The Best Cookware Set For Every Budget

Getting the best cookware set for your needs without going over your budget can be a challenge. Buying on the high end doesn't necessarily guarantee a super quality product, or one that will fulfill your particular needs. However, buying on the low end can be disastrous too, for obvious reasons. 

DemeyereIndustry5Set3

The truth is, there are decent cookware sets available for every budget. Whether you're just starting out and need everything, wanting to upgrade a bump or two in quality, or trying to find the perfect pans that work with your particular cooking style, you should be able to find the cookware set that's perfect for you.

But if you want to buy wisely, you have to do your research. The price range of cookware is matched only by its quality range. And there are poor-quality sets available even in higher price ranges. You have to educate yourself so you can get a cookware set you'll be happy with.

This is where The Rational Kitchen comes in. We know the issues. We've done the research for you. And we've summarized it into one helpful and easy-to-read article. 

The best cookware set, in TRK's opinion, is clad stainless. It beats the pants off of other cookware. So if you're looking for some other type of set (cast iron, aluminum, glass), find another review--but before you do, please read the Why Clad Stainless? section--you just may rethink your purchase.

How to Read This Article

Don't want to read the whole article? (It's a long one, so we understand.) No problem: just scroll down to the first section: it's a handy table summarizing our picks. Below that, we have simple tables showing the What to Look For in Stainless Cookware. You can also click in the Table of Contents to see just the sections you're interested in, then use the "back to top" link at the end of the section to navigate back to the TOC.

The Best Cookware Sets At a Glance

If you don't want to read the whole article, here is a summary my best cookware set picks for every budget:

Category

Set

App. Price


Pros and Cons

Best Overall (Spare-No-Expense)

$1000


DemeyereIndustry5Set3

Pros: Excellent quality, excellent performance, rivetless, Silvinox coating makes them almost nonstick, bottoms guaranteed not to warp.


Cons: Heavy, expensive, sauce pan and saute pan are not fully clad.

Best Tri-Ply

(stainless-aluminum-stainless)

All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply 10 Piece Set

(see it on Amazon)

(see it at Sur la Table)

(see it at Bed, Bath & Beyond)

(see it at everythingkitchens.com)


$700

(click link to see on Amazon)

AllClad10PcSet2

Pros: Excellent quality, excellent cladding and heating properties, lifetime warranty, made in USA.


Cons: Rivets, expensive.

Best Chinese Tri-Ply

12 pc: $225

Cuisinart12PcSet2

Pros: Similar heating as All-Clad tri-ply at a lower price.


Cons: Not as high quality as All-Clad, made in China.

Most Inclusive Set (Best Pieces)

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Piece Set

(see it on Amazon)

(see it at Bed, Bath & Beyond)

(see it at WalMart--the best deal!)

$370

Tramontina12PcSetWalMart2

Pros: Good heating properties, large skillets.


Cons: Not as high quality as All-Clad.

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How We Picked

Picking these sets was not an easy task. Hundreds of hours of research and testing went into this article. 

  • The first thing we did was narrow the field down to clad stainless cookware. Among all the options, clad stainless is the most durable, easiest to use, easiest to care for, and overall best-performing cookware. (For a discussion of other cookware options, see the section Why Clad Stainless? below.)
  • Among all the clad stainless brands, we sought out the options by using these criteria:
  • All-around Usefulness: There are hundreds of cookware options, and almost as many needs and preferences among home cooks. These picks have the best pieces with the best all-around performance for most people's daily cooking needs. (We realize your needs may be different--for other choices (e.g., nickel-free stainless, no induction compatibility, specialized performance, smaller sets), check out the Cookware archives on this site.)
  • Performance: How is the heat retention and heat conductivity (which all centers on the quality of the cladding)? How responsive are they to temperature changes? 
  • Durability: Are the pans made to last? Can they take a licking and keep on cooking?
  • Design (ease of use as well as aesthetics): Are these pans easy to handle? Are they easy to clean? Can you pour from it without dripping? Are they a pleasure to look at and use? (Note: All pans with glass lids and non-steel handles were automatically disqualified as less desirable design choices To understand why, read the section What to Look for in a Cookware Set (Features).)
  • Warranty: Does this cookware come with a warranty, and is that warranty honored by the manufacturer?

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What to Look for in Stainless Cookware At a Glance (Summary Tables)

This article goes into great detail about clad stainless cookware. To buy wisely, these are the main points you need to consider:

  1. Why clad stainless? (How it differs from other cookware materials and why it is superior.)
  2. What are the quality differences among different brands of clad stainless? (What makes one set cost so much more than another--and is it worth the extra money?
  3. Buying considerations: Once you narrow down your options by choosing a quality brand, what features should you look for in a cookware set? (What makes cookware a pleasure to use? What makes it a pain?)
  4. The 5 essential pieces every cook needs: this will help you decide which set best suits your needs, and also, which extra pieces you're going to want to round out your collection.

The tables here summarize all the information in this article, so if you don't want to read the whole thing, just skim these tables, then skip to the reviews to see details and purchasing information on the recommended cookware sets.

Why Clad Stainless? Cookware Materials at a Glance

Here are the most common cookware materials used in today's cookware, along with their important properties:

Material

Heat Conductivity

Heat Responsivity

Durability

Ease of Cleaning

Induction Compatible

Cost

Cast Iron

Good

Slow

Excellent 

Good

Yes (but not ideal)

$

Aluminum

Very Good

Fast

Poor

Good

No

$

Copper

Excellent

Very Fast

Good

Poor (requires a lot of upkeep)

No

$$$$

Anodized Aluminum

Very Good

Fast

Very Good, but shows scratches

Okay

No

$$-$$$

Carbon Steel

Good

Fast

Good (Rusts if left wet)

Good (if properly cared for)

Yes

$-$$

Nonstick

N/A (depends on what it's bonded to)

N/A (depends on what it's bonded to)

Poor

Excellent

Depends on what it's bonded to

$-$$$

Enamel Coated

N/A (depends on what it's bonded to)

N/A (depends on what it's bonded to)

Good

Okay

Depends on what it's bonded to

$-$$$

Glass and Ceramic

Very Poor

Very Slow

Poor (can break easily)

Okay

No

$-$$$

Clad Stainless

Very Good to Excellent (depending on cladding)

Fast to Very Fast (depending on cladding)

Excellent

Good

Most new sets are (if exterior layer is magnetic)

$$-$$$$

Quality Difference in Clad Stainless (What Makes One Set Better than Another) 

If you've decided on clad stainless cookware, here are the issues that are important in choosing a set:

Summary of What to Look for in Clad Cookware

Feature

Potential Problem

Result

What to Do:

Quality of Stainless Steel

18/10 stainless can be up to 72% other stuff--who knows what's in there? 

Corrosion, rusting, and pitting.

Buy a proven brand (Including all of the brands in this review). Doesn't have to be expensive, just has to have a good reputation for quality and for honoring their warranty.




Inner Core Thickness/Layers of Cladding

Manufacturers save money by using thinner core layers.

Poor heat conductivity, warping on bottom of pan.

Cladding Process

Manufacturers cut costs by using improper cladding techniques.

Warping, bubbling, and separating of metals.

Country of Origin

Chinese factories sometimes have poor quality control.

Not all Chinese cookware is poor quality, but these issues tend to occur in Chinese-made cookware.

Buying Considerations (Features to Look For)

Once you've figured out what which sets are high quality, now you need to look at specific features to pick what's best for you:

Feature

What to Look For:

Pan Types

Make sure the set has the type of pans you need. Don't pay more for a set with extras that you won't use. In general, it's better to buy a smaller set, with pieces you know you'll use, and augment with the exact pans you want.

Skillet Sizes

Skillets in sets are almost always too small. You'll need at least a 10-inch skillet. If the set comes with one small skillet, that's okay because you can buy a bigger one (and that's probably all you'll need). But if it comes with 2 small skillets (e.g., less than 10-inches), you may not use them.

A large saute pan can make up for a small skillet, as you can use it much as a skillet. Because of the straight sides you get more cooking surface, so even a saute pan on the small side will help fill the gap.

(NOTE: See more on sizes in "The 5 Essential Pieces Every Cook Needs."

Pan Shapes

Skillets in particular: the more sloped the sides are, the less cooking surface the pan will have. Thus even large pans can have a tiny cooking surface. If you want a large cooking surface, look for skillets with straighter sides rather than sloping sides.


Also, avoid sets with goofy pot shapes: for example, you don't want pots with the opening smaller than the base--they're harder to clean and they won't stack.

Lids

I strongly recommend stainless lids over glass: they're more durable and easier to store.

Handles

1) I strongly recommend stainless handles over coated handles (e.g., silicone-coated). Any coating is going to wear off eventually, so stainless are the most durable.

2) I strongly recommend pans with helper handles, at least in the larger sizes. They make it much easier to lift a pot full of food (or liquid).

3) If you can afford to go with welded handles over riveted ones, you will find they are much easier to keep clean. (Demeyere and KitchenAid are two brands with welded handles.)

Ease of Cleaning

Stainless is never going to be as easy to clean as nonstick, but Demeyere has a proprietary coating that makes the pans almost as easy to clean as nonstick. (Spendy, though.)

Warranty/Brand

Many stainless cookware sets come with a lifetime warranty, so there's no reason not to get a brand with an excellent warranty. Remember: not all manufacturers honor their warranties. Be sure to buy from a reputable maker with a good reputation.

NOTE: All the sets reviewed and recommended here meet all of these buying considerations.

The 5 Essential Cookware Pieces Every Cook Needs

You won't be able to get all of these in one set, but with these 5 pieces you can conquer just about every imaginable cooking task:

Cookware Piece

Minimum Size

Skillet or saute pan

CuisinartMCProSkilletCropped2
ACCopperCoreSautePan2

Skillet:10 in. (and preferably 12 in.)

Saute pan: 3 quart

Sauce pan

CuisinartMCProSaucepan

If you only have one, at least 3 qt.; ideally, a 1.5- or 2-qt. AND a 4- or 5-qt.

Dutch oven

ACCopperCoreDutchOven2

8 qt if you don't have a stock pot; 6 qt. if you do have a stock pot.

Roasting pan

CuisinartRoastingPan2

16 in. x 13 in. is about standard size (not including handles).

(NOTE: A ceramic baking dish will also work, but eventually you'll probably want a dedicated roasting pan.)

Sheet pan

AluminumHalfSheetPan2

You should have a few half sheet pans and a few quarter sheet pans.

For a more complete list of all cookware types, see Types of Cookware: All the Pieces Explained below.

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Why Clad Stainless?

To answer this question, let's first look at other cookware materials:

Cast Iron

A lot of folks sing the praises of cast iron, but I only like it for a few things: frying chicken or pan searing a steak, for example.

Why do I mostly not like cast iron? First, because it's heavy and bulky. This makes it hard to handle, especially when it's full of food (and maybe even hot oil--yikes!)

But more importantly, cast iron does not distribute heat rapidly or evenly. You see, cast iron is a very rough, brittle substance. Because of this, heat passes through it kind of in fits and starts.

