The Best Cookware Set
A cookware set is a great way to get a collection of pots and pans without having to handpick pieces. But cluttering your kitchen with cookware you’ll rarely use is a waste of both money and storage space, so it’s vital to get the right pieces. We spoke to food bloggers, professional chefs, and cookware fanatics before bringing in 14 sets for hands-on comfort and heat distribution testing. We found that materials, heat conduction, and practical features were the most important considerations in a cookware set.
An exposed copper core provides excellent heat distribution to well-sized pots and pans in this display-worthy $400 nonstick set.
Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 10-Piece Cookware Set
A great all-rounder — fast and even heating, stylish design, useful handles, and lightweight construction. All for just $200.
With quick heating and comfortable silicone handles, these smaller nonstick pots and pans are just $110 and perfect for cooking for one or two.
All-Clad Copper Core 10-Piece Cookware Set
A beautiful trophy-kitchen set that promises to be “stick-resistant” but comes with some serious heft and a $1,300 price tag.
The Best Cookware Set
- Anolon Nouvelle Hard Anodized Copper 11-Piece Cookware Set -
- Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 10-Piece Cookware Set -
Best Everyday Stainless Steel
- Rachael Ray 12-Piece Nonstick Cookware Set -
- All-Clad Copper Core 10-Piece Cookware Set -
Best Luxury Stainless Steel
Packing the kids off to college or assessing your own ragged cookware that’s past its prime? A cookware set is a great option for outfitting a new kitchen or college dorm, or as a luxury wedding present for a couple of aspiring cooks. Finding a set is all about getting the right pieces and the right material to suit your lifestyle, whether you’re cooking for one every night or making family-size batches every weekend. The best set will not only have quality construction and conductive materials for even heat distribution, but will also have a solid collection of useful pieces with comfortable features.
Many cookware sets have unbalanced collections, meaning you can end up with lots of small saucepans but nothing big enough to make soup, or really specific single-purpose pieces but nothing to simply fry an egg in. Our favorite set, the Anolon Nouvelle Hard Anodized Copper 11-Piece Cookware Set, offers an ideal assortment of thoughtfully sized pans for every occasion. At only $400, the Anolon Hard Anodized Copper offers a slippery (and surprisingly stylish) non-stick finish, a copper core for good heat distribution, and comfortable handles that make a potentially heavy set a cinch to maneuver.
If you’re looking for an everyday stainless steel set, you want the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 10-Piece Cookware Set. Its tri-ply aluminum core construction makes it induction stovetop safe and gives the set a smooth and sleek appearance. It’s also dishwasher safe for added convenience. Despite all that cladding, which gives it sensational heat distribution, the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad’s pieces felt ultra light thanks to thick handles and nicely balanced construction. The set offers an almost identical assortment to the Anolon Hard Anodized Copper for just $200, a fraction of the cost of the high-end set it could pass for.
For those on a budget or looking to fill a new or temporary kitchen, we recommend the $110 Rachael Ray Nonstick 12-Piece Cookware Set. Its pieces are generally smaller, perfect for cooking for one or two, and it heats well (just keep an eye out that it doesn’t get too hot.) The thin aluminum construction means it isn’t quite as durable as the Anolon or Tramontina, but it’ll serve you well for its price point.
For those looking for a luxury gift set, or who just want to treat their kitchens to some serious cookware, look no further than the All-Clad Copper Core 10-Piece Cookware Set. It comes with a hefty $1,300 price tag, but with a copper core and 5-ply stainless steel and aluminum layers it offers ideal heat conduction for experienced chefs looking to sear, brown, and caramelize. It also improves on the uncomfortable trademark All-Clad handles, which certainly comes in handy with these noticeably heavy pans.
How We Found the Best Cookware Set
We started with best selling cookware sets from major retailers like Amazon, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macy’s, Walmart, Crate & Barrel, and Williams Sonoma. We wound up with 66 contenders ranging from 5-18 pieces, with a variety of construction materials and an even greater variety of price tag. Our cheapest sets started at $40 while our most expensive reached a whopping $2,000.
We looked for balanced collections with useful pots and pans for everyday cooking.
While it’s tempting to go straight for the 17-piece cookware set, bigger sets don’t necessarily give you more bang for your buck. In fact, you’re likely to end up with overly-specific pieces, like oval fish pans and small sauciers, or simple filler items, like cookbooks and spatulas (yes, pretty much anything in the box counts as a piece). So while not everyone needs the same pans -- those cooking for one or two people will generally require fewer and smaller pieces than someone cooking for the whole family -- the best cookware sets will contain useful, versatile pieces, without doubling up on impractical sizes.
