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.
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 at higher prices. 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 here in a helpful, easy-to-read article.
The best cookware, in our opinion, is clad stainless. So if you're looking for some other type of set (cast iron, aluminum, glass, nonstick), 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 What to Look For in Stainless Cookware. You can also click in the Table of Contents to jump to 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.
Note: Some tables may not be visible in mobile view.
The Best Cookware Sets At a Glance
If you don't want to read the whole article, here is a summary of our cookware picks:
Best Cookware Sets at a Glance
Pros and Cons
$1000+: Demeyere Industry 5
Pros: Excellent performance, rivetless, Silvinox coating.
Cons: Heavy, expensive.
$500+: All-Clad Tri-Ply
Pros: Excellent performance, light, lifetime warranty, made in USA.
Cons: Rivets, expensive.
Under $500: Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Pc (app. $225)
Pros: Good heating properties, big pieces in set.
Cons: Made in China, Not as high quality as All-Clad.
Under $200: Cuisinart Multi-clad Pro
Pros: Similar heating as All-Clad tri-ply at a lower price.
Cons: Made in China, steel quality iffy, may warp.
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 fully 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 best options by using these criteria:
- All-Around Usefulness: There are hundreds of clad cookware options, and almost that many needs and preferences among home cooks. Our 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 both rely on the quality of the cladding)? How even is the heating? How responsive is the cookware 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 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).)
- Best Set Pieces: The pricing is somewhat arbitrary, as the different sets have different numbers of pieces and different types and sizes of pieces. We picked the sets that we thought had the best pieces for the best value. For example, the 12-piece Tramontina set has better pieces than smaller Tramontina sets (10/12-in. skillets rather than 8/10-in. skillets). Keep in mind that different set sizes can have different pieces--so if you don't want the set we recommend, make sure you're getting the pieces you want in a smaller (or larger) set.
- Cost-per-year-of-use: While you'll pay more up front for clad stainless cookware, does the cookware have a good cost-per-year-of-use? That is, will it last for decades, making your initial investment a smart one?
- Warranty: Does this cookware come with a warranty, and is that warranty honored by the manufacturer?
What to Look for in Stainless Cookware At a Glance
This article goes into a lot of detail about clad stainless cookware. We answer these questions:
- Why clad stainless? (How it differs from other cookware materials and why it is superior.)
- 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?
- 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?)
- 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 below summarize all the information in this section, so if you don't want to read the whole section, just skim the tables, then skip to the reviews to see details and purchasing information on the recommended cookware sets.
Note: Tables may not be visible in mobile view. If not you will still be able to read the sections.
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:
Ease of Cleaning
Excellent (When cared for properly)
Good (if properly cared for)
Yes (but not ideal)
Poor (requires a lot of upkeep)
Very Good, but shows scratches
Excellent (When cared for properly)
Good (if properly cared for)
Yes (but not ideal)
N/A (depends on what it's bonded to)
N/A (depends on what it's bonded to)
Depends on what it's bonded to
N/A (depends on what it's bonded to)
N/A (depends on what it's bonded to)
Depends on brand
Depends on what it's bonded to
Glass and Ceramic
Poor (can break easily)
Very Good to Excellent (depending on cladding)
Fast to Very Fast (depending on cladding)
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
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.
Manufacturers cut costs by using improper cladding techniques.
Warping, bubbling, and separating of metals (rendering cookware useless).
Country of Origin
Chinese factories sometimes have poor quality control.
Not all Chinese cookware is poor quality, but these issues tend to occur in inexpensive, Chinese-made cookware.
Buying Considerations (What to Look For in Cookware Sets)
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:
What to Look For:
Make sure the set has the type of pans you need. Don't pay more for a set with pans 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, than to buy a large set with pieces you're not sure you want.
Pan Sizes (esp. skillets)
Skillets in cookware sets are almost always 8" and 10". A 10" skillet is the minimal size of an all-purpose skillet. We prefer a 12" pan, but most sets don't come with one (the Tramontina 12pc set is an exception, which is why we recommend it even though it's a big set).
