Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Cookware Set at Amazon
"A high-quality set of stainless steel cookware that's durable, heats up quickly and retains heat well, and looks good on your stove."
Best Nonstick: Anolon Advanced Nonstick Cookware Set at Amazon
"Made from anodized aluminum, the pans are responsive to heat changes while the thick bottoms eliminate hot spots."
"All of the pieces are oven safe to 350 degrees and dishwasher safe for easy cleaning when cooking is done."
"It cooks evenly, it cleans easily, and it’s made to last for generations."
Best Cast Iron: Lodge Cast Iron Cookware Set at Amazon
"You can use these pans on the stove, in the oven, under the broiler, on the grill, and even in a campfire."
Best Design: Caraway Cookware Set at carawayhome.com
"This 7-piece cookware set from direct-to-consumer brand Caraway is the perfect blend of both functionality and innovative design."
Best Stainless Steel: Open Kitchen Stainless-Steel Set at williams-sonoma.com
"Inspired by cookware used in restaurants, this set is built to be durable and easy to use, while the stainless steel surface looks attractive in any setting."
01 of 07
Best Overall: Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware SetWhat We Like
What We Don't Like
Set needs larger skillet
Side handles can get hot
Experienced cooks will love this high-quality set of stainless steel cookware, which includes both a 1.5- and 3-quart saucepan, 8- and 10-inch open skillets, a 3.5-quart sauté pan, an 8-quart stockpot, and a steamer insert. Everything but the open skillets and the steamer insert come with lids. Our tester found the price to be "affordable considering the quality and number of useful pieces you get."
Stainless steel with an aluminum core, they are induction compatible, oven safe to 550 degrees, and dishwasher safe for easy cleaning. The long handles stay comfortably cool during cooking and have hanging holes for storage, but our tester did caution that the side loop handles can get quite hot.
"We love how well these pans brown food and didn’t notice any hot spots, even when the pan wasn’t perfectly centered on the burner." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
02 of 07
Best Nonstick: Anolon Advanced Hard Anodized Nonstick Cookware SetWhat We Like
What We Don't Like
Durable nonstick surface
Large loop handles
Safe for use with metal utensils
Handle rivets aren't nonstick
Must be washed by hand
Everyone knows that nonstick frying pans are great for cooking eggs, but this set goes way beyond breakfast. With 1.5- and 3-quart saucepans, an 8-quart stockpot, a 3-quart sauté pan, a 12-inch deep covered skillet with helper handle, and an 8-inch French skillet, there's not much else you would want in a comprehensive set, according to our tester.
Made from anodized aluminum, the pans are responsive to heat changes. Our tester noted, "The thick bottoms and sides of these pans distribute the heat evenly, preventing any hot or cold spots as you cook." The lids are shatterproof glass so you can see inside while cooking, and the handles are covered with a non-slip material that stays cool. They are oven safe to 400 degrees. Our reviewer's only complaints were that they aren't dishwasher-safe or induction-compatible.
"These anodized aluminum pans are triple-coated with a nonstick finish, which explains why our omelet released oh-so easily from the pan, and the rogue cheese that dripped from the eggs slid out of the pan with ease, landing on the plate where it belonged." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
03 of 07
Best Budget: T-fal Excite ProGlide 14-Piece Nonstick Cookware SetWhat We Like
What We Don't Like
Stylish color options
T-fal made its name with nonstick cookware that was revolutionary for its time, and the brand has continued to produce and innovate nonstick products at reasonable prices. This set features the Thermo-Spot heat indicator in the center of the cooking surface that changes color when the pan is properly heated and ready for cooking. All of the pieces are oven safe to 350 degrees and dishwasher safe for easy cleaning when cooking is done.
The set includes an 8-inch frying pan, a 10-inch frying pan, a 1-quart saucepan with lid, a 2-quart saucepan with lid, a detachable strainer to fit the 2-quart saucepan, a 5-quart Dutch oven with lid, and a set of measuring spoons.
