While you might have a favorite dutch oven or cast iron pan that you've been using for years, it's not reasonable to expect a single piece of cookware to allow you to cook everything under the sun. To truly realize your full culinary potential, you need to own a variety of pots and pans to cook with.
There's two ways to get your hands on the cookware you need to round out your kitchen.
You could decide to piece together a complete set of pans by purchasing them, one item at a time. In order to do this, the right way, you'll need to set aside some time to do some research. Hunting down a great stock pot can be a chore. As can finding a great nonstick pan and stainless steel skillet. In the end, you'll likely wind up spending a substantial chunk of cash piecing together your custom set of cookware.
The second, significantly easier and, often less expensive option, is to buy a pre-packaged set of pots and pans. Such sets often get a bad rap for bundling together a bunch of stuff you don’t need (while at the same time not including everything you do). To help you avoid this pitfall, we spent weeks researching and testing the most popular cookware sets around. In the end, we discovered that the best one for most people to buy is the Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set(available at Amazon for $299.00).
Cuisinart MCP-12N Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set
The Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set offers incredible performance at a great value. We had no complaints with the medium-sized sauté pan (which not only comfortably fit four chicken thighs but also seared each one to perfection). The large stockpot is well-sized for making soup, cooking pasta, or blanching vegetables and is dishwasher-safe for an added bonus.
In addition to their performance and high quality, these pans are easy to use. The triple-ply construction gave the pans the benefit of heat conductivity, but the anodized aluminum core ensures that they’re not too heavy to handle. The set includes everything you need to cook a meal: two saucepans (1 1/2- and 3-quart), an 8-quart stockpot, a medium-sized 3.5-quart sauté pan, two skillets (8- and 10-inch), and a steamer insert—all with comfortable handles and a design that creates a nice balance when holding the pan.
All in all, it was easy to crown Cuisinart the winner in this competition: this set has everything you need for a starter kitchen and it’s a great choice for those looking to upgrade their old sets, too.
If you’re looking for easier to clean, nonstick cookware, look no further than the T-Fal C561SC Titanium Advanced Nonstick 12-Piece Cookware Set. There are plenty of advantages to either type of cookware, but you’ll generally find nonstick is easier to clean, especially after cooking with frying pans. While a nonstick pan will never rival a stainless one when it comes to searing meat, this set performed admirably. It cooked eggs perfectly without requiring any extra oil and the saucepots simmered sauces and cooked rice without scorching. In addition, this set’s stockpot boiled water faster than any others in our test group.
In addition to the basics any kitchen should have to get cooking, this nonstick set includes a few bonus items: two saucepans (1- and 2-quart), a 5-quart stockpot, a large 5-quart sauté pan, two skillets (8- and 9-inch), a spatula, and a slotted spoon. The comfortable, padded handles stay cool as you use them and the pans heat up quickly and evenly. Because of its performance and low price, the T-Fal also earns our Best Value Award. The only way to make T-Fal a better deal would be throwing in metal utensils!
While we know every shopper can't justify the price, Hestan's NanoBond is an exceptional line of cookware and is worth the dough if you have it. It’s gorgeous to look at and feels good in the hand, and you get the kind of performance you’d expect at this price—even heating, steady simmering, and no burning at the bottom or in the corners. Thousands of layers of titanium-based nanolayers are bonded to the stainless-steel surfaces of NanoBond cookware, which the brand claims makes it 400% stronger than traditional stainless steel and therefore resistant to staining and scratching. These pieces can even take heat up to 1050°F!
While there are lots of good cookware sets out there, this line offers just about every performance plus and ease of use you could ever want. The 10-piece set includes 8.5- and 11-inch skillets, 1.5- and 3-quart saucepans, a 3.5-quart sauté pan, and an 8-quart stockpot. Read our full review here.
Hi, I’m Lindsay Mattison, a trained professional chef and dinner party enthusiast. I’m the type of person that uses every single pot and pan in the house when I’m cooking dinner (and, I’ll probably dirty up all the tasting spoons and mise en place bowls, too). So, I definitely understand the importance of having the right set of pots and pans to get the job done! It wasn’t easy testing all these samples (and my house was quite cluttered for a few weeks), but it was well worth it to help you find the best cookware for the right value.