If a set comes w/a 3-4qt sauté pan this can fill the gap. But a 12" skillet is our preferred all-purpose pan.
Pan Shapes (esp. skillets)
Skillets in particular: the more sloped the sides are, the less flat cooking surface the pan will have. Thus even large pans can have a small cooking surface. Look for skillets with straighter sides rather than sloping sides. (A few brands we like--Tramontina, Anolon Copper Nouvelle--have sloped skillets, but we picked them for other reasons--keep this in mind when deciding.)
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.
We strongly recommend stainless lids over glass: they're more durable, easier to store, and can withstand higher oven heat.
1) We strongly recommend stainless handles. Any coating or plastic is going to wear off eventually, so stainless handles are the most durable.
2) We 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 hot liquid!).
3) If you can afford to go with welded handles over riveted ones, you will find they are much easier to clean (like Demeyere).
Ease of Cleaning
Stainless is never going to be as easy to clean as nonstick, but Demeyere has a proprietary coating that makes it easier to clean than other stainless brands. Note: When used properly, stainless is not hard to clean. Just remember: Heat, then oil, then food, then let food cook until it releases from the pan naturally.
Many clad stainless cookware brands come with a lifetime warranty, so there's no reason not to get a brand with a good warranty. Remember: not all manufacturers honor their warranties. Be sure to buy from a reputable maker with a good reputation.
Why Clad Stainless?
To answer this question, let's first look at other cookware materials:
A lot of folks sing the praises of cast iron, but it's best for a few specific tasks: frying chicken, pan searing a steak, and oven braising and baking.
Cast iron is also really 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 distributes heat slowly and evenly. This is due to its molecular structure. Cast iron is a very rough, very brittle material. Because of this, heat passes through it kind of in fits and starts. It takes a long time to heat evenly and all over.
For induction cooktops in particular, this uneven heating can cause problems. Because induction heats SO much faster than gas or electric, cast iron has a hard time keeping up, so you can end up with extreme hot and cold spots before the temperature equilibrates. (And also, the weight and roughness of the cast iron creates the need for great care to not scratch or crack the glass cooktop.)
Once it gets hot all over, though, it stays hot--it retains heat very well--which is what makes it excellent for deep frying, searing, and braises (notice that these are all tasks that require a pan to hold heat well).
Also, most modern cast iron is not made the "old" way. Antique cast iron is much smoother and heats more evenly (though still slowly). So while modern cast iron is good for these specific tasks, its primary feature is that it's cheap.
Not all of it, though. 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 (very) high-end clad stainless pan! (Check out their 10-inch skillet on Amazon.)
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, particularly anything acidic. And it's soft, so it wears fairly rapidly. There's also some evidence that aluminum is associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer's, although there's conflicting information about that.
Aluminum is also not induction-compatible, although a lot of nonstick aluminum cookware has a stainless base attached for induction compatibility.
Aluminum cookware is some of lowest priced you'll find. It's popular 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 is also very good at heat distribution. In fact, it conducts heat faster and more evenly than any other cookware material known to man (aluminum comes in second). "Faster" also means that it is quite responsive: it heats up and cools down quickly. However, since most cooks prefer pans with decent heat retention, most good quality copper cookware is thick and heavy enough to have good heat retention, too. (A pan's mass is almost as important as a pan's material when it comes to heat retention.)
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. It can impart an off flavor to food, just like aluminum.
Copper is also a somewhat rare metal, making copper cookware expensive; the most expensive cookware on the market, in fact. (If you find a deal on copper cookware that seems too good to be true, it probably is: cookware can have such a thin layer of copper that it adds no heating properties at all, and some "copper" cookware is merely copper colored and contains no actual copper at all. Read the fine print!)
Copper is beautiful, but keeping its gorgeous luster requires some work. It has to be polished regularly to keep its rosy glow--probably a couple of times a year. Copper cookware will perform just as beautifully without its patina, but most people buy it, at least partially, for its beauty. A couple of polishings a year may not sound like a lot, but keep in mind that for other types of cookware, the amount of yearly maintenance required is zero.
