Three-layer construction with polished cooking surface. Tight-fitting lids.
Slightly lesser quality than more expensive sets. Skillets can warp on glass cooktop.
Features enhanced PFOA-free nonstick cooking surfaces and aluminum and hard enamel porcelain exteriors. Has rubberized stainless steel handles and shatter-resistant glass lids. Available in several fun colors, including agave blue, pumpkin, and cranberry. Comes with a slotted turner and spoon, too.
Can be difficult to clean food from around the rivets on the inside of the pans. Some reports of the lids bending easily.
Ideal for all stovetop types. Three-layer construction that is truly top of the line. Stainless steel.
Expensive. Handles can get hot.
Excellent nonstick coating makes cleanup easier and helps avoid burned edges. Lids have steam release vent.
Pieces are only rated up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven — a limitation for some cooks.
Nonstick surface made of non-toxic ceramic coating. Aesthetically appealing. Affordable, and comes with a 10-year limited warranty.
Special care is required to get the most out of the nonstick surface, which is prone to scratching and peeling.
Having a quality set of pots and pans can improve the ease and quality of your cooking. It is often cheaper to purchase a cookware set rather than buying the pieces individually, but there are several factors to take into account when looking for the best set for your kitchen.
Common materials include copper, aluminum, cast iron, and stainless steel, each of which offers different advantages and will determine the price of the set. You should have an idea of what pieces you will need, as there is no default when it comes to cookware sets. The number and variety of pieces is another major factor in the price of a set.
If you purchase a well-constructed set and treat your tools well, a cookware set should last you for several years, so it’s important to find one that meets your cooking needs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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