- Whether you consider cooking a hobby or a chore, there are several types of cookware to choose from to suit your needs.
- Many different cookware sets made from various materials are available, including stainless steel, nonstick aluminum, cast iron, and copper.
- The All-Clad D5 Brushed Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set tops our list with its sturdy construction, excellent heat conductivity and retention, versatility, and easy maintenance.
Through years of making family meals, baking for friends, and experimenting with recipes, I’ve used different types of cookware. I like using certain types of pots and pans for specific purposes – nonstick aluminum for making omelets, stainless steel for boiling liquids and sautéing hash browns, and cast iron for searing steaks and stir-frying vegetables.
It’s important to equip your kitchen with a cookware set that’s built from material that serves your culinary needs. Below are a the options you will find:
Stainless steel cookware
Stainless steel is durable, versatile, and attractive. It’s not only easy to use and clean but also nonreactive. However, stainless steel absorbs and transmits heat poorly, so it’s often combined with a metal, like aluminum or copper, that has better thermal conductivity for quicker, more even heating. While aluminum and copper are reactive metals, when clad in stainless steel they do not react to or leach into foods. The two subsets of stainless steel cookware are:
- Fully clad: The entire body of a piece is constructed of layers of aluminum and/or copper sandwiched between stainless steel layers so heat spreads well throughout the cookware. For more information, check out our guide to fully clad stainless steel cookware.
- Bottom-clad: The base is an aluminum or copper disc encased in stainless steel, which spreads heat well across the bottom. The stainless steel sides conduct heat poorly though.
Nonstick hard-anodized aluminum cookware
As described in our guide on this type of cookware, hard-anodizing is “a way of hardening a soft aluminum surface electrochemically so it becomes twice as hard as stainless steel and has an oxidized layer” that’s nonreactive to acidic food. This cooking surface is also resistant to scratching, corrosion, and most conveniently, sticking, making it easy to clean. Hard-anodized aluminum is a nontoxic alternative to nonstick coatings possibly containing PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene, a manmade chemical known as Teflon) or PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid, another manmade chemical used in making Teflon).
This cookware’s pluses are that you need little to no oil when cooking, and Good Housekeeping notes that it is fairly lightweight and heats up up quickly so hot spots are less likely. The downsides to this cookware are its cost, incompatibility with induction stove tops, and need to hand wash.
Cast iron cookware
Like wine, this tough cookware ages well. As described by America’s Test Kitchen, “a cast iron pan is possibly the only piece of kitchen gear you can buy that noticeably improves after years of heavy use. As you cook in it, a cast iron pan gradually develops a natural, slick patina, called seasoning, which releases food easily. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet can become just as nonstick as an aluminum or stainless steel pan and will definitely outlast them.”
This metal heats slowly and not very evenly. Nonetheless, it retains heats well, reaches and withstands extremely high temperatures, and can go from stove top to oven and back for different culinary modalities. Cast iron cookware is relatively economical, versatile, great for searing, and usually comes preseasoned or enameled with a smooth porcelain surface. The downsides are that it’s heavy and requires regular but simple maintenance – you need to hand wash and dry as well as oil them after each use. For helpful hints, see “Use and Care Tips” below. You can also read our guides on how to clean cast iron and how to season it, as well as our top picks for cast iron skillets.
Beautiful, efficient, and responsive to thermal changes, copper delivers rapid and uniform heating as well as precise temperature control. Since copper is relatively soft and reacts with acidic foods, you’ll want copper cookware that’s lined with a harder, stronger, and nonreactive metal like stainless steel. Although superb in appearance and performance, copper cookware is expensive and a bit high-maintenance, requiring hand washing and drying and then regular polishing to preserve its luxurious sheen. For more information, check out our copper cookware guide.
In addition to trying all different types of cookware, I consulted culinary equipment sites that specifically focus on and test cooking equipment. I also interviewed a former prep cook to learn about cookware construction and materials as well as recommendations for top brands of cookware sets.
Here are the best cookware sets you can buy:
- Best cookware set overall: All-Clad D5 Brushed Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set
- Best budget cookware set: Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set
- Best nonstick cookware set: Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 12-Piece Cookware Set
- Best cast iron cookware set: Lodge Preseasoned Cast Iron 5-Piece Cookware Set
- Best copper cookware set: Lagostina Martellata Hammered Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set
The best cookware set overall
The sturdy and versatile All-Clad D5 Brushed Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set is easy to use, delivers strong, even heat conductivity and retention, and beautifully matches and enhances any kitchen decor.