Copper is also not induction-compatible, so if you have induction, your copper needs a magnetic stainless base to work with it.
As for clad stainless with a copper interior--like All-Clad's Copper Core--it's expensive, yet doesn't have enough copper to offer the top performance of "true" copper cookware like Mauviel. (You can read more about it in our All-Clad Copper Core review.)
Some aluminum is treated--"baked," sort of--to give it an extremely durable surface. Anodized aluminum cookware is usually clad with an inner aluminum layer and a stainless or nonstick layer for the cooking surface. The anodized aluminum on the outside makes the pan as durable as stainless and also enhances the heat distribution.
However, anodized aluminum has a few drawbacks:
- It is not induction compatible
- It is not dishwasher safe
- It scratches pretty easily
- After a few uses it takes on a dark, matte 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 aluminum provides stellar performance, and you can usually find it at a lower cost than stainless. Check out All-Clad's LTD2 line to see what we mean--but remember: that shiny surface is going to get dark after a few uses, and won't be nearly as pretty!
Anodized aluminum is also our pick for the best nonstick skillet. Both All-Clad HA1 and Anolon Nouvelle Copper are anodized, inexpensive, and contain enough aluminum to provide excellent heating. (See the section on nonstick below for more info.)
You can read more about LTD2 in our Ultimate All-Clad Review.
(Also sometimes called blue or black steel) Carbon steel is a lighter-weight version of cast iron. It's the material of choice for many professional chefs for its heat retention, durability, and low cost. It 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.
Carbon steel is induction-compatible.
Most unappealing is how easily it rusts: like cast iron, you can never leave it to air dry, as it will rust almost immediately. It has a utilitarian appearance that doesn't always appeal to home chefs. More importantly, like cast iron, it doesn't have stellar heating properties, being both slow and uneven. And because it also lacks the mass of cast iron, it doesn't hang onto heat quite as well (though it's still not too bad).
As far as we know, cookware sets aren't even 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 can be a great addition to any cookware collection.
Nonstick cookware is a coated cookware. That is, the cooking surface of stainless, aluminum, or possibly cast-iron pans is covered with a ceramic or hydrocarbon-based nonstick coating (usually sprayed on). The coating is highly "slippery," allowing food to slide off of it easily, which is also what makes it easy to clean.
Nonstick has become hugely popular cookware. 70% of the frying pans sold in the US are nonstick pans. People love nonstick 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.
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 PTFE 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 micro-abrasives in dishwasher detergent pummel the nonstick coating, causing it to wear faster.
For all of these reasons, we aren't big fans of nonstick cookware. Who wants to use a pan that has heat restrictions on it? Or one that is only going to last a short time? Use a little fat in your cooking! It's delicious, and it's even necessary to absorb many of the nutrients in vegetables (so long, fat-free salad dressing!).
If you do decide to keep a nonstick skillet around for eggs (and who doesn't??), our advice is to buy a cheap one. There are some really excellent options that you don't have to spend a lot on. Check out our nonstick skillet review for more info.
A Short Lesson on Using Nonstick Cookware (PTFE and Ceramic)
- Do not use metal utensils, even if instructions say you can. It will shorten the life of the cookware.
- Do not use high heat. This will shorten the life of the cookware.
- Do not use aerosol cooking spray. The propellants reacts with the nonstick coating, shortening its life.
- 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. (This applies to PTFE only; ceramic can withstand a lot more heat.)
- Do not put in the dishwasher, even if 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.
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 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. You can spend a little more and get a clad stainless set that will last for decades.
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 this: 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.
le Creuset, however, is a different story. If you can afford it, a le Creuset Dutch oven is a spectacular addition to your cookware collection. The cast iron is perfect for braising, while the enamel makes it impervious to acidic foods. The heavy lid is also ideal. Dutch ovens are the one piece of cookware we prefer in enameled cast iron.
Glass and Ceramic
Glass and ceramic pans--made out of composite materials that are more durable than glass or ceramic alone--are great 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??
