- Most cookware sets have the commonly-used pieces, including skillets, fry pans, and saute pans.
- Cookware is available in sets ranging from a 3-piece fry pan set to a more comprehensive 14-piece cookware set.
- A good, high-quality cookware set usually goes for anywhere from $150–$500.
So many good things come in sets — action figures, bento boxes, music groups. Even pots and pans. Although the more fussy or frugal cook might prefer to buy per piece, a complete cookware set will save on hours of scouring through the kitchen department and get you cooking right away.
Luckily, there are many good sets to choose from. Take the time to filter through all the different options and find the best cookware set for your needs.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying
When it comes to cookware, it’s all about finding the right one — for you. What dishes do you cook most? Are you cooking for one or many? What type of oven are you working with? These are the questions you should ask yourself before you start your cookware search.
What Are You Cooking?
For most dishes, stainless steel, hard-anodized aluminum, or a multi-clad combination will do the job. These three choices are the most versatile, and are popular for their durability, easy maintenance, and non-reactivity to ingredients (meaning that acidic ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, or wine won’t discolor the metal or absorb a metallic flavor).
Multi-clad or multi-ply cookware in particular combines several layers of metal — the most common of which are stainless steel, aluminum, and copper — to bring out the best properties of each. In just one piece, you get stainless steel’s strength and non-reactivity, aluminum’s amazing ability to conduct heat, and copper’s quick and even cooking properties.
Those who lean towards lighter, more delicate dishes (like seafood) will prefer a nonstick option. Although nonstick is the least versatile of the bunch, usually relegated to stovetops, it’s so easy to cook with and clean (no scrubbing required) that every cook would do well to have a nonstick skillet handy. But the skillet may be enough. You may not want to invest in an entire nonstick set.
On the other hand, if you like long braises, hearty bakes, and comfort food in general, go for a trusty cast iron. This doesn’t have to be a complete set — one or two good cast iron pieces are usually enough for home cooking purposes.
This heavy-weight material doesn’t do well with acidic ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, or wine, but easily transitions between almost every cooking method — from stovetop to oven to open campfire. It’s also the go-to pan for achieving that perfectly seared steak. If you’re willing to put it in the extra effort and maintenance, a good cast iron will last for decades.
Who Are You Cooking For?
The amount of food you’re preparing will also determine what cookware you need. Look for smaller pots and pans if you usually cook for one or two, or wider, deeper dimensions for larger families and frequent dinner parties.
What Type of Cooktop Do You Have?
Also consider your cooktop. A smooth-surface electric range will require a flat-bottomed pan, while an induction cooktop works better with magnetic stainless steel. As for traditional gas ranges, go for durable cookware that fares well over a flame’s uneven heat. Think stainless steel or multi-clad combinations with a stainless steel layer.
As far as kitchen duties go, after cooking, comes cleaning. And how much cleaning your cookware needs depends on what it's made from — anodized aluminum, nonstick, copper, and cast iron cookware should generally only be handwashed, while stainless steel and ceramic cookware are usually dishwasher safe.
If you don’t mind the extra effort and enjoy a good scrub, you can take your pick of even the highest maintenance cookware, like cast iron and copper. But if you don’t want cookware cleanup to be another pesky chore, opt for ceramic, nonstick coating, or stainless steel cookware sets.
Cookware Set Considerations
What exactly does the word cookware encompass? Usually, cookware is the general term for pots and pans. For cookware sets, however, it can also include lids, utensils, even a cookbook. Multi-piece sets are literally counted per piece — which means that an 11-piece cookware set is probably six pans and five lids. Before you add to cart, read the fine print and understand exactly what pieces you’re getting.
“The most-used cookware pieces in the kitchen are 10- and 12-inch skillets, 2- and 4-quart saucepans, a Dutch oven, and a stockpot,” according to Consumer Search. For this reason, it’s common for cookware sets to include a few of the same types of pots and pans in different sizes.
Ask yourself, do you really need a 1.5 quart and a 2.5 quart saucepan? An 8-inch and a 10-inch fry pan? While cookware sets usually only include multiples for the most frequently-used pieces, these may not be the pieces you personally need in your kitchen.
What’s Not Included
Cookware sets are assembled to cater to general use. This means a lot of fry pans, saucepans, and maybe a stock pot. These are all good to get you started in the kitchen, but for more specialty cooking, you’ll likely need to add in some other kitchen tools. For instance, cookware sets don’t usually include a grill pan for searing tuna steaks and lamb chops, or a wok for that weekend stir fry.
What You Should Expect to Pay
The price of cookware sets depends on how many pieces are included and what material they're made from. Those new in the kitchen can start with a 3-7 piece cookware set in user-friendly stainless steel, while the more aspiring, adventurous cook may be interested in 12-14 piece cookware sets.
For general home kitchen use, however, cookware shouldn’t set you back too much. There are excellent, high-performance sets between $150-$500 that will last you years.
What Material You’re Getting
The beauty of cookware sets is that they’re all the same material. All the pieces match and look picture perfect together in your kitchen.
The limitation of cookware sets is also that they’re all the same material. This requires you to make a choice between going fully stainless steel, aluminum, nonstick, ceramic, or multi-clad. The best thing to do is consider the characteristics of each — versatility, durability, maintenance, and price — then select the best material for your needs.
Whether you decide on durable stainless steel or classic cast iron, read on for our top picks for the best cookware in every category.
Best Multi-Ply Splurge: All-Clad Tri-Ply Bonded Cookware Set (10-Piece)
All-Clad is known as an expensive brand — yet people are more than willing to pay the price. The Wirecutter goes as far as dubbing this a “buy-it-for-life” cookware set.