Professional chef and food writer Sharon Franke also contributed testing and writing to this piece for both Hestan sets.
After selecting 12 top-rated cookware sets (half stainless steel and half nonstick), we decided to cook a multi-component meal using each set. To function for everyday life, the pots and pans had to be sized appropriately to cook dinner for one, but we also wanted to know if you could easily cook a larger dinner (like Thanksgiving) using each set. To earn our seal of approval, at least two saucepans, one sauté pan, and a stockpot had to fit on a standard cooktop range at the same time. While we did not test a Le Creuset nonstick set in this particular round, we did love their famous (and colorful) 5.5-quart round ceramic coated number when we tested affordable dutch ovens.
Keeping that in mind, we designed the tests to evaluate performance, ease of use, and value. We seared chicken thighs in the sauté pan, tossed vegetables in the skillets, simmered sauces and cooked rice in the saucepots, and blanched vegetables in the stockpot. If the set came with nonstick gear, we fried a few eggs without oil to see how well the coating worked. Finally, we measured any noticeable hotspots and maybe did a little taste testing to see if one set made a tastier meal than the others. In the end, none of the sets completely failed but we did have a few favorites.
Things to Know When Buying a Cookware Set
Although I wish it weren’t true, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all pot or pan. Each cooking task requires a specific size. For example, you wouldn’t want to boil pasta in a small, 1-quart saucepot because it won’t all fit. And, it certainly wouldn’t make sense to cook up one cup of oatmeal in a large, 8-quart pot. (For those of you who opted out of culinary math: 1 quart = 4 cups)
So, cookware companies try to anticipate your needs by providing small, medium, and large pots and pans. Before you buy anything, consider your cooking style: do you usually cook food for one or for a crowd? The former means you can opt for smaller cookware. Do you cook mostly soups and sauces, or are you a fan of scrambles, stir-fries, and pasta? The answer determines whether you want a selection of saucepots or if having a large skillet is more important in your set.
In the end, it’s best to look for a set that has at least two small saucepots, one large stockpot, a small egg pan, and a larger skillet or sauté pan, all oven safe, of course. Anything extra (including being dishwasher safe or a frying pan), I consider a bonus! Most sets come with a lid for every saucepan, stockpot, and sauté pan. Sets count these lids as extra pieces to increase the count, so the above set would have five pots and pans but will be called an 8-piece set. While we’re on the topic, try to look for metal lids. Yes, that means you can’t see what’s going on inside the pot, but those glass lids always fog up anyway! The metal lids will never drop and shatter, giving them a longer lifespan than the glass variety.
Choosing Nonstick or Stainless Steel
Again, this goes back to your cooking style. Stainless steel is great for searing meat, leaving behind those delicious fond bits that make the perfect start to a pan sauce. They also tend to last longer than the nonstick varieties, which can be easily scratched, are not as easy to clean, and generally can’t go into the dishwasher—sop be prepared to do a bit of hand washing. That being said, nonstick is easy to cook with, has less hot spots, and is even easier to clean and maintain. Many people find themselves attracted to nonstick pans when they start out because it’s a low-cost investment that can be upgraded in the future. When looking at nonstick, keep in mind there are two material types: The hard anodized aluminum pans are Teflon-free (PFOA-free) and tend to be heavier (and more durable) than the coated varieties.
Hestan ProBond is great-looking and high-performing cookware, competitively priced with stainless steel sets from All-Clad. While not as exceptionally durable as Hestan's NanoBond line, the ProBond pieces are similarly well-constructed, with even heating, flush rivets and a good weight.
The 10-piece set includes 8.5- and 11-inch skillets, 1.5- and 3-quart saucepans, a 3.5-quart sauté pan, and an 8-quart stockpot—a good assortment of basics that's definitely a better buy than individual pieces if you’re in need of all of them. You have the option of supplementing your set with ProBond nonstick skillets, but will have to look to another brand for a Dutch oven.
Tramontina 80116/249DS Tri-Ply 12-Piece Cookware Set
If you regularly make large amounts of soup or stock, you may want to consider the Tramontina 12-Piece Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Clad Cookware Set. It’s the only set that came with a 12-quart stockpot—that's overkill for boiling pasta or blanching vegetables, but perfect for larger batch recipes. The wide handles were comfortable to hold and the tri-ply construction provided even heating, from browning chicken breasts to cooking sauces without scorching.