Once it gets hot all over, it stays hot--it retains heat very well--but this can take awhile, and until that happens, the heating is inconsistent throughout the pan. (How long does it take to distribute heat? Depends on the pan--but several minutes.)

For induction cooktops in particular, this can cause big problems. This is because induction heats SO much faster than gas or electric, so the cast iron has a hard time keeping up. And also, the weight and roughness of the cast iron creates the need for great care to not scratch or crack the glass cooktop. 

Also, most modern cast iron is not made the "old" way. Antique cast iron is much smoother and heats more evenly (though still slowly). If you want this in modern cast iron, you have to pay for it--prices are similar to top-of-the-line clad stainless. (And you still have all the other issues: heaviness, bulkiness, and mediocre heat distribution--not terrible, no, but not as good as aluminum or copper.)

Some companies are trying to revive the old-school method of producing cast iron cookware: Finex, a Portland-based company, is one of them--but those pans cost as much as a high-end clad stainless pan, and I don't really care for their octagonal shape.  (Check out their 10-inch skillet on Amazon.) 

Other than the fetish-level stuff, cast iron is cheap, fairly easy to care for (as long as no one misuses it, ever), and it creates an almost nonstick surface after proper seasoning. I understand why people like it. But for me, the cons outweigh the pros. (Especially true if you're looking for induction cookware.)

Aluminum

Aluminum is very good at heat distribution. It gets hot quickly and spreads heat evenly. In fact, aluminum is probably the best all-around material for heating food evenly and economically.

Yet aluminum has some pretty serious drawbacks. It is reactive with many foods, especially anything acidic. And because of its reactivity, it degrades fairly quickly. And the degrading aluminum gets into your food, which is bad from both a health and a flavor standpoint.

Aluminum is also not induction-compatible. And because it's cheap cookware, good luck finding any with a magnetized base for induction cooktops. (Although here is one set of coated nonstick aluminum with a stainless base for induction cooking--pretty much everything I dislike in cookware. :)) 

Aluminum cookware is some of the cheapest on the market (pure aluminum, that is). You will find a lot of low-end aluminum cookware in professional kitchens; chefs like it for its heating properties and for its cheapness--pans take a real beating in professional kitchens, so most chefs prefer not to invest in the expensive stuff. But for home kitchens, you can do better. 

Copper

Copper is also very good at heat distribution. In fact, it conducts heat faster and more evenly than any other cookware material known to man (with aluminum coming in a close second). "Faster" also means that it is very responsive: it heats up and cools down very quickly. So if you want pans that react to changes in temperature rapidly (rather than pans that hang onto heat very well, like cast iron), the pans you buy should have a layer of copper. Yet copper alone is not the ideal cookware. 

First, copper is reactive, just like aluminum, so all-copper pans are not good for most cooking. And even though copper doesn't cause potential health problems like aluminum, the reactivity is not what you want in cookware. 

Copper is also a somewhat rare metal, which makes copper cookware expensive.

Furthermore, because copper is both expensive and reactive, most copper cookware is clad with an inner layer of stainless. So why not just get the clad stainless, which is cheaper, more durable, and easier to take care of? If you're set on copper, you can find clad copper with copper interiors that offer the performance of copper without the hassle. (Check out All-Clad's Copper Core line--it's beautiful stuff.) 

Copper is beautiful, but it's hard to keep clean. It has to be polished regularly to keep its rosy glow--and that is a lot of work. Copper is also not induction-compatible, so be careful if you're buying it for an induction cooktop. (Read the small print!)

Anodized Aluminum

ACLTDSet

All-Clad LTD2 (anodized aluminum) cookware.

Some aluminum is treated--"baked," sort of--to give it an extremely durable surface. Anodized aluminum is usually clad with an inner aluminum layer and a stainless layer for the cooking surface. The anodized aluminum on the outside makes the pan tough as nails, and also enhances the heat distribution.

However, anodized aluminum has a few major drawbacks:

  • It is not induction compatible
  • It is not dishwasher safe
  • It scratches pretty easily
  • After a few uses it takes on a dark patina that many people find unattractive.

If none of these things matter to you, clad anodized aluminum is a strong contender for best cookware set. The thicker aluminum provides stellar performance, and you can usually find it at a lower cost than stainless. Check out All-Clad's MC2 line to see what I mean--but remember: that shiny surface is going to get dark after a few uses, and won't be nearly as pretty!

Carbon Steel

Carbon Steel Crepe Pan

A carbon steel crepe pan (see at Sur la Table).

(Also sometimes called blue or black steel) Carbon steel is like a lighter-weight version of cast iron. It's the material of choice for many professional chefs for its excellent heat retention, durability, and light weight, and is particularly favored for woks and crepe pans. Like cast iron, it has to be seasoned--and the seasoning makes it a nearly nonstick option; it should be wiped clean and not washed with soap; and it reacts with acidic foods (like tomatoes), which ruin the seasoned, near-nonstick surface. It is also induction-compatible.

Most unappealing is how easily it rusts: like cast iron, you can never, ever leave it to air dry. It will rust almost immediately.

As far as I know, cookware sets aren't available in carbon steel. This is probably because carbon steel pans aren't terribly pretty, so not all that appealing to home chefs. So as far as choosing the best cookware set, carbon steel is out of the running. However, a carbon steel skillet, crepe pan, or wok is an excellent addition to any cookware collection.

Nonstick Cookware

Analon Nouvelle Nonstick Skillet

The Anolon Nouvelle Nonstick Skillet: a durable nonstick option if you don't mind the wok-shaped sides. (See it at Amazon.)

Nonstick cookware is a coated cookware. That is, the cooking surface of stainless, aluminum, or possibly cast-iron pans is treated with a ceramic or hydrocarbon-based nonstick coating. Higher-end nonstick cookware may be coated clad stainless. The coating is highly "slippery," allowing food to slide off of it easily.

Nonstick has become hugely popular cookware. People love it because it's easy to clean and because they can cook with less fat. And the new coatings, both ceramic and hydrocarbon-based PFOA (the new "teflon"), have been declared safe for human use by the FDA when used under proper conditions.

CeramicNonstickSkillet2

Ceramic nonstick is great while it lasts--but buy cheap, because it won't last very long. (See this pan on Amazon.)

But nonstick, no matter what the infomercials claim, has issues. No matter how much TLC you give it and how perfectly you follow manufacturer instructions, the nonstick coating is going to wear off in a pretty short time. The average lifetime of a nonstick pan hovers somewhere around 18 months of regular use. After that (and sometimes even before that) the coating will start to flake and it will lose its nonstick properties. 

Ceramic nonstick, the star of many late night infomercials, is durable while it lasts, but it typically has a shorter life span than the PFOA. Some people complain that their ceramic pans lose their nonstick properties after just a few months! 

And, no matter what the manufacturer says, you can NOT use metal utensils on a nonstick pan of any kind. Doing so will kill the pan faster than just about anything else you can do to it...

Except heat. Too much heat is also very bad for nonstick coatings. So most nonstick pans come with instructions to not use the High heat setting, and to not put the pan in the oven over 400F (or so). And even if they don't come with these instructions, you should still avoid high heat if you want your pan to last.

You should also not put nonstick cookware in the dishwasher, even if manufacturers claim that it's dishwasher safe. The microabrasives in dishwasher detergent pummel the coating and cause it to wear faster.

For all of these reasons, I am not a big fan of nonstick cookware. I mean, who wants to use a pan that has heat restrictions on it? Or one that is only going to last a short time? I like fat--it adds flavor to food, and it's even necessary in order to absorb many of the nutrients in vegetables (so long, fat-free salad dressing!). 

And yet: Despite all my naysaying about nonstick, I still think it's a good idea to own one nonstick pan for eggs and such. But buy a cheap one! Because no matter how much you spend on it, you'll probably be replacing it within a couple of years. 

A Short Lesson on Using Nonstick Cookware

  1. Do not use metal utensils, even if care instructions say you can. It will shorten the life of the cookware.
  2. Do not use high heat. This will shorten the life of the cookware.
  3. Do not put in oven at temps higher than about 350F, even if instructions say you can. It will shorten the life of the cookware.
  4. Do not put in the dishwasher, even if care instructions say you can. It will shorten the life of the cookware.

If you follow these guidelines, your nonstick cookware should last you as long as possible before flaking, scratching, and losing its nonstick properties. How long is long? Probably a couple of years under normal use.

Coated Cookware

LeCreusetSkillet2

Some le Creuset (see it on Amazon) has just an exterior coating...

The other type of coating (besides nonstick) you'll see frequently is enamel. You can get many cookware materials--cast iron and aluminum being the most popular--with an enamel coating. Enamel can be on the interior, exterior, or both. If the enamel is on the exterior, the interior is often coated with a nonstick surface. Aluminum cookware with an enamel-coated exterior and a nonstick-coated interior is a very popular inexpensive cookware. (You can get this 12-piece set for less than $100!)

Some enameled cookware is very durable, such as le Creuset. But inexpensive enameled cookware can chip and flake rather easily, rendering pans unusable (not least because of the health risks).

I also prefer the look of stainless, and its durability is hands down winner winner chicken dinner.

le Creuset Saucepan

...And some is coated everywhere. (See it on Amazon.)

Although enamel-coated cast iron like Le Creuset is lovely for many things--long braises, baked beans, scalloped potatoes, getting a nice crust on a boule--everything you can do in a Le Creuset you can do in a stainless Dutch oven or even a Pyrex baking dish (many of which come with air-tight lids for the added bonus of easy leftover storage--and they are very affordable).

If you want a set to match your kitchen decor, or are really on a budget, enamel-coated aluminum is a decent choice. You won't get the durability of stainless, but at that price point, you probably don't expect it. But think about it: if you're replacing these nonstick pans every few years, you'll spend less in the long run if you invest more up-front and get the good clad stainless set in the first place.

Glass and Ceramic

Glass and ceramic pans--made out of composite materials that are more durable than glass or ceramic alone--are okay for oven use, as they tend to impede the spread of heat just enough to allow it to penetrate all the way to the center of food before it burns on the outside. But for skillets? On the stovetop? They have terrible heat conductivity--in fact, these materials are used specifically as insulators to prevent heat conductivity. How can that possibly make a good skillet or stock pot??

VisionsCorningware4Pc

Glass cookware: my mother loved this stuff. (See it on Amazon.)

Besides, they're heavy. And fragile. And not induction compatible.

People who are concerned about toxins in stainless cookware (unnecessarily, in my opinion) or have certain metal sensitivities (e.g., nickel, which is found in minute amounts in stainless steel) are the most likely groups to prefer glass cookware. A lot of health bloggers recommend cooking with glass cookware. But glass may not be as safe as you think: some studies have found lead in USA-made glass cookware. (Yikes!)

Also, you may think glass cookware is a more ecologically-minded choice, but it isn't: the glass composites that cookware is made from is not recyclable--while all of the metals in clad stainless are.

Summary of Cookware Materials

From this analysis, you can see that no single material is the perfect choice for cookware material. They all have strengths, and they all have limitations.

This is where clad stainless comes in. 

Clad Stainless

I don't think there's such a thing as pure stainless steel cookware. If there were, it would be awful, because stainless, although durable and non-reactive, has terrible heat retention and conductivity properties.

