Prices are accurate at the time of publication.
- Cookware sets are an efficient way to equip your kitchen with all the basics.
- We evaluated the pros and cons of each set so you can find one that suits your needs and budget.
- The best cookware set overall is the Tramontina Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Set because its pieces are practical and durable.
Purchasing a cookware set can be overwhelming, no matter how confident you are in the kitchen. The variety of materials and different combinations of pots and pans can seem endless.
That's why we turned to the experts, who all agreed that less is more when it comes to cookware. Based on our own experience and conversations with chefs, food editors, and leaders of the Cookware Manufacturers Association, we came up with the following as a basic outline for an ideal cookware set.
The key pans you need in a cookware set
|Type of pan||Purpose|
|10-inch skillet||Making eggs, pancakes, fried rice|
|12-inch sauté pan||Larger recipes with more liquids, sautéing vegetables and meats|
|5-quart Dutch oven||Braising, roasting, slow cooking, stews and soups|
|3-quart saucepan||Small portions of pasta or rice, sauces|
Not every set in this guide includes a Dutch oven, but a casserole dish or stockpot can serve the same purpose.
Here are the best cookware sets of 2021
- Best cookware set overall: Tramontina 12-Piece Tri-Ply Clad Stainless Steel Set
- Best budget cookware set: T-fal All-in-One Hard-Anodized Cookware Set
- Best cookware set upgrade: All-Clad D3 Stainless Steel Cookware Set
- Best ceramic cookware set: Caraway Ceramic Coated Set
- Best copper cookware set: Williams Sonoma Thermo-Clad Copper Set
The Tramontina set stocks your kitchen without cluttering it, and features useful pieces in a durable material.
Pros: Includes essential pieces, tri-ply construction for durability
Cons: Oven safe temperature on the low end
When we asked King Phojanakong, chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, which pots and pans were kitchen must-haves, he listed a 5-quart Dutch oven, 12-inch saute pan, and 3-quart saucepan, all of which happen to be included in Tramontina's cookware set. The versatility of these pieces is the selling point: Phojanakong uses the saute pan for chicken dishes or baby bok choy, and takes out the 3-quart saucepan when he needs to heat up leftover soups and sauces and cook rice or small portions of pasta.
Not only is the Tramontina set's practical range of sizes — with cookware scaled for both individual meals and large gatherings — one of its major assets, so is its durable construction.
"Stainless steel is the most universal material. You don't have to treat it gently," said Lisa Chernick, author of Your Starter Kitchen. Each piece is made up of an aluminum core sandwiched between external 18/10 stainless steel layers. This tri-ply construction gives you the excellent heat conductivity of aluminum with the strength of stainless steel. While the set is dishwasher safe, hand washing your cookware will maintain its shine longer.
You can purchase the individual components separately, though the set offers the best deal. There are also smaller and larger sets, but the 12-piece has all the essentials and no unnecessary extras.
If you need to stock your kitchen quickly and on a budget, the T-fal Hard-Anodized Set is easy to maintain, scratch resistant, and comes with three serving utensils.
Pros: Dishwasher safe, large frying pans, stewpot can act as dutch oven
Cons: No pot larger than 4 quarts, saute pan does not have a lid
The exteriors of all the pots and pans in T-fal's cookware set are hard-anodized aluminum, a material resistant to scratches from metal utensils, while the interiors are glazed with nonstick coating and then reinforced with titanium, which is commonly used as a strengthening layer. This durability (plus the low price point) is part of the reason why we named this set by T-Fal the best budget pick in our guide to the best hard-anodized cookware. Insider reporter James Brains has used a similar T-fal set since 2018. He said that the pieces have held up well through daily use, though he recommends hand washing the fry pans to preserve the nonstick coating.
The largest pot in this 12-piece collection is only four quarts, but if you're not hosting a party, that should be big enough for pasta night. Plus, the set includes a serving spoon, spatula, and a slotted spatula, so you'll be ready to dole out dinner. And if you have leftovers, the 2-quart pot comes with a refrigerator lid so you can store them.
Ring-shaped thermo spot indicators turn red when the pans get hot, which can take some of the guesswork out of properly preheating — especially for less experienced cooks. Once you're done, these stackable pieces nest easily into one another.
If you splurge on an All-Clad Stainless Steel set, your kitchen will be stocked with essential pieces that stand the test of time.
Pros: High oven safe temperature, thick gauge aluminum core
Cons: Fry pans on the small side, not dishwasher safe
Our best overall pick, which is also stainless steel, is less expensive and offers much of the same benefits as this All-Clad set. However, the longevity and durability of the All-Clad D3 line may make it worth spending the extra money, depending on your cooking needs.
The All-Clad D3 cookware set has the highest oven safe temperature in this guide: 600 degrees. The ability to withstand such high heat also improves the performance of the casserole dish or stock pot as a substitute Dutch oven. And as Chernick mentioned, more experienced cooks may want to brown something on the stovetop and then put it in the oven.
We should note that while these All-Clad pots and pans hold up in the oven, you're better off hand-washing them than putting them in the dishwasher, which is something to consider if keeping cleanup time to a minimum is important.
The Caraway Ceramic Coated Set is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional nonstick pots and pans — and it's available in six attractive colors.
Pros: Includes storage system, aluminum core for rapid heating
Cons: No larger fry pan, ceramic coating isn't as durable as stainless or other metals
Though this set is on the smaller side, Caraway's set has everything you need to get cooking. The 6.5-quart Dutch oven can be your pasta pot or serving dish for large meals, and the 4.5-quart saute pan is perfect for large fry ups. Additionally, the set comes with a storage system: magnetic pan racks and a canvas lid holder.