04 of 07
Best Splurge: All-Clad D3 Stainless Steel 7-Piece Cookware SetWhat We Like
What We Don't Like
Easy to clean
On the heavier side
All-Clad cookware is definitely a splurge item, but anyone who has used All-Clad will tell you that it’s well worth it. It cooks evenly, it cleans easily, and it’s made to last for generations. The three layers of metal are bonded and the layers extend all the way to the rim for better heat distribution.
This set includes four essential pieces that will get used regularly, with no odd pans that will spend their lives hiding in storage. Even better, they’re all large enough for family use. This set is induction compatible, safe for use with any utensils, broiler and oven safe to 600 degrees, and dishwasher safe. The set includes one 10-inch frying pan, one 3-quart saucepan with lid, one 3-quart sauté pan with lid, and one 8-quart stockpot with lid. This set is made in the U.S. and has a lifetime warranty.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Best Cast Iron: Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron BundleWhat We Like
What We Don't Like
Lid fits difference pieces
Spikes on underside of lid provide self-basting
Pieces are heavy
No lid for small skillet
Needs special care
With a 10.25-inch skillet, a 10.5-inch griddle, a 5-quart Dutch oven, and a lid that will fit all three, this set is functional for everyday cooking. This cookware also comes in a five-piece set (with the addition of an 8-inch skillet). The pieces are pre-seasoned so you can use them right out of the box, although, additional seasoning and continued cooking will make the seasoning even better.
Because cast iron is so durable, you can use these pans on the stove, in the oven, under the broiler, on the grill, and even in a campfire. While cast iron is slower to heat up than aluminum or stainless steel, our tester said these pans retain heat extremely well. She also found the price to be "affordable considering the number of pieces, the versatility, and the fact that it can last for generations."
"The spikes on the underside of the lid, which collect liquid and drip it down onto the food, were a design feature we particularly liked." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
06 of 07
Best Design: Caraway Cookware & Cabinet Organizer SetWhat We Like
What We Don't Like
The functionality of cookware is important, of course. But so too is its appearance and design, especially if you have a small kitchen and the pots and pans will be on display. This 7-piece cookware set from direct-to-consumer brand Caraway is the perfect blend of both so you don't have to choose between performance and design.
Unlike other cookware sets on the market, the pots and pans come with four magnetic pan racks and a canvas lid holder that can be attached to the inside of your cabinets for convenient storage. This will not only make it easier to find the right lid when you're cooking but it will prevent them from getting lost. When it comes time to cook, the nonstick and non-toxic ceramic coating is safer than PTFE based coatings, but it will still sear and cook foods to perfection.
The pans are generously sized and perfect for large-batch recipes. They are oven and dishwasher safe, although hand-washing is recommended to keep them looking their best (most foods will glide off with a little soap and warm water).
07 of 07
Best Stainless Steel: Open Kitchen by Williams Sonoma Stainless-Steel 10-Piece Cookware SetWhat We Like
What We Don't Like
Handles aren't heat resistant
Bottoms discolor easily
Inspired by cookware used in restaurants, this set is built to be durable and easy to use, while the stainless steel surface looks attractive in any setting. The aluminum core provides fast, even heating, while the stainless steel exterior makes these pots and pans suitable for induction cooktops. When you’re searing on the stove and finishing in the oven, these are oven safe to 500 degrees. For super-easy cleaning, these are dishwasher safe.
This set includes a 9.5-inch frying pan, a 12-inch frying pan, a 1.5-quart covered saucepan, a 3-quart covered saucepan, a 3-quart covered sauté pan, and a 6-quart covered stockpot.
The Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set is our top choice for overall design, performance, and versatility. Looking for nonstick? You can't go wrong with the Anolon Advanced Hard-Anodized Nonstick 11-Piece Cookware Set.
What type of cookware is induction compatible?
Cookware only works on induction cooktops (or portable induction burners) if it contains ferromagnetic materials, meaning either it has iron or a layer with magnetic properties. Cast iron and magnetic stainless steel sets are induction compatible, but aluminum, all-copper, and glass sets are not—unless they have an added layer on the bottom with magnetic properties. Be careful when it comes to stainless steel as it can be made with a variety of materials that may block the magnetic field. Most manufacturers will specify on the packaging or pans themselves if they are induction compatible.
What is anodized cookware?