And yet I recommend clad stainless as the best all-around cookware on the market.

Why?

Cladding is a process that fuses layers of different metals together under intense pressure. The result is a product that combines all the best properties of different metals into one product. Cladding was invented around 1960 by an American metallurgist named John Ulam, who went on to found All-Clad cookware, the first producer of clad stainless cookware.

Cladding was as revolutionary as stainless itself. It married durability, light weight, ease of care, and superior heating performance into one product.

Here's a diagram from All-Clad describing their tri-ply clad stainless construction:

AllClad3PlyDiagram2

All-Clad's patent on clad stainless cookware ran out in the early 2000's. Since then, hundreds of manufacturers have produced countless All-Clad knockoffs. Some of them are as good or better than the original, but most of them are worse. It can be difficult to determine the difference without a great deal of research. And simply choosing from the top of the heap doesn't automatically result in getting the best product (or at least, not the best product for your particular needs). 

To understand the differences in quality among clad stainless cookware, you have to start with two most basic elements of a clad stainless pot: 1) the stainless steel, and 2) the cladding.

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Stainless Steel: What You Need to Know When Choosing Cookware

First things first. From Wikipedia:

Stainless steel is a steel alloy with a minimum of 10.5% chromium content by mass.

The invention of stainless steel in the early 1900s was revolutionary: it was stronger and harder than iron, and it didn't rust. For these reasons it rapidly became one of the most used metal alloys in the manufacturing of, well, just about everything that was manufacturable--except cookware. best cookware set

The Best Cookware Set for Every Budget

Raw stainless rolls and blocks, waiting to be put to use.

Unfortunately, stainless steel has terrible heating properties: by itself, it's one of the worst metals known to man for heat conductivity and heat retention. So it wasn't until the process of cladding was invented (around 1960) that stainless steel became popular for cookware. 

There are dozens of different types and grades of stainless steel, all with different properties depending on what they're used for. 

Grades of Stainless Used in Cookware

Cookware comes mainly in three grades of stainless steel: 200 Series, 300 Series, and 400 Series. Often it is a combination of two of these (e.g., 400 Series on the outside for induction compatibility, 300 Series on the cooking surface for durability). 200- and 300-Series contain "a maximum of 0.15% carbon, a minimum of 16% chromium, and enough nickel or manganese to retain their structure at all temperatures up to their melting point" (from the Wikipedia article). 

Here are the main differences between the three:

200 Series: 200 series has manganese in it rather than nickel to retard corrosion. Manganese is cheaper and its corrosion-resistant properties are not as good as nickel. Thus, 200-Series stainless is cheaper and more prone to rust. 

300 Series: 300 Series is the most common form of stainless in the world. It is also known by its chromium/nickel composition: 18/10 and 18/8 (i.e., 18% chromium and 10% or 8% nickel). 300 Series stainless is durable and nonreactive. The vast majority of stainless cookware is made of 300 Series steel.

You might also see cookware referred to as "304" stainless or possibly "316" stainless. 304 is just another term for 18/10 or 18/8 stainless, both of which make excellent, durable cookware. 316 stainless is a marine grade of stainless which is even more corrosion resistant than 304 stainless, but it is also more expensive.

400 Series stainless: 400 Series is Ferritic stainless, which means it is magnetic. It's also known as 18/0, for its chromium/nickel composition (that is, it has no nickel in it).

The lack of nickel makes 400 Series stainless less corrosion resistant than 300-Series stainless, but the magnetism is necessary to make cookware induction-compatible.

Thus, when induction-compatible cookware says "magnetic stainless exterior" or something similar, it is usually 400 Series stainless. (See the All-Clad diagram above for an example of this.)

400 Series is a good pick for people with nickel sensitivity, as minute amounts of nickel can leach into food from 300-Series pans. However, if you don't have a nickel sensitivity, you should avoid 400 Series cookware as it is more prone to corrosion than the 300-Series stainless.

(There's a lot more to know about stainless steel, and it's fascinating--if interested, click here to find out all about it on Wikipedia.)

But It's 18/10: How Can Quality Levels Differ? (Here's How!)

Here's where the rubber meets the road. (Or, the alloy hits the pan, I suppose.)

Just because pans are made of 18/10 stainless doesn't mean they're all the same quality.

Consider this: All 18/10 stainless has 18% chromium and 10% nickel--but that's only 28% of the composition

What is the rest of it made of??

This is the million dollar question--and it's how the quality of 18/10 and 18/8 stainless steel can be compromised.

Companies like All-Clad (made in USA) have strict quality standards to which they adhere. But this is not the case for all companies.

Less reputable companies may use steel made with less stringent quality standards. Manufacturers can use all kinds of other stuff in their stainless to bring down costs--and that "stuff" can result in poorer quality steel more prone to rusting, pitting, and corrosion.

This is particularly true for cookware made in China, where quality standards are not always as stringent as they are in the US and Europe. 

If you read reviews on Amazon, you'll see that pitting, rusting, and corrosion are almost always the biggest complaints among buyers of lower-end, Chinese-made stainless cookware. 

It might be 18/10, but not all 18/10 is created equally.

18/10 and 18/8 stainless steels are NOT all created equally. Cheaper grades of 18/10 and 18/8 steel are used in lower-end cookware. This is why you see so many complaints about corrosion (rusting, pitting, discoloration, etc.) among less reputable brands--and even in some brands thought to be reputable, which is why you have to be really careful which clad stainless you buy.

If It's Not Magnetic, How Can It Be Induction Compatible?

To reiterate the section on 400-Series stainless above:

magnetInduction2

Magnetic stainless is more corrosion prone than non-magnetic stainless, but it's necessary for induction compatibility.

You might be wondering how you can use clad stainless with induction cooktops when 18/10 stainless is not magnetic. 

Even though manufacturers claim to use all 18/10 or 18/8 stainless in their cookware, this is actually only true for the interior surface. The exterior stainless has to be magnetic for induction cooking, so a grade of stainless with magnetic properties is used. As explained above, this is usually 400-Series, 18/0--magnetic because it has no nickel in it.

In general, the more magnetic the stainless is, the more corrosion-prone it is. So, yes: induction-compatible pans are going to have the more corrosion-prone steel on the exterior in order to work. 

This is true even for top quality, reputable makers like All-Clad and Demeyere. There's no other way around the physics of induction cooking. Of course, the quality of 18/0 can vary as much as the quality of 18/10, so reputable makers will use the least corrosion-prone 18/0 available. 

By now, you can probably begin to see that although stainless is called 18/10, 18/8, food-grade 304, surgical-quality, marine-grade 316, or otherwise, there can still be vast differences in quality.

This is why it's so important to buy from reputable makers.

But it doesn't end there.

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Cladding: What to Know When Choosing Cookware

All-Clad cookware is still the yardstick by which all other clad cookware is measured. In particular, the All-Clad Tri-Ply, which is the original and most popular All-Clad line and the one most knocked off by other manufacturers.

When All-Clad's patent expired, everybody wanted to get in on the clad stainless market. Today, there are hundreds--maybe thousands--of clad cookware brands for sale. And they are not all created equally. (Far from it!)

Types of Cladding

Clad stainless cookware has a stainless steel exterior, for durability and ease of care, with internal layers of heat-conductive metals such as aluminum or copper (or both). The most common type of cladding is called Tri-Ply: two outer layers of stainless with an internal core of heat-spreading, heat-holding aluminum. Most tri-ply has an 18/10 cooking surface and an 18/0 exterior for induction compatibility.

AllClad3PlyDiagram2

All-Clad Tri-Ply (courtesy All-Clad).

Internal cladding can also be copper, or it can have 3-, 5-, or even 7 layers of alternating material: for example, stainless-aluminum-stainless-aluminum-stainless; stainless-aluminum-copper-aluminum-stainless, or other variations. 

Multiple layers of cladding are getting more and more popular. In the past few years, the stainless cookware market has become as a sort of "cladding wars," with brands competing to come out with the most layers cladding. But don't be fooled by the number! While multiple layers can result in better heating properties, the more important feature is how thick the cladding is. 

For example, 7 microscopic layers of anything aren't going to perform as well as 1 thick layer of aluminum or copper. It's the mass--the thickness and heaviness of the core material--that makes the difference. (More on this in a minute.)

Other types of clad cookware: You can also get clad pans with anodized aluminum, copper, and titanium exteriors. These all perform beautifully if the cladding is thick enough. But if you're looking for copper, aluminum, or titanium cookware sets, stop reading right now: this article is about induction-compatible clad stainless, which I believe is the best overall choice for most cooks and most cooking projects.


Multiple layers of cladding have become the latest marketing gimmick. Remember that they are only beneficial when they're thick enough to make a difference in cooking performance. In other words, you're better off with one thick layer of aluminum than several microscopic layers. How can you know? Buy a reputable brand.

Core Thickness

Core thickness refers to how much heat-spreading aluminum or copper (or both) is sandwiched inside the steel exteriors. It is a huge factor affecting the quality of clad stainless cookware because it determines how well it will perform.

It's a simple concept: the thicker the aluminum and/or copper core, the better the heat conductivity of the pan.

In general, aluminum is less conductive than copper, so an aluminum layer has to be thicker than a copper layer in order to be effective: about twice as thick to get similar heating properties. For example, a 1mm layer of copper is going to provide excellent heat conductivity. To get the same performance from aluminum, the layer would have to be about 2mm thick.  

DemeyereProlineSkilletCropped

The Demeyere Proline skillet has some of the thickest cladding in the market.

It isn't a cut-and-dried 2-to-1 ratio. Different manufacturers use different alloys of copper and aluminum, so it's hard to be exact, or say for certain what different manufacturers offer. But in general, 1mm of copper and 1.5mm of aluminum is the minimum you want.

The thicker, the better--sort of. There are limits. Too much core, and pans become heavy and unwieldy. (This is the number one complaint about Demeyere Atlantis cookware, and also All-Clad D7; these are super high quality lines with superb performance, but those thick layers of cladding make the larger pieces hard to handle.)

Measurements of core thickness can be hard to find, even for reputable brands. But it doesn't matter all that much. After all, saying an aluminum core is 2 mm thick doesn't mean a whole lot to most people. 

The thing to remember is that, in general, lower-priced clad stainless is going to have thinner cores.

Skimping on core metal is a way for manufacturers to save money. And these thinner cores are not going to conduct heat as well as cookware with thicker cores. Thinner pans are also going to drop in temp faster when you add cold food--so if you want to get a nice crust on that steak in that smoking hot pan, make sure the pan is nice and heavy in order to hold in the maximum amount of heat. 

If you pay attention, you can actually see how thin-walled the inexpensive clad cookware is just by looking at photos of it. Can you tell which one of these pots has the thinner walls?

CheapStockpot2
CuisinartStockpot2

If you picked the one on the left, you're right! This is the less-expensive, thinner-walled pot. You can tell by looking at the lip and the rivets: see how thin it looks compared to the pan on the right? 

Cladding is a prime area for cookware manufacturers to skimp--and the thinner the cladding, the worse the performance of the pan. So unless you know a lower-priced brand hasn't skimped on cladding, don't buy it.

Copper, Aluminum, or Both: Which Cladding Is Best?

