Best Cookware Sets of 2021

Familiar names such as Anolon, Calphalon, and Cuisinart do well in CR's tests, but so do a few newcomers

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Person cooking on a stovetop. Photo: iStock

Is it time to replace your cookware? If the handles are loose or broken, or the bottom of a pan is warped (which can create hot spots that burn food), it’s time to shop. And of course, when the coating of a nonstick pan is flaking, it’s got to go.

Cookware is typically sold in sets consisting of about five to 15 pieces or as individual pots and pans, referred to as open stock. But a 12-piece set won’t have a dozen pots and pans. “In boxed sets, manufacturers count a lid as a piece,” explains Marion Wilson-Spencer, CR’s market analyst for cookware. “Even utensils and a cookbook may be counted as pieces.”

We buy and test cookware sets ranging from less than $100 to $600 or more, from well-known brands such as All-Clad, Anolon, Calphalon, Cuisinart, and Zwilling J.A. Henckels, as well as sets sold under the names of celebrity cooks like Ayesha Curry, Rachel Ray, and the Pioneer Woman. Of course, you can assemble your own set. Here are the basic pieces you need, plus why you should consider a Dutch oven.

In our tests, we evaluate heating evenness, speed of heating, sauté performance, nonstick durability, handle sturdiness, and more. To evaluate various pieces, we cook pancakes, fry eggs, boil water, and simmer tomato sauce.

For more information, see our cookware buying guide, which includes a primer on different types of cookware and the materials they’re made of. Below are the 10 best cookware sets from CR’s latest tests, both nonstick and stainless steel, listed alphabetically by type. CR members can jump to our cookware ratings for even more options.

CR’s take: The Anolon SmartStack is a space saver, with all 10 pieces nesting together to store in two neat piles, one for the pots and one for the frying pans. Pancakes cook evenly, and we were able to quickly heat 4 quarts of water in the 8-quart stockpot. It also earns an Excellent rating for simmering sauces. Though the handle stays cool to the touch, it could be sturdier. This set earns only a Fair rating on the handle sturdiness test.

CR’s take: The 12-piece Cuisinart Green Gourmet nonstick set aces all our key cooking tests. Pancakes brown evenly in the frying pan, and eggs slide out one after another without sticking. We were able to easily maintain sauce at a low simmer, and the 6-quart Dutch oven quickly brought water to a near-boil. This top-scoring set is made of anodized aluminum, a process that hardens the surface. One of the pieces is a steamer insert.

CR’s take: The GreenPan Stackable includes the fewest pieces of the nonstick cookware sets in our ratings (just six), but it doesn’t fall short on performance. With Excellent ratings on both our cooking evenness and speed of heating tests, the GreenPan stands up to the competition. So does its nonstick surface, which earns top marks in our tough durability test. Simmering a tomato sauce is impressive, and eggs slide easily out of the skillet one after another.

CR’s take: The eye-catching 12-piece Kenmore Arlington Metallic set also stands out for its performance in the kitchen. Cooking evenness and speed of heating are top-notch, and the nonstick coating is so slick that you’ll never be stuck with egg residue in the pan. Our sauces simmered without scorching and the nonstick coating is durable, earning a Very Good rating in that test. The handles stay cool to the touch when cooking but could be more sturdy, typical of pans in this price range.

CR’s take: Though it sounds like it’s named after an action hero, The Rock by Starfit is named for its hard, rocklike surface. The coating appears pebbly, but that doesn’t affect its nonstick properties, and we cooked pancakes and eggs effortlessly. Cooking evenness is superb, and this eight-piece set aces our speed of heating test by quickly bringing 4 quarts of water to a near-boil in the 5-quart stockpot. The surface stands up to our durability test, in which we rub steel wool over the coating 2,000 times, earning a Very Good rating.

CR’s take: The attractive 10-piece Anolon Nouvelle Copper stainless set has a five-layer metal base, including a copper core that rings the bottom. It earns a top rating of Excellent for cooking evenness, and speed of heating in the 6-quart stockpot earns a Very Good rating. But simmering in the saucepan is only so-so, and the eggs needed nudging out of the pan in our food-release test.

CR’s take: Short on storage space? Calphalon designed this set so that it stacks and nests, which frees up precious cabinet space. The Calphalon Premier Space Saving eight-piece stainless set earns a Very Good rating in our evenness tests, like our other top performers in this category. The stainless handles are long and sturdy, and you can use these dishwasher-safe pots and pans on any type of range, including induction. You can also pop them in the oven up to 500° F.

CR’s take: The eight-piece Fissler Original-Profi collection set has five substantial cooking vessels and three lids. It earns a top mark of Excellent for cooking evenness and aces our tests for heating water quickly. The handles stay cool to the touch and are sturdy, so this set should serve you well for a long time. The pans do very well at simmering sauces but aren’t as impressive when it comes to sautéing.

CR’s take: This nicely priced 10-piece Kenmore Elite Devon Tri-Ply set should satisfy most of your cooking needs. The lids are glass, so you can watch what you’re cooking without letting any heat escape. Cooking evenness is top-notch, and this set earns Very Good ratings for both speed of heating and gently releasing eggs from the pan. The handles stay cool to the touch but could be sturdier.

CR’s take: With just five pieces—three pans and two lids—the Made in Cookware Starter Kit is aptly named. But even a novice cook will appreciate the performance of these pots and pans. The stainless steel pan aces the cooking evenness test, meaning pancakes turn out evenly browned. Speed of heating is also superb, and we quickly brought 4 quarts of water to a near-boil in the 5-quart stockpot. Food release is impressive, earning a Very Good rating, though no uncoated pan measures up to a nonstick pan in that test.

Mary H.J. Farrell

Knowing that I wanted to be a journalist from a young age, I decided to spiff up my byline by adding the middle initials "H.J." A veteran of online and print journalism, I've worked at People, MSNBC, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and an online Consumer Reports wannabe. But the real thing is so much better. Follow me on Twitter.