It doesn’t matter if you cook or not: Everyone needs a cookware set. There will come a time when your favorite cast iron pan won't do—you’ll wish you had a pot or pan to scramble an egg or heat up a bowl of ramen noodles. You could certainly opt to piece together your own set by purchasing a select few items. If you’re like me, that means you’ll read the reviews for the best nonstick pans and stainless steel skillets before making your purchases. In the end, you may end up spending more time and money than you’d like to.
The other (and easier) option: purchasing a pre-packaged set of pots and pans. These sets can 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). But, we knew there had to be a handful of well-thought-out sets, so we tasked a professional chef (that’s me!) with finding them and discovered our favorite is the Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set(available at Amazon for $197.21).
To make sure we found the best nonstick and stainless-steel cookware, we selected sets that contained everything you’d need for a starter kitchen or as an upgrade purchase. Specifically, we looked for something that provided a good value for the price and performed well enough as stand-alone items. After hours of testing, we found a few we liked (including some under $200 that we would recommend without hesitation).
Here are the best cookware sets, in order:
Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set
T-fal C561SC Titanium Advanced Nonstick 12-Piece Cookware Set
Tramontina 12-Piece Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Clad Cookware Set
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.
In addition to performance, these pans are easy to use. The triple-ply construction gave the pans the benefit of heat conductivity, but the aluminum core ensures 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. 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.
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 set for the value.
After selecting 10 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.
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. Anything extra, 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 and generally can’t go into the dishwasher. That being said, nonstick is easy to cook on and even easier to clean. 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 pans are Teflon-free and tend to be heavier (and more durable) than the coated varieties.
Other Cookware Sets We Tested
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.
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-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 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.
The Farberware Classic Stainless Steel 17-Piece Cookware Set is old-school and classic looking. It could be a set straight out of the 1950s (but, with better technology, of course). While it didn’t blow us away with its performance, it didn’t seriously struggle, either. It wasn’t the best at searing chicken thighs, but it boiled water quickly and cooked perfect rice without scorching.
You get a little more bang for your buck with this set: four saucepots (1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-quart), an 8-quart stockpot, two skillets (8- and 10-inch), three mixing bowls with lids, a cookie sheet, and a 9x13 cake pan. That makes this set an excellent starter kit for those stocking new kitchens.
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).
You will certainly add a splash of color to your kitchen with the Vremi 15-Piece Nonstick Cookware Set. Each piece comes in a different color, which offsets the inexpensive look of its plastic handles a bit. Overall, we found the pieces in the set to be smaller and less functional than we’d prefer cooking a large dinner with. Also, it didn’t perform nearly as well as some of the other sets.
Inside the nonstick box set are three saucepots (1-, 1.3-, and 1.75-quart), a small 4.2-quart stockpot, two skillets (8- and 10.5-inch), and five nonstick kitchen utensils.
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.