MauvielCopperSet2

Copper clad cookware is the supermodel of the cookware world: gorgeous, but spendy and high maintenance.

There are so many things to think about here and there is no right or wrong answer. It's all based on what kind of performance you're looking for and how much you want to spend. But I will say this: if you want to buy at the lower end, avoid multiple layers of cladding, avoid copper, and stick to tri-ply (i.e., stainless-aluminum-stainless). This will ensure you get the best possible pans for the lower price.

Copper: Copper is the most responsive cookware metal. It reacts to temperature changes very quickly. Think of it as the sports car of cookware metals: light, fast, and maneuverable. (And if it's sandwiched between layers of stainless steel, you don't have to worry about keeping it clean.) If you want super-responsive pans, copper is the way to go. The downside to this, though, is that copper pans don't hang onto heat very well. So if you want a pan for searing a hot steak or frying chicken, copper isn't the right pan. 

(The exception to this is Mauviel M'Heritage M250 cookware. This has a mind-blowing 2.5mm layer of copper, giving it enough mass to hang onto heat as well as have super fast responsiveness--all reflected in the hefty price tag.)

Aluminum: Aluminum will heat quickly and spread heat quickly--almost as well as copper--but it is slower to respond to temperature changes. That is, it will hang on to heat longer than copper. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on what you're cooking and what you want to achieve.

DemeyereProlineSkilletCropped

The Demeyere Proline Skillet is clad with multi-layered aluminum. It's one of the best performing skillets on the market.

Aluminum pans are cheaper, and they should be thicker and heavier than copper pans because you need more aluminum to achieve similar performance. All-Clad Tri-Ply is the industry standard against which everyone else competes; it's about 2.6mm thick, with an aluminum layer of just under 2mm. It's probably the best performing tri-ply on the market. If you go much thinner than this, you are going to sacrifice heating performance; not only because of the thinner aluminum layer, but because of the lighter mass, as well: remember, core thickness (mass) helps cookware hold on to heat, improving its performance.

All of the tri-ply cookware sets reviewed here have cladding better thicker, equal to, or very slightly less than All-Clad.

ACCopperCoreSautePan2

All-Clad Copper Core has both copper and aluminum cladding. It's beautiful stuff, but really expensive. 

Both copper and aluminum: Multiple layers of cladding results in cookware that is heat-responsive and heat-retentive. Furthermore, simply having multiple layers of cladding is going to result in a thicker, heavier pan that's able to withstand big temperature changes better than thinner pans: when you plop that room-temperature steak into a smoking hot pan, thicker cladding is going to really hang onto the heat in a big way, resulting in a better sear.

The more cladding, the less prone a pan is to warping, too--although if you buy good quality tri-ply, this isn't a huge concern. 

Other considerations: 

  • Weight: The more layers of cladding, the heavier the pans are going to be--so if you don't want bulky, heavy cookware, avoid multiple layers of cladding and bottom-clad pans, as well (bottom cladding tends to be much thicker than full cladding). However, if you want stainless durability and ease of care with the heat-retaining power of cast iron, you want thick, heavy pans. (Demeyere Atlantis cookware is the king here, with All-Clad D7 right on its heels.)
  • Your Cooking Style: Different types of pans suit different styles of cooking. If you like to use a lot of high heat, you may want copper core cookware, for example, because it responds faster to temperature changes.
  • Expense: Multiple layers of cladding add to expense, while tri-ply is really decent everyday cookware that you can get for a reasonable price tag (lifetime warranty included). Really think about what you want for general purpose, everyday cooking (I vote for aluminum-clad stainless!), and only after you get that should you begin to augment your set with specialty pans. 
AllCladD77Pc2Set

All-Clad D7 is as nearly as heavy as cast iron, and holds heat just as well.

Where does all of this leave us? Well, if you want to pay for multiple layers of cladding, you will get better performance--5-layer pans are my top picks for spare-no-expense cookware, not just for the performance but for the quality, durability, great design, and lifetime warranty.

Even so, tri-ply stainless has a lot going for it. It's not like it's bad cookware, because it's not.

To use a car analogy again, buying tri-ply clad is like buying a BMW, while buying good quality multiple-layer cookware is like buying a Ferrari. Do you need it? Maybe not. But if you can afford it, the sheer joy of driving it--er, cooking with it--might make the expense worthwhile.

Copper cladding, aluminum cladding, or multiple cladding?

This not an easy question to answer. Multiple layers of high quality cladding provide the best all-around performance, but this is expensive, and perhaps not necessary unless you're an advanced cook. Copper cladding is excellent for heat-sensitive cooking projects, such as delicate foods that burn easily. And tri-ply stainless with an aluminum interior is great all-around cookware for most chefs. 

In all honesty, one line of cookware will probably not serve all your needs. Thus, you should start with the best all-around set you can afford and augment it with different pans as your cooking style changes and develops. This is the best way to get all the pans you need and avoid paying for pans you may not use.

The Cladding Process

The cladding process itself is another way manufacturers can skimp on quality. 

Cladding requires tremendous pressure--something like 15 tons of pressure!--to fuse different metals together effectively. The machinery to create such pressure is expensive. So manufacturers find ways to cheat on this process.

The result? Pans that can warp, bubble, and separate during routine use, rendering them useless. 

Country of Origin (Made in USA or Europe Vs. Made in China)

For a long time, All-Clad held the patent on clad stainless cookware. When that ran out in the mid-2000s, hundreds of companies got in on the clad cookware market.

Some of the quality is good. But some of it...not so much. 

In general, clad cookware made in the USA or Western Europe is high quality, while clad cookware made in China is, well, iffy.

To be clear, Chinese cookware is not all bad. In fact, there are a number of brands that have excellent quality standards and are of the same or similar quality as pans made in the US or Europe.

However, there are also some made-in-China brands that are low quality. Poor stainless, poor cladding, thin layers, and bad (or nonexistent) quality standards. 

Some American companies buy this poor quality Chinese cookware pre-made, then put their logo on it without doing any quality control. Then they market it (under false pretenses) under their well-known brand name. These aren't necessarily "bad" or disreputable companies--in fact, a lot of them are companies with surprisingly good reputations for other products; just not for cookware.

How do you know which American companies are re-selling low quality cookware? It can be hard. After all, nobody is going to advertise that this is what they're doing.

So what do you do?

For the best cookware set, my advice is to buy USA- or European-made brands, or stick to the few Chinese-made brands with a good reputation. (Such as the Cuisinart Multiclad Pro and Tramontina I recommend in this article.)

If you don't want to do that, then you really have to do your research. The information is out there. But it took me around 200 hours of research to write this article. So good luck with that! 🙂

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Types of Cookware: All the Pieces Explained

Here's a table showing the different types of cookware, what it looks like, and what it's used for:

The Different Types of Cookware

Type of Pan:

Looks Like:

Used For:

Skillet/Frying Pan

DemeyereProlineSkilletCropped

Frying, sauteeing, browning, searing. The all-purpose kitchen pan. Comes in many sizes, with the most versatile size being 10- or 12-inch diameter. A smaller one (6- or 8-in.) is also nice for small projects.


These pans take a lot of abuse, so you should buy the highest-quality skillet you can afford. 


Frying pans typically don't come with covers, but if you buy a cookware set, the Dutch oven or stockpot cover will often fit it. If not, you will have to buy the cover separately.

Saute Pan

Shallow:

ACCopperCoreSautePan2

Deep:

AllCladDeepSautePan2

Essentially a straight-sided skillet that you can also use for braising. A saute pan with the same diameter as a skillet has more cooking surface area, but it's harder to get a spatula in there to flip food over. 


Personal preference is the main reason people choose a skillet or a saute pan. However, saute pans usually come with lids, while skillets do not. Also: deep saute pans can also double as sauce pans or even small stockpots. 


Should be fully-clad if used as a skillet. 

Sauce Pan

CuisinartMCProSaucepan

The other all-purpose kitchen pan, used for boiling liquids, making pasta, making oatmeal, heating leftovers, and much more. Most kitchens need a couple of saucepans in small and medium/large size (e.g., 1-qt. and 5-qt.). 


Cladding is useful for thick foods, but not as necessary for liquids--so whether you want it depends on how you'll use the pan.

Dutch Oven

ACCopperCoreDutchOven2

Stews, soups, stocks, braising, pot roasts/chickens, casseroles, pasta-making. A versatile pan for braising meats and making soups and stews. Large ones can double as stockpots.


Full cladding is not required, although it can be nice if you want to use the pot for browning on the stovetop.

Stockpot

Stockpot2


Stock-making, soup-making, boiling pasta and other large quantities of liquids; smaller ones can double for Dutch ovens and be used for stews, braising, etc.

Since stockpots are used almost exclusively for liquids, they only need bottom cladding. You can save a few bucks if you forego fully-clad ones.

Saucier Pan

SaucierPan2

Sauce-making and reducing liquids. Sloped sides make for easy whisking (white sauces, cheese sauces, etc). Similar: Chef's pan, Windsor pan


Full cladding is the best option: sauces can be delicate and require even heating for the best results.

Double Boiler

DoubleBoiler2

Basically an insert for your sauce pan: Water goes in the bottom and is simmered to gently cook food in top pan. Used for heat-sensitive, easily-scorched foods (e.g., chocolate, egg-based sauces).


Full cladding is not necessary, however, the bottom pot is most likely the sauce pan that came with your set.

Steamer Insert

SteamerInsert2

Used over a sauce pan (like a double boiler) to steam foods.


This will not be clad, and does not need to be. It's an excellent "bonus" piece if included with a set. Can double as a colander/strainer if you're in a pinch.

Roasting Pan

CuisinartRoastingPan2

Used for roasting big cuts of meat: poultry, pot roast, pork loin, etc. 


Often comes with a rack, as shown here.


Usually not clad, and not induction compatible. But since it goes in the oven, this isn't an issue.

There are many other pieces, of course: crepe pans, omelette pans, gratin pans, asparagus cookers, pasta cookers, Windsor pans, Chef's pan, etc. None of these are essential pieces, though, and most are some variation on the pieces listed here.

For example, a pasta cooker is really just a stockpot with a perforated insert; a chef's pan is just a large saucier pan; and a Windsor pan is a saucier pan with angled (rather than sloped) sides. An omelet pan is just a small skillet (often nonstick), and a crepe pan is a very shallow skillet--but you can use a regular skillet for both omelets and crepes, and it will work almost as well for both.

Also, depending on how you cook, a Dutch oven can double as a small stockpot--but a stockpot cannot double as a Dutch oven (too deep). You don't really need both unless you like to make large batches of stocks or soups. 

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The 5 Essential Pieces Every Cook Should Have

1. Skillet or Saute Pan

CuisinartMCProSkilletCropped2
ACCopperCoreSautePan2

The skillet or saute pan (depending on your preference) will be your go to pan for daily use. You'll use it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, from frying eggs and bacon to sauteeing chicken breasts, fish, or burgers for supper. 

If you're unsure which one to get and the cookware set you want doesn't have both, don't worry about it too much. The skillet is probably the better all-around pan because with its sloped sides it's easier to maneuver food (e.g., doing the "chef toss" and flipping food with a turner). It's also the type most often included with a set. However, a saute pan can be used pretty much interchangeably with a skillet, and the saute pan comes with a lid, while the skillet almost never does. If you want to read more about the two options, see Should I Buy a Skillet or a Saute Pan (Or Both)?