An anodized exterior, which is sometimes found on aluminum cookware, hardens the metal, creates a colored surface, and protects the pans from stains and corrosion. You should be able to use any type of utensils with anodized cookware and not have to worry about scratches. However, you should note that all anodized cookware isn’t necessarily nonstick.
Is nonstick cookware safe?
If you buy new nonstick cookware, you can be assured that it is safe and has no perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)—also known as C-8—which was sometimes used to bond the nonstick coating to the pan prior to 2015. While the effects of PFOA at low doses in humans are disputed, there are links to some health concerns. However, if used properly (including not overheating, not using metal utensils, and not using abrasive cleaners), there shouldn’t be any concern about your old nonstick pans.
Whether you're just getting your own place and your cooking will be limited to boiling water for ramen or you plan on cooking more gourmet meals for entertaining, cookware is a necessity. You may only require specific inexpensive pieces or a whole new set. Or if you're a seasoned cook, you might be looking for higher-quality cookware to replace older pieces that have seen better days, or to upsize pots and pans to fit a growing family. Even when a full set is purchased, it’s not unusual to add a few new pieces that weren’t included in the set, like a nonstick frying pan, a cast-iron Dutch oven, a grill pan, or a roasting pan.
The most common pieces of cookware are frying or sauté pans for foods like burgers, steaks, and eggs, and saucepans for cooking pasta, steaming vegetables, making mac and cheese, and cooking soups and sauces. Dutch ovens are great for making chili or cooking large quantities of foods that won’t fit in the saucepot. Stockpots are used for even larger quantities of food, as well as for making soup stock. They can also be used for water bath canning.
Cookware comes in a wide range of prices: Single starter pieces can sell for under $10, high-end pieces can be several hundred dollars each, and then there are luxury sets that can run in the thousands of dollars. Not everyone needs a high-end set, but it’s wise to look for the best quality you can afford since it will perform better and last longer. Cookware can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, and they can come with or without nonstick or decorative coatings. Whether you’re looking for a pan to sear steaks or a pot to cook jam, there’s a piece of cookware that’s just right for that purpose and a set that will be the perfect fit for your kitchen and your lifestyle.
Material is the first thing to consider when buying cookware since it affects both the price and the performance. While there are some cookware pieces made from clay or stovetop-safe ceramic materials, those tend to be specialty items rather than everyday cookware. Most cookware is made from some type of metal, with stainless steel, aluminum, and copper being the most common. While some cookware is made entirely from one type of metal, it’s not unusual to find cookware made from two or more materials.
The type of material the cookware is made from will dictate the way it's maintained. Some materials are more finicky than others, so while you might be able to toss some pieces in the dishwasher, others will need to be hand-washed. When it comes to cookware performance, different metals react differently when heated. From copper, which is super responsive, to cast iron that retains heat extremely well, each metal has its own special heating property.
Responsive metals gain and lose heat rapidly as you adjust the stove temperature. That responsiveness is desirable when cooking foods that can overcook quickly, like crepes. It’s also useful for making jam or candy when it’s important to stop the cooking process at a specific temperature. Cast iron retains heat well, which means that it stays hot for a long time, even after the stove is turned off, and it also heats evenly, so you won’t get hot spots above the burners. Stainless steel and aluminum fall between copper and cast iron in terms of heat retention and responsiveness.
Nonstick interior coatings prevent your eggs from sticking and make cleaning easier, while uncoated cookware tends to be better for searing meats and for handling high heat on the stove and in the oven. Some cookware has an exterior coating, which tends to be more decorative than functional. While anodizing isn’t technically a coating, it creates a hard outer surface on aluminum cookware that looks attractive and resists stains and corrosion. Cast iron cookware often has an enameled coating so it doesn’t need seasoning the way that uncoated cast iron does. Coated cast iron is resistant to corrosion and can handle acidic foods with ease. The downside to any coating is that it can be damaged, which can render the pan useless.
When it comes to cookware, size always makes a big difference. A small frying pan is great for cooking one or two eggs, while a large stockpot is exactly what you need for cooking large batches of soup stock. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to the perfect size for a piece of cookware. It just depends on how many people you're trying to cook for and how much you want to make at one time. While some might prefer small cookware for individual meals, others might love large cookware, so they can cook ahead and freeze meals.
