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A well-rounded cookware collection will look different to different people: A family of five may rely on big-batch dinners, whereas a single person moving into their first apartment may want as few pots and pans as they can get away with to make decent meals. And as with knives, buying a set to fit your specifications can be tricky, though no matter who you are, you probably don’t want to end up with space-stealing equipment you’ll never use. The key, then, is to curate a mix of types (saucepans, skillets, pots) and materials (nonstick, cast iron, stainless steel) without going overboard — but exactly what that combination should look like will depend on how you cook. To that end, in this story, with the advice of experts, I focused mostly on smaller-size sets because they give you the ability to curate more pointedly.
What we’re looking for
Same as if you’re buying cookware individually, you should have some cast-iron or carbon-steel, some nonstick, and some stainless-steel pieces in your kitchen. (You can also splurge on copper, which is basically like an even more reactive stainless steel, but that will cost you a very pretty penny.) For this, I’ve stated whether the set is all one material or a mixed batch.
Number of pieces
Some of the sets below are fairly small, containing two to five pieces — a smart choice if you already own some and are looking to round out your collection. Others are much larger (up to 13) and will serve you well if you’re outfitting a kitchen from scratch or want to invest in a lot of one material. It’s also important to say here that “pieces” sometimes includes accessories (in this case, just the first one from Made In) and always includes lids (all of them) — so, for example, a five piece set might be made up of three different pots and pans and two lids.
Beyond just the number, you should of course look at the shapes and sizes of all of the parts in each set you consider. Here, I’ve listed them out so you can take a quick look and know whether or not it might be a fit for you (though it’s also worth noting that I’ve linked to some other options within the descriptions of each one if you take a more careful read through).
Best overall cookware set
Material: Mixed | Number of pieces: 13 | Types: Nonstick frying pan, stainless-clad frying pan (both 10”); 12” carbon-steel frying pan, 12” blue carbon-steel wok (both 12”); 2 qt. saucepan, 4 qt. saucepan, 3.5 qt. sauté pan, 8 qt. stock pot (all stainless-clad with lids); blue carbon-steel roasting pan with rack; 2 oz. can carbon steel seasoning wax
This is the largest, most comprehensive set on this list, and it comes recommended by culinary producer Kiano Moju. As with Made In’s knife set, she first bought it when she was stocking her creative studio in Los Angeles, a kitchen she needed to outfit from scratch. “They have been used and abused since 2019 and I’ve never had to replace them,” she says. “They’re properly made. They literally still look brand-new. Especially the fact that the nonstick is still in good shape is shocking to me. I cook on pretty fast and high heat and have destroyed some other pans in like a month.” Charlie Pennes, founder of White Bark Workwear, says he uses his “for everything all the time,” and it similarly “doesn’t even have a scratch on it.”
Made In’s set even got Moju to cook on stainless steel, something she hadn’t done so much before as she perceived it as “chef-y.” “I’m really a home cook,” she says. “I bought the set because of the price — it’s discounted — but then I learned how to use them, and they’re so well-built.” Strategist editor Maxine Builder, who tested an older version of the set, agrees, adding that “since the cookware is made of brushed stainless steel rather than polished, it was easy to clean and keep clean.” For my part, I own the stainless-steel stock pot in the same eight-quart size that comes in the bundle (you can also find it in six and 12 if you buy it separately). I find that it’s perfect, big enough to handle a generous portion of stock and more than a pound of pasta if I’m cooking for a crowd, but not so big that it feels cumbersome or hard to store. The construction is super-solid and the handles comfortable.
The Sous Chef also recently expanded to include a 12-inch carbon-steel frying pan and wok, plus a roasting pan with a fitted rack in the same material (sort of like a lighter cousin to cast iron). Cookbook author Lesley Téllez owns all these pieces and calls them really sturdy. “Your pans get blazing hot, and it cooks super evenly,” she says. “You get the same high-heat conduction as you would with cast iron, but because it’s not as thick, you have more control.”
One note: You can also purchase this set with ten pieces (without any of the carbon steel), as well as six pieces (without the carbon steel and with fewer stainless-steel pans).
