September 10

The Best Pots and Pans for Electric Stoves

By trk

Last Updated: September 10, 2022

cookware, electric stoves, induction cookware

Electric stoves, both coil and glass top, can heat any material they come in contact with. What makes pots and pans best for electric stoves is what makes them good in general: most good quality cookware will work well on an electric stove. 

But electric heat is not the same as gas, and its distinct properties mean some pans are better than others. We look at all the best cookware for electric stoves, and what makes it great. 

Best Cookware for Electric Stoves at a Glance

These are our cookware picks for electric stoves based on quality, safety, heating performance, and design. You can read more about these terms below in the section on How to Choose Cookware for Electric Stoves. 

Cookware:

What Makes It Great:

-Versatile

-Durable

-Safe and non-reactive

-Good brands heat evenly and hold heat well

-Available in sets and open stock.

-Hold heat well for searing (esp cast iron)

-Durable

-Most brands are affordable

-Nonstick when well-seasoned.

-Cast iron holds heat well for long, slow braises

-Enamel eliminates need for seasoning

-Durable

-Available in many sizes and colors

-Versatile: braise, bake, sear, simmer, and more.

-Fast, responsive heating

-Durable

-Safe and non-reactive (steel cooking surface)

-Beautiful

-Available in sets and open stock.

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Types of Electric Stoves

Electric stove burners work on a simple principle: they have a resistor that converts electricity into heat. This means that an electric burner can heat any material it comes in contact with. 

Electric stoves can have an exposed coil or a smooth glass-ceramic top that has the coil underneath the surface. Performance-wise, there's no real difference between the two types, and you don't really need different cookware for them, although glass tops can crack and scratch, so you have to be careful with rough-bottomed and heavy cookware (cast iron fits both categories).

Smooth Top 

Smooth Top Electric Range, Top View

Today, smooth tops are the most popular electric range. They're easier to keep clean than coils and they look sleek. But they are usually more expensive, and they heat more slowly because the coil is beneath the smooth top.

The glass ceramic top is fairly durable, but it can crack if you set something heavy on it too hard, and it can scratch if you drag cookware with a rough bottom across it. 

Coil

Electric Range with Coils

Today, coil electric ranges look a bit old-fashioned. But they work on the same principle as smooth tops and they're usually less expensive. Because the coil is exposed, they heat faster. You can see the coil get red when it's hot, which is a nice visual cue that may help prevent burns.

But they're not as easy to keep clean, and they're not as pretty as smooth tops. 

Do You Need Different Cookware for the Type of Electric Range You Have?

No, not really, although smooth top stoves aren't as durable as coils. But if you're careful, all cookware is fine for use on either type of stove. 

If this is true, then what is this article about? Well, there are a lot of sites that give lists of cookware brands they recommend for electric stoves, but they don't tell you why they've picked them (and in some cases, they're the brands with the highest commission rates).

We want to tell you the best way to think about cookware for electric stoves--which is, essentially, that all good quality cookware is a good choice--and dispel some of the ideas that aren't really an issue (such as perfectly flat-bottomed cookware). 

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Are Induction Cooktops Electric?

Induction cooktops are electric in the sense that they require electricity to operate, but they heat on an entirely different principle than standard electric cooktops. 

Induction uses magnetism to create heat, so when you put a ferritic (i.e., magnetic) pot on an induction hob and switch it on, the pot completes a circuit that causes the induction coil to get hot. Since the pot actually becomes part of the induction coil, heat passes into the pot very rapidly. There is also very little heat loss to the ambient air because only the pot and coil get hot. This makes induction the most efficient type of cooking (about 90% efficient, compared to about 70% for electric and about 50% for gas). 

So the main difference between induction and standard electric cooktops is that you need magnetic cookware for induction.

Magnetic cookware includes cast iron, carbon steel, clad stainless steel, and aluminum cookware with a ferritic base. Some copper cookware also has a layer of ferritic steel, but this is less common.

By the way, all cookware that works with induction will also work on an electric range. 

To learn more about induction cooktops, see our article Advantages of Cooking With Induction.

To learn more about induction cookware, see our article Best Induction Cookware: Get Out of the Kitchen Faster.

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Pros and Cons of Electric Stoves (Vs Gas Stoves)

You may find some of these confusing. For example, how can electric hobs be more efficient, yet use more energy? Electric heat is more efficient in the sense that more heat goes into the pot rather than the ambient environment (about 70% efficient vs. about 50% efficient for gas). But because gas is cheaper in most parts of the US than electric, gas stoves are still cheaper to operate.