“A set is only a good buy if it contains all the pieces that you need.”
We talked to experts and scoured cooking blogs to identify the most useful, versatile pieces for both novice and confident home cooks. Then we made an ideal set list and checked how well our contenders measured up. We gave preference to those that included pieces from each of our five categories, while not unnecessarily doubling up.
Small saucepan (1-2 qt)
A smaller pot great for boiling eggs, small batches of grains or legumes, and reheating soups and sauces.
Large saucepan (3-4 qt)
A medium pot ideal for boiling/steaming veggies and making small batches of pasta.
Stock pot (6-12 qt) or dutch oven (5-8 qt)
A large pot for making stock, stews, pasta, and soups. A dutch oven is typically shorter, wider, and a bit more oval than a stock pot, and usually comes in smaller sizes.
A pan with slanted sides ideal for everything from scrambled eggs to sauteing veggies. (Note: The terms “skillet,” “frying pan,” and “omelet pan” seem to be used interchangeably in cookware sets, but for consistency we’ve used the term “skillet” across the board.)
Saute pan (3-4 qt)
A deeper pan with straight sides perfect for searing meat, making risotto, and whipping up sauces.
We considered construction materials for good heat distribution and easy cleaning.
Different types of cookware construction will result in different cooking experiences. It really comes down to preference and how long you’re willing to scrub at the kitchen sink. We discovered that the main things to keep in mind with cookware materials are: cooking surface, heat conducting core, and exterior body.
Cookware is typically named according to its cooking surface, or coating. The most widely available as sets are nonstick and stainless steel. Nonstick is, as the name suggests, stick resistant. This means you don’t need to use a lot of oil during cooking, making it a good option for the health-conscious. It’s typically made from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), but the Martha Stewart set we tested featured a titanium reinforced ceramic coating. Nonstick is shockingly easy to clean, but expect the coating to only last a few years before the whole thing needs replacing. Stainless steel pans are often coated but will last longer if uncoated as the steel is more durable than the coating. Stainless steel also sears and browns foods really well (something you’ll miss out on with nonstick). It is also notorious for food sticking. “I have personally cleaned stainless steel skillets from almost every manufacturer... and cleaning is a nightmare,” says Franke.
Most cookware has alternating layers of metals with a conductive core of aluminum or copper. With more layers come better heat distribution, greater durability, and a heavier pan. The outer layer, or exterior body, is often stainless steel, aluminum, or anodized aluminum (aluminum made more durable and non-corrosive through an electrochemical process), because these materials are generally lightweight and conductive.
At this point, we dug into each product and chose sets with impressive construction (like multiple layers and heat conducting cores) and those manufactured by reputable brands recommended by Consumer Reports. We then brought in 14 contenders for hands-on testing.
We tested comfort features, like handles and heft, and noted some nice extras.
As we unboxed our 14 shiny cookware sets, we quickly noticed some key features that would add up to a world of difference in everyday cooking.
“Usefulness trumps brand. A good brand with the wrong features is not useful at all.”
A comfortable and well-balanced handle is vital. All our sets came with metal or silicone handles -- our experts advised plastic handles tend to crack, fade, and can’t handle high heat -- but we discovered not all handles are created equal. Popular brand All-Clad fell spectacularly short in this department. Its handles stick out at an oddly lifted angle, and are so sharply curved down in the middle that every grip we tried was painful. Similarly, the Calphalon Classic Nonstick’s lid and side handles were aggressively edged and dug into our fingers. We gave bonus points to handles with full contours that fit snugly in our grip, and lid handles that were smooth and accommodated larger hands. We also considered the heft of each piece and whether the design felt balanced enough to handle the construction’s weight. If a pot or pan feels too heavy when empty, it’s going to be a real pain when full. We also kept an eye on overall quality, particularly in terms of smooth finishes and handle rivets. Unfortunately the Calphalon Classic Nonstick disappointed again in this category, with its nails-on-a-chalkboard feeling nonstick finish to sloppily stamped rivets with uneven edges and gaps.
Stop stacking nonstick. The metal on the bottom of nonstick pans will scratch the nonstick coating if they’re stacked directly on top of each other. This doesn’t mean you have to hang your non decorative teflon pans, just make sure to layer a soft cloth between each pot and pan to protect the nonstick surface from coming into contact with bare metal.