There are a huge variety of pots in different shapes, often for specific uses, like crepe pans or grill pans. In general, wide, shallow pans are best for cooking foods where evaporation is desired. For example, a shallow pot is ideal for reducing sauces. Tall, narrow pots are best when the goal is to limit the evaporation of liquid, like when you’re cooking pasta.
When you buy a cookware set, it’s common for there to be more pots than lids, since it’s likely that some lids will be interchangeable. When you’re buying cookware one piece at a time, it’s nice to get a lid, but if you have other cookware, you may already have a lid that will fit perfectly. Lids are often made from the same material as the pot, so they can withstand the same heat. Some lids are made from glass, which means you can see the food without lifting the lid, but they may not be able to handle high oven heat.
Ease of Storage
Storage space is a problem in many kitchens, and cookware can eat up a lot of that valuable space. Sets that can nest will save cabinet or pantry space, but you’ll need to grab the whole set to pick the one item you want. And while large stockpots, woks, and oversized frying pans can be useful, those pieces might not fit in a cabinet.
Types of Cookware
Stainless steel cookware is one of the most common types you’ll find, and for good reason. It won’t rust or stain, and it’s not reactive when cooking acidic foods. It can also handle high heat and can be used on induction cooktops. While stainless steel tends to be on the pricier side, pots can be made less expensive by making the sides of the pots thinner, while high-end pots tend to have thicker sides and are heavier overall.
Some high-end stainless steel is actually a clad material, with layers of other metals sandwiched inside the stainless steel to provide the cooking benefits of those metals with the ease of stainless steel. Some stainless steel cookware has a disk attached to the bottom of the pot that provides some of the same benefits of clad cookware at a lower price point. While stainless steel is typically dishwasher safe, you should refer to the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions to be sure.
While uncoated aluminum is not a desirable material for cookware, coated aluminum is ideal because nonstick materials bond easily to the metal, protecting the aluminum and making the coating more durable. Besides having nonstick interior coatings, some aluminum cookware has an anodized exterior, which hardens the metal, creates a colored surface, and protects the exterior from stains and corrosion. Anodized cookware usually has either a nonstick-coated interior or a thin layer of stainless steel on the interior, so none of the aluminum is exposed. Aluminum can’t be used on induction cooktops unless the cookware has a stainless steel disk on the bottom to allow the induction cooktop to recognize it. While some nonstick aluminum cookware is dishwasher safe, you should check with the manufacturer to be sure.
Cast iron retains heat well, making it ideal for searing, frying, baking, and braising, and it will keep food warm after cooking is done. It’s also very heavy, so it’s not as easy to move on the stove or to get in and out of storage. Cast iron cookware can be either coated or uncoated, but both are induction-cooktop friendly.
Uncoated cast iron cookware needs some special care and cleaning, but it often arrives pre-seasoned, so it can be used right away. Further cooking and seasoning will make it even more nonstick over time. Uncoated cast iron typically shouldn’t be used with acidic foods like tomatoes, but thoroughly seasoned pans can tolerate some acidic foods for short times. Uncoated cast iron cookware is nearly indestructible, and can usually be used on a stovetop, in the oven, on a grill, and perhaps even over a campfire, but it should be washed by hand and may need occasional reseasoning.
Coated cast iron cookware, usually coated with layers of an enameled material, never needs seasoning, and it’s safe for use with acidic foods. Some cast-iron cookware has a shiny colored enameled exterior with a rough matte interior that resembles uncoated cast iron but is impervious to acidic foods. Some coated cast iron cookware is dishwasher safe, but you should check with the manufacturer to be sure since dishwasher detergent could harm the coating
Copper is a highly heat-responsive metal, so it heats and cools quickly. Unfortunately, it’s also reactive to acidic foods and will discolor with use and time, so it requires maintenance to keep it looking shiny. Some copper cookware has only a thin layer of copper on the outside of the pan that is purely for looks, but high-quality copper cookware is made entirely from copper, often with a thin coating of tin or stainless steel on the interior so it can be used with any type of food. True copper cookware is not compatible with induction cooktops, but stainless cookware with a decorative copper coating should be induction compatible.