Pros
  • More efficient than gas
  • Cleaner than gas (esp. smooth tops)
  • Keep the kitchen cooler than gas
  • Cleaner heat than gas (no fumes)
  • Need less ventilation than gas
  • Initial cost is lower than gas.
Cons
  • Slower to heat and cool than gas
  • Not as precise as gas
  • Won't work during power outage
  • More expensive to operate (gas heat is cheap)
  • Uses more energy than gas
  • Flat surface not good for woks (even flat bottomed ones).

Mythbusting: How Important Is a Flat Bottom Pan? 

Pan Bottom with Flatness Indicator

Even this flat-looking bottom is slightly concave.

Several sites stress the importance of flat bottoms on pots and pans used with electric stoves because flat bottoms ensure even, efficient spreading of heat. 

This isn't exactly true. 

There are two reasons that flat bottoms on cookware aren't all that important: 1) thermal expansion, and 2) how pans actually heat on an electric burner.

Thermal expansion

Very few pans have truly flat bottoms, and you don't want them to. Most pans, skillets in particular, have slightly concave bottoms. You'll notice this when you add oil to an unheated pan and the oil pools around the edge, draining off the ever-so-slightly crowned center.  

When you heat a pan, the metal expands slightly, which, for a slightly concave pan, means flattening out. Then, when the pan cools, the metal contracts, going back to its original shape. 

This is called thermal expansion, and is found in most, if not all, types of cookware. Bare aluminum has the highest rate of thermal expansion of cookware metals. You won't notice it as much in cast iron or heavy-bottomed disc clad cookware (like in the image above) because the thick material resists bending, but even few of these pans are completely flat. 

Does that mean that thicker materials are the best cookware for electric stoves (because they're flatter when cool)? In general, they're a good choice, but because they're durable and hold heat well, not because they don't expand as much when heated. 

You can read more about thermal expansion of cookware here and here.

How Pans Heat on an Electric Burner

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/214488/lemon-chicken-piccata/?did=833701-20220906&utm_campaign=alrcom-daily-dish_newsletter&utm_source=allrecipes.com&utm_medium=email&utm_content=090622&cid=833701&mid=96405247941&lctg=85554764

The other reason flat bottoms don't matter all that much is because, unless a pan is extremely concave or convex, the tiny amount of space between the coil (or glass) and the pan--usually less than a millimeter--won't affect the heating all that much.

Yes: electric burners are conductive, meaning that the more surface that's in contact with the burner, the more efficient the heating is. But it's not essential that 100% of the pan be in contact with the burner. A space means the heat going into the pan is radiant, not conductive, but most of the heat still goes into the pan

Radiant heat is less efficient, but it still heats the pan. 

Another factor is that the amount of heat that can go into a pan is limited by the power of the burner. So once the pan has reached the maximum amount of heat, which it will do in a few minutes, it reaches a point of equilibrium and can't take in any more heat, regardless how much of the pan is in contact with the burner. 

A flatter pan will be more efficient, which is why you want pans that flatten out when they heat (and why concavity is built into good quality cookware). But the heat from an electric burner is going to be inefficient no matter how flat a pan is. Heat is always going to escape into into the stove top and the ambient air; this is the nature of electric heat: it's inefficient, with only about 70% of the heat going into the pan. (This is more efficient than gas, which is only about 50% efficient, but not nearly as efficient as induction, which has 90% or higher efficiency.) 

As long as most of the pan is in contact with the burner, your pan will heat just fine.

What About Convex Pans?

If a pan has a convex bottom--meaning the center makes contact while the edges are in the air, causing the pan to wobble--it's been warped either by bad manufacturing or incorrect use (usually from rapid heat changes such as plunging a hot pan into cool water, or heating it too fast). 

Warping tends to happen to thin materials like stamped aluminum or thin, cheap clad stainless steel. It can happen to carbon steel that's on the thin side, too, but is not as common. (See our carbon steel pan review for information on carbon steel thickness.)

Convex pans are useless on an electric stove because they make almost no contact with the burner. You can still use them with gas, but they're not ideal because oil will run to the middle and the pan probably won't heat very evenly.

You can sometimes flatten out a warped pan with a hammer, though if it's a cheap, thin pan, it may not be worth it. Invest in higher quality cookware to avoid this problem.

Pans with the flattest bottoms are cast iron and heavy, disc-clad stainless like Demeyere Atlantis and Cuisinart Professional. Most good quality pans flatten out when heated, though, so you don't need a completely flat-bottomed pan. The pans to avoid are thin pans--like cheap stamped aluminum--which won't heat well no matter how flat they are, and are also prone to warping.

