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What You Need to Know When Buying a Cookware Set

Whether you’re a newly initiated enthusiast bursting with excitement over every opportunity to show your cooking prowess or a seasoned pro whose pots have seen years of culinary delights, the time has come to invest in a solid cook set. The best cookware will differ for the various personalities, meal preparations, recipes, and cooking styles out there. The most important features to consider are:

  • Heat conductivity: how well the pots heat up, how evenly the heat is distributed

  • Price: Consider your budget, ceramic is considerably cheaper but won’t last as long as stainless steel

  • Durability: How long will the set last? How hard-wearing is it?

  • Reactivity: Does this material react to different types of foods (acid)?

  • Maintenance: How hard is it to clean? Does it require yearly curing? Polishing?

Additionally, here are a few all-important specs you need to consider before you buy:

  • Materials

This is one of the most important aspects of your cookware set. The material will determine how easy it is to clean, what the set looks and feels like, and, most importantly, how well the pans will cook your food. You want to avoid certain materials when shopping for the best cook sets. For example, plain old aluminum reacts to acidic foods, giving your meals a metallic flavor. This is also a poor choice if you have an induction cooktop. There are several good options including cast iron, stainless steel, and copper cookware.

So what’s the right material for a good cookware set? Ultimately, the right cookware set for you is going to be a combination of many factors. Whether you’re going pro or just want to make a meal without burning the side dish, tri-ply stainless steel is definitely one of your best bets. These pans have three layers of metal: a solid aluminum plate packed between two stainless-steel coatings. In simple English, that means stainless steel will distribute the heat evenly throughout the pots and pans, ensuring a thorough cooking process and no burnt or raw patches. Fully clad is also an important feature. It means that the aluminum core goes all the way up the sides of the pans. Once again, this makes for more uniform cooking.

Stainless steel also looks really pretty and cleans well. Not to mention it’s one of the sturdiest materials you’ll find and dishwasher safe. Stainless steel is also nonreactive (i.e., it plays nicely with acidic foods like vinegar), so you won’t get that unpleasant tang from cooking with foods you love.

  • Lids & handles

The lid and handles are the second most important features for quality cookware sets. Glass lids are great because you can see the food inside and how it’s progressing. But glass can break more easily. So you have to know yourself. If you are prone to dropping lids on the floor or knocking them over, avoid glass lids and opt for something sturdier. Otherwise, glass lids are fun to work with.

Handles should ideally be stainless steel or other metal. Plastic handles don’t generally stand up to the heat or the test of time. Just be careful when cooking with metal handles because some heat up along with the pan. Single, long-handled saucepans are preferable for one-handed mobility. And if there’s a hole at the end of the handle for hanging, all the better. Of course, this only applies to smaller saucepans. Larger ones and pots (4 quarts or more) require two handles for stability and safety.

  • Collections

What’s included in the cookware set is also a useful deciding factor. A 17-piece set might come with all the bells and whistles that you just don’t need. If you never make pasta for example, don’t spend the extra money on a pasta strainer set. The smaller the set, the less you’ll spend, obviously. So, if you already have some pots that are good quality or you know you will never use certain pieces, save yourself some money by going with a fewer-piece cookware set.

Also, check which pieces are included in the set. Some companies will toss in a few insignificant pieces like an additional utensil (spoons, spatulas, etc.) so it seems like the set has more pots than it really does. Sometimes, less is more – so you’ll get more value from a 5-pc set of good quality pots than a 12-pc set of only two pots and lots of useless accessories.

  • Stovetop

Finally, make sure to consider your stovetop when purchasing the right cookware set for your home. For example, aluminum pots don’t work on induction cooktops (it has to do with magnets and such, we won’t bore you with the details).

So you want to find a cookware set that fits into your budget, is durable and hard-wearing, and works with your needs and stovetop. Here’s a closer look at the top ten, best cookware sets we’ve reviewed in 2020:

Best Stainless Steel: Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-pc Set

Outstanding feature: 3-ply alum. core, cool grip, oven safe

The Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-pc set is possibly the most popular of all cookware sets because of its durability, reliability, and sleek look. The stainless steel makes for easy clean-up, long lifespan, and a fresh look and feel. Plus, the 3-ply construction gives the set excellent heat conductivity.

Best Space-Saver: Calphalon Premiere Space Saving Nonstick 10-pc Set

Outstanding feature: Stackable for space saving, oven safe

The Calphalon Premiere Space Saving Nonstick 10-pc set is a great cookware set that delivers on just about all your needs. The set is made of hard-anodized aluminum for long-lasting use. The stainless-steel handles are as durable as they come and, what’s more, stay cool when you’re cooking. But the best part of this set is that it neatly nests into itself for optimal space-saving storage. Calphalon also has an exquisite copper set if you want something shinier.

Best Budget-Friendly HA Sets: T-fal Ultimate Hard Anodized Titanium 12/13/14-pc Set

Outstanding feature: Non-reactive, scratch-resistant, thermo spot

T-fal is an American household name, designing top-quality kitchen products. The T-fal Ultimate sets have a thermo-spot heat indicator that lets you know when the pan is at its optimal cooking heat. Choose from hard anodized titanium, stackable, or advanced nonstick for a smooth cooking surface that heats evenly and is easy to clean. T-fal also has other great cookware sets including the Excite ProGlide and the Initiative.