Considered the gold standard of fully clad stainless steel, All-Clad creates all-around excellent cookware. The All-Clad D5 Brushed Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set upholds the brand’s high standards. Marrying form with function, this gorgeous collection includes two frying pans (8-inch and 10-inch), two saucepans (1.5-quart and 3-quart) with lids, a 3-quart sauté pan with lid, and an 8-quart stockpot with lid.
The pieces’ warp-resistant bodies are made of five-ply cladding, alternating layers of stainless steel and aluminum. In addition to durability, the five-ply construction provides efficient and uniform heating, saving time and energy. The Spruce Eats was impressed by how quickly the pans heated and their ability to retain heat, especially in comparsion to other nonstick cookware. They also noted that low to medium heat on a gas range typically gets the job done with this cookware that is compatible with all stove tops and oven safe up to 500 degrees.
The All-Clad D5 Brushed Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set’s has large, solidly riveted, and stable handles that stayed cool during cooking for some but not all users. Each piece has a rolled, flared lip that makes pouring from pots and pans easy.
The non-lid pieces’ brushed finish resists fingerprints and water spots. Some Amazon users complained that this cookware isn’t stick-resistant, but many others disagreed and said that food doesn’t stick when this cookware is preheated and used properly. Although this set is advertised as dishwasher-safe, hand washing is recommended. Maintenance drew mixed reviews, and the set was dubbed either difficult or easy to clean.
Pros: Sturdy five-ply construction, excellent heating performance, lovely appearance, limited lifetime warranty, made in the US
Cons: Heavy, expensive, handles can get hot
The best budget cookware set
Enjoy the simplicity and utility of stainless steel without paying a high price with the bottom-clad Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set.
Cook at home with the Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set. This collection has a low price but many pieces, including a 1.5-quart sauce pan with lid, two casserole pans (1.5-quart and 2-quart) with lids, a 3-quart casserole pot with lid, a 5.5-quart stockpot with lid, and a 10-inch frying pan with lid. With this economical yet large set, you can create diverse recipes, eat in more often, and ultimately save money on dining.
Although not fully clad, each piece in this set has a base with an encapsulated aluminum disc for fairly quick and even heat distribution across the bottom. Made of 18/10 stainless steel, the pieces are light, but the bottoms are comparatively heavy and thick. As expected with bottom-clad stainless steel cookware, the thin sidewalls don’t retain heat well.
The Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set is compatible with electric, gas, glass, ceramic, and induction stoves. According to Cook N Home’s website, this set isn’t oven safe. Many Amazon customers said they have used the set in the oven up to 350 degrees though.
The Spruce Eats tested the set and reported that the pieces didn’t brown food as well as other pans they’ve used. Following the manufacturer’s directions to avoid high heat with this set, they said that they weren’t able to preheat the pans as much as they’d like, which may have led to uneven browning for the steak they cooked. However, the nonstick qualities were solid, though pans were easily scorched.
Users like the tempered glass lids for checking on food and the lids’ holes for venting steam. Hollow stainless steel handles are riveted to the lids and bodies and get hot. Many people found this set easy to clean while others thought it hard to clean. Confusingly, Cook N Home’s website stated that this set isn’t dishwasher safe, yet many Amazon customers have run pieces through the dishwasher without any issue.
The Spruce Eats named the Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set the “Best Budget” set. One Amazon reviewer wrote, “I bought these pans 2 years ago, and they still work just fine! Overall this is a pretty good deal.” This set earned an average rating of 4.1 of 5 stars from more than 2,600 Amazon customers.
Pros: Affordable, functional
Cons: Handles get hot, doesn’t retain heat well
The best nonstick cookware set
Reap the benefits of nonstick cooking without worrying about toxic chemicals with the hard-anodized aluminum Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 12-Piece Cookware Set.
The Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 12-Piece Cookware Set includes two saucepans (1.5-quart and 2.5-quart) with covers, two frying pans (10-inch and 12-inch), a 3-quart sauté pan with cover, a 5-quart Dutch oven with cover, and an 8-quart stockpot with cover.
Sleek and modern in design, these pieces are made of heavy-gauge, hard-anodized aluminum. The smooth cooking surface is PFOA-free and constructed of three layers of nonstick coating, the two interior layers provide durability, and the third exterior layer releases cooked food. Many users praised the surface’s nonstick performance, but some reported that the top layer peeled or flaked off. Luckily you can replace such pieces thanks to the set’s lifetime warranty. Just avoid scratching the pieces by stacking and nesting them or using metal utensils. I advise using only nylon, silicone, or wood cooking tools.
The hard-anodized aluminum cookware heats up quickly and evenly and is compatible with gas, electric, halogen, and glass stove tops. It’s oven safe up to 450 degrees, and I love the convenience of moving my pieces from stove top to oven or under the broiler when required by recipes. The stainless steel handles are double-riveted and reportedly stayed cool for some users but got hot for others.
