A cookware set includes a variety of pots, pans, and lids in multiple sizes to accommodate a range of cooking needs. Most sets include one or more saucepans, skillets, and sauté pans, and maybe a stockpot for cooking soups and stews.
With so many choices and additional features, it can feel a bit daunting to choose the best cookware set. This guide details what you should look for in a cookware set, the differences between the various types of cookware, and which features to prioritize during your search.
- BEST OVERALL: Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: T-fal Signature Nonstick Dishwasher Safe Cookware Set
- BEST STAINLESS STEEL: Tramontina 80116/249DS Gourmet Stainless Steel
- BEST NONSTICK: Cuisinart GG-12 GreenGourmet Hard-Anodized Nonstick
- BEST COPPER: Lagostina Martellata Hammered Copper
- BEST CERAMIC: GreenPan Valencia Pro Hard Anodized
- BEST CAST IRON: Cuisinel Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron 2-In-1 Multi Cooker
- BEST FOR SMALL KITCHENS: Calphalon Premier Space Saving Stainless Steel
The first factor to consider when you’re on the hunt for the best cookware set is materials. Manufacturers typically construct cookware with one of five materials: stainless steel, aluminum, cast iron, copper, or ceramic. Each material comes with pros and cons. Different materials are better suited for induction cooktops, glass-top stoves, or for use under a broiler, so consider the type of cooking you will be doing and the stove you will be utilizing. Read on to see which of these materials may be better suited to your cooking needs and preferences.
Many chefs love stainless steel. This nonreactive cooking surface doesn’t stain or rust. Unlike some other materials, stainless steel is safe for cooking over high heat and on induction cooktops. Some stainless steel cookware includes a layer of another metal, such as aluminum, between layers of stainless steel. The additional layer helps conduct heat better.
When you shop stainless steel, you might notice the “grade” of the steel. That’s a measure of its quality, durability, and temperature resistance. The numbers, such as 18/8, 18/10, and so on, indicate the amount of chromium and the amount of nickel respectively. So, an 18/8 is 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel. Less nickel, as in an 18/0 stainless steel, makes it more likely to rust. Most cookware uses 18/8 or 18/10, which resists corrosion.
Stainless steel cookware sets can be more expensive than other options. Top-quality sets have thicker sides for durability and better heat distribution. Many sets are dishwasher safe. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure.
Aluminum is not a very durable metal on its own. Most aluminum cookware sets come with a nonstick coating to protect the aluminum and make it a little stronger. Some aluminum is anodized to harden it. Anodized aluminum cookware has a colored exterior to protect against corrosion and stains. The interior may have a nonstick or stainless steel coating.
Aluminum is less expensive than some other materials. Some sets are dishwasher safe, but manufacturers’ recommendations often vary. Aluminum cookware on its own isn’t compatible with induction cooktops. Cooks must add a stainless steel disk to the base so the cooktop will recognize it.
Cast iron offers superior heat retention, which makes it an optimal choice for searing, braising, baking, and frying. You may see both coated and uncoated cast iron options. Uncoated cast iron will require more intense care and cleaning attention. It’s not dishwasher safe and might need reseasoning from time to time. But the more you use uncoated cast iron, the more nonstick the surface becomes. Uncoated cast iron is versatile, too. Use it on stovetops and grills, in the oven, or over a campfire.
Enamel-coated cast-iron cookware does not need seasoning. It is also safe for cooking more acidic foods, which you can’t do in uncoated pans. Some people prefer the look of coated cast iron over uncoated, as it comes in many bright colors. Some pieces are dishwasher safe. Check the manufacturers’ recommendations.
Copper responds quickly to changes in temperature, so pots and pans heat up and cool down fast. Many copper cookware sets are actually stainless steel with a thin copper coating. Higher- quality sets are made completely, or almost completely, of copper. Even in these sets, the interior may have a stainless steel or tin coating to protect against stains.
Copper cookware discolors over time and requires special care to keep its shiny finish. Pure cooper won’t work on an induction cooktop; stainless steel with a copper coating will.
Most ceramic cookware has an aluminum core and a magnetic, silicone-based coating. Silicone comes from silica, which comes from sand. That’s why this type of cookware is considered ceramic.
The coating gives the pans a nonstick finish and doesn’t flake off like some of the cheaper nonstick coatings. It is also nontoxic and free of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The aluminum core makes for even heat distribution. You can use these pots and pans on all types of cooktops. Most ceramic cookware sets are
dishwasher safe. However, hand-washing may extend the life of the set.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Cookware Set
Besides materials, you need to identify the other features that are most important in the cookware set you ultimately purchase. The best cookware sets come in a variety of sizes and assortments. Some include unique lids or handles. Cleaning and care considerations may vary from one set to the next.
