Cookware Buying Guide
Between Food and Flame

Watching cooking shows may whet more than your appetite: It could leave you hungry for new kitchen cookware. But don’t think the most expensive cookware sets are best. And despite some famous names, the chef-endorsed sets weren’t that impressive in our cookware tests.

The allure of owning top-shelf cookware is enticing. But faced with a smorgasbord of cookware styles, materials, and prices—from cast iron and stainless steel to nonstick enamel and copper—it’s wise to be well-informed. Use this guide to sharpen your shopping skills before buying.

Cookware Sets vs. Open Stock

Cookware can be an expensive investment. Here are some things to consider before you go shopping:

Take Stock
Take inventory of the pots and pans you own to determine what needs to be replaced or what is missing from your cookware arsenal. Individual pieces—or “open stock”—are widely available. If you only need to swap out a scratched frying pan, open stock is a cost-saving way to go, and what’s popular now. 

Consider Your Cooking Style
Think about what you cook frequently; this will influence your choice of materials. For example, if you sear meat often, uncoated stainless steel will facilitate even browning. If you prefer slow-cooked tomato sauces, even creamy sauces, you’ll want to steer clear of unlined copper cookware, which can impart bitterness.

Match Your Cookware to Your Cooktop
Finally, consider how your new cookware will pair with your cooktop. Flat-bottomed pans—overwhelmingly the most popular type—are essential for a smoothtop range. Round-bottom woks will need a vented ring placed on top of a burner to support the wok. If you have an induction cooktop, cookware with magnetic properties is a must. Bring along a magnet when you shop. If it sticks to the bottom, it’ll work with an induction cooktop.




The Parts of a Pan

Coating vs Cladding: What’s the Difference?
Hard-coat anodized is a fancy way of saying the soft surface of nearly pure aluminum has been changed to a hard surface. It has nothing to do with the nonstick coating, which allows food to brown without sticking to the pan. 

Cladding refers to the layers of metal fused together to create the cookware. So while the outer and inner layers of the pan may be stainless steel, the inside layer may be aluminum or copper, or another conductive or magnetic material. Clad can also mean a material was added to the bottom of a stainless steel pan, enhancing heat transfer.

Familiarize yourself with cookware terminology to make the best choice for your cooking style.

Shopping Tips to Chew On

Quality cookware is at the heart of any serious cook’s kitchen. You need a variety of pots, pans, and casseroles, maybe even a few specialty items. Will a $500 set of cookware make your meals twice as tasty as a $250 set? Not necessarily. Here’s how to build the perfect culinary collection:

Choose Your Pieces
If you’re building a set of a cookware from scratch, depending on how you cook and how many people you cook for, you will want an assortment of skillets and pots, a stockpot, and lids. In boxed sets, manufacturers count a lid as a piece, and it might fit more than one piece of cookware in the set. A set that contains more pieces might not be the smartest choice if you use only a few and the rest take up space in your cabinet. Note: Utensils and even a cookbook can count as pieces of a set.

Pick It Up
We all shop online, but it’s essential to handle the cookware at a retailer. See how it feels in your hand. If it’s heavy, think how much heavier it will feel when it’s full of food. Make sure that the handles are easy to grasp and that the pot or pan is well-balanced. Check that handle attachments are tight and sturdy. Read the packaging to see whether the cookware can be cleaned in a dishwasher.

Glass Lids
These allow you see what’s going on inside the pot without having to lift it off, letting steam escape. But they add weight and can break, which could be a problem in a household with young kids.

From Stove to Oven
If the box says the cookware is oven-safe, be sure to check the specifics. What temperature can this cookware safely be used? Some cookware can be used in ovens set to 350°F, while others can withstand higher heat—up to 500°F. 

Picks & Pans: Cookware Types

Choose a cookware material that suits the cooking technique. For example, sautéed foods turn out best in pans that transmit heat quickly, braised foods need pans that retain heat over long periods, and you shouldn’t cook white sauces or tomato sauces in unlined copper or aluminum cookware because those ingredients react with the metal. (The below types are, more or less, in order of popularity.)




Photo of a stainless steel pan.

Stainless Steel

Long-lasting, classic, uncoated stainless steel is a good choice for browning and braising. Often sold in sets, stainless cookware can be the kitchen workhorse, tackling everything from pickling to pasta sauce.

Pros: Durable, easy to care for, does not react with foods. Provides rapid, uniform heating. Often magnetic and compatible with induction cooktops. Dishwasher-, oven-, and broiler-safe (depending on the handle material).

Cons: Sometimes tougher to clean. If you choose uncoated, you might still want a nonstick pan or two, and vice versa.

Photo of a nonstick pan.

Nonstick

Durable nonstick coatings effortlessly release even delicate foods, including eggs and pancakes. Because little or no oil is needed, nonstick pans are a good choice for low-fat or nonfat dishes.

Pros: Exceptionally easy to clean. Need less oil for cooking, which eliminates some fat from your diet. Depending on the primary material, most pieces are ideal for use on any type of cooktop, including induction. Most pieces are oven-safe to 500° F, but take into account the handle material.