Speaking of rivets, I recommend cleaning carefully around the rivets in order to remove all food. Since you need to use little to no oil when cooking with this set, cleanup is easy. Although advertised by Calphalon as dishwasher safe, this set is best washed by hand to preserve the nonstick surface.
The Calphalon brand is Good Housekeeping’s “Top Lab Pick,” and Best Reviews included the Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 12-Piece Cookware Set in its top five picks.
Pros: Healthy nonstick surface, sturdy construction, full lifetime warranty
Cons: Nonstick coating can peel or flake, heavy, not compatible with induction stove top
The best cast iron cookware set
Incredibly tough and able to withstand high temperatures, the versatile Lodge Preseasoned Cast Iron 5-Piece Cookware Set will last for and serve many generations.
My father cooked Chinese and Western food in the same indestructible cast iron skillet for years, so I definitely respect this type of cookware. Since 1896, the Lodge company has been producing hearty cast-iron cookware worthy of admiration. The Lodge Preseasoned Cast Iron 5-Piece Cookware Set is small but very useful for the home chef. It contains a 10.5-inch round griddle, an 8-inch skillet, a 10.25-inch skillet, a 5-quart Dutch oven, and a 10.25-inch iron cover that fits the 10.25-inch skillet and the Dutch oven.
Use the griddles for making quesadillas, grilled sandwiches, and whatever needs a large flat surface. Both skillets are great for sautéing, frying, searing, and more. Cook comfort foods like soups and stews in the Dutch oven. Many Amazon customers noted that the Lodge Preseasoned Cast Iron 5-Piece Cookware Set heats up slowly but effectively, retains heat extremely well, and distributes heat evenly.
This set comes conveniently preseasoned with soybean oil baked into the cooking surface at high temperatures to create a smooth surface that releases food easily. Lodge notes that “some foods may stick to new cookware (especially eggs). Use a little extra oil or butter until you’ve built up the seasoning.” Numerous Amazon customers went a step further and reseasoned their new pieces to make them even more nonstick. Most raved about this set’s superb nonstick performance and overall ease of use. In fact, many considered the Lodge Preseasoned Cast Iron 5-Piece Cookware Set better and safer than chemical nonstick surfaces like Teflon.
All pieces are compatible with various stove tops (induction, ceramic, electric, and gas) and can be used in the oven, on the grill, or even over a campfire. The handles and pieces do get hot, so be sure to wear oven mitts to avoid burns and use trivets to protect countertops. As with all cast-iron cookware, the Lodge Preseasoned Cast Iron 5-Piece Cookware Set isn’t dishwasher safe, so wash and dry by hand and then re-oil after each use to protect and enhance the seasoning as well as prevent rusting. For more maintenance information, read the section on cast iron under “Use and Care Tips” below.
The Lodge company and its pieces are lauded by many culinary specialists, including America’s Test Kitchen, Good Housekeeping’s Kitchen Appliances & Technology Lab, The The Spruce Eats, Epicurious, Consumer Reports, and us, Business Insider. The Lodge Preseasoned Cast Iron 5-Piece Cookware Set earned positive ratings (4 or 5 out of 5 stars) by 91% of more than 1,400 Amazon reviewers.
Pros: Virtually indestructible, versatile, excellent heating performance and retention, made in the US
Cons: Not dishwasher safe, requires some maintenance (hand washing and drying, oiling, and occasional reseasoning)
The best copper cookware set
The Italian-made Lagostina Martellata Hammered Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set is constructed of triple-metal cladding that heats up quickly and evenly while adding beauty to your kitchen.
Cook up many different culinary delights with the Lagostina Martellata Hammered Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set, which includes twp skillets (8-inch and 10-inch), two saucepans (2-quart and 3-quart) with lids, a 3-quart deep sauté pan with lid, and a 6-quart stockpot with lid.
Built with a stainless steel interior, an aluminum core, and a copper exterior, each piece consistently regulates temperatures well and distributes heat evenly to warm up and cool down rapidly. This sturdy, reasonably priced cookware set is compatible with gas, electric, and ceramic stoves and safe for oven and broiler use.
The Lagostina Martellata Hammered Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set boasts a gorgeous look. Its rustic hammered appearance and natural rainbow hues due to heat and oxidation enhance and blend into a busy kitchen setting. Polished stainless steel lids (a bit lighter in weight than the pots and pans themselves) and riveted-on smooth stainless steel handles contrast the copper bodies. A few Amazon customers remarked that the lid handles get hot while others found that the bodies’ handles to stay cool.