So there are pros and cons to each, but none of them are deal breakers.

The bigger concern is the size of the pan: even high-end cookware sets can come with overly small skillets. 9-inches may sound like plenty of room, but it's probably only big enough to cook 2 average-sized chicken breasts at a time (different skillets have different-sized cooking surfaces depending on how sloped their sides are--more on this below in the "What to Look for in a Cookware Set" section). If you cook for more than 2 people, a larger skillet (10-, 11-, or 12-inches) is going to be a necessity.

You definitely want a fully clad skillet. If you opt for a saute pan only, you want a fully clad one. If you opt for a saute pan with bottom cladding only, be sure it's a high quality one (like the Demeyere Atlantis saute pan) so you get the most versatility out of it that you can.

SIZE NOTE: One very important thing to consider: the best all-around skillet size is going to be a minimum of 10 inches in diameter, with 12-inches being even better for most cooks. Many of the skillets or sauce pans that come with sets are smaller than this. Read the fine print! Try not to go smaller than 10-inches.

For more information on pan diameters, see "What to Look for in a Cookware Set" (below).

2. Saucepan

CuisinartMCProSaucepan

You'll probably use your saucepan as much as your skillet. For breakfast, you'll use it to boil eggs or make oatmeal; for lunch, to heat soup; for dinner, to cook pasta, boil potatoes, and a hundred other things. You'll use it for steaming vegetables (with a steamer insert), making sauces, creating desserts, and much more.

Full cladding isn't necessary, but it's nice to have unless you'll be using it strictly for liquids. (All the cookware sets reviewed in this post have saucepans withh full cladding.)

SIZE NOTE: A set with 2 saucepans is a good thing, as you will use both of them regularly. Many will come with a 1-qt. and a 3-qt. size. 3-qt. is a MEDIUM size. A 4- or 5-qt. size is preferable (although often not seen in sets).

It is also lovely if a larger saucepan has a helper handle (see more on this below).

3. Dutch Oven

AC Copper Core Dutch Oven
LeCreusetBBB2

Another extremely versatile, essential piece: You will use your Dutch oven for braises, browning, casseroles, soups, stews, and even breads. You'll use it on the stovetop and in the oven. It can even double as a (small) stockpot. 

A clad one is nice for browning, especially if you use it for stews and other thick foods frequently, but bottom cladding works fine here, too.

Enameled cast iron makes a lovely Dutch oven, too--the tight-fitting lid makes it perfect for long oven braises. Of course, you will have to purchase separately if you buy a set of clad stainless. (But don't worry--you'll get your use out of every Dutch oven you own, guaranteed!) 🙂

4. Roasting Pan

CuisinartRoastingPan2

If you're young and don't have a family or entertain very often, you can get by using a cake pan or even a sheet pan as a roaster. But eventually, you're going to host a holiday get-together, and you're going to need that roasting pan for the succulent ham, turkey, or rib roast you're serving. 

They are rarely clad and don't need to be, as they're used in the oven so heat permeates the food from all sides (so heat-spreading isn't a big factor). In fact, even in clad stainless cookware lines you will rarely find clad roasting pans. 

5. Sheet Pan

AluminumHalfSheetPan2

You won't find a sheet pan in any cookware set, but do yourself a huge favor and buy one (or three). I use my sheet pans all the time. They're fabulous for roasting veggies, heating leftovers, catching drips under pies and casseroles (lined with foil for easy cleanup!), baking, and lately they've gotten popular for making entire meals on. If you have a cooling/baking rack to put in it, you can use it for oven bacon, oven fried chicken, and so much more.

The cheapest sheet pans are aluminum, and these are adequate for most people. But if you want stainless, those are available, too. They even come in nonstick and aluminized steel. But since sheet pans are kitchen workhorses, meant to be used and abused and replaced every few years, I recommend that you don't spend a lot on them (and you certainly don't need nonstick!).

Get a couple of sizes: a half sheet pan is the most useful size at 18x13x1 inches. A quarter sheet pan is 9x13x1 inches (half the length of a half sheet pan). These sizes can vary slightly by manufacturer--but both sizes are incredibly useful.

Shiny new sheet pans also make inexpensive, easy-to-clean trays. If you have stainless appliances and cookware, they even match your kitchen decor!

How to Care for Your Stainless Cookware

WashingDishesII

To help your cookware last as long as possible, without warping, pitting, or rusting, follow these simple rules:

  1. Don't put stainless cookware in the dishwasher. Even if it is "dishwasher safe," stainless will corrode faster from the abrasive compounds in dishwasher detergent. (This is also true for nonstick, enameled cookware, anodized aluminum, and knives.)
  2. Don't use high heat with your stainless pans. High heat will degrade pans over time, cause more leaching of nickel and chromium, and cause food to stick to the pan more. In fact, some manufacturers (like All-Clad) specifically instruct you to never use high heat.
  3. To avoid sticking (and subsequent hard scrubbing), add oil when the pan is cold and heat the oil before adding food. This creates an almost nonstick surface and makes for easier cleanup.
  4. Let pans cool before washing. This prevents warping and makes food wipe off more easily.
  5. Use a gentle cleanser like Barkeeper's Friend to remove stains and keep pans shiny.
  6. Avoid soaking pans for too long a time. This can degrade the surface.
  7. Try to avoid getting salt on the surface of pans. It can cause pitting: Salt food before putting it in the pan, or wait until the pan surface is coated with oil before salting.
  8. Avoid using pans for storing food, especially acidic foods. This can degrade the steel.

All stainless is going to show wear and tear after a few years of regular use. Unless it's rusting or pitting, this is normal. Consider it the patina that comes from all of its hard work in your kitchen.

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Pros and Cons of Buying Cookware in a Set

Pros:

  1. Pieces will be cheaper than if you bought them all separately.
  2. You will have a matching set.
  3. If you need a lot of pieces, this is the fastest and most economical way to get them.

Cons:

  1. You may not use or like every piece in the set.
  2. The skillets and/or saucepans are often small (read those diameters carefully!) so you will need to buy additional ones in bigger sizes (and they are going to be more expensive).
  3. No matter how big the set, you're not going to get everything you need (e.g., roasting pan, sheet pan, large skillet).

Overall, a set is a good way to get started because you're going to save a lot of money over buying pieces separately. But no matter which set you buy, you will almost certainly have to augment it. No set is going to have everything you need, so try to choose a set that meets your basic requirements, then go out and buy more pieces as you discover you need them. 

No set is going to have everything you need, so give up on that idea. Instead, buy the most complete set that has pieces you know you'll use. Then buy the other pieces you want separately. 

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What to Look For in a Cookware Set (Features)

DemeyereIndustry5SetCallouts

This section is about the usabilty features of cookware sets: What traits make a pan a joy to use? Easy to maneuver? Easier to clean?  

And what might you want to avoid that you may not have considered?

Some of the issues listed are my personal preference, developed over a lifetime of cooking. You or may not agree (hello nonstick lovers!), but giving you my reasons why I like or dislike certain features should help you decide if these are also important for you.

On the other hand, some of these are important design issues that can make a pan a joy (or a headache) to use.

The goal here is to make you aware of things you may not have thought of--things that may make the difference between buying a cookware set that's adequate and buying one you can truly love.

Lids

Cookware can come with stainless lids, glass lids, or no lids at all. (Most skillets do not come with lids.) The best material for lids is stainless steel, for these reasons:

  1. Steel lids make the best fit.
  2. Stainless can always go in the oven; glass may or may not be oven-compatible.
  3. Glass lids are more fragile, heavier, and harder to store.

In general, glass lids are available on lower-priced cookware, while stainless lids come with higher-priced cookware. Some brands, like KitchenAid, offer sets with both options. 

Cookware with glass lids is sold as having the advantage of being able to look into a pan without removing the lid. I'm not sure this is much of an advantage, since removing a lid is an easy task. Also, glass often gets steamed over so you can't see inside the pan, anyway. 

DemeyereIndustry5Set3

Stainless lids, like those with this Demeyere Industry 5 set, are the best all-around lid option.

It is not unusual for cookware to come without lids, or for some pieces to come with lids and some without. Often, the lid that fits the Dutch oven or stockpot will also fit the skillet. You can always buy extra lids separately, too, if you need them. 

To find properly fitting lids, measure the diameter of the skillet from rim to rim, then buy  a lid with this diameter.

Handles

Handles on cookware can really make or break its usability. Handles present a number of considerations:

Stainless Vs. Coated: The first consideration, in my opinion, is whether you want all-stainless handles or coated handles. All-stainless are the most versatile, as you can put them in the oven without worry. Coated handles have a silicone or rubber cover which can melt if put in the oven.

While coated handles can provide nice gripping, stainless handles win every other category. Coated handles will wear out long before stainless ones, for example. And they limit the versatility of a pan: even if they don't technically melt in the oven, that high heat will take its toll. 

And if you have a gas stove, forget about it: those soft handles are going to melt away on your new cookware before the year is out. 

Stainless is also just prettier. 

Long Vs. Short: Usually skillets and saucepans have one long handle, but some instead have two short ones. A long handle makes a pot easier to grab, while short handles can make it easier to use in the oven and to store. This is purely preference, but know that both options are available.

DemeyereAtlantisSetHandleCallouts

Helper Handles: Helper handles are short handles opposite a standard long handle, allowing you to grip a pot on both sides. They make it easier to handle heavy pots, and I highly recommend them for all your larger pots and pans.

ACHelperHandleCallout2

Overall Ergonomics: Is the handle easy to grasp? Does it cut into your hand? Does it feel unbalanced? Does it stay cool when the pan is hot?

In general, does it make the pot easier or harder to use? 

Ergonomic preferences are going to differ from person to person. For example, some people love the U-shaped handle on All-Clad pans because you can fit your thumb into it, which helps stabilize the pan. But some people hate it because if they don't use their thumb, the two sides of the "U" dig into your hand. 

AllCladHandleCallout

Overall, I don't think ergonomics are a huge issue because most pans have easy-to-grip, stay-cool handles that are going to work for most people, even if not quite ideally. However, if you have any medical issues--arthritis, for example--be sure to test out handles before deciding on a cookware set. You will want the most comfortable handles you can find. (You might also want to forego overly heavy cookware, like Demeyere, the All-Clad D7 line, and cast iron.)

Riveting: Most cookware has handles riveted to the pan. However, some brands, like Demeyere, KitchenAid, and the Huftgold skillet shown here, have handles that are welded to the pans. The result is that there are no rivets to collect gunk on the inside pan surface.

DemeyereIndustry5SkilletCallouts2

Rivets aren't a dealbreaker. Plenty of excellent brands have rivets. But rivetless cookware is definitely easier to clean and it is available, so I thought I'd mention it as an option.

Rims: Some cookware has flared rims, while some cookware is rimless. Some brands have both: All-Clad, for example, has rimmed skillets and rimless sauce pans. 

Presumably, rims make pouring easier, with fewer drips. I have not noticed a great difference, though, between my rimmed cookware and non-rimmed cookware. 