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How to Choose Cookware for Electric Stoves

Choosing good cookware for electric stoves is akin to choosing good cookware: any good quality cookware will work well on an electric stove. 

So look for cookware that serves your needs and meets all other basic requirements such as good heating, durability, and safety.

If you have a smooth top electric range, you may also want cookware that won't scratch the surface, but this isn't an essential requirement; if you're careful with your cookware, you can use any type on a smooth top electric stove without damaging it.

What Do You Want to Accomplish?

The first thing to think about is what you want to do with the cookware. 

Do you want an all-purpose set to meet all your basic cooking needs?

Do you want a skillet for high heat searing and/or making eggs, or a larger or smaller skillet than came with your set?

Do you want a larger or smaller sauce pan in addition to what came with your set?

Do you want a Dutch oven for braising, soups, stews, stocks, and more?

Do you want a full-sized stock pot for large batches of stocks and soups?

Most people need a few different things from this list. For example, you'll probably want a basic cookware set with a skillet or two, a medium-sized sauce pan, and a sauté pan or small stock pot. These basics will take you a long way in the kitchen. A set of clad stainless (or copper, if you prefer) can be a great purchase, if you'll use all the pieces (always look at sizes to make sure you're getting what you want), but no set will have everything you need.

Many people will want another skillet for nonstick purposes or high-heat searing, or for larger or smaller jobs. Our recommendation is cast iron or carbon steel (or both, perhaps in different sizes), but many people will prefer a dedicated nonstick pan for eggs.

The same goes for sauce pans: most people probably want 2-3 of them in different sizes.

Many people will also want a Dutch oven, which is an extremely versatile piece which you can use as a large sauce pan, small stock pot, deep fryer, brasier, deep skillet, and more. The best material for a Dutch oven is enameled cast iron (we'll explain why below), but if your basic set of clad stainless came with one, that will work, too.

To summarize, think about your needs, what you like to cook, and what pieces will allow you to accomplish your cooking tasks. Any type of cookware will work with electric ranges, but we share our favorites below.

Heating Properties

If you've read any of our other cookware articles, you'll know that we believe heating properties are the most important feature of any cookware, as long as everything else is acceptable (i.e., safety and durability).

Because the main purpose of cookware is to heat your food, you want cookware with good heating properties: that is, cookware that heats evenly and holds onto heat fairly well.

We get into more detail on this in other articles, but here we'll just say that for good heating properties, you want the heaviest cookware that you can still comfortably handle.

Why? Because weight and thickness are a measure of how evenly cookware heats, as well as how long it will retain heat.

Good thickness and weight varies for different materials. For example, cast iron will always be heavier than aluminum and clad stainless with an aluminum heating core. But even so, thicker and heavier aluminum and clad stainless are going to heat better than thin brands.

Rather than go into more details (which you can read elsewhere on the site), we'll just point you to our recommendations below. All are best examples in their category. 

See our Stainless Steel Cookware Buying Guide

For the best heating and most durable cookware, you should buy the heaviest cookware you can comfortably handle, especially in clad stainless steel, copper, and carbon steel.

Durability

Most people also want cookware that lasts. Even fans of nonstick cookware, which is the shortest-lived cookware you can buy, are always looking for the holy grail, a nonstick pan that won't wear out. Unfortunately, there is no such thing, despite the many marketing claims made by nonstick cookware manufacturers. So if you want durable cookware that lasts, you're going to have to buy stainless, cast iron, carbon steel, or copper.

Thick, heavy cookware is also durable cookware--so if you buy the heaviest cookware you can comfortably handle, you're not only going to get great heating, you're also going to get durable cookware that will last for decades, and maybe even centuries.

And by the way, it's not hard to cook with clad stainless, cast iron, and carbon steel. You can keep cleaning to a minimum by learning a few simple techniques. Once you do, you'll never miss nonstick cookware again.

Safety and Stability

Of course, safety is also extremely important because you don't want cookware that reacts with food or compromises your health in any way. 

This is another reason we don't recommend nonstick cookware: PTFE has known health and environmental issues, and ceramic nonstick is too new for there to be a lot of research available on it--but we know it contains particles that have been associated with health issues (titanium dioxide nanoparticles). 

All the cookware we recommend below is safe, stable and non-reactive. (Enamel coatings used on cast iron are traditional and derived from glass; they are not the same as ceramic nonstick coatings.) 

see our guide to safe, healthy cookware

see our guide to nonstick cookware chemicals

Enamel coatings used on cast iron are derived from glass and have been around for centuries. They are not the same as ceramic nonstick coatings.

