatively inexpensive.
However, cast iron is heavy, can rust or pit, and is reactive with acidic foods. Periodically applying a thin coating of oil (called seasoning) to cast iron helps prevent those problems, and it creates a somewhat nonstick surface on the cookware.
You’ll sometimes find cast iron cookware with an enameled surface, which eliminates the need for seasoning with oil. Nevertheless, these are still very heavy pots and pans.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Cuisinart MultiClad Stainless Steel, 12-Piece
The Cuisinart MCP-12N MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set includes two covered saucepans, two open skillets, a covered sauté pan, an eight-quart covered stockpot, and a steamer insert. We especially like the inclusion of a lidded vegetable steamer – an item rarely found in cookware sets.
Advantages of stainless steel include resistance to scratching, denting, and discoloration. Furthermore, stainless steel does not react with foods. It is a poor conductor of heat, however, necessitating a core of aluminum or copper in the cookware.
High-quality stainless steel pots and pans have a core extending over the entire pan; low-quality stainless cookware will just have an aluminum or copper bottom.
Stainless steel pots and pans generally costs more than anodized aluminum pots and pans, but they are very versatile and suitable for just about any type of cooking the average home chef wants to try.
Some types of metal cookware are more suited to certain types of cooking than others. For example, if you do a lot of browning or braising, you’d likely get the best results from stainless steel. Cast iron cookware is great for skillet baking.
Once you have determined which metal you want, it’s time to determine how large a set of cookware you need.
While you could buy pots and pans separately, it usually makes more economic sense to buy a set. It’s also easier and faster to select an entire set. But don’t hurry into your decision, and don’t make the mistake of assuming that a bigger set is always better. Most people don’t relish the idea of filling their cupboards with cookware they never use.
If you’re an infrequent or casual cook, a set containing just the basics would probably cover your needs. If you enjoy cooking and spend lots of time in the kitchen, however, a larger set with a few specialty items would likely serve you well. And if there are specific pieces of cookware you need beyond that, you could purchase those pieces individually.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Simply Calphalon Nonstick, 10-Piece Set
The Simply Calphalon Nonstick 10-Piece set provides better overall heat retention and nonstick performance than bargain-priced, one-ply aluminum sets, though it may not have the versatility of high-end cookware. Calphalon's ideal customer is looking for the convenience of nonstick cookware and the precision/control of stainless steel or aluminum pots and pans. The set's mid-range price reflects such a compromise between the two worlds.
A basic cookware set that covers most cooking needs includes the following.
10-inch skillet – large enough to cook up breakfast or fry a few burgers
12-inch skillet – the perfect size for large-skillet meals or multiple pieces of meat
3-quart sauté pan with lid – useful for sautéing chicken and vegetables
1 1/2-quart saucepan with lid – a good size for heating up a can of soup
3-quart saucepan with lid – for making sauces or heating vegetables
8-quart stockpot with lid – for cooking soups, stews, or pasta
Quality cookware is generally fairly heavy. This helps it conduct heat more efficiently. Thin, lightweight pots and pans might cost less, but they are more likely to render unevenly cooked foods.
Some additional pieces that are useful but not essential include the following.
6-quart Dutch oven – for cooking tender, delicious chicken and roasts
Steamer insert with lid – for healthy steamed vegetables
5-quart sauté pan with lid – for cooking large batches of chicken or meat with vegetables
8-inch skillet – for scrambling eggs or cooking a grilled cheese sandwich
Rimmed baking sheet – for sheet pan meals, cookies, and other baking needs
Although your cookware might be labeled as safe for the dishwasher, it’s still best to wash your pots and pans by hand. This is especially true if your pieces have a nonstick coating, which wears away with repeated dishwasher exposure.
Pay attention to the integrity of the handles
Handles should be riveted or welded to the cookware. If held only by a screw, the handle is likely to come loose and eventually fall off.
Determine whether silicone or metal handles are better for your needs
Silicone handles are easy to grip and don’t transfer heat. However, they are not oven-safe at high temperatures, so if you do a lot of stovetop-to-oven cooking, you’d probably be better off with a skillet that has a metal handle.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Cook N Home Nonstick, Soft Handle, 15-Piece
The Cook N Home Non-Stick Cookware Set is a remarkable bargain, especially for young couples and casual cooks who don't require gourmet kitchen equipment. Nonstick cookware in general is very forgiving, and every pot and pan element of the Cook N Home set is nonstick. Although the heavy-gauge aluminum is not suitable for magnetic induction cooking, many people still use traditional gas or electric stovetops, so this should not pose a problem for a large percentage of consumers. We applaud the clear tempered-glass lids and the fact that a five-piece kitchen tool set (designed for nonstick cookware) is included. This affordable cookware set would make an ideal housewarming gift, wedding present, or birthday gift for a budding home chef.
Consider cookware with glass lids
Glass lids make it easy to check the progress of your food without lifting the lid and letting heat escape.
Make sure the lids are of high quality
Cookware lids should fit securely. They should not rattle or leave gaps.
Cookware knobs should be of high quality, too
For safety’s sake, cookware knobs should be heatproof and large enough to grasp easily. They should also be tightly attached to the lids.
It pays to purchase the best cookware set you can afford. While you don’t have to break your budget, you should consider quality cookware an investment that will last for many years. A good set of cookware will also make your time in the kitchen more enjoyable and productive.
Baby your cookware by using wooden or nonstick cooking utensils
You don’t want to scratch nonstick cookware with metal or sharp edges. A good, basic set of cooking utensils includes:
Even the hardiest of metals will sustain scratches or nicks if not stored properly. Nonstick surfaces are particularly prone to scratching.
Wash your nonstick cookware with a scrubber that is nonstick-safe.
It is rarely a good idea to place nonstick cookware in the dishwasher.
Be prepared to replace your nonstick cookware every few years.
Even with the best of care, nonstick coatings eventually scratch and wear away.
Know which type of cookware is best for your cooktop.
Use stainless steel or cast iron cookware if you have an induction cooktop. Use flat-bottomed pots and pans if you have a smooth electric cooktop.
Find the best gifts for the kitchen
These are our top picks for the kitchen.
Best Sous Vide Machines
Sous Vide Precision Cooker
Best Instant Pots
DUO80 8-Quart Multicooker
Best Air Fryers
Best Food Processors
Best KitchenAid Mixers
Best Vitamix Blenders
Professional Series 750
Best Copper Cookware Sets
Copper Cookware, 8-Piece Set
Best Kitchen Knife Sets
Twin Signature 19-Piece Knife Block Set
Best Bread Makers
Home Bakery Virtuoso
Best Pasta Makers
Electric w/Motor Set
Best Slow Cookers
Ninja 4-in-1 Cooking System
Best Toaster Ovens
Smart Oven Convection Toaster Oven
Best Indoor Grills
Best Food Steamers
Digital Food Steamer- 5.5 Quart
Best Pizza Ovens
Best Mixing Bowl Sets
5-Piece Mixing Bowl Set
Best Cutting Boards
Maple Reversible Cutting Board
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.