While steel pans are not as common as other materials for home cookware, carbon steel, and blue steel is sometimes used for woks and other specialty pans. The cookware needs to be seasoned before use and oiled after cooking to keep it from rusting in storage. Enameled steel cookware is not as common today as it was in years past, but speckled enamelware can still be found occasionally, particularly in large pots used for water bath canning. The enameled coating protects the steel from rusting, but if the coating chips or cracks, rusting can occur. Steel cookware should be induction compatible, but if the material is extremely thin, the induction might not recognize it properly.
All-Clad is one of the high-end cookware brands that consistently manufactures quality cookware, usually featuring clad materials where copper and/or aluminum are sandwiched between layers of stainless steel for the optimum cooking experience. While All-Clad is known for its high-end cookware, they have several product lines at different price points, so they can be affordable for serious home cooks looking for quality. Since the cookware is made to last, you won’t need to replace the pots for many, many years.
A mid-priced brand that produces quality cookware, Anolon has a variety of cookware lines to fit just about every kitchen, whether you’re looking for a colored exterior or a shiny metal surface. While they’re often known for their premium nonstick cookware, they also have uncoated stainless steel cookware as well as enameled cast iron pieces. Among their products, you’ll find nonstick cookware that is metal-utensil safe, so you can keep using your favorite tools. Anolon has branched out, and you can now find bakeware products as well.
The Farberware company has been in existence for well over 100 years, so there’s a good chance that someone in your family has owned at least a few of their pieces. Today, they’re known for their budget-friendly but high-quality cookware, including some very durable nonstick product lines that are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning. They also sell stainless steel cookware as well as companion items like bakeware, knives, and cooking gadgets.
Known for its made-in-France enameled cast iron Dutch ovens in a variety of colors, the brand has expanded to other types of cookware and other products. Besides Dutch ovens, they sell braisers, grill pans, and skillets in enameled cast iron, as well as stainless steel cookware, ceramic casseroles, and specialty cookware, some of which are made in countries other than France. Le Creuset Dutch ovens are often treasured family pieces that are passed down through generations since the coatings are well made and unlikely to chip or crack with normal use.
Lodge is known for its uncoated cast iron cookware, including a wide range of frying pans, from single-egg pans to very large pans fit for feeding the neighborhood. They also make uncoated Dutch ovens for stovetop or camping use, grill pans, pizza pans, and chicken fryers. Like other companies, Lodge has expanded their product lines and they now also sell enameled cast iron cookware. While the uncoated cast iron pans are manufactured in the US, their other products may be manufactured elsewhere.
Mauviel cookware is one of the most well-known manufacturers of copper cookware. Made in France, the cookware is beautiful and expensive. While a complete set might be out of the budget, a single piece of cookware might be affordable for special use, like a crepe pan or a jam pan.
Accessories and Warranties
Cookware warranties vary widely, from short-term warranties on single nonstick frying pans to lifetime warranties on higher-end cookware. While a lifetime warranty sounds like a great deal, most have caveats, like excluding commercial use or cookware abuse. Some warranties only cover manufacturing defects, so you won’t get a pan replaced if you scraped your nonstick cookware with a knife or heated a coated pan above the safe temperature. Some companies are more generous with their replacements, often on a case-by-case basis, so if your high-end saucepan suddenly loses a handle, it’s worthwhile to contact the company to see if a replacement is possible. Since cookware has no moving parts, defects and breakage are not common, with the worst fault being defects in nonstick coatings.
Few single pieces of cookware come with accessories, aside from lids. Exceptions are stockpots that might include a steamer or pasta insert, or roasting pans that might include a rack. Some cookware sets do include extras, but their value can be negligible since they can make it seem like you’re getting more cookware but instead you’re getting inexpensive spoons and spatulas. Some sets do include valuable extras, like steamers, pasta inserts, double boilers, or frying inserts that fit specific cookware pieces in the set. When you’re buying a set, it’s wise to count the pans rather than the lids and extra pieces. Also, you can find plenty of accessories online, including universal lids, silicone handle covers for cast iron pans, roasting racks, and a multitude of options for steaming, frying, and draining.