Design

Design is about cookware that's easy to use and works well with electric stoves. We talk about this in more detail in other articles, so we'll just list the main points.

Some things to look at in general are:

  • Safe, comfortable handles
  • Snug fitting lids
  • Heavy enough to heat well, but not so heavy that it's hard to handle
  • Skillets with a good amount of flat cooking surface
  • For sets, pieces that you'll use and pieces that are the right size
  • Design that you find attractive (life is too short for ugly cookware).

Some things to look at for electric stove tops in particular are:

  • Flat bottoms (or more accurately, bottoms that flatten nicely when heated)
  • For glass cooktops, cookware with smooth bottoms that won't scratch (though using care when cooking can prevent scratches and cracks, as well).

Budget, Warranty, and Cost-Per-Year-of-Use

You want to set a budget and stick to it. You don't need to spend a fortune to get high quality cookware with a great warranty. 

Rather than just cost, we like to look at what we call cost-per-year-of-use. So instead of just saying "I want to spend under $500 on a set of cookware," you say "I want to spend $500 on cookware over the next 30 years."

Of course it's hard to know exactly how much you'll want to spend over that much time because your cooking styles and needs can change. The point is that you want cookware that's not just priced reasonably, but that has a low cost-per-year-of-use.

Here's what we mean.

If you spend $200 on a 10-piece set of cheap nonstick cookware (like this), the cookware might be easy to wash, but it's only going to last a few years. The skillets in particular--where you really want the nonstick coating the most--are going to lose their nonstick properties in 1-5 years, depending on use and care. But we know that even with the best of care, nonstick skillets have an average lifespan of no more than 5 years, and most last considerably less than that before they lose their nonstick properties. So if you buy another $200 set in 5 years, then another in another 5 years, you've spent $600 in just 15 years, or about $40 per year. (And this is being generous, because most nonstick won't last 5 years.)  

If instead you buy a 10-piece set of good quality clad stainless steel for $1000 (Demeyere Industry, for example, which is exactly $1000 and one of the highest quality sets you can buy), it comes with a 30 year warranty and is likely to last much longer than that. Your cost-per-year-of-use over 30 years is $33. 

Furthermore, if a piece breaks or malfunctions during that time, Demeyere will replace it at no charge to you. This is not the case with cheaper brands, especially nonstick: makers may offer a lifetime warranty, but unless it's a manufacturing defect, they aren't going to replace a pan--so don't expect to be reimbursed for a worn out nonstick coating because it almost never happens.

If we replace the Demeyere Industry with a 10-piece set of All-Clad D3, it's cost-per-year-of-use over 30 years is just $23, and comes with a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects, which All-Clad is known to honor.

If we replace the All-Clad with a 10-piece set of Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad, the highest quality All-Clad knockoff on the market, the cost-per-year-of-use over 30 years becomes just $11--and also has a lifetime warranty.  

So by buying better quality cookware, you save money over the long run. And you don't even have to spend that much more. 

Not only that, you get better quality cookware that heats better and is much more pleasurable to use. 

Of course, no set is going to have everything you need, but the same goes for individual pieces like cast iron and carbon steel skillets. But because these aren't expensive pieces, your cost-per-year-of-use can be less than a dollar! And both cast iron and carbon steel will last for more than 30 years. 

You don't need to use this as excuse to spend more than you can afford. For example, you don't have to buy a Le Creuset Dutch oven if your budget is more in the Lodge zone. There are reasons to splurge on an expensive Dutch oven, but cheaper ones can be almost as good, so you may not be justified in spending up to 10 times as much if you really can't afford it.  

The upshot: Consider the cost-per-year-of-use before you buy, and avoid super cheap cookware that won't last.

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Clad Stainless Steel Cookware for Electric Stoves

Clad stainless steel is our number one pick for electric stoves because it's our number one pick for good quality cookware that lasts (regardless of the type of stove you have).

Why Clad Stainless Steel?

Good quality clad stainless is safe, durable, and great to cook with. Most brands come with a lifetime warranty.

Best For

Clad stainless steel is versatile cookware that you can use for any dish, so it's a great choice for sets. It's the best choice for sauce pans and stock pots because it's stable and not too heavy. It's also great for sauté pans and skillets, although you may want cast iron, carbon steel, or nonstick for special uses like high heat searing and making eggs.

We recommend getting a set of clad stainless steel, then augmenting your collection with the other pieces you want.