All-Clad’s popularity — and brand name — comes from its patented “roll-bonding” process, which layers highly durable, highly conductible metals throughout the pan (others only do this at the bottom).
The result is cookware that distributes heat evenly, cooks perfectly, and can be used in ovens, broilers, and on any type of cooktop (even induction) up to 500-600 degrees Fahrenheit.
This particular tri-ply stainless steel set places an aluminum core between layers of sturdy stainless steel for better heat conduction and retention. It includes an 8-inch and 10-inch fry pan, a 2-quart and 3-quart sauce pan (with lids), a 3-quart sauté pan (with lid), and an 8-quart stockpot (with lid).
Best Multi-ply for the Price: Misen Complete Cookware Set (7-Piece)
Not to toot our own horn, but Misen makes a top-notch cookware set. Our Complete 7-piece Cookware Set is actually 7 pieces without counting the lids. It includes a 10-inch and 12-inch skillet, a 2-quart and 3-quart saucier, a 3-quart sauté pan, a 6-quart rondeau (also known as a brasier, a wide pan with relatively tall straight sides), and an 8-quart stock pan.
The pieces are 3mm-thick, composed of alternating layers of stainless steel and aluminum — a combination proven to optimally distribute and retain heat — for a total of five layers or 5-ply. That’s comparable to the significantly more expensive All-Clad set. And when those layers can make the difference between even heat distribution and hot spots that burn your food, there’s no better deal than that.
Each piece in this set is also compatible with electric, gas, and induction cooktops. A favorite feature, though, are the handles. The long stainless steel handles are ergonomic and stay cool even while cooking. A discreet detail but definitely nice to have when you grab for that pot handle.
Best in Aluminum: T-fal Hard Anodized Cookware Set (12-Piece)
This is Amazon’s number one selling cookware set with over 4,000 reviews and a 4.3 star rating. Plus as a 12-piece cookware set for under $89.99 (that’s just $7.50 a piece), it’s pretty hard to dispute its value.
The hard anodized aluminum cookware is durable and easy to clean, while its riveted silicone handles offer a comfortable ergonomic grip. All pieces are oven-safe up to 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit and compatible with all cooktops except induction.
Unique to T-fal — and useful for all cooks — is its Thermo-Spot heat indicator. Basically, when the pattern in the middle of the pan turns a solid red, it’s properly preheated and ready to cook.
The 12 pieces consist of an 8-inch and 10-inch fry pan, a 5-quart Dutch oven (with lid), a 1-quart, 2-quart, and 3-quart sauce pan (with lids), a nylon solid spoon, and a slotted spatula.
Best in Nonstick: Calphalon Premier Space Saving Nonstick Set (6-Piece)
This is a set that understands the needs of apartment dwellers, or anyone without a lot of kitchen space to spare. All 6 pieces are designed to stack in any order — thanks to their fitted circumference and flat tempered glass lids — using a reported 30 percent less storage space.
Plus, this 6-piece nonstick cookware set is a workhorse. They have a triple-layer anodized aluminum core that gives excellent heat distribution and a nonstick finish that ably cooks without any oil or butter. You can also pop them in the oven. The pans can withstand temperatures up to 450-500 degrees Fahrenheit with stainless steel handles that stay comfortably cool while cooking.
This stackable set includes an 8-inch and a 10-inch frying pan, a 2.5-quart and a 3.5-quart saucepan (with lids), and a 6-quart stockpot (with lid). Keep in mind, however, that nonstick surfaces eventually wear off, and all nonstick cookware will need to be replaced. And while a nonstick skillet is a kitchen essentials, a good stockpot is usually better in a different material, like multi-ply stainless steel.
Best in Ceramic Nonstick: Rachael Ray Cucina Hard Porcelain Enamel Nonstick Cookware Set (12-Piece)
It’d be easy to think brightly-colored cookware is not worth its weight. But that would be wrong. These pots and pans are not only pretty, they’re celebrity chef-endorsed and Amazon approved (number two on the Best-selling Kitchen Cookware Set list).
Yes, they come in delicious tones of Agave Blue, Cranberry Red, Lavender, Mushroom Brown, Lemongrass Green, Pumpkin Orange, and Sea Salt Gray. But they’re also constructed from a durable aluminum nonstick material. They have dual-riveted rubberized stainless steel handles and shatter-proof glass lids.
Every piece can be used in ovens and on cooktops (except induction), up to temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, the slick porcelain enamel exteriors release food effortlessly and clean up easily.
This ceramic cookware set includes an 8-inch and a 10-inch skillet, a 3-quart saute pan (with lid), a 1-quart and 3-quart saucepan (with lids), and a 6-quart stockpot (with lid). You also get two bonuses — a slotted turner and a spoon.
Best in Cast Iron: Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Bundle (5-Piece)
The main concern with cast iron cookware is that it requires seasoning and can’t be used straight out of the box. But that’s not the case with this bundle. Lodge pieces come pre-seasoned using the company’s awarded process — 100% vegetable oil, baked on at high temperatures for a completely natural, easy-release cooking surface.
Although heavy and higher maintenance (handwashing and occasional seasoning required), cast iron is still one of the most popular materials for its durability, amazing heat retention, and versatility — it goes from stove to oven and even to grills.
This is the perfect starting cast iron cookware set with an 8-inch and a 10.25-inch skillet, a 10.5-inch griddle, and a 5-quart Dutch oven. The fifth piece is a lid that conveniently fits both the larger skillet and the Dutch oven.
Ready, Set, Cook
A cookware set is perfect for those starting out in the kitchen. In one swift purchase, you can cover all your cooking bases and have an assortment of pieces that will last you years.
There are a number of options out there. But if you know what you need your cookware to do and the pieces that will do the job best, it’s easy to figure out which set is the right one for you.