We also found some nice-to-have features that mostly come down to preference and probably won’t make or break your love for a set. Glass lids allow you to keep an eye on what you’re cooking without lifting the lid and releasing heat. Measurement markings inside pots allow you to easily keep track while topping up liquids, although some, like the Calphalon, had such dark markings that they were indistinguishable from the background. Every set we tested had holes at the end of each handle for easy hanging and display, but we also looked at how easy it would be to stack your set for cupboard storage. Most sets packed away into two or three stacks, but lids turned out to be the biggest culprit -- they are unapologetically unstackable. If you want a neat solution for storing lids, consider a lid rack holder.
Most of our pans did well in our usability testing and at this stage we could imagine ourselves taking almost all of them home to our own kitchens (the Calphalon and All-Clad were the only sets we would happily leave behind).
Then we turned up the heat in the kitchen.
All of our experts agreed that heat distribution is really important. Heat distribution refers to how well heat is maintained throughout the cooking surface of a pan. Poor distribution of heat in a pan creates hot spots that can scorch your food and cook things unevenly. So we tested the three most common pieces of cookware in each set (saucepan, skillet, and saute pan) for heat distribution using a thermal imaging camera.
First, we picked a saucepan from each set and brought a quart of water to boil. We set a timer and kept an eye out for bubbles. Most saucepans took about 8-10 minutes to reach 212 F (boiling point) on high heat and had fairly evenly distributed bubbles. So we learned that most saucepans will get you from hungry to al dente pasta between ad breaks. Outliers included the Cuisinart Multiclad and Anolon Stainless Steel that produced really centralized bubbles, indicating poor distribution (a.k.a randomly crunchy macaroni). We also took note of how easy it was to pour out our boiling hot water. We shouldn’t have to worry about an uncontrollable boiling Niagara or any sly dripping, and a lot of this depends on the lip of the pot. All performed well except the Rachael Ray, which was a dripper before we got enough momentum in our pour, and the All-Clad Nonstick, which poured well enough but concerned us with vigorous sloshing in its bell-shaped bottom as we moved over to the sink.
Then, we put the skillets and saute pans on a preheated electric burner. We heated them on high for one minute and then checked the temperature and examined the heat map. We noticed that thinner, lighter pans, like the Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart, and Cuisinart Multiclad skyrocketed to above 400F. Fast heating is an important factor for professional chefs, like Nick Musser, Corporate Chef at Bargreen-Ellingson Restaurant Supply Store, who told us he expected his pans to quickly react to heat: “I hate a pan that takes forever to heat up. I want to hear that garlic or butter sizzling within a few seconds.” Our sturdier stainless steel sets took a little longer, as all that extra cladding for heat conduction makes the pans heavier and slower to heat. The Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad and All-Clad Copper Core got hottest fastest, passing 130F in our timed test, while our heaviest pan, the Anolon Stainless Steel only reached 79F. The heat was evenly distributed in all of them, though, so if you’re patient in the kitchen and give them a few more minutes to heat up than we did, you’ll likely get good results from most contenders. The only pans that flunked this test were the Calphalon, which warped after just a minute. A warped pan means an uneven cooking surface which can result in poor heat distribution.
In the end, we found that individual cookware sets tended to be perform consistently. Those sets that struggled had the same issues across the board and the sets we loved had the same strengths in all their pieces.
Our Picks for the Best Cookware Set
The Anolon Nouvelle Hard Anodized Copper cookware set offers an impressive assortment of 11 pieces for $400. It emulates versatility with small and large pieces to serve up whatever your recipe calls for: 8.5” and 12” skillet and a 3-qt (10”) saute pan that lands nicely between those two sizes, 1.5-qt and 3-qt saucepans, and a big 8-qt stock pot. Not all our contenders offered such thoughtful distribution among sizes, which is exactly what you want in a set. Add to that its easy-to-clean nonstick finish, and the Anolon Hard Anodized Copper is ideal for newer cooks and anyone stocking a second kitchen.
The Anolon Hard Anodized Copper has a density and heft that indicates good design and quality construction, while not being too heavy to handle. It's made of aluminum but with a copper core to reinforce longevity and to enhance heat transfer. While it advertises itself to be metal utensil safe, it’s probably better to stick to silicone or wood utensils, as Amazon reviews cautioned this wasn’t a foolproof feature.