Best less expensive cookware set
Material: Mixed | Number of pieces: Five | Types: 10.5” nonstick pan, 10.5” sauté pan with lid, 3 qt. sauce pot with lid
Material’s only cookware set is also a mix of types and materials — only fewer. In fact, I’ve added all three pieces individually to my own collection over the past few years (yes, I should have just bought the discounted bundle, but you live and you learn). In the end, they come in handy all the time. The pieces all have a copper core overlaid by other materials (self-explanatory for the nonstick, and in the case of the sauté pan and sauce pot, a stainless-steel and aluminum coating). Copper conducts heat particularly well but is notoriously expensive, so by using it only at the center, Material’s pots and pans reap the benefit while staying at a reasonable price. I particularly love the nonstick (which, for what it’s worth, I think is one of the nicest-looking skillets of its kind out there). So does recipe developer and cookbook author Hetty McKinnon. “This is by far the most durable nonstick pan I have owned,” she says. “It heats up super-quickly and cooks evenly. It also feels balanced and light in my hand, which is such a nice change from my cast-iron skillet. Importantly, it has not warped after extended usage, which is an issue I always face with nonstick pans.”
Best nonstick cookware set
Material: Nonstick | Number of pieces: 10 | Types: 8” fry pan, 10” fry pan, 1.5 qt saucepan with lid, 3 qt. saucepan with lid, 2.6 qt. sauté pan with lid, 5 qt. nonstick dutch oven with lid
Zwilling, maker of our favorite nonstick skillet, has an exclusive collection with Food52, in which each piece is made from the same materials as its signature pan: an aluminum core that heats quickly and evenly, and a surface that recipe developer and cookbook author Andy Baraghani says releases anything that goes on it easily. They’re also all scratch-resistant, a quality that recipe developer and writer Rebecca Firkser appreciates. “I still try to be cautious when flipping things with my metal fish spatula, tongs, and slotted spoons,” she says, “but even when I’ve scraped the pan accidentally, I’ve never seen a scratch on the surface.”
Best nonstick skillet cookware set
Material: Nonstick | Number of pieces: Two | Types: 9.5” fry pan, 11” fry pan
If you don’t need nonstick pots or saucepans, but are in the market for multiple nonstick skillets, we still think you should stick with Zwilling. In fact, it’s smart to buy a skillet set — different sizes come in handy for different purposes, and you’ll get two for $30 less than you would if you bought them separately. In this case, the 9.5-inch is perfect for feeding two to four people, but “you can also scramble eggs for one in it without it feeling ridiculously oversized and spare,” says recipe developer and cookbook author Molly Baz. The 11-inch can accommodate even more for when you’re cooking for a crowd or making something big-batch. Firkser and Baraghani are both just as big fans as Baz, noting the comfortable handle and the fact that you can put the pans in the oven and dishwasher without ruining their nonstick properties.
Best ceramic nonstick cookware set
Material: Nonstick | Number of pieces: Four | Types: 2 qt. saucepan, 9.5” frying pan, 3 qt. sauté pan, one interchangeable lid
Cookbook author and broadcaster Yasmin Khan is a fan of GreenPan’s nonstick cookware. “They’re great,” she says, “The saucepan you can use for a stew, for pasta — it’s very versatile. You can use other ones for frying onions, for poaching eggs. Also, I’m half-Iranian, and in a lot of Iranian recipes, we use a nonstick pan, like for tahdig. At the end of the day, it’s just easier to cook things in a nonstick. You don’t necessarily need to splurge on fancy pans.” Other pros, like recipe developer and food writer Caroline Lange and cookbook author Vallery Lomas, have also sang the praises of GreenPan to us before. (And so has Hilary Swank.) This four-piece set will get you pretty far, but GreenPan also makes an 11-piece one, should you really want to go all out.
Best cast-iron cookware set
Material: Cast iron | Number of pieces: Five | Types: 10.5” round griddle, 8” skillet, 10.25” skillet, 5 qt. Dutch oven, one interchangeable lid
If you want to go hard for cast iron, this set by Lodge is a real deal. For only $100, you get two different-size skillets, a griddle, and a Dutch oven. As I explained when I named Lodge’s skillet the best overall in this piece, cast iron can pretty much do it all: get really hot and retain that heat, go from the stove to the oven, and hold a nonstick surface if seasoned properly. You can sear, sauté, braise, fry, and bake with it — and having two sizes of skillet, plus the Dutch oven (good for things with more volume, like soups, stews, and pastas) and the griddle (nothing better for making pancakes, eggs, and bacon), just takes it over the top.