What to Look For

Weight: Look for cookware that's thick and heavy--as heavy as you can comfortably handle. Thicker, heavier cookware will heat more evenly and hold heat better than thin cookware. Most people are happy with the weight of All-Clad D3, which is the industry standard for clad stainless cookware. These pans are 2.6 mm thick, with a heating core of 1.7mm. You can go much heavier, as in Demeyere Industry (3mm thick) and Demeyere Atlantis (3.7mm on the Proline skillet, 2mm copper on the straight-sided pieces), but many people find it too heavy to handle comfortably. 

Steel quality: Look for good quality stainless steel. You want 18/10 steel, or even 316Ti, which is even more stable and is found on the Heritage Steel brand (see our Heritage Steel review) and a few others. 

Warranty: Look for at least 30 years to lifetime. No clad stainless brand should have a warranty less than this.

There are a few reputable brands that have shorter warranties that are probably worth a look, but our recommendations all have 30 year or lifetime warranties.

Sets: If you're buying a set, be sure you're going to use all the pieces. Check the piece sizes to be sure you're not getting too-small filler pieces. Few sets come with a large (12-inch) skillet, so if you want that, be sure to work it into your budget. 

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Safe and durable; will last forever and never react with your food
  • Good quality brands heat evenly and hold heat moderately well (not like cast iron, but some are close)
  • Versatile: you can use it for any cooking task (though some other materials are better at some things, you can make stainless steel work for anything).

Cons:

  • Good quality brands can be heavy, especially Demeyere
  • Good quality brands are more expensive than other types of cookware
  • Food can stick if you don't use the right cooking technique (but using the right technique is easy)
  • Not all the sets have great pieces (unless you want small pieces).

Favorites

Best Quality (Heaviest): Demeyere Industry, Demeyere Atlantis

Demeyere Industry 10pc set

Demeyere Industry 5 10 piece set.

Demeyere Proline Skillet

Demeyere Proline skillet.

If you want to invest in a great skillet but don't want a whole set, get the Demeyere Proline skillet (it's part of the Atlantis line, but it's so special, it got its own name).

The Industry set comes with 2 large skillets (9.5"/11") as well as other good-sized pieces.

There are so many reasons that Demeyere is the best clad stainless cookware on the market, we can't go over all of them here. See our Demeyere Buying Guide if you want to learn more.

Best Quality (Lightest): All-Clad D3

All-Clad D3 7pc set

All-Clad D3 7 piece set.

All-Clad D3 is the industry standard for clad stainless cookware, at least in the US. The quality is excellent and its great all-around cookware for cooks who want top quality but can't handle the weight of Demeyere. 

D3 is also All-Clad's least pricy line, but the performance is just as good as their other lines like D5 and Copper Core. If you want to know more on our thoughts about why D3 is the best choice, see our Definitive All-Clad Review or our comparison of D3 and D5.

Copper Core is also great cookware, but it's a lot more expensive.

Best All-Clad Knockoff: Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 1-pc set (China)

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 10pc set from China.

The quality and heating performance is almost as good as All-Clad D3. Our only reservation is that the steel probably isn't as high quality because it's made in China (or Brazil), but even so, this brand really competes head-to-heat with All-Clad and even has a lifetime warranty.

The Tri-Ply Clad 10-piece set from China has two large skillets and a host of other great pieces, but it's getting harder to find. Be sure the set you find has the pieces you want (and nothing you don't).

See our Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad Cookware Review for more information.

Honorable Mention: Heritage Steel

Heritage Steel 8 Piece Core Set

Heritage Steel 8pc set: two large skillets.

This is a made in USA brand that is just as good quality as All-Clad for approximately the same price. They use 316Ti stainless steel, which is slightly more corrosion resistant than All-Clad's 18/10. They don't have as many pieces available, but what they have is excellent. The 8-piece set is our favorite, with two large skillets (10"/12"), a 3-quart sauce pan, 4-quart sauté pan, and 8-quart stock pot. 

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Copper Cookware

If you love the look of copper cookware and can afford the real deal, it's a nice choice with electric stoves because unlike gas, the electric coils won't discolor the copper. This may mean you only need to polish the cookware once a year to keep its lustrous shine and beauty.

Why Copper?

Copper is the best choice for even heating, bar none. It's the choice of professional chefs because of its fast response to temperature changes. Heavy gauge copper is easily controlled and will cook food more evenly than any other cookware.

It's also beautiful, although keeping that shine takes work: copper oxidizes and needs to be polished with special cream at least once per year. Oxidized copper performs just as well as polished copper, it's just not as pretty.

