“Your cookware is your partner when you're cooking,” said Elizabeth Barbone, a recipe developer and cookbook author who runs the site Cook Fast, Eat Well. If you choose a set that isn't compatible with the types of dishes you usually make or what kind of stovetop you have, it will subtract from your cooking experience instead of supporting it.
To help you choose a cookware set that fits your needs, experts shared their shopping tips below. We also rounded up a variety of cookware sets we think you might be interested in from Select reader and staffer favorite brands.
Best cookware for at-home chefs
Overall, there is no one best cookware set. Experts told us the one you buy should align with what style of cook you are and what you value in your kitchen tools. For example, some value functionality while others place more emphasis on aesthetics.
With that being said, experts recommended paying attention to factors like what types of pots and pans come in each set, the material they’re made from, what stovetops they’re compatible with and whether they’re oven-safe when shopping. We included these details about each cookware set we recommend.
With expert guidance in mind, we rounded up cookware sets we think you should know. Select staffers also shared some of their favorite cookware brands, and we highlighted a few reader favorite brands, too.
Best nonstick cookware
If you don’t have a lot of space to dedicate to storing cookware, Our Place’s Home Cook Duo comes with two items that, in my experience, cover a beginner chef’s bases: The brand’s Always Pan (a favorite product among many Select staffers) and Perfect Pot. I invested in this cookware set when I moved into my first apartment and it’s helped me whip up dishes for myself and small groups of friends over the years. My mom also uses it to feed our family of four. The Always Pan and Perfect Pot are designed with what the brand says is a nontoxic, nonstick ceramic coating that I’ve found even the stickiest foods like eggs and syrupy sauces to slide off of. The pan and pot have an aluminum body for even heat distribution and they’re compatible with all cooktops. Both pieces of cookware come with lids, beechwood cooking utensils, built-in spoon rests and pour spouts. The Perfect Pot is oven-safe up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
When I began cooking more and decided I needed a few more pieces of cookware to go along with my Our Place products, I invested in Carote’s pots and pans. They’re affordable, lightweight and nonstick, all qualities I was looking for in cookware. This set comes with 9.5-inch and 11-inch frying pans, a 1.5-quart saucepan with a lid and 2.4-quart, 4.3-quart and 6.3-quart casserole pots with lids (I use them like stockpots). Cookware has a stainless steel base and is compatible with all cooktops. It’s important to note that cookware is not oven-safe.
After searching for nontoxic cookware for a while, Select writer Barbara Booth eventually bought Caraway’s Cookware Set. “I've been cooking with these pots and pans for months now, and they clean up as good as new every time and nothing sticks to them,” she said. The set comes with a 10.5-inch fry pan, a 3-quart sauce pan, a 4.5-quart sauté pan with a lid and a 6.5-quart Dutch oven with a lid. The cookware has a nonstick ceramic coating, an aluminum core and stainless steel handles. The brand says pieces are stovetop agnostic (meaning safe on all stovetops), plus they’re oven-safe up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. Caraway’s cookware set also comes with a pan and lid storage system, which Booth says neatly organizes her pots and pans.
Select managing editor Leah Ginsberg said she uses All-Clad cookware, and the brand’s HA1 Nonstick Cookware Set comes with 8-inch and 10-inch fry pans, a 2.5-inch quart and 3.5-inch quart sauce pans with glass lids and a 8-quart stockpot with a glass lid. The cookware has an anti-warp stainless steel base, which All-Clad says makes it compatible with all stovetops, and stainless steel handles. Pots and pans are made from hard-anodized aluminum for even heat distribution and a nonstick coating to help food release easily. Cookware is oven-safe up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit and while the brand says pieces are dishwasher-safe, it recommends hand-washing them.
Former Select reporter Justin Redman bought this cookware set after using him mom’s and admiring its nonstick properties. One of the more affordable options on our list, the Cucina set comes with 1-quart and 3-quart saucepans with glass lids, a 6-quart stockpot with a lid, 8.5-inch and 10-inch frying pans and a 3-quart sauté pan with a lid, plus a slotted turner and spoon. Cookware has an aluminum and hard enamel porcelain exterior and a nonstick interior, plus stainless steel handles covered in rubber for a more comfortable grip. You can put the cookware in the oven up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and it's compatible with all cooktops except induction.
Best stainless steel cookware
In addition to bakeware like its Holy Sheet pan (one of my favorite kitchen tools and a great gift for bakers), Great Jones offers stainless steel cookware that’s compatible with all stovetops and oven-safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The Precious Metals set comes with the Big Deal (8-quart stock pot), Deep Cut (10-inch sauté pan), Saucy (3-quart saucier) and Small Fry (8.5-inch frying pan), plus the Big and Small Lids, which are interchangeable between cookware. Pieces are dishwasher-safe, the brand says, and have bronzed handles. The cookware nests into each other for compact storage.
We frequently cover Made In cookware launches (like its enameled cast iron collection), and if you’re looking to add the brand’s cookware to your kitchen, it offers this stainless steel set that comes with a 10-inch frying pan, an 8-quart stock pot with a lid, a 4-quart sauté pan with a lid and a 3-quart saucier with a lid. The brand says cookware is oven-safe up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit and designed with hollow handles that stay cool on the stovetop. The pots and pans are compatible with all stovetops and dishwasher-safe, according to Made In.