Best fancy cast-iron cookware set
Material: Cast iron | Number of pieces: Five | Types: 10” fry pan, 1.75 qt. saucepan with lid, 4.5 qt. round Dutch oven with lid
If you want to get a bit fancier, the Le Creuset Dutch oven is broadly considered one of the best pieces of cookware you can buy — but the company also makes other equally useful cast-iron pieces. Both recipe developer and cookbook author Jessie Sheehan and cookbook author Erin Gleeson endorse it as a long-term investment that will truly never need to be replaced. “I’ve had my Le Creuset pieces for ten years and use the skillets daily,” Gleeson says. For her part, Sheehan uses her Dutch oven “all the time, for boiling water for pasta, for frying tofu or chicken fingers or donuts, for making bacon or hamburgers (the high sides of the pan means less mess when making greasy, splatter-y things)” — just to name a few examples. Not to mention, the signature colors are so pretty that all of the pieces can not only go from the stove to the oven, but also (stylishly) to the table.
Best stainless-steel cookware set
Material: Stainless steel | Number of pieces: Five | Types: 8” fry pan, 10” fry pan, 2 qt. saucepan with lid, 3 qt. saucepan with lid, 8 qt. stock pot with lid
If you’re looking to invest in new stainless steel, All-Clad is as classic as it gets. Joy Wilson, the creator of Joy the Baker, has owned this set for over six years. While she acknowledges the high price point, she says she trusts the brand’s “great reputation” for making cookware that lasts a long time and uses at least one of the pieces in this well-rounded set every day. The skillets “give food great color and even caramelization and still deglaze perfectly, without any gunk sticking to the bottom,” she says.
Both Wilson and Matt Rodbard, a food writer, editor, and cookbook author, note that All-Clad cleans up well (Rodbard uses Bar Keepers Friend). He turns to his skillet all the time (and even commonly gifts it to people). “It’s my workhorse,” he says. “You get such an even temperature. Plus, I think that having a piece of iconic culinary gear in your house feels great. The handle is iconic. If you look through most cookbooks in the last 20 years, you’ll spot the handle.” Jamie Knott, chef of Saddle River Inn in New Jersey, told us that he uses his three-quart saucepan because “it has a heavy bottom, heats evenly, and lasts forever.” As with the GreenPan nonstick, All-Clad also offers a bigger set with more pieces if that’s what you’re after.
Best copper cookware set
Material: Copper | Number of pieces: Seven | Types: 10” fry pan, 2 qt. saucepan with lid, 3.5 qt. sauté pan with lid, 6.5 qt. sauté pan with lid
Copper pots and pans are always expensive, so if you’re going to invest, industry favorite Mauviel is the way to go. Daniel Cutler, the co-owner and chef of Ronan in Los Angeles, received his set as a wedding gift, but “if I had unlimited money, I would only use these pans,” he says. That’s because copper conducts and retains heat and cools down quickly; it’s the same principle as stainless steel but even more exacting. And if you take good care of your pieces, they’ll last a lifetime — keep them sparkling by polishing them with Bar Keepers Friend or let them develop a natural patina over time, as Cutler does. If you follow his lead, though, you need to “wash with hot soapy water and an abrasive sponge” as soon as you’re done cooking so food doesn’t stick.
Some more kitchen essentials we’ve written about
• Andy Baraghani, recipe developer and cookbook author
• Molly Baz, recipe developer and cookbook author
• Maxine Builder, Strategist editor
• Daniel Cutler, co-owner and chef of Ronan
• Rebecca Firkser, recipe developer and writer
• Erin Gleeson, cookbook author
• Yasmin Khan, broadcaster and cookbook author
• Jamie Knott, chef of Saddle River Inn
• Caroline Lange, recipe developer and food writer
• Vallery Lomas, cookbook author
• Hetty McKinnon, recipe developer and cookbook author
• Kiano Moju, culinary producer
• Charlie Pennes, founder of White Bark Workwear
• Matt Rodbard, food writer, editor, and cookbook author
• Jessie Sheehan, recipe developer and cookbook author
• Lelsey Téllez, journalist and cookbook author
• Joy Wilson, creator of Joy the Baker
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