Best For

Copper is versatile, so it's a good choice for an entire set. However, if you want one super high quality piece, you can invest in a copper skillet or sauce pan and you won't regret it. If you are a serious cook who likes to make sauces, candies, or other delicate foods, you would be wise to invest in a copper sauce pan or sauciér, even if you don't need this level of cookware for your other dishes.

Because of its incredible responsiveness, copper isn't the best choice for high heat searing, although a heavy copper skillet can, surprisingly, hold its own next to cast iron.

What to Look For

Real Copper: First of all, there are a lot of copper knockoffs out there. You can buy copper-colored cookware that contains no real copper at all, or tri-ply copper cookware that has a thin electroplating of copper on the exterior.

Tri-ply is perhaps the hardest to buy, because some of it is very good quality, even if most of the heating properties come from the interior aluminum. But some of it is cheap, and the copper plating can begin to wear off after just a few uses. Worse yet, you often pay a premium for it.

You'll know real copper cookware by the price, which is take-your-breath-away expensive. 

Weight: Once you know you're looking at real copper cookware (or good quality tri-ply, which can be a fair compromise), look for thickness or weight. Copper cookware is sold by the millimeter, and can range from 1.5mm to 3mm thick; the more you pay, the more copper you get. The great thing is that reputable copper brands always share the copper thickness, so you know what you're paying for.

Like any other cookware, the thicker and heavier the copper, the better the heating performance. You may not need 3mm thick like Julia Child insisted on, but we recommend not going lower than 1.5mm for real copper.

If you go with a good brand and know the thickness you're buying, you shouldn't have to worry too much about warranty or what comes in the sets. It should be top notch all the way.

To learn more about copper cookware and its many knockoffs, including tri-ply, see our Copper Cookware Guide.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Excellent heating performance
  • Excellent quality
  • Versatile; great for many uses.

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Heavy
  • Many knockoffs to be aware of that contain little or no copper.

Favorites

Best Commercial Brand: Mauviel

Mauviel M250B 5 Pc set

Mauviel M'250B 5 piece set (2.5mm copper).

Mauviel is a French brand that's been around for a few hundred years. They have lines 1.5, 2.0, and 2.5mm thick; though pros prefer the thicker stuff, a 1.5mm line is roughly equivalent to an aluminum layer 3mm thick, so should be good enough for most home cooks.

Mauviel has been harder to find in the past couple of years; hopefully the supply chain issues will get sorted out and it will be more available.

Best Boutique Brand: Brooklyn Copper, Duparquet

Brooklyn Copper Cookware

Brooklyn Copper Cookware.

If you can afford it, an artisan brand of hand-made copper cookware is the ultimate cookware splurge. There are many brands to choose from, but these two are American and the quality is unsurpassed.

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Cast Iron and Carbon Steel Skillets

Lodge cast iron skillet

Lodge cast iron skillet.

Field cast iron skillet

Field cast iron skillet.

We like cast iron and carbon steel for skillets only--they are both heavy, so they aren't as great a choice for bigger pieces like large sauce pans and stock pots. Carbon steel is lighter than cast iron, but still heavy, and not widely available in pieces other than skillets.

Matfer Bourgeat carbon steel skillet

Matfer Bourgeat carbon steel skillet.

Vollrath carbon steel skillet side view

Vollrath carbon steel skillet.

Why Cast Iron or Carbon Steel for Skillets?

Many people use both cast iron and carbon steel skillets as their main, all-purpose pans. This is fine, and they work, but we like them for two specific purposes: high heat searing and nonstick (eggs, for example). This is because clad stainless heats faster and more evenly, doesn't hold heat as long, and is lighter and easier to handle. But most kitchens do benefit from having a cast iron or carbon steel skillet (or both) on hand.

Contrary to what many websites say, cast iron and carbon steel heat neither quickly nor evenly. This is not a diss of these pans, it's just a fact: so for best results, you need to give these materials several minutes to heat and for the heat to distribute evenly across the pan. This is especially important on an electric stove because it takes longer for an electric coil to heat than a gas flame, and a glass cooktop takes longer than an exposed coil. 

Bare cast iron, not enameled, is our pick for skillets. Good seasoning is always going to provide a more nonstick surface than enamel, so you want that seasoned surface for frying.

Some people don't like messing with seasoning. It's true that it takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it, but once you do, we think you'll love using them. Washing is easy: you need just a tiny bit of soap, and messes will mostly rinse right out--but if you need to scrub, you can do so without worries about hurting the pan.

Best For

High heat searing (steaks!), and a durable replacement for nonstick.