In our testing, the Anolon Hard Anodized Copper had safe and effective heat levels with an even distribution. It reached about 300 F between both pans after a minute on the warm burner — the perfect temp to start your sizzling. That said, it was slow to boil water in the large saucepan, which took about 14 minutes. Not a dealbreaker, but something to keep in mind when planning prep time. The Anolon is oven safe up to 500F and is compatible with all cooktops, including induction.
Did we mention the Anolon is dark and handsome? With flush, nonstick rivets for easy cleaning, full contoured handles that provide a comfortable hold, and a visible copper core that contrasts nicely with the dark grey surface, the Anolon is one attractive cookware set. It’s also slightly high maintenance and is listed as hand wash only. This isn’t a huge problem for most, as its nonstick coating makes it pretty easy to clean, but just be aware that if you do forget and load it up with all your other dishes, the copper core and nonstick coating could be compromised in a dishwasher. This is generally the case with all nonstick cookware, including our budget pick the Rachael Ray Nonstick, as it requires hand-washing in order to preserve an already limited lifespan.
The Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad is a stainless steel set that boasts all the quality of a high-end set without the price point. For $200 it offers an ideal assortment of practical pieces, almost identical to our top pick, the Anolon Hard Anodized Copper, except for slightly smaller skillets. It’s minimalistic, modern in appearance, and despite being middle of the range for weight, felt light and easy to maneuver thanks to its comfortable handle and well-balanced construction.
Each piece features an aluminum core wrapped in three layers of stainless steel and is fully clad, meaning all those extra layers coat up the sides of the pan too. When aluminum wraps up the sides of a pan, it brings its excellent heat conduction up there too. The Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad is also dishwasher safe which can be a real draw card when facing a mountain of after-dinner dishes.
In our testing, the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad was a frontrunner. Its skillet was the hottest of the stainless steel in our one minute test, reaching a (relatively) impressive 138F. It also brought a quart of water to boil in just 7 minutes, several minutes ahead of almost all the other stainless (the Lagostina was speedy too, but it came at a heavy cost - the beautiful copper outer finish permanently changed to an ombre pink after heating each pan just once).
The Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad is sleek in design, with no visible layers or breaks in the construction. There’s also no lip on the edge of the pots. Usually this means a less-controlled pour, but because the pieces are so light, it won’t take much momentum to get a drip-free drain. That lightness is paired with a very comfortable handle that thickens as it extends, filling your grip in the palm but thin enough at the fingers to wrap them around it. Amazon reviewers do caution that the stainless steel lids can get a bit hot after prolonged use over heat. So fast-moving cooks, be sure to leave a hotpad nearby. Overall, we felt comfortable and in control when handling this set, and the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad’s full lifetime warranty put our mind at ease should any issues arise.
We were initially skeptical about celebrity chef cookware as we had concerns they’d be more style than substance, but this aluminum nonstick Rachael Ray Nonstick set surprised us. For just $110 you get 10 decent sized pieces (although a bit on the small side), and two extra kitchen accessories that vary depending on where you buy your set (our Walmart one included two baking sheets).
Not only does it include those kitchen extras — a nice bonus for those on a budget looking to fill their dorm kitchenette or outfit a vacation condo — but the Rachael Ray Nonstick was a solid performer in our tests. If anything, it overperformed. Due to their thin but durable aluminum construction, the Rachael Ray Nonstick skillet and saute pan were the fastest of all our contenders to heat, zooming to scorching highs of 500F+ in just one minute. That’s much hotter than you need in fact, it’s approaching hazardous range due to the nonstick coating. It’s best to heat nonstick cookware over medium to low heat to avoid these soaring temperatures, but with great heat conduction, the Rachael Ray Nonstick demonstrated you’ll be able to get cooking straight away.
Overall, the Rachael Ray Nonstick set is smaller than our other top picks. With a 6-qt. stock pot instead of an 8-qt. and a small 1-qt. saucepan (think ramen noodles or solo boiled egg), this set is best suited for cooking for one to two people, or the occasional vacation home cook up. Its compact size does make it a great storage option for smaller kitchens, though. We found the silicone-coated stainless steel handles gave a comfortable fit and the small thumb-shaped dips to leverage your thumb on top of the handle. The silicone handles on the glass lids were comfortable too. Although these silicone features do bring the oven safety temp down to 350F. The Rachael Ray Nonstick also comes in various ombre colors, depending on where you buy it.
Whether it’s for a wedding gift, a special occasion, or just to up the wow factor in your kitchen, the All-Clad Copper Core is your luxury go-to. Straight up, we are not fans of All-Clads trademark handles. Due to the brand’s popularity, we tested three different All-Clad sets and this is the only one that passed muster. Why? A tiny addition to the underside of the unique All-Clad handle that gives enough leverage for the heavy base and actually makes them comfortable. Then again, we expect comfort from a set that rings up at almost $1,300.