You’ll get some larger-sized pots and pans with this set for a great price (so, if you’re looking for small 1-quart saucepans, this isn’t the one for you). The roomier pans are nice, giving you more space to cook larger quantities while still fitting on a standard range top. You’ll find two saucepots (3- and 5-quart), two stockpots (5- and 12-quart), a large 5-quart sauté pan, and two skillets (10- and 12-inch) in the set.
Large, 12-quart stockpot perfect for batch recipes
Circulon Symmetry Hard Anodized Nonstick 11-Piece Cookware Set
Each pan in the Circulon Symmetry Black 11-Piece Cookware Set has raised, concentric circles on the nonstick surface. While I couldn’t tell you the history of these ridges or how they became a Circulon signature trait, I can tell you that they definitely work to keep food from sticking to the pan! In addition to acing the nonstick tests, the Circulon pans performed well overall (except that the tall-and-skinny stockpot design took the longest in the group to boil water). Overall, these were some of the more comfortable pans we used, with well-thought-out, padded handles and nicely-balanced weight.
This set has a nice variety of items, including three saucepots (1-, 2-, and 3-quart), an 8-quart stockpot, a medium-sized 3-quart sauté pan, and two skillets (8.5- and 10-inch). Everything you’d need in just the right sizes!
All-Clad BD005710-R D5 Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set
All-Clad is well known for making top-of-the-line (and, expensive) cookware. This All-Clad BD005710-R D5 Brushed 18/10 Stainless Steel 5-Ply Bonded 10-Piece Cookware Set is no exception. While there’s no denying the superior heat distribution and overall performance of these 5-ply, bonded stainless-steel pans, there were a few things that caused them to fall down in the ranks. First, the very hefty price tag is hard to swallow, especially considering that the heavy material makes it harder to flip vegetables or pour out the contents with ease. The straight (and stainless steel) handle design doesn’t help in that regard, throwing off the balance and causing you to really feel the weight of each pan.
That being said, if you’re willing to dish out the coin (or, have a wedding registry in the near future), these pots and pans will last a lifetime. The set comes with two saucepots (1.5- and 3-quart), an 8-quart stockpot, a medium-sized 3-quart sauté pan, and two skillets (8- and 10-inch).
Anolon Advanced Hard Anodized Nonstick 11-Piece Cookware Set
The soft, padded handles on the Anolon Advanced Hard Anodized Nonstick 11-Piece Cookware Set made these andonized aluminum pots and pans a joy to work with. It was one of the few sets that didn’t have blazing-hot stockpot handles after boiling water for 30 minutes! The hard anodized nonstick coating is even utensil safe (although, it was one of our least favorite nonstick surfaces to use without added oil).
In addition to the standards—two saucepots (1.5- and 3-quart), an 8.5-quart stockpot, and a medium-sized 3-quart sauté pan—you’ll get a small and a large skillet (8.5- and 12-inch). The addition of that second, larger skillet feels like a bonus from the usual 10-inch addition because it gives you the room to make stir-fries or other one-pot meals.
Calphalon Premier Space Saving Nonstick 10-Piece Cookware Set
Those with very small kitchens will love how easy it is to store the Calphalon Premier Space Saving Hard Anodized Nonstick 10-Piece Cookware Set. The lids are a bit strange looking, but they store flat and all of the pots and pans are designed to fit into two, neat stacks. While the pans themselves are a bit heavy, the handle design helps balance things out and the extra weight worked hard to retain heat as we cooked.
The nonstick set includes two saucepots (2.5- and 3.5-quart), a smaller 6-quart stockpot, a medium-sized 3-quart saute pan, and two skillets (8- and 10-inch).
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you avoid the Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set, but you will certainly get what you pay for. These pots and pans were super-lightweight, heating up quickly but also losing that heat equally as fast. The handles were some of the hottest to the touch, too, so make sure you have those oven mitts handy!
We were also a bit disappointed in the contents, too. It lacked any skillets, providing one 10-inch sauté pan instead. It did include four saucepots—for some reason providing two 1.5-quart pots along with a 2- and 3-quart pot. The 5.5-quart stockpot was a little on the small end, too, but functional.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.