Besides, they're heavy. And fragile (compared to stainless, cast iron, or aluminum). And not induction compatible.
People who are concerned about toxins in stainless cookware (unnecessarily, we believe) 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 even with glass cookware you have to do your research. It may not all be safe because some glass products are manufactured with lead or cadmium, and this can be extremely hard information to find. Xtrema and Corningware brands are both considered safe.
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 cookware 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.
Pure stainless steel cookware probably doesn't exist. If it did, it would be awful, because stainless, although durable and non-reactive, has terrible heat retention and conductivity properties.
And yet we recommend clad stainless as the best all-around cookware on the market.
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 the All-Clad company, the first producer of clad stainless cookware.
Cladding was as revolutionary as stainless itself. It married durability, light weight, ease of care, stability, and superior heating performance into one product.
Here's a diagram from All-Clad describing their tri-ply clad stainless construction:
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.
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
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
Clad stainless cookware is made from 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 not as durable.
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 cookware with a 400 Series cooking surface 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 where the rubber meets the road. (Or, the alloy hits the pan, right?)
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 cookware manufacturers.
Less reputable companies may use steel 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 inexpensive, 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:
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 usually 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.
(The one exception to this that we know of is Demeyere, whose TriplInduc® technology puts the magnetic stainless between two layers of 300 Series stainless, making it probably the most corrosion-proof induction-compatible cookware on the market.)
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 something similar, 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.
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.
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, not the number of layers. (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 we believe is the best overall choice for most cooks and most cooking projects.
Multiple layers of cladding have become the latest marketing hype. 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 do you know what you're getting? Do your research--and buy a reputable brand.
Core Thickness (Heating Properties)
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 equally effective: about twice as thick to get similar heating properties. For example, a 1mm layer of copper is going to provide really good heat conductivity. To get the same performance from aluminum, the layer would have to be about 2mm thick.
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; this a super high quality line 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 some reputable brands (All-Clad, we're looking at you). 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, because most people don't know enough to ask, or understand what it means if they do.
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.
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 Is Best?
There are so many things to think about here and there is no simple 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 we will say this: if you want to buy at the lower end, avoid multiple layers of cladding, avoid copper, and stick to a basic 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. 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 responsive, lightweight pans, clad copper is the way to go. Unfortunately, we don't know of any that we'd recommend. All-Clad Copper Core sort of fits the bill, but because it also has internal layers of stainless, we discuss it below.
Aluminum: Aluminum will heat quickly and spread heat quickly--almost as well as copper--but it is slightly slower to respond to temperature changes. However, the mass of most clad stainless/aluminum pans are such that the pans strike a good balance between responsiveness and heat retention. There are tradeoffs in both areas, but for an all purpose pan, it's hard to beat good old tri-ply.
Aluminum-clad 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 1.7mm. 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, and eliminating hot and cold spots.
All of the tri-ply cookware sets reviewed here have aluminum cladding thicker than, equal to, or very slightly less than All-Clad.
Both copper and aluminum: All-Clad Copper Core is a 5-ply cookware with an internal layer of copper sandwiched between two thin layers of aluminum (s-a-c-a-s). It is your best option for clad copper/aluminum cookware, as off-brand clad copper is not something we recommend. Copper Core is beautiful, durable cookware and we wouldn't blame you if you fell in love with it.
But keep in mind that Copper Core's performance is very similar to D3 in a slightly thinner, slightly lighter weight pan. If you want true copper performance, you should probably go for the real stuff (e.g., Mauviel) and not a clad stainless version, which ends up being kind of a mediocre (and overpriced) compromise.
This is not to say that a copper/aluminum clad stainless cookware couldn't be fabulous: it definitely could. Demeyere makes some bottom-clad pieces with a 2mm layer of copper (wow!) as well as aluminum, and it is some of the best performing clad cookware in the world. But it's not fully clad, so we didn't include it here.
(You can read more about Demeyere cookware in our All-Clad Vs. Demeyere article.)