There is also no difference in how lids fit.

Ultimately, I don't consider this a huge issue. If you do, though, be sure to buy a set of cookware that fits your preferences.

Skillet Size and Shape

Skillet size can be one of the major drawbacks of buying cookware in sets. Even the best cookware set in the world can have overly small skillets. And pay attention to the slope, too, because this affects the amount of flat cooking surface.

Most cookware sets come with an 8-inch or 9-inch skillet, or both. Keep in mind that skillets are typically measured across the rim, not the bottom; this is a necessity because lids are often sold separately, and rim-to-rim measurement is for the lid fit. 

Depending on how sloped the sides of the skillet are, this can mean the actual cooking surface of a 9-inch skillet has only a 6-8 inch diameter. That's small!

Analon Nouvelle Nonstick Skillet

This Anolon nonstick skillet has steeply sloped sides: see how small the cooking surface is relative to the total pan diameter? (Even so, an excellent skillet for the price, by the way.)

CuisinartMCProSkilletCropped2

This Cuisinart MCP skillet has narrowly sloped sides, making for a larger cooking surface: it's almost like a saute pan! See how much cooking surface compared to the Anolon?

This is not such a big issue with saute pans, which have straight sides: a 9-inch saute pan is going to have almost that much cooking surface:

DemeyereAtlantisSautePan2

What do you do if the set you want comes with a too-small skillet? Here are your options:

  1. You buy the set and augment it with a larger skillet. 
  2. You can keep looking for a set with the size skillet you want.
  3. You can buy all the exact pieces you want separately rather than buy a set.

My preference is option 1. Because it's not that an 8- or 9-inch skillet is useless--it absolutely is not. There will be many times you'll want to pull out that small skillet. It's just that you'll probably need a larger skillet, too. Especially if you're cooking meals for more than two people on a regular basis.

Buying all your pieces separately (option 3) is expensive. So unless you can find a set with the exact sizes you want at the quality level you want (option 2), option 1 is the most economical option and allows you the most well-rounded, most versatile cookware set for your needs.

Pay attention to the skillet sizes in a cookware set; often, they might be too small to cook meals for a family.

CuisinartMCProSkilletCropped2

Also pay attention to how a skillet is shaped: the bigger the slope of the sides, the smaller the actual cooking surface. Thus, depending on how it's shaped, a 9-inch diameter skillet can have a cooking surface from 6 to almost 9 inches in diameter--big difference! 

Saucepan Considerations

While skillet size and shape is an important component of picking the best cookware set for yourself, be sure to look also at the shape of the saucepans. Don't buy anything that has a narrower opening than it does a base. 

Here's why:

  • They're harder to clean
  • They don't stack.

So even if you fall in love with how cute the pans look (and they do look cute), think about usability and storage: if you want pans that are easy to clean and pans that are easy to store, don't buy pans with narrower tops than bottoms.

Ease of Cleaning

Stainless cookware is going to be mostly similar as far as cleaning requirements. Fortunately it's fairly simple to clean--and all stainless is easier to clean if you heat oil before adding food. The oil creates a barrier between the food and the pan, resulting in less sticking.

Demeyere cookware, though, is an exception. It has a proprietary finish on it that makes it almost as easy to clean as nonstick cookware. Demeyere cookware is also rivetless, which eliminates a major area of gunk buildup on the pan's cooking surface.

If ease of cleanup is big factor for you, choose a rivetless brand like Demeyere or KitchenAid.

Warranty

Don't buy cookware without a warranty. Just don't do it. 

The good news is you shouldn't have to. 

Some cookware brands come with lifetime guarantees for normal wear and tear. This means that the company will replace a pan no questions asked. And you'd be surprised how well companies honor this warranty. (No, not all companies--but reputable companies, absolutely.)

You don't have to pay through the nose for this wonderful feature, either: some mid-priced brands, like Tramontina, offer a lifetime warranty on their product. (It's one of our recommended "best cookware sets"!)

A Word About Brand Names

While it's smart to buy a reputable brand, you still have to be careful. For example, a brand known for its high quality cookware such as All-Clad is a smart purchase. But a brand known for another high-quality product (refrigerators, blenders...) may not be.

This is because of what I talked about above: some American companies buy cookware made in China and put their logo on it. They don't do quality checks, and they don't have control over the products they buy. 

This isn't what you want.

How to avoid this? Once again, do your research, and buy a reputable brand.

All of the cookware sets reviewed here are reputable and high quality, so if you buy one of these, you can rest assured that you're getting good quality cookware.

(Incidentally, this quality issue is true for many products, not just cookware. Buying a brand name product isn't always a smart purchase. From cookware to electric pressure cookers to portable induction cooktops, I've found this to be true. No matter what you're buying, do your homework and buy wisely.)

When buying cookware or anything else, go beyond the brand and do your homework. A famous name often equates to a good product--but not always.

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Figuring Out YOUR Best Cookware Set

Okay. So now you know more than you probably ever wanted to know about cookware. You know why clad stainless is the best all-around cookware for most people, you know the differences in quality between clad stainless (even if it's all 18/10), you know the types of pans, the 5 essential pieces of cookware, how to care for clad stainless cookware, and the features that make the best cookware sets a joy to work with.

Now it's time to figure out what your specific needs are.

You know you want/need a set. But how do you determine which set? There are literally hundreds of options for clad stainless alone. Finding the best cookware set for you can be a real challenge.

Factors to Help You Decide

Asking yourself these questions should go a long ways toward figuring the best cookware set for you. 

What's Your Skill Level?

This may not be a big factor, as tri-ply clad stainless is excellent cookware whatever your skill level. However, if you are an advanced cook (or hope to be someday), you may appreciate the subtle improvement you will get in a 5-ply, 7-ply, or copper interior cookware. This is especially true if you cook on induction, which heats so quickly and efficiently that having high quality pans makes a noticeable difference in performance.

This is not to say that you should not buy a high-end set if you're a novice. If that's what you want, by all means, do so. You can never really go wrong buying top quality stuff, or buying the best stuff you can afford. The pleasure of using it alone justifies the expense, in my opinion. 

How Much Cookware Do You Need?

This is probably the most important question to answer. Are you just setting up housekeeping and need everything? Are you looking to upgrade from an aluminum or nonstick set? Or do you already have a set, and just need a few pieces to round out your collection?

Cookware sets can be as small as 3 pieces (2 pots, 1 lid) or as large as 17 pieces (including utensils, strainers, and more!). 

Large sets can be useful if you need everything. However, if you don't need all those extra pieces, you might be better off buying a smaller set with pieces you're sure you'll use, then buying the extra pieces as you figure out you need them.

Also, you may not like all those extras. The best cookware sets tend to not come with extras like utensils and strainers. This borders on gimmicky and may not be the best quality.

What Type of Stove Do You Have?

The type of stove you have is directed mainly at those who have induction, in which case you need an induction-compatible set. (duh! nothing like stating the obvious, hey?)

Clad stainless is excellent for any type of cooktop, IF it is induction compatible stainless. Almost all clad stainless made today (since the mid-1990s or so) is usable on induction--but make sure, if you have (or are going to get) an induction cooktop! 

How do you make sure? If you're buying online, read the fine print or email the manufacturer and ask. If you're buying in person, you can also just ask, or use the magnet test: if a magnet sticks to the bottom of the pan, then it is induction-compatible.

NOTE: Every clad stainless set I recommend in this article is induction-compatible. 

Even if you don't have an induction cooktop, consider buying induction-compatible cookware, anyway. Induction burners are excellent for entertaining or whenever you need an extra burner--and if you ever wish to upgrade your cooktop to induction, you've already got the cookware to use it!

(Click here to read more about portable induction cooktops.)

What Are Your Aesthetic Tastes?
DemeyereSet6Pc2

It's hard to beat the Demeyere Atlantis for overall good looks--and the quality is there too (too bad this is reflected in the price).

Some cookware is just prettier, and that's a fact. It's kind of like with cars: you know the mini-van is the most practical choice, but you really want the SUV. 

If all things are mostly equal, my advice is to buy the set you find the prettiest, and here's why: there's a lot to be said for finding joy in everyday activities. Having beautiful cookware that you love is one way to do this. It can make a huge difference in how much joy you derive from working in your kitchen.

How Important Is Quality Is to You?

Quality is important both for people who enjoy cooking and those who see it as drudgery. Why? Because good tools always make a task less unpleasant. And if you enjoy the task, then good tools make it a true joy.

The good news about lower quality clad stainless is that you can afford to replace the pots and pans every few years if they rust, pit, or warp.

However, after doing this a few times, you'll have as much invested as if you'd bought a high quality set in the first place. 

Thus, you should buy the highest-quality, best cookware set that you can afford. And remember that if you buy a top quality set, it will likely come with a lifetime guarantee. That's right: good cookware is an investment that will last a lifetime; maybe even get passed on to your children. 

When you factor a lifetime of use into the cost, the most expensive set in the world is only going to be a few dollars a year.

Worth every penny, in my opinion.


A high quality set of clad stainless cookware is a lifetime investment. When deciding how much to spend, remember this and factor the cost of the set over your entire lifetime. Even if you buy the most expensive set on the market, it will amount to just a few dollars per year. You may even pass it down to your children!

What's Your Budget?

When I was a spring chicken in my 20s and I was looking for my first house, a lot of people gave me this advice: "Buy the most house you can afford. Your income will increase so it will become easier to budget for, and you'll be glad you made the biggest investment you could." This turned out to be absolutely true. Not only did the house become easier to pay for as my income increased, but I also sold the house for more than triple what I paid for it. (That was a good year.)

This applies to cookware, too. No, it's not exactly an investment like a house, but a lot of that same advice is valid. I know that many people don't think they can justify spending a lot on cookware when there's much less expensive cookware available. Well, I'm going to tell you right now, that thinking is flawed, and here's why:

  1. When you buy cookware with a lifetime warranty, you have to average the cost of the cookware over a lifetime of use. When you do that, the cost of the cookware comes out to just a few dollars per year.
  2. If you buy cheap cookware, you're probably going to have to replace it within a few years (especially if it's--ugh--nonstick!). After you do that a few times, you end up shelling out the same or more than if you'd just bought the good stuff the first time.
  3. High quality cookware is a joy to work with. The heft, the polish, the aesthetics: as I said above, good tools are a joy. Don't deprive yourself of this joy.

So do yourself a favor and buy the best cookware set you can afford. No, you don't have to get the outrageously-priced (but gorgeous) copper Mauviel. But within reason, get the best you can afford. Any one of the sets I review here will serve you well for many years (decades, actually) to come. 

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The Best Cookware Sets for Every Budget (The Reviews)

Here they are, the best clad stainless cookware sets. These picks are based on everything in this article, from durability to warranty to great design. If you can't find a set here that's to your liking, you may not be ready to buy! 