Size and Number
The number of cookware pieces in each set can vary quite a bit. While some sets may have only three pieces, other sets include 12 or more. Think about your cooking needs and the available space in your kitchen to determine whether a smaller or larger set would serve you best.
In addition to the number of pieces in each set, also consider the size of each piece in the set. If you live alone or with just one other person and prefer to cook individual portions, your needs will likely be quite different from those of a large family or individuals who like to cook in bulk and freeze meals.
Pots and Pans
Each cookware set includes a different mix of pots and pans. Here are some of the most common:
- Skillet: Also called a fry pan or frying pan, a skillet is shallow with rounded sides angled like a bowl. It’s good for cooking over higher heat and easily moving around the ingredients in the pan. Some common uses for skillets include stir-frying or scrambling or frying eggs.
- Sauté pan: It may look like a skillet, but a sauté pan has straight sides that sit perpendicular to the bottom, giving it a larger surface area than a skillet. Sauté pans typically include a lid and are ideal for making sauces, searing, or deep-frying foods.
- Saucepan: This pan has tall straight sides and comes with a lid. Saucepans come in a variety of sizes starting at about a quart. They are good for soups, sauces, rice, noodles, and hard-boiled eggs. You can leave the lid on to prevent evaporation or remove it to reduce sauces and stocks.
- Stockpots: Typically at least 8 quarts, stockpots are very large and deep, making them ideal for cooking soups or boiling pasta.
- Griddle: Griddles are flat pans that are normally square or rectangular. Their size and shape creates a larger cook surface than a skillet. Griddles are great for pancakes, French toast, hot sandwiches, and bacon.
Lids and Handles
Next, consider the lids and handles included with each set. Many cookware sets come with a few lids that work across the set. For example, the same lid may fit the stockpot and the skillet. If you foresee needing lids for each individual piece in the set, you’ll want to pay close attention when shopping.
Some lids are made of the same material used for the pot, which makes them better able to withstand heat. Glass lids, on the other hand, allow you to easily monitor the food. But, glass lids may not withstand high temps or oven use.
Some handles feature silicone or other means to keep them cool when the pot is hot. Handle design can also impact storage. Removable handles minimize necessary storage space. Other handles make it harder to nest pieces for compact storage. If you plan to hang your pots and pans, be sure to look for a set with handles that allows for that.
Ease of Cleaning
Finally, consider the care recommendations. Some cookware sets are dishwasher safe. Others require hand-washing. In general, stainless steel and ceramic cookware can go in the dishwasher. Nonstick aluminum, cast iron, and copper sets need to be hand-washed, unless the manufacturer specifically states otherwise. Even though stainless steel and ceramic cookware are dishwasher safe, many manufacturers recommend hand-washing to extend the lifespan of the set.
Our Top Picks
Here are the top picks for the best cookware set. With the above considerations in mind, the following options represent a variety of cookware sets with various sizes, pan assortments, and additional features.
Cuisinart’s 12-piece cookware set’s stainless steel cook surface won’t alter flavors, react with foods, or take on stains. The triple-ply construction includes a pure aluminum core for optimal heat conductivity and a brushed stainless exterior. Cool-grip handles securely attached with stainless steel rivets make for easy and comfortable handling. Each piece in the set features a unique drip-free pouring rim to reduce spills and splatters.
The 12-piece set includes 1.5- and 3-quart covered saucepans, 8- and 10-inch open skillets, a 3.5-quart covered sauté pan, an 8-quart covered stockpot, and a steamer insert with lid. This cookware set is oven safe up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit and dishwasher safe for easy cleanup.
Individuals on a budget should consider the T-Fal Signature nonstick cookware set. This 12-piece set features T-Fal’s Thermo Spot Indicator that turns red when the pot is hot and ready to use. Vented tempered-glass lids lock in moisture and heat. Ergonomic heat-resistant handles on every piece make for comfortable cooking and help avoid burns.
The set includes 7.75- and 11-inch fry pans; 1- and 2-quart covered saucepans; a 5.5-quart stockpot with lid; a 10.25-inch griddle; and a spoon, ladle, and slotted spatula. Each piece is oven safe up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Each is dishwasher safe and features a PFOA-, lead-, and cadmium-free nonstick interior and exterior for easy cleanup.
Tramontina’s 12-piece cookware set features tri-ply clad construction for superior heat distribution and conductivity. Each piece consists of magnetic 18/10 stainless steel; an aluminum core; an easy-to-clean, mirror-polished exterior; and a satin-finish interior. Cast stainless steel handles are riveted to the pans for support and durability. The lids are precision fitted.