When it comes to trophy-kitchen looks, the All-Clad Copper Core features a trendy visible copper layer near the bottom of each piece. The inside surface is as smooth as the Tramontina, and the All-Clad Copper Core even advertises a polished finish that adds some stick resistance — a miraculous feat for stainless steel and a feature that’ll tempt anyone familiar with the cleaning woes of this cookware. And just like the Tramontina and the Anolon, it has a great range of practical pieces: 8” and 10” skillet, 2-qt and 3-qt saucepans, 3-qt saute pan and 8-qt stock pot.
"When someone is getting married or has developed a serious interest in cooking I would suggest a heavy duty set that will last longer, give excellent cooking performance, and look good in a trophy kitchen.”
All-Clad clearly doubled down on heat conduction in this set, with 5-ply construction of stainless steel, aluminum, and copper layers, so you should have no issues searing, browning, and sauteing to your heart’s content. But all those extra layers add up to extra weight, too, and on average the All-Clad Copper Core pans were almost twice as heavy as their Tramontina counterparts. A heavier pan tends to be slower to heat, regardless of the conductive layers, and this was hit or miss for the All-Clad Copper Core. It took just over 16 minutes to bring our quart of water to boil in the small saucepan, which was almost 50% longer than the average. On the other hand, it was the second hottest stainless pan we tested, reaching 135F after just a minute on the burner (the Tramontina got to 138F). These results may seem lukewarm compared to our speedy nonstick heaters, and they are, but it’s a relative comparison as preheating is pretty much par for the course with stainless steel.
To be frank, with All-Clad Copper Core you’re partly paying for the brand name, but a perk of that brand name is a ‘Made in the USA’ guarantee which means quality materials and high quality control standards. For a set that calls for its very own stop on your home tour, the All-Clad Copper Core offers both quality and beauty alongside culinary prestige.
Did You Know?
Do you need a whole set?
Not everyone is going to need to purchase a cookware set to outfit their kitchen. Liana Green, of Liana’s Kitchen, told us, “a whole set is for when you are just setting up your home, or have too many pieces that need replacing. Otherwise it would be a case of adding individual pieces as and when you need them.” A few reasons you might want to purchase your cookware individually: If you already have several pieces that come in a standard cookware set, if just a few of your pieces are peeling or discoloring, or if you’re an experienced cook and know exactly which pieces you want. Filling your kitchen this way also allows you to mix and match materials and sizes— like if you only really need a nonstick piece for a frying pan, but would rather pick up a stainless steel stock pot.
Some key pieces you’ll want to consider supplementing.
Whether you purchase a cookware set or decide to buy pieces open stock, there are a few specialty pieces our experts noted were worth investing in too. Almost all our experts said that a cast iron skillet was a personal favorite. They’re versatile, precise, and just about nonstick when well-seasoned. They can also last a lifetime, a potential heirloom that will only make tastier food with each decade. They do require unique maintenance, so be sure to do your homework to properly season and care for cast iron.
The classic Le Creuset came up pretty often too—both as a braiser and dutch oven. This piece is just as versatile as the cast iron skillet, and you can take it from stove to oven to tabletop. Loryn Purvis said she uses hers to “slow cook short ribs, pan fry chicken, saute, and even bake.” These are both also great options for a wedding gift that’s less extravagant than a whole cookware set, but just as valuable.
Caring for your cookware.
Cookware tends to be quite particular and each material has different best practices for extending their lifetime. In general, it's best to handwash all of your cookware, but with nonstick it’s vital. Dishwashers will clean the pan at high temperatures that will wear off the nonstick coating. When hand washing nonstick, it's best to use softer scrubbing tools as anything too abrasive can damage the nonstick layer. If the coating is too compromised, it’ll start peeling and could break down the nonstick to release toxic compounds that otherwise wouldn’t be an issue.
When it comes to maintaining the sheen of stainless steel (copper too), Martha Stewart recommends a scouring powder called Bar Keepers Friend that will shine the steel and eliminate water spots or discoloration. Cleaning the dirty pans can get a bit trickier - stainless steel lacks nonstick capabilities and even regular use can leave food caked on. A simple solution: Boil soapy water (filled just enough to submerged the stuck food), gently scrape it off with a flexible spatula, and rinse when it's cooled.