Best Pro-grade Cookware Set: All-clad Brushed Stainless Steel 10-pc Set

Outstanding feature: Life warranty, 3/5-ply, stainless steel

If you’re looking for a truly pro-grade cookware set, then look no further than the All-Clad Brushed Stainless Steel 10-pc set. Available in 5 or 3-ply, these pots have the most reliable heat distribution, USA-made durable design, and will last you a lifetime (guaranteed). The stainless steel means you’ll have an easy time cleaning up after cooking too. The All-Clad Brushed Stainless Steel 10-pc set is a real splurge but it’s the last cookware set you’ll ever have to buy.

Best Overall Cookware: Tramontina Tri-ply Clad Stainless Steel 12-pc Set

Outstanding feature: Alum. core, 3-ply clad, induction compatible

The Tramontina Tri-ply Clad Stainless Steel 12-pc set is probably the best option for all-around great cooking. It’s got a solid, stainless steel design, is affordably priced, and comes with just about everything you need to cook up a storm. Pots heat evenly, handles are long and comfortable to hold, lids fit neatly, and this dishwasher-safe set is even suitable for induction stovetops.

Best Nonstick Cookware: Anolon Advanced Hard Anodized Nonstick 11-pc Set

Outstanding feature: Padded handles, multiple chic colors

The Anolon Advanced Hard Anodized Nonstick sets are known for their comfortable handles. The pots and lid grips are covered with a soft, solid coating that’s easy to grasp, stays cool when cooking, and makes it more comfortable to hold. What’s more, the premium nonstick surface is metal-utensil-safe and allows food to slide right off the pan. Anolon also has an incredible copper set if you prefer that material.

Best Cast-Iron Cookware: Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 5-pc Set

Outstanding feature: Oil-finish, oven safe, induction friendly

The Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 5-pc is a real pro package for chefs who love the feel and experience of cooking with cast iron. This set is pre-seasoned with 100% natural oil and is ideal for sautéing, simmering, baking, broiling, braising, searing, frying, roasting, or grilling foods both in the oven and on all types of cooktops, even induction. You can even use the Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 5-pc on campfires and grills.

Best Fashionable Cookware Set: Rachael Ray Cucina Hard Anodized Nonstick 12-pc Set

Outstanding feature: Fashionable, nonstick, durable, oven safe

The Rachael Ray Cucina Hard Anodized Nonstick 12-pc set has a durable nonstick interior and hard enamel porcelain exterior. The set comes in several chic colors, perfect for chefs who like to have their kitchens looking their best all the time. Best of all, the Rachael Ray Cucina Hard Anodized Nonstick 12-pc set is oven-safe and good for most stovetops.

Best Ceramic Cookware: GreenLife Soft Grip Ceramic Non-Stick 16-pc Set

Outstanding feature: Thermo-ceramic, oven safe, stay-cool grips

The GreenLife Soft Grip Ceramic Non-Stick 16-pc set is a great addition to any kitchen. Whether it’s because you want an all-inclusive set, like the idea of cooking with thermolon ceramic that’s PFOA, PFAS, lead, and cadmium-free, or just love the way turquoise (or pink or lilac or cobalt…) looks against your backsplash, this 16-pc set gives you everything you need with a clean ceramic nonstick interior.

Best Hybrid Cookware & Induction Cooktop-Friendly: HexClad Hybrid Nonstick 7-pc Set

Outstanding feature: Induction, hybrid, nonstick, hexagon surface

HexClad is designed with a unique technology that combines the durability of stainless steel with the convenience of nonstick surfaces. The patented laser-teched hexagon design and tri-ply construction ensure the most even cooking along with easy clean surface. HexClad Hybrid Nonstick 7-pc set is PFOA-free, oven-safe, and best of all, induction-ready.

How to Choose the Right Cookware Set for You

In addition to weighing the above-mentioned features like material, handle and lid options, and what’s included in a set, you’ll also want to consider:

  • How much room you have for storage. Nesting sets are ideal for small apartments.

  • The weight of each piece. If you aren’t into heavy lifting, opt for a lightweight set. Love the feel of something weighty in your hands? Anodized aluminum will give you a good bulk for your cooking efforts.

  • Dishwasher compatibility. If you hate doing dishes, don’t have time for washing up, or hate the sight of dishes drying on your countertop (or maybe you don’t even have the counter space to spare), then dishwasher-friendly pots and pans are a real lifesaver.

  • Is it oven-safe? If you want to transfer from stovetop to oven or reheat in a pinch, this is a must-have feature.

  • The number of pieces you want in your optimal cookware set. Also consider the size of pots and pans you need (living alone? A small saucepan and skillet will do. Cooking for a crowd? Go for the full set!)

Of course, some features will be important to you while others won’t matter at all (maybe you have a huge kitchen, so space isn’t an issue. Or maybe you have a gas range, so induction features don’t matter, etc.). Pick a cook set that has the best combination of the various features that you find important.

How we created this
list
Compiled from “Best of” lists published by the world’s most trusted sources, and with our own recommended brands peppered in - this Top10 list aims to help consumers make smarter decisions.