Since you use it most days, cookware is one of the kitchen items that are worth investing in, whether you’re a keen cook or your local pizzeria knows your order by heart. The right cookware set makes cooking easier and more enjoyable, so it’s worth spending the time to find one you love.
There's lots to think about when picking cookware, from the material of the pots and pans to how well the lids fit. If you're willing to splurge on a high-end set, the All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded 14-Piece Cookware Set is exceptional.
What to know before you buy a cookware set
Cookware set materials
Cookware sets come in a range of materials, the most common being aluminum or nonstick-coated aluminum and stainless steel.
- Aluminum: Aluminum is the least expensive choice. It conducts heat well but is easily scratched or dented, and it may react with acidic foods.
- Anodized aluminum: This is specially treated to give it a scratch-resistant, non-leaching surface. It's safer and significantly more durable than raw aluminum.
- Nonstick-coated aluminum: It's a breeze to clean, but it's prone to scratching and may leach into food. Nonstick cookware needs to be replaced every few years.
- Stainless steel: It might be pricier than aluminum, but stainless steel cookware is more durable and won't leach into food. If well cared for, it can last for many years.
Pieces in a set
There are no universal contents of a cookware set; they all contain different pieces in different quantities, so you'll have to think about what you need. These are some of the items you might find in a cookware set.
- Saucepans: Saucepans are kitchen essentials and should be found in all sets. You'll usually get two or three of different sizes, but small sets might only contain one.
- Skillets or saute pans: Deep, straight-sided saute pans are useful for a range of kitchen tasks and are nice to have in a cookware set.
- Fry pans: Expect to get at least one fry pan in a cookware set, though larger sets often contain one large and one small fry pan.
- Stock pots: Although you won't find a stock pot in every cookware set, they're great if you often cook soups or stews or cook in large batches.
- Lids: Lids count toward the number of pieces in a cookware set. So, a 10-piece set might contain seven pans and three lids, for example.
Cookware set features
Some cookware sets are only safe up to 350 degrees, while others can withstand much higher temperatures.
You can use some cookware in the oven, as well as on the stove. This can be useful for keeping food warm or when cooking dishes that start on the cooktop and then are finished in the oven.
You'll usually receive at least some lids in your cookware set. This may be solid metal or glass. The former is more durable, but the latter lets you see in to check on cooking progress. In some cases, you'll get a separate lid for each pan that needs one, while some manufacturers have multifunctional lids that fit two or three pots or pans. This makes sense in theory, but can be frustrating when you want to put a lid on both of the pans the lid fits.
Cookware set FAQ
Are nonstick coatings safe?
A. While it is true that nonstick-coated cookware can release toxic chemicals when heated to very high heat, risk is minimized by following proper usage guidelines, such as not preheating the pans when empty and not using them to cook on high heat. You can also choose safer nonstick cookware that's free from chemicals such as PFOAs and PTFEs.
Is some cookware dishwasher-safe?
A. Some cookware might carry a dishwasher-safe label, but handwashing is always the best way to care for your cookware. This is especially true of cookware with a nonstick coating, since the repeated dishwasher exposure can wear away the coating.
Which cookware set should I get?
Best of the best cookware set
All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded 14-Piece Cookware Set: available at Amazon
Our take: It might be expensive, but this high-quality cookware set will last a lifetime.
What we like: You can choose from several sets, containing between five and 14 pieces. It's got a three-layer construction that makes it sturdy and a great heat conductor. The stainless steel construction is durable and won't scratch or warp. It's suitable for use on any cooktop.
What we dislike: The handles get hot during use.
Best bang for your buck cookware set
Cuisinart N91-11 Smartnest Stainless Steel 11-Piece Set: available at Amazon
Our take: This 11-piece set of stainless steel cookware nests and stacks so it's great for compact kitchens.
What we like: In each set you get a stockpot, two saucepans, a saute pan, two fry pans, four lids and a rack to hold the lids. The pans are made from high-performance stainless steel and the lids are glass, so you can see in your pans as you cook.
What we dislike: The lids aren't vented.
Honorable mention cookware set
Simply Calphalon Nonstick 10-Piece Cookware Set: available at Amazon
Our take: You get decent quality cookware at a decent price with this set.
What we like: The hard-anodized aluminum construction gives it great heat conductivity. It is oven-safe up to 450 degrees and has stay-cool handles.
What we dislike: It can't be used on magnetic induction stovetops, and the nonstick coating makes it unsuitable for broiler use.
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Lauren Corona is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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