Best cast iron cookware
Cast iron holds heat evenly whether you’re cooking on a stovetop or in the oven, is durable and naturally nonstick when properly maintained, experts told us. Select editor Christina Colizza and reporter Harry Rabinowitz both recommended Lodge’s cast iron cookware, which is available in a set that comes with a 5-quart Dutch oven with a lid, 10.5-inch griddle, and 10.25-inch and 8-inch skillets. The cast iron cookware comes pre-seasoned with vegetable oil. The brand says it’s safe to use on all cooktops and oven-safe, but it doesn't specify up to what temperature.
Le Creuset makes one of the best Dutch ovens you can buy, and it’s included in this cookware set with a lid, plus a 1 3/4-quart saucepan with a lid and 9-inch skillet. All cookware is made from enameled cast iron, which the brand says offers even heat distribution and retention. Cookware is built with handles and its lids have stainless steel knobs. Le Creuset says the cookware is compatible with all cooktops and is oven-safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Pots and pans are also dishwasher-safe, although the brand recommends hand washing.
How to shop for cookware sets
The cookware set you choose to purchase will come down to your personal preferences, but to help guide your decision making, experts said it’s important to think about the following features.
Cookware sets vary greatly in price — some are under $100 while others can be upwards of $1,000. Think about what you’re comfortable spending before you start shopping to focus on what a realistic budget is for your purchase. Barbone said you can always buy an affordable cookware set with a few essential pieces now and add to it over time if you want to splurge on specific items, like a Dutch oven you’ve had your eye on or a bigger fry pan.
Cookware is made from a variety of materials, but you’ll commonly see stainless steel, cast iron, and nonstick options while shopping. Each material has its pros and cons, and some are better for cooking specific foods but not so great for others. Choosing a material for your cookware set comes down to the type of cook you are. Below, we included information about different materials to help narrow your search.
- Stainless steel: Stainless steel is a very versatile material to cook on. It retains heat well, is durable and is relatively lightweight, making it easy to transport around your kitchen. But stainless steel is “sticky,” Barbone said, so if you’re looking for a nonstick pan, you probably won’t want to go with this material.
- Nonstick: Nonstick pans have a coating on them that makes releasing food and cleaning easy. But some are not oven-safe and others can only be heated up to temperatures less that 500 degrees Fahrenheit or so, Barbone said. When shopping for cookware, make sure you look for options made with coatings that are free from Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical that may cause health concerns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Environmental Protection Agency asked chemical manufacturers to phase out using PFOA, but it’s always good to check (all cookware on our list is PFOA-free, according to the brands)..
- Cast iron: If you frequently cook over high heat and transfer pans to the oven, cast iron is a great option, Barbone said. Cast iron also becomes more and more nonstick over time, she added. However, cast iron is very heavy.
Once you choose a material for your cookware, check to see what types of cooking utensils you can use with it. For example, you shouldn't use metal utensils with nonstick cookware because it could scratch the coating, Barbone said.
Some people never make a recipe that requires them to cook something over the stovetop and then finish it off in the oven. If that’s you, buying oven-safe pots and pans is probably not top of mind. But having the flexibility is nice, Barbone said. “If you’re deciding between two similar cookware sets and one is oven-safe, I’d always default to that one,” she noted. For others, however, oven-safe cookware is a priority. Be sure to read the description of the cookware set online (or download the user manual) to learn if pieces are oven-safe and if so, up to what temperature.
Number of pieces in the set
When shopping for cookware sets, you’ll notice that many list the number of pieces they come with on the box or on the website’s product page. But the number of pieces does not refer to how many pots and pans are included. “A piece could be a lid, a mixing spoon or another accessory,” Barbone said. Because of this, she recommends paying less attention to the number of pieces and more attention to the types of pots and pans that you’ll get.
What pots and pans are included
The most important pan to look for in a cookware set is a frying pan (also called a skillet), Barbone said, because it’s so universal. You can cook eggs in it, sauté proteins and vegetables and make stir fry, for example. If you have room to store them, Barbone recommended choosing a cookware set with at least two different size frying pans — this way, you’ll have a larger one and smaller one, and you can decide to use them based on the size of your dish.
Some cookware sets also come with sauté pans, which are similar to frying pans but have higher walls, Barbone said. sauté pans are helpful when cooking foods in liquids, like if you’re braising ingredients, for example. But a sauté pan’s high walls make it challenging to get food in and out of the pan, Barbone noted. That’s when you’ll want to turn to your fry pan.
You’ll also commonly see a large stock pot or Dutch oven included with cookware sets. You can use these pots to make soups and sauces, as well as pasta, rice and other grains. Barbone said cookware sets often come with stock pots that are tall and narrow rather than wide and deep — the latter is more important to look for if you make soups, she said. Saucepans are also common additions to cookware sets. They’re usually smaller than the stock pot or Dutch oven in a set, making them useful for small-scale simmering and boiling.
Finally, a griddle is “nice to have” not a “need to have,” Barbone said. You can use it to make pancakes and panini-style sandwiches, for example, but it’s not something every cook will use.
The type of stovetop you’re cooking on
Cookware sets usually say what types of stovetops they’re compatible with on the box or online product page, so check before adding an item to your cart. And if you’re gifting someone a cookware set, be sure to ask them what type of stovetop they cook on to help guide your shopping.
Maintenance and upkeep
Some cookware sets are dishwasher-safe, although some brands still recommend hand washing — you can find details about cleaning and upkeep in the user’s manual or on the product page. And even while hand washing, be conscious of what sponges, soap and other cleaning tools you use. Like with certain utensils, rough sponges can scratch the surface of some materials your cookware is made with, so be sure to follow a brand’s cleaning recommendations to keep your cookware in the best condition possible.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Elizabeth Barbone is a cookbook author and recipe developer. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park), she creates easy recipes and runs the site Cook Fast, Eat Well.