What to Look For

Cast iron: Cast iron is pretty much cast iron, so no matter how much you spend, you're going to get the same heating properties, the same durability, and the same necessity for seasoning (even if a pan is sold pre-seasoned).

More expensive pans are smoother out of the box and some are prettier, which you may think are worth paying for. But they will all require seasoning, and they will all get smoother and more nonstick with use.

If you have the budget, you can go for Field or another boutique brand, but we think American-made Lodge is great. The surface is rougher, but it fills in and smooths over with every use, so you'll have a nonstick pan before you know it. 

About glass cooktops: If your cooktop is glass, you may be concerned about the weight and roughness of cast iron. You have to be careful with it, but if you don't drop or drag your cookware on the cooktop, cast iron is fine to use.

If you're worried about cast iron on the glass cooktop, or don't want to deal with the weight, go with heavier gauge carbon steel for nearly identical performance. 

For more info on how to buy cast iron pans, see The Best Cast Iron Skillets.

Carbon steel: Carbon steel is also the same material no matter how much you pay, and very similar to cast iron, which is why we lump them together. (That is, it heats slowly and unevenly but holds heat well.) However, carbon steel is available in different thicknesses ("gauges"), and the thicker it is, the closer its performance will be to cast iron. Carbon steel is lighter than cast iron, but primarily because it's thinner. This means it's still heavy compared to stainless steel cookware. 

Carbon steel makes a great nonstick pan for eggs: the shape is better than cast iron, and they're easier to handle. They can handle high heat searing, too, but may not produce quite the crust on a steak that cast iron can.

If you want to read more, see our article The Best Carbon Steel Pans. We talk about gauge and share the gauges of our recommended brands. 

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Hold heat very well
  • Most brands are affordable
  • Durable: will last forever
  • Nonstick cooking surface when well-seasoned

Cons:

  • Must be seasoned or they will rust
  • Heavy
  • Cast iron may scratch glass cooktops (but not if you're careful)
  • Mostly unavailable in pieces besides skillets.

Favorites

Best cast iron (affordable): Lodge

Lodge skillets are still made in the USA (their enameled cast iron is not) and will last forever. You can get a 10-inch skillet for about $20, and you'll be handing it down to your grandkids.

Best cast iron (splurge): Field

If you have the budget, Field skillets are beautiful, a little bit lighter than Lodge (but with the same heating performance), and are glass-smooth out of the box. You'll also hand these down to your grandkids--but the performance is really about the same as Lodge, and you'll probably need to season a Field a few times, too, so we're not sure the splurge is worth it--although Fields are less expensive than many other boutique brands.

Best carbon steel: Matfer-Bourgeat, Vollrath

They're both great, with the M-B being the heavier gauge and the Vollrath the lightest. Vollrath is made in the USA, another great feature. 

It doesn't matter all that much which carbon steel pan you buy unless you want one with a more nonstick frying pan shape (like this BK carbon steel pan). We like M-B and Vollrath because of the welded handles, which have no rivets to collect gunk. But performance-wise, they're all going to be very close. 

Lodge carbon steel skillets are also made in the US and a good choice, but they have riveted handles.

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Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens

Le Creuset Dutch oven

Le Creuset Dutch oven.

Tramontina Dutch oven

Tramontina Dutch oven.

Because it's heavy, we don't like whole sets of enameled cast iron cookware. Also, enamel isn't the best cooking surface on a skillet, as seasoned cast iron (or carbon steel) is much more nonstick. 

Most cooks need an enameled cast iron Dutch oven. They're great for many cooking tasks. The enamel makes them less rough on glass cooktops, though you do have to be careful with them because of their weight.

Why Enameled Cast Iron for Dutch Ovens?

But for Dutch ovens, it's hard to beat enameled cast iron. The cast iron walls and heavy lid hold in heat and moisture for low-and-slow braising, and the enamel provides a stable, non-reactive surface that's safe and won't degrade or leach anything into your food. 

These features make enameled cast iron the best choice by far for Dutch ovens. Clad stainless pieces work, but they are too lightweight to hold in the heat and moisture the was cast iron can.

Best For

An enameled cast iron Dutch oven is a very versatile piece of cookware. It shines at low and slow oven or stovetop braising, but can also serve as a large sauce pan, a small stock pot, a deep skillet or sauté pan (deep frying! wilting greens!), a pot for baking bread, and more. You'll find yourself reaching for this piece for so many tasks, from making soups, stews, casseroles, and stocks to baking bread to braising pot roasts, short ribs, pork butts... the list is endless.