About the buying options:

  • I've included as many buying options as I can for each set. Even if (like me) you're accustomed to buying on Amazon, you should shop around. Different venues have sales or special deals you can take advantage of. Even Sur la Table, which is usually the priciest option, will have occasional offers that make it worth checking out--such as throwing in a free piece (often a roasting pan) when you spend a certain amount of money.
  • Compare sets from different suppliers carefully. Sometimes the pieces are slightly different, enough so that you would prefer a set from another vendor.
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond also has a neat option where, for some brands, you can create your own set from the open stock available. So for example, you can buy the standard set and add a larger skillet for a reasonable price, or you can swap out pieces altogether. This is a great way to get all the exact pieces you want because they're all right there in a convenient drop-down list.

Spare-No-Expense: Demeyere Industry 5 10-Piece Set

DemeyereIndustry5Set3

Check Industry 5 price on Amazon

Check Industry 5 price on Sur la Table

Check Industry 5 price on Bed, Bath & Beyond

Check Industry 5 price on everythingkitchens.com

Demeyere (pronounced de-MY-ruh), is a Belgian cookware manufacturer that's been around for more than 100 years. For most of that time they were a small, family-owned business, until they were bought about 10 years ago by Zwilling J. A. Henckels, a German conglomerate that manufactures several cookware lines and are also well known for their knives. Demeyere cookware is still made in Belgium.

Most All-clad competitors took the "almost-as-good" route, but Demeyere took the opposite approach. They made their cookware higher performing than All-Clad's. The Industry 5 cookware has thicker cladding and better heat retention that All-Clad tri-ply, and it has some other design features that make it a chef's dream: the rivetless welded handles mean no spots for crud to collect, and the Silvinox proprietary finish makes it easier to clean than other stainless.

DemeyereIndustry5SkilletCallouts2

No, they're not nonstick--so don't expect that--but they're the closest you can come with clad stainless. Even better than nonstick, in my opinion, is a pan that's going to last you a lifetime (and keep its shiny finish long after other pans have gone dull).

Industry 5 (also known as Industry 5 Plus, which has a slightly different design but are the same basic pans) was introduced a few years ago to compete directly with All-Clad tri-ply in the US market. Demeyere's Atlantis cookware--their original line--has bottom-only clad sauce pans and saute pans. The bottom cladding has 7 thick layers and it performs outstandingly well, but it's very heavy, and if you want an Atlantis sauce pan with full cladding (like you may prefer for something like oatmeal), you have to purchase the saucier pan separately.

For these reasons, I prefer Industry 5 over Atlantis as the best cookware set overall. (However, if bottom-clad pans aren't a problem for you, Atlantis is a really excellent choice.)

Demeyere marketing jargon claims these pans are 5-ply, but this is a bit misleading: you may think there's copper in there, but it's really just 3 layers of different aluminum alloys sandwiched between external layers of stainless. I think the alloys help the aluminum bond better to the steel exteriors, but they don't really add to (or subtract from) the cooking performance. No matter, though, because the result is a super thick, heat-spreading interior that's going to hang onto heat beautifully and never, ever warp. No matter how badly you treat them, these pans will keep coming back for more.

You may think 3 sauce pans is overkill, but I have five in my kitchen, in varying sizes, and I use them all. The pieces in this set are some of the most versatile I've seen, including the nicely-shaped 11-inch skillet that's large enough to cook for most families.

The Demeyere Industry 5 10-piece set is an excellent option for anyone who's just starting out or looking to replace a beginner set with something more substantial. 

DemeyereIndustry5Set3

The Industry 5 10-piece set includes:

  • 9.5 in. skillet
  • 11 in. skillet
  • 3-qt. sauté pan with lid
  • 2-qt. saucepan with lid
  • 4-qt. saucepan with lid
  • 8-qt. stockpot with lid.

See Demeyere Industry 5 on Amazon

Features

It seems as though the Demeyere people have thought of everything a cook needs. Industry 5 cookware has a number of features--in addition to its over-the-top thick cladding and superb heating properties--that make it a superstar among cookware:

  • 5-ply cladding: stainless exterior with 3 layers of aluminum/aluminum alloy sandwiched between
  • 3mm thick pans hold heat and will not warp
  • Silvinox finish assures the easiest cleaning stainless surface in the industry and maintains silver sheen for years of use
  • Welded, rivetless handles for durability and easier cleaning (completely smooth cooking surface--no spots for gunk to build up!)
  • Spill-proof pouring rim
  • Tight-fitting stainless lids
  • Stay-cool handles
  • Induction compatibility
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Made in Belgium.

Design

Demeyere pans are made with the user in mind:

  • The long handles are forked at the welds to allow heat to pass through and keep the handle cool to the touch. (And did I mention they're rivetless for easier cleaning and no place for gunk to build up??)
  • Handles stay cool and are easy to grip (flat on top, rounded on the bottom to fit your hand).
  • Skillets are perfectly shaped, with sides steep enough to make for a large cooking surface, yet sloped enough to easily slip a spatula into. 
  • Lids are heavy enough for durability and a snug fit, yet light enough to handle easily.
  • The saute pan and large saucepan have helper handles for easy carrying. (The 12-inch skillet also has helper handle if you ever wish to augment your set.)
  • Includes an 11-inch skillet, which is larger than the largest skillet in many other cookware sets.

If you need the basics, this set has pretty much everything (except a roasting pan and a sheet pan). The 8-quart stockpot is large enough for stock-making, yet small enough to use as a Dutch oven. This set pretty much covers all the bases, is excellent quality, and is some of the best-performing cookware on the market. It's also beautiful to look at.

For these reasons, I highly recommend the Demeyere Industry 5 set as the best cookware set for most people. 

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Excellent quality
  • Extremely durable
  • Great pieces included in the set, including an 11-inch skillet.

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Heavy (though not as heavy as the Atlantis pieces)
  • The large skillet should have a helper handle and doesn't.

Other Demeyere Cookware

As mentioned above, Demeyere Atlantis is also top notch cookware, and highly recommended, but it's bottom-clad saute and sauce pans may not be what you're looking for. 

Industry 5 Plus is basically the same line of cookware; eventually it will probably be consolidated into one line.

Zwilling J. A. Henkels "Sensation" line is also the same--it morphed into Industry 5 a couple of years ago and is no longer manufactured under the Sensation name (although if you can find a deal on a discontinued set, go for it!).

Their John Pawson line is high-end, but with many bottom-clad pieces, hard-to-use handles, and oddly shaped skillets (they look like tall, skinny woks), I can't recommend it.

Their Resto line is their "specialty product" line. It's made in Indonesia and not as high-quality as their others. It has a lot of quirky pieces, such as mini Dutch ovens and saute pans, egg poachers, paella pans, etc. These are fun additions to your kitchen, but you won't find any traditional cookware sets in the Resto lineup. 

Recommendation

If you want the kind of quality that you can pass down to your kids, Demeyere Industry 5 is the set to get. It's functional, durable, and beautiful. This is truly cookware you can love--for a lifetime and then some. It's only drawback is that it's heavy--so if you have arthritis or other issues, you may want to go with another set.

Highly recommended.

DemeyereIndustry5Set3

To buy The Demeyere industry 5 10 piece set:

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Best Tri-Ply: All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply

AllClad10PcSet2

If you've read through this whole article, then you know that All-Clad pioneered clad tri-ply stainless steel cookware about 60 years ago, and today they are still the standard by which clad stainless cookware is measured. The All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Set is the original clad cookware; All-Clad has introduced several lines since, but the tri-ply stainless remains their most popular and best selling line.

The quality of All-Clad is indisputable. Their cookware is still made in the USA under strict quality controls, although some of the non-clad pieces (lids, for example) are now made overseas (I believe in China).

It's weird to be giving All-Clad only 4.5 stars, because make no mistake: this is truly great cookware. And it's probably the best all-around choice for most people given that the Demeyere Industry 5 is 1) heavy, and 2) the difference in performance won't be noticeable to the average cook. But it would be dishonest to say it's the best cookware available, because it isn't. Not anymore. 

But it's close.

If you want the Ferrari, buy Demeyere. But if you'll be happy with a BMW sedan, All-Clad tri-ply is the way to go.

The All-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless set includes:

AllClad5Piece2
AllClad10PcSet2
AllClad14Pc2

5 Piece Set:

10 Piece Set:

14 Piece Set:

  • 10 inch skillet
  • 3 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 3 quart sautepan w/lid.
  • 8 inch skillet
  • 10 inch skillet
  • 2 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 3 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 3 quart saute pan w/lid
  • 3 quart sauté pan w/lid
  • 8 quart stockpot w/lid.
  • 10 inch skillet
  • 12 inch skillet
  • 2 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 3 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 3 quart saute pan w/lid
  • 6 quart saute pan w/lid
  • 8 quart stockpot w/lid
  • 12 inch chef's pan w/lid.

Check price Amazon

Check price at Sur la Table

Check price at Bed, Bath & Beyond

Check price at everythingkitchens.com.

Features

All-Clad tri-ply has a number of really excellent features, including:

  • 3-ply cladding: stainless exterior with a thick layer of aluminum sandwiched between
  • Approximately 2.7mm thick pans hold heat well and resist warping
  • Highly polished cooking surface offers stick resistance and easy maintenance
  • Tight-fitting stainless lids
  • Stay-cool stainless handles with stainless rivets and contoured for easy grip
  • Oven- and broiler-safe up to 600F
  • Capacity etched on base
  • Induction compatibility
  • Lifetime warranty (limited)
  • Made in USA.

Design

All-Clad tri-ply has an interior layer of aluminum around 2mm thick, so it's got great heating properties. Yet it's thin enough and lightweight enough that it's easy to maneuver. 

Its long handles are love-them-or-hate-them; I love them. They're U-shaped for your thumb to fit into the top groove; if you don't grasp the handle this way, it may dig into your hand or arm uncomfortably. 

Handles are riveted on, so there are spots on the cooking surface to collect gunk. (This is the standard design, and only a drawback if you've got your heart set on a welded--rivetless--handles, as on the Demeyere and KitchenAid brands.)

All All-Clad pans have riveted handles: not a huge drawback for most people.

The lids are stainless and fit well.

Larger skillets and saucepans come with helper handles (but not all of them, so be sure the one you buy has it--you'll be glad you did!). 

The skillet design is good, with sides just a bit more sloped than I like, but still providing a lot of cooking surface. 

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Excellent quality with lifetime warranty
  • Lots of options for sets.

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • 12-inch skillet should have helper handle
  • Have to buy the 14 piece set to get the 12 inch skillet; otherwise the largest is 10 inch.

Other All-Clad Cookware Lines

Over the years All-Clad has experimented with several different lines and even tried making some lines overseas (in China). Those lines--like the All-Clad Emeril line, made in partnership with chef Emeril LaGasse--have been discontinued. Today, all All-Clad cookware is made in the USA. Do note, though, that some of their tools, cookware lids, electronics, and other non-clad products are made overseas. Thus, an All-Clad slow cooker may not be as high quality as their cookware. (Having said that, I have a few of their kitchen tools, and they're beautiful, heavy duty, and a pleasure to use.)

Here's their cookware lineup, as of early 2018 (subject to changes):

Copper Core: Considered AC's top-performing line, with stainless-aluminum-copper-aluminum-stainless cladding. However, it is only slightly better than the D3 (tri-ply), and if you don't need induction compatibility, you can save money and get great performance from the MC2 line. For more info, see our Copper Core review.