Cons: Some, but not all, nonstick pans are now safe for use with metal utensils. But it’s still smart to take care not to scratch or gouge the surface material. Many, but not all, pieces are dishwasher-safe. Also, food doesn’t brown as well in a nonstick pan.

Photo of an enamel pan.

Enameled Cast Iron

Great for searing, sautéing, browning, and frying, these classic, colorful pieces transition seamlessly from stovetop or oven to your dining table. Covered pieces are also perfect for braising, stewing, slow-cooking, and roasting meat.

Pros: Heats slowly and evenly and retains heat well. Durable coating doesn’t react with acidic ingredients. Dishwasher-safe, corrosion-resistant, and oven-safe to 500° F.

Cons: Heavy, and they get even heavier when filled with food. Small handles can make transport from stovetop to oven a bit cumbersome. Enamel can chip.

Photo of an uncoated cast iron pan.

Uncoated Cast Iron

A great alternative to nonstick cooking surfaces. Lodge, America’s oldest family-owned cookware manufacturer, has refered to its cookware as “natural nonstick.” Cast iron is extremely durable and can be preheated to temperatures that will brown meat. It will also withstand oven temperatures well above what is considered safe for nonstick pans.

Pros: Durable, classic. A Dutch oven, which keeps food warm for a long time, is a handy piece to have.

Cons: Some frying pans cook unevenly. Tough to clean and impractical for everyday cooking. Not dishwasher-safe. Must be seasoned (rubbed with multiple coats of oil) and maintained. Will rust if left in damp environment.

Photo of a set of carbon-steel pans.

Carbon-Steel & Blue Steel

These pans are favorites in professional kitchens because they’re extremely durable and efficient, and designed for high-performance cooking.

Pros: Ideal for use on any type of cooktop, including induction, and the preferred material for woks, omelet pans, and crepe pans. Wipes clean with paper towels (avoid washing).

Cons: Often single-purpose pan design. Not dishwasher-safe. Must be seasoned (rubbed with multiple coats of oil) to avoid rusting. Hand-wash only with mild soapy water and soft brush.

Photo of copper pans.

Copper

Real copper cookware provides quick and even cooking, and cools down quickly, providing maximum control. Look for heavy-gauge copper (1⁄16 to 1⁄8 inch thick) for longest wear.

Pros: Ideal for everything from high-heat searing, sautéing, and frying to gently simmering delicate sauces. Offers nice kitchen-to-table presentation. Heavy models with iron or brass handles are safe for oven use.

Cons: Pricey. Can dent easily. Copper is a reactive metal, and cookware is often lined with a nonreactive metal such as tin or stainless steel. Not compatible with induction cooktops. Copper can take on a patina over time that requires removal with a copper cleaner. Hand-wash only.

Photo of an aluminum pan.

Aluminum

Aluminum cookware is an excellent heat conductor, as well as reasonably priced and lightweight. It is, however, prone to staining and can discolor light-colored foods and sauces, and can make them taste bitter. As a countermeasure, anodized aluminum is coated to prevent such side effects.

Pros: Affordable, lightweight, and strong.

Cons: Can discolor some foods and impart a bitter taste.

Cookware Brands That Matter

The cookware industry consists mostly of large corporations that manufacture several brands. For example, Meyer manufactures Anolon, Circulon, Farberware, and Rachael Ray brands. The industry has seen several consolidations in the recent past as the Global Home Product brands Mirro, Regal, and WearEver became part of Groupe SEB, which also includes All-Clad and T-Fal. Use these profiles to compare cookware by brand. 

All-Clad is among the highest-priced brands. All-Clad produces mainly stainless steel and copper-core products. These products are distributed primarily in upscale department and specialty stores. There is also a line that is endorsed by the chef Emeril Lagasse called Emerilware. Shop All-Clad cookware on Amazon.
Anolon is manufactured by Meyer, and features nonstick products. This brand is priced in the midrange and is sold online and at department stores, specialty stores, mass market retailers, and wholesale clubs. Shop Anolon cookware on Amazon.
A midrange to high-end brand that is available in various materials—anodized aluminum, nonstick and uncoated, and stainless steel. It’s sold in almost all department stores, specialty stores, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, and numerous online retailers. Shop Calphalon cookware on Amazon.
Circulon brand is manufactured by Meyer, and features nonstick products. Prices are midrange, and this cookware is available online and in department stores, specialty stores, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Target. Shop Circulon cookware on Amazon.
Cuisinart is a mid- to high-priced brand that offers products in stainless steel, hard-anodized, and multiclad materials, nonstick and uncoated. Cuisinart's Green Gourmet Cookware line uses ceramic rather than petroleum-based (claimed PTFE- and PFOA-free) surfaces. The products are sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, specialty stores, and numerous online retailers. Shop Cuisinart cookware on Amazon.
Another Meyer brand that is aimed at the mid-to-lower-priced market. The brand offers products in uncoated and nonstick stainless steel and aluminum. Products are available at department stores, specialty stores, Kmart, Meijer, Target, Walmart, and numerous online retailers. Shop Farberware cookware on Amazon.
Other brands on store shelves include Chefmate, KitchenAid, Le Creuset, Mainstays, Swiss Diamond, T-Fal, Tramontina, Rachael Ray, and WearEver, among others.
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