The best cookware sets you can buy
- Whether you consider cooking a hobby or a chore, there are several types of cookware to choose from to suit your needs.
- Many different cookware sets made from various materials are available, including stainless steel, nonstick aluminum, cast iron, and copper.
- The All-Clad D5 Brushed Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set tops our list with its sturdy construction, excellent heat conductivity and retention, versatility, and easy maintenance.
Through years of making family meals, baking for friends, and experimenting with recipes, I've used different types of cookware. I like using certain types of pots and pans for specific purposes - nonstick aluminum for making omelets, stainless steel for boiling liquids and sautéing hash browns, and cast iron for searing steaks and stir-frying vegetables.
It's important to equip your kitchen with a cookware set that's built from material that serves your culinary needs. Below are a the options you will find:
Stainless steel cookware
Stainless steel is durable, versatile, and attractive. It's not only easy to use and clean but also nonreactive. However, stainless steel absorbs and transmits heat poorly, so it's often combined with a metal, like aluminum or copper, that has better thermal conductivity for quicker, more even heating. While aluminum and copper are reactive metals, when clad in stainless steel they do not react to or leach into foods. The two subsets of stainless steel cookware are:
- Fully clad: The entire body of a piece is constructed of layers of aluminum and/or copper sandwiched between stainless steel layers so heat spreads well throughout the cookware. For more information, check out our guide to fully clad stainless steel cookware.
- Bottom-clad: The base is an aluminum or copper disc encased in stainless steel, which spreads heat well across the bottom. The stainless steel sides conduct heat poorly though.
Nonstick hard-anodized aluminum cookwareAs described in our guide on this type of cookware, hard-anodizing is "a way of hardening a soft aluminum surface electrochemically so it becomes twice as hard as stainless steel and has an oxidized layer" that's nonreactive to acidic food. This cooking surface is also resistant to scratching, corrosion, and most conveniently, sticking, making it easy to clean. Hard-anodized aluminum is a nontoxic alternative to nonstick coatings possibly containing PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene, a manmade chemical known as Teflon) or PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid, another manmade chemical used in making Teflon).
This cookware's pluses are that you need little to no oil when cooking, and Good Housekeeping notes that it is fairly lightweight and heats up up quickly so hot spots are less likely. The downsides to this cookware are its cost, incompatibility with induction stove tops, and need to hand wash.
Cast iron cookware
Like wine, this tough cookware ages well. As describes by America's Test Kitchen, "a cast iron pan is possibly the only piece of kitchen gear you can buy that noticeably improves after years of heavy use. As you cook in it, a cast iron pan gradually develops a natural, slick patina, called seasoning, which releases food easily. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet can become just as nonstick as an aluminum or stainless steel pan and will definitely outlast them."
This metal heats slowly and not very evenly. Nonetheless, it retains heats well, reaches and withstands extremely high temperatures, and can go from stove top to oven and back for different culinary modalities. Cast iron cookware is relatively economical, versatile, great for searing, and usually comes preseasoned or enameled with a smooth porcelain surface. The downsides are that it's heavy and requires regular but simple maintenance - you need to hand wash and dry as well as oil them after each use. For helpful hints, see "Use and Care Tips" below. You can also read our guides on how to clean cast iron and how to season it, as well as our top picks for cast iron skillets.
Beautiful, efficient, and responsive to thermal changes, copper delivers rapid and uniform heating as well as precise temperature control. Since copper is relatively soft and reacts with acidic foods, you'll want copper cookware that's lined with a harder, stronger, and nonreactive metal like stainless steel. Although superb in appearance and performance, copper cookware is expensive and a bit high-maintenance, requiring hand washing and drying and then regular polishing to preserve its luxurious sheen. For more information, check out our copper cookware guide.
In addition to trying all different types of cookware, I consulted culinary equipment sites that specifically focus on and test cooking equipment. I also interviewed a former prep cook to learn about cookware construction and materials as well as recommendations for top brands of cookware sets.
Here are the best cookware sets you can buy:
- Best cookware set overall: All-Clad D5 Brushed Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set
- Best budget cookware set: Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set
- Best nonstick cookware set: Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 12-Piece Cookware Set
- Best cast iron cookware set: Lodge Preseasoned Cast Iron 5-Piece Cookware Set
- Best copper cookware set: Lagostina Martellata Hammered Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set
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