What to Look For

Since these are cast iron pieces, the heating performance is going to be about the same no matter how much you spend. However, as you go up in price, the enamel gets higher quality and can withstand more abuse without cracking, crazing, or chipping. 

More expensive brands also tend to have brighter colors and more options, but as we said, the performance will be about the same. 

If you can afford Le Creuset, we think it's worth it; they're lighter than other cast iron Dutch ovens (though still heavy) and have a number of great traits. But if you can't, it's okay to go with a less expensive brand. Most of the lower cost brands, including our recommendations of Lodge and Tramontina, are made in China, while Le Creuset is made in France, still largely by hand.

We discuss the pros and cons of Le Creuset in The Best Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens, as well as the pros and cons of some less expensive brands.

Size: The best size for main dish meals is 5-7 quarts. For side dishes, 2-4 quarts is good. If you have a lot of mouths to feed, they come as large as 11 quarts.

Shape: You can find these in round and oval. We recommend round because they heat more evenly on a cooktop.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Super versatile piece great for many cooking tasks
  • The only material that can hold in heat and moisture for low and slow cooking (like braises)
  • Adds a pop of color to your cookware collection.

Cons:

  • Le Creuset, our favorite brand, is expensive (though many brands are very affordable)
  • Heavy
  • Have to handle them carefully on glass cooktops.

Favorites

Best overall: Le Creuset

Le Creuset is expensive, and it's probably more a want than a need. But it's beautiful cookware, not only because of the dozens of bright colors available, but because of its many features that make it wonderful to use. 

Le Creuset uses some of the hardest and most durable enamel on their Dutch ovens. It resists cracking, chipping and crazing more than any other brand. We love its light-colored interior, which makes it easy to see what you're cooking. And Le Creuset also makes the lightest weight cast iron Dutch ovens on the market (it's still heavy, but lighter than other brands). It has larger handles and comfortable lid pulls and is just all-around great to cook with. 

You can buy about 7 Dutch ovens of a cheaper brand for one Le Creuset, which makes this some truly premium cookware. But if it's in your budget, you won't regret buying it.

Best bargain brand: Tramontina and Lodge

We like Tramontina mostly for its shape: it has straight sides and a good amount of cooking surface--more than you'll find on the curved-sided Lodge. The Lodge is really cute, but the Tramontina is more practical.

They both get great ratings, and they're both made in China. The Tramontina is usually a little cheaper.

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Cookware to Avoid With Electric Stoves

Here's cookware we think isn't great with an electric stove, mostly because it's not great in general.

Thin Pans That Will Warp

Avoid thin pans because they'll warp and they don't hold heat evenly, which makes them a pain to use. 

Thin pans aren't great on any heat source, but electric heat in particular can cause pans to warp because they can get really hot.

Which pans fit this category? Thin, stamped aluminum (usually nonstick) and thin, cheap clad stainless steel are the worst offenders. Some carbon steel can also warp if it's really thin, so pay attention to the gauge (thickness) of the carbon steel before you buy.

Nonstick

Avoid nonstick cookware not because it's not great with electric heat, but because it contains potentially unhealthy chemicals and is a major environmental pollutant. See our Guide to Nonstick Cookware Chemicals for more information. 

This is true mostly for PTFE-based cookware, but ceramic nonstick cookware also contains some questionable chemicals that, if you want to err on the side of caution, you should avoid.

100% Stoneware, Glass, and Ceramic

Avoid 100% stoneware, glass, and ceramic cookware not because they're not great with electric heat but because they have poor heating properties in general. They are also heavy, brittle, and fragile, so they just don't make very good cookware.

Most people who buy 100% stoneware are worried about toxins in their cookware, and these types are thought to be the safest cookware around. But all the cookware we recommend above are all extremely safe, especially if you buy reputable brands.

100% stoneware, glass, and ceramic all make good bakeware because their insulating properties help delicate batters brown without burning. But for stovetop cookware, they're not great.

Examples of 100% stoneware, glass and ceramic: Xtrema, Corningware, Pyrex, Emile Henry baking dishes.

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Final Thoughts on Cookware for Electric Stoves

If you buy good quality cookware, it should work well on an electric stove. The best types are clad stainless steel for sets (or copper if you can afford it), carbon steel and cast iron for skillets, and enameled cast iron for Dutch ovens. If you buy reputable brands, they should work great with electric stoves.

Avoid thin cookware because it can warp and won't heat evenly, and avoid nonstick cookware because it can contain potential toxins. 

If you have a glass top stove and are worried about scratching it, avoid cast iron--but if you're careful, it should be fine. 

Thanks for reading!

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