Another convenient feature is the shape of each piece’s rim, which lends itself to pouring food and liquids from the pots. As with all copper cookware, the Lagostina Martellata Hammered Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set requires hand washing and polishing. Nonetheless, much user feedback indicated that this set is easy to clean and maintain, and Better Homes & Gardens named the Lagostina Martellata Hammered Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set “Editor’s Choice” in their 2019 best copper cookware sets guide.
A small minority of users remarked that the copper layer, which seemed thin to some, faded or seemed to wipe away after being washed, making this it look less attractive.
Pros: Beautiful hammered copper finish, great heat regulation and distribution, sturdy, easy to clean
Cons: Lightweight lids, exterior layer of copper seems very thin and sometimes comes off
Use and care tips for different cookware
To enjoy the benefits of each type of cookware, try these helpful hints.
For stainless steel:
To prevent food from sticking, follow these steps:
- Bring the food you’re cooking close to room temperature.
- Heat the pan dry over medium fire.
- When the air above the pan feels hot, drop a little water on the cooking surface. If the droplets bead up and skate across the bottom, the pan is ready.
- Immediately pour cooking oil into the pan and swirl it around.
- Place the food in the pan and leave it alone. As the food browns, it releases moisture and sizzles. When sizzling dies down, you can then turn the food over. It may stick a little, but it shouldn’t rip apart.
Although some manufacturers make dishwasher-safe pieces, you may want to hand wash yours and use Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser and Polish (powder or liquid form) on food stains, burned-on food, heat tint, water spots, and tarnish.
Or mix an eco-friendly paste of baking soda and water and gently scrub the pieces with the paste and a towel or toothbrush. Alternatively, you can wet their surfaces, sprinkle on some baking soda, and wipe them with a towel. After either method, rinse and dry the cookware.
Don’t use metal scouring pads like steel wool, abrasive cleaners, chlorine bleach, or ammonia-based cleaners.
For hard-anodized aluminum:
- Hard-anodized aluminum cookware is supposed to be safe for use with metal utensils. Nonetheless, I stick with nonmetal cooking tools like nylon, silicone spatulas, or wooden spoons to avoid scratching the nonstick surface.
- Although some manufacturers make dishwasher-safe hard anodized aluminum pots and pans, most of this type of cookware needs to be hand washed. To be on the safe side, I hand wash all nonstick hard anodized or coated cookware.
For cast iron that’s not enameled:
- Preheat pieces on low and gradually increase the temperature while rotating the pot or pan for even heating.
- Don’t store food, especially acidic ingredients, in cast iron cookware; you don’t want to affect the seasoning or for the food to have a metallic taste.
- Hand wash each piece. While some say soap should not be used to clean cast iron cookware, America’s Test Kitchen says it’s safe to use a small amount of mild soap, noting that if a cast iron skillet is well-seasoned, the soap should not disrupt the polymerized bonds of its surface.
- Don’t soak the pan, but do clean it immediately after use.
- Don’t scrub the pan with abrasives like steel wool or use harsh cleansers like Comet. If you need to clean off a tough mess, simmer some water in the pan for a few minutes or gently scrub with coarse salt and a soft pad and then rinse.
- After cleaning each piece, dry it completely. I put my iron wok over a low fire for two minutes, then apply a couple drops of cooking oil and spread it into a thin layer to prevent rusting.
- If your cast iron cookware doesn’t come preseasoned, you’ll need to season it before its first use. After washing and drying it, spread a thin layer of oil over the cooking surface. Southern Living recommends heating your oven to 375 degrees and placing the cookware upside down on the middle rack for one hour.
- Use copper’s excellent thermal conductivity and cook with low-to-medium heat.
- Hand wash and dry all pieces.
- To clean a piece’s lined interior, apply gentle soap with a soft rag or sponge, rinse, and dry thoroughly.
To clean a piece’s copper exterior, use a commercial copper cleaner or any of these home solutions:
- Apply a mixture of vinegar and salt with a soft rag or sponge, leave the mixture on for about 10 minutes, rinse, and then dry the piece thoroughly;
- Cut a lemon in half, sprinkle it with a little table salt, rub the lemon half against the copper (especially discolored spots), rinse, and dry;
- Mix equal parts baking soda and lemon juice or vinegar into a paste, rub with a soft cloth, then rinse, and dry; or
- Spread on a medium layer of ketchup, leave it on for 10 minutes (the ketchup’s acidity attacks tarnish), scrub off with soft sponge or pad, then wash with warm water and dishwashing liquid, rinse, and dry.
Don’t use detergents with bleach or abrasives, and use soft cleaning tools, like a sponge or cloth.
To prevent tarnishing, regularly polish and shine cookware with a lightly acidic solution (e.g., vinegar or lemon juice) or a commercial copper cleaner cream. If you want to let your copper cookware age naturally, just skip all the polishing.