D3 Armor: AC's tri-ply with "easy release" matrix bottom--a rough surface supposed to result in less sticking. I haven't tried it, but reviews have been less than stellar.

D5: 5-ply with a stainless-aluminum-stainless-aluminum-stainless configuration. Available in brushed and smooth stainless exterior. Improved performance? Again, the reviews have been mixed.

D7: 7-ply stainless/aluminum configuration created to compete with le Creuset (and possibly Demeyere). They have domed lids, which are nice for cooking but not so nice for storing.

LTD: 3-ply anodized aluminum-aluminum-stainless. With this much aluminum, expect great performance--but not induction compatibility.

MC2One of All-Clad's older and lines and its most affordable cookware line. 2-ply with aluminum exterior and stainless interior. Great performance because of the thick aluminum layer; not induction compatible.

TK: Thomas Keller collection. Tri-ply and D5, depending on pan and usage. Flat "universal" lids. New handles. Exclusive to Williams-Sonoma.

HA1/B1/NS1: Hard-anodized exterior with induction-compatible steel base and nonstick cooking surface. You can get several All-Clad pieces with nonstick surfaces, but the HA/B1/NS1 are the best option. Otherwise, you pay clad stainless prices for pieces that are going to wear out in just a few years.

Note: For a more detailed discussion about All-Clad products and how they compare to other top-of-the-line cookware, see All-Clad Vs. Demeyere: Which Is Better?

Recommendation

All-Clad is the original clad cookware, and it is one of the top quality brands available. It's durable enough to last for decades, yet lightweight enough that it's great for daily, all-around use. It's also made in the USA and has a lifetime warranty. Highly recommended.

to buy the All-Clad tri-ply stainless cookware set:

AllClad10PcSet2

Best Chinese Tri-Ply: Cuisinart MultiClad Pro (7 Piece or 12 Piece)

Cuisinart12PcSet2

Cuisinart formed in the early 1970s around their original and then-innovative product, the food processor. They were sold to the Conair Corporation in 1989, who still owns them today. Cuisinart is known for myriad kitchen products, including their still excellent food processor, as well as a wide variety of cookware. MultiClad Pro is their top quality line.

Cuisinart MultiClad Pro is a Chinese knockoff of All-Clad. It has similar cladding properties and pretty much identical heating properties; it's as close as you can get to All-Clad quality for a much lower price.

It also has a lifetime warranty--an excellent option at this price point.

Cuisinart makes several lines of cookware. To get the All-Clad performance, you have to get the Multiclad-Pro. They make a line called Tri-ply which is identical, except for glass lids. If you don't mind glass lids, you will get the same performance as the MC-Pro at a lower price. (NOTE: The glass lids have tiny holes to vent steam, which can interfere with the point of using lids in the first place--another reason I prefer stainless lids.)

I don't recommend any of Cuisinart's other cookware lines. 

If you want All-Clad level performance at a lower price, the Cuisinart Multiclad Pro is the way to go. These pans are also pretty and have a great, usable design. Many people actually prefer this set to All-Clad tri-ply because of the easy-to-grasp handles. 

The Cuisinart MC-Pro comes in a 7 piece and a 12 piece set. You can also buy pieces separately. 

The sets include:

Cuisinart7PcSet2
Cuisinart 12 Piece Set

7 Piece Set:


  • 10 inch skillet
  • 1.5 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 3 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 8 quart stockpot w/lid.

12 Piece Set:


  • 8 inch skillet
  • 10 inch skillet
  • 1.5 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 3 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 3.5 quart saute pan w/lid
  • 8 quart stockpot w/lid
  • Steamer insert w/lid.

Check price on Amazon (12 Piece Set)

Check price on Amazon (7 Piece Set)

Check price at Bed, Bath & Beyond (They seem to only carry the 7 piece set)

Check price at everythingkitchens.com (They seem to only carry the 12 piece set).

Features

Cuisinart MC-Pro has been made to compete head to head with All-Clad, so it has many of the same great features, and some features that many people prefer over All-Clad:

  • Stay-cool cast stainless handles with great ergonomic design
  • Tapered rims on all pieces for easy pouring
  • Highly polished surface that minimizes sticking
  • Induction-compatible
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Oven and broiler safe up to 550F
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Made in China.

Design

I love the design of this cookware. It's as good as All-Clad, and maybe in some ways it's even better.

The skillets have steeply sloped sides that give them wide, flat bottoms--a lot of cooking surface. The big 12-inch skillet has a helper handle:

CuisinartMCProSkilletCropped2

The handles are squarish with an indentation on the top for easy grasping. They're open where they meet the pan to let heat escape:

CuisinartMCProHandle2

The lids are stainless and fit snugly.

Every piece has a tapered rim for easy pouring--so whether you're draining pasta water from a saucepan or bacon fat from a skillet, you'll have an easy time of it, with very little unwanted dripping.

These pans are also highly polished--sometimes with lower priced sets you don't get the high quality finish that you do with All-Clad or Demeyere. But the MC-Pro set has a beautiful finish that will give you years of shiny gorgeousness and, more importantly, minimize the sticking that's a problem with all stainless cookware (especially on the inexpensive end of the market).

Pros and Cons


Pros:

  • Cladding and heating properties almost identical to All-Clad
  • Great skillet shape wit lots of cooking surface
  • Competitively priced.

Cons:

  • 10-inch skillet may not be large enough for big families (although it has a large cooking surface)
  • Made in China (but high quality nevertheless).

Other Cuisinart Cookware Lines

Cuisinart makes several lines of cookware but only a few are comparable to the MultiClad Pro line.

Their Tri-Ply Stainless is basically the same as the MultiClad Pro but with glass lids (and thus less expensive).

They also make a couple of Copper Tri-Ply sets (one smooth, one hammered): this is stunning cookware, but the external copper layer makes it hard to maintain, and the thickness of the copper is an unknown. It is also not induction compatible.

Recommendation

The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro cookware offers All-Clad performance at a much lower cost. If you like the design and don't want to pay more for American-made products, the MC-Pro set is an excellent option.

to buy the 7 piece Cuisinart MC Pro set:


to buy the 12 piece Cuisinart MC Pro set:

Best Pieces in Set: Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad Stainless12-Pc. Set

Tramontina12PcSetWalMart2

Tramontina is a Brazilian company, founded there by an Italian immigrant about 100 years ago. In the USA, Tramontina is best known for their knives, but they also have a thriving cookware market. Their tri-ply clad stainless cookware is manufactured in China, but it is still a high quality product.

The Tramontina Tri-Ply 12-Piece Set (see it on Amazon) has something that few other sets have: a 12-inch skillet. And the small skillet is 10 inches! It also has a (rarely seen) 12-quart stock pot, and a humongous 5-quart saute pan.

These pieces make this set worth paying attention to, as augmenting a set with these large pieces will, in many cases, cost as much as the original set itself (and maybe more). 

If you're more of a skillet person than a saute pan person, take note: I love, love, love my deep saute pan. It's my most-used pan because it's so versatile. I use it for soups, stews, sauteeing, deep frying, and so much more. It's not a piece I would have thought I needed, but I couldn't live without it now that I've had it. 

The Tramontina skillets have the widely-sloped sides that make them less than ideal, but because they're so big, it doesn't matter all that much. 

The Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Piece Set includes:

  • 10 inch skillet
  • 12 inch skillet
  • 5 quart saute pan w/lid
  • 5 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 3 quart saucepan w/lid
  • 5 quart Dutch oven w/lid
  • 12 quart stock pot w/lid.

Tramontina is considered a lower-end product--you can get it at WalMart. Even so, don't hold that against it. It's durable cookware, and its interior aluminum layer is almost as thick as All-Clad's. No, it isn't an All-Clad clone: it doesn't spread heat quite as quickly or quite as evenly...

But it's close. So much so that this cookware is ideally suited to most chef's everyday cooking needs. It's not going to hold heat like cast iron, but then again, neither is All-Clad tri-ply. If this is what you want, pull out your old cast iron workhorse (to sear that steak, fry that chicken, or bake that cornbread). For most everything else, the Tramontina tri-ply will perform well enough that you will rarely notice a difference.

Do keep in mind that this is a bargain product. You may see some quality issues: scratching, warping, etc. The good news is that Tramontina WILL honor the lifetime warranty on this cookware set, so they will happily replace any pan that doesn't go the distance.

If you're on a budget, this is one of the best buys out there.

Check price on Amazon

Check price at Bed, Bath & Beyond

Check price at WalMart.com.

NOTE: Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad Stainless set also comes in 8 piece sets and 10 piece sets. Neither of these sets have the great pieces of the 12 piece set, so the 12 piece set is the only one we recommend.

Features

Tramontina offers these standard features:

  • 18/10 stainless steel interior (magnetic steel exterior)
  • Induction compatibility
  • Oven safe up to 500F
  • Riveted handles that stay cool during use
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Made in China.

Design

These Tramontina pots and pans have all the standard design features.

Their riveted handles stay cool. They're thick and easy to hold without edges that cut into your hand.

Their stainless lids are durable and fit snugly.

They're finished with a highly polished surface that makes them beautiful and as nonstick as most stainless cookware can be.

I would prefer that the skillets were a little less sloped, with more cooking surface:

TramontinaSkillet2

They're almost like small woks. However, these pans are so big, it doesn't matter all that much--and maybe the shape is a plus, depending on how you'll use the pan.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Excellent pieces in the set, including a 12-inch and 10-inch skillet, a 12-quart stockpot, and a 5-quart saute pan.
  • Economically priced. (You can buy these at WalMart.)

Cons:

  • The skillets are a wok-shaped, with long sides and a smaller cooking surface
  • Not as high-performing as Cuisinart MC-Pro or All-Clad (but close).

Other Tramontina Cookware LInes

Tramontina makes some other lines, including a tri-ply made in Brazil. These aren't all that common in the US, and they're not induction compatible. 

Recommendation

Recommended for people on a tight budget: this is some of the best performing, most durable budget cookware on the market. And you get the 12-inch skillet and 12-quart stockpot, and the deep saute pan--so no shelling out for those bigger pieces that every cook needs! 

If you're a beginning cook, need everything, and are on a tight budget, this is a great way to go. It's not All-Clad level performance (though close), and some people have had quality issues (warping, pitting), which is typical for a set at this price point. But it comes with a lifetime warranty, and Tramontina has a reputation for great customer service. For these reasons, it's well worth the risk. 

Remember, you only get the great pieces in the 12-piece set, not the 8- or 10-piece. So if you decide to go with Tramontina, the 12-piece is the set to buy.

to buy the tramontina tri-ply​​​​​ clad stainless 12-piece set:

Tramontina12PcSetWalMart2

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Final Thoughts

Buying cookware is easy--there are tons of options to choose from at every price point. But buying the best cookware set you can afford, one that meets most of your needs and requires the minimum amount of shelling out more money to complete your collection: now that's an interesting challenge. Here, I've given the best options at different price points, as well as all the logic behind these choices. 

I hope this has helped you find a cookware set that you can love and that will serve you well for years--decades, even.

Thoughts or questions? Please leave them in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading!

The Best Cookware Set for Every Budget was last updated June, 2018.

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