Caraway's signature is its ceramic nonstick coating. Ceramic coatings offer the same nonstick properties as traditional ones, but contain no trace elements of PFOA, PFTE, lead, or cadmium. Caraway cookware has an aluminum core that ensures rapid and even heating, while the coating decreases your need for oil and makes the surface easier to clean.
The Caraway Home set is shipped in recycled cardboard with no plastic bags. Plus, the ceramic coating releases less CO2 when manufactured than traditional nonstick coatings. (Though keep in mind that all nonstick coatings, including ceramic, are less durable than stainless steel and other metals.) Altogether, this set is designed to limit clutter and keep your kitchen functional as well as well-stocked.
The Williams Sonoma Thermo-Clad Copper Set is a great intro to copper set, offering the heating abilities of copper and the accessibility of stainless steel.
Pros: Double-wall insulated lids, nonreactive interior
Cons: Not the thickest gauge copper, stainless steel lining limits some of the diffusivity
Copper provides the most efficient and even heating of any cookware metal. Since copper is a reactive metal, most cookware is lined with a nonreactive interior like tin or stainless steel. The Williams Sonoma Thermo-Clad Copper Set has a stainless steel interior, so you can worry less about cooking acidic foods.
This set includes all the pieces we think are necessary for a well-stocked kitchen and the 1.2 mm copper exterior is striking enough to display when you're not cooking. The Thermo-Clad cookware is oven safe to 450 degrees, but you should never heat up an empty copper pan. For more guidance on how to take care of your copper pots and pans, check out our guide to copper cookware.
While we haven't yet tested the sets in this guide firsthand, our picks are based off of extensive research and expert interviews. Here are the factors we considered when putting together this guide:
Pieces: The first thing we did was establish a list of essential pieces all cookware sets should have. Our three experts agreed that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to cookware. Chernick, Battiliana, and Phojanakong each suggested a pared down list of essential pieces. With this input and our own experience in the kitchen, we created the guidelines found at the top of the page.
Materials: We identified the pros and cons of different cookware materials, which you can see here. Chernick recommended stainless steel for cookware sets because it can handle the wear and tear of a busy kitchen, and we agree. Stainless steel is durable, doesn't require special maintenance, and cooks most things well.
Construction: We considered the construction of each cookware set. Besides cast iron, most cookware is made by layering different metals. This can increase the heat conductivity of less conductive metals; for instance, stainless steel pans often have aluminum cores because aluminum heats up much quicker. Additionally, having multiple layers makes the cookware more durable. Battiliana said there is a connection between performance and quality, as thinner metal pans will wear out faster than better constructed pans.
Based on our own cookware experience and conversations with experts, these are the differences between the most common cookware materials.
Cookware materials compared
|Material||Composition||Pros and Cons||Best for|
Seasoned: Oil baked into cast iron over time prevents food from sticking and the pan from rusting
Enameled: Cast iron coated with thick, enamel glaze to prevent food sticking and eliminate the need to season the pan
|Pros: Great heat retention, durable
Cons: Slow to heat up, requires special maintenance
|Searing, slow cooking, if you want a piece to pass down|
|Aluminum||Hard-anodized: Aluminum that is electrochemically altered to be more durable and nonstick.||Pros: Great heat conductivity, inexpensive
Cons: Not durable when untreated, can warp and scratch
|Casual cooks, inexpensive pieces like sheet pans|
Core: Copper layer sandwiched between layers of other materials
Base: thin copper ring embedded in the bottom of the cookware
Clad: Copper foil exterior
Pros: Excellent heat conductivity
Cons: Reactive with acidic foods, needs to be lined and maintained, expensive
|Rapid and even heating, experienced chefs|
|Stainless steel||Tri-ply: Stainless steel interior and exterior with a core made from a material with better heat conductivity, often aluminum||
Pros: Non-reactive, durable, scratch resistant
Cons: Slow to heat up, can be expensive
|Everyday chefs, cookware to last through a lot of use|
When should I get rid of a pot or pan?
If the handles start to wiggle, you need to tighten them or throw out the piece. Chef Phojanakong said to look at the rivets and welding on the handles for signs of looseness. It's not safe if you can't handle your pan with ease.
Most nonstick coatings will scratch if you regularly use metal utensils on them. It's up to you whether or not this means you have to throw the pan away. For Chernick, once a nonstick pan is scratched, it's time to say goodbye: "It might not be toxic, but I don't want to eat pieces of Teflon."
What makes a cookware set induction safe?
Cookware needs to have magnetic properties in order to work on an induction stovetop, according to the Cookware Manufacturer's Association. If the cookware material is not magnetic, a magnetic plate is applied to the base in order to make it induction safe. The manufacturer will clearly label the induction capabilities of the cookware.
Whether you love to cook or prefer take-out, you need a few basic cookware pieces. We researched, tested, and spoke with experts to find the best cookware for any home chef. One of our main takeaways is to avoid cluttering your kitchen with unnecessary pieces. It is best to spend a little more on quality rather than quantity.
Full cookware sets can be pricey, so deal days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday are a great time to refresh your collection. Look for stainless steel sets on sale — this is one of the most universal and durable materials. With nonstick cookware sets, the number of pieces and original price (therefore the claimed discount) can be inflated by included utensils. Look for sets that only include pots and pans for the most bang for your buck.
Here are the best deals on our favorite cookware sets.