The set includes 8- and 10-inch fry pans, a 5-quart covered deep sauté pan, 1.5-, 2-, and 3-quart covered saucepans, and an 8-quart covered stockpot. The set is NSF-certified for use in professional kitchens.
Cuisinart’s GreenGourmet 12-piece cookware set is a great choice for nonstick cookware. The PTFE- and PFOA-free, hard-anodized aluminum pots and pans are scratch resistant. Unlike other nonstick cookware options, this set features a water-based ceramic nonstick surface that doesn’t peel off and contaminate foods.
The set includes an 8-inch skillet, 10-inch covered sauté pan, 1.5- and 2.5-quart covered saucepans, a 3-quart covered everyday pan, a 6-quart covered stockpot, and a steamer insert. This nonstick set is also designed to offer optimal heat conductivity to reduce energy usage. It is oven safe to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and broiler safe.
This Lagostina Martellata set’s hammered stainless steel exterior with a copper finish adds elegance and style to any kitchen. Tri-ply construction with two layers of stainless steel around an aluminum core ensures even heat distribution. The interior of each piece is made of high-grade 18/10 stainless steel, which is ideal for searing meats and retaining flavor.
The 10-piece set includes 8- and 10-inch skillets, 2- and 3-quart covered saucepans with lids, a 3-quart deep sauté pan with lid, and a 6-quart stockpot with lid. Each piece in this set features tight-fitting stainless steel lids, cast stainless steel riveted handles for stability and durability, and flared edges for mess-free pouring. The set is broiler safe and oven safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
GreenPan Valencia Pro’s cookware set is made of hard-anodized aluminum. The diamond-infused nonstick ceramic coating is free of PFOA, PFAS, lead, and cadmium. It will not release toxic fumes into food. Magneto Induction Bases provide the ideal heating surface for searing and browning, even on induction cooktops. Hard-anodized aluminum makes these pans scratch resistant and super durable.
This is a four-piece cookware set that includes a 2-quart saucepan, a 9.5-inch frying pan, a 3-quart sauté pan, and one interchangeable lid. Unlike with some nonstick pots and pans, it’s safe to use metal utensils with these. The set is dishwasher safe, and it’s also oven safe and broiler safe to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. The lid is oven safe up to up to 425 degrees. Made of glass, the lid allows cooks to keep watch over their creations.
This cast-iron combo set from Cuisinel includes two versatile cooking pieces: a 3-quart Dutch oven and a 10-inch shallow skillet. Use the pieces separately, or use the skillet as a lid for the Dutch oven. The cast iron is preseasoned and ready to use when it arrives. The seasoning offers an easy-release finish that becomes more nonstick with repeated use.
These cast-iron pieces are suitable for all cooktops including gas, electric, flat-top, and induction. They are also oven safe, grill safe, and campfire safe. The cast-iron construction offers superior heat retention and even heating for optimal cooking results.
Individuals who are tight on cabinet space may want to consider the Calphalon space-saving, 15-piece stainless steel cookware set. The pieces nest together to save up to 30 percent on storage space compared to other sets. The pots and the pans stack in any order, so cooks can place the most-used pots on top.
The set includes 8-, 10-, and 12-inch fry pans, 2.5- and 3.5-quart covered saucepans, a 4.5-quart covered soup pan, a 3-quart covered sauté pan, a 5-quart covered sauteuse, and an 8-quart covered stockpot. Triple-layer metal construction heats up evenly. The aluminum core retains heat well. The pieces have stainless steel handles and tempered glass lids. This set is dishwasher safe, oven safe up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and safe for use with metal utensils.
FAQs About Cookware Sets
A cookware set is not only a relatively big purchase but also something you’ll be using nearly every day. Finding the best cookware set for your needs is important, so you may still have questions. Here are answers to frequently asked questions.
Q. What type of cookware set do I need?
The best cookware set will vary for each individual, based on the types of foods you cook and your preferences in the kitchen. For example, a cookware set with nonstick pans may be the best option for individuals who prioritize easy cleanup. Cast iron is a popular choice among individuals who are looking for a versatile piece that can sear meats on the stove and then transfer to the oven to finish cooking. Finally, a stainless steel cookware set is a great choice for those who like cooking over high heats or want a dishwasher-safe set.
Q. What is the safest cookware for your health?
Many types of cookware are safe and will not leach any substances into your food. These include cast iron, stainless steel, ceramic, and copper.
Q. How long will my cookware set last?
The lifespan of your cookware set depends on the type of cookware you get, how frequently you use it, and how you care for it. On average, most cookware sets will last between 3 and 5 years.