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.
You should especially avoid off-brand clad copper cookware, as copper doesn't bond well to stainless, so an off brand could be more prone to separating. (This is why we don't recommend any other brands of clad stainless/copper cookware.)
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 poor quality. Poor stainless, poor cladding, thin layers, manufactured with poor (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 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 to tell. After all, nobody is going to advertise that this is what they're doing. But if a cookware has a brand name that's known for something other than cookware (for example, appliances), that may be a hint that they're buying pre-made cookware and putting their logo on it.
Even some cookware companies can do this with cookware they're not known for. For example le Creuset makes world quality enameled cast iron cookware. But their clad stainless cookware is made in China (or at least some of it is).
So what do you do?
For the best cookware set, our 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 Tri-Ply Clad recommended 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 us around 200 hours of research to find all the information to write this article. So good luck with that! 🙂
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:
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.
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.
The other all-purpose kitchen pan, used for boiling liquids, making pasta, hot cereals, heating leftovers, and much more. Most kitchens need a couple of saucepans in small and medium/large size (e.g., 1-qt. and 4-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.
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.
Sauce-making and reducing liquids. Sloped sides make for easy whisking faster evaporation. Similar: Chef's pan, Windsor pan.
Full cladding is the best option: sauces can be delicate and require even heating for the best results.
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.
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.
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.
The 5 Essential Pieces Every Cook Should Have
Skillet or saute pan
Skillet:10" (and preferably 12")
Saute pan: 3 quart.
You may also want a nonstick skillet for eggs; 10" is the the best size for most people.
If you only have one, make it at least a 3 qt.; ideally, a 1.5- or 2-qt. AND a 4- or 5-qt.
5-6 qt. Larger if you don't also own a stock pot.
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.)
1. Skillet or Saute Pan
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).
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 not often seen in sets).
It is also lovely if a larger saucepan has a helper handle (see more on this below).
3. Dutch Oven
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
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.
5. Sheet Pan
You won't find a sheet pan in any cookware set, but do yourself a huge favor and buy one (or three). 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
To help your cookware last as long as possible, without warping, pitting, or rusting, follow these simple rules:
- 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.)
- You can use high heat, but if you do you will get burnt on oil on your frying pans. This will scrub off, but it's not fun. Thus only use high heat if absolutely necessary.
- To avoid sticking (and subsequent hard scrubbing), first heat the pan, then add the oil, then add the food. Allow food to cook without disturbing it until it releases naturally from the pan surface, then flip or stir. Cooking this way creates an almost nonstick surface and makes for easier cleanup.
- Let pans cool before washing. This prevents warping and allows food to wipe off more easily.
- Use a gentle cleanser like Barkeeper's Friend to remove stains and keep pans shiny.
- Avoid soaking pans for too long a time. This can degrade the surface.
- 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.
- 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.
Pros and Cons of Buying Cookware in a Set
- Pieces will be cheaper than if you bought them all separately.
- You will have a matching set.
- If you need a lot of pieces, this is the fastest and most economical way to get them.
- You may not use or like every piece in the set.
- 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).
- 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 your collection (such as with a roasting pan and sheet pans as discussed above).
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.
What to Look For in a Cookware Set (Features)
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?
The goal here is to make you aware of concerns 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.
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:
- Steel lids make the best fit.
- Stainless can always go in the oven; glass may or may not be oven-compatible.
- Glass lids are more fragile, heavier, and harder to store.
In general, you'll find glass lids on lower-priced stainless cookware, while stainless lids come with higher-quality cookware. However, you can find inexpensive sets, like the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad and the Cuisinart Multiclad Pro we recommend here, both come with stainless lids.
Cookware with glass lids is sold as having the advantage of being able to look into a pan without removing the lid. We're 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.
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 on cookware can really make or break its usability. Handles present a number of considerations:
Stainless Vs. Coated: The first consideration is probably whether you want all-stainless handles or coated handles. All-stainless are the most durable, 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 a nice grip, 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 if you use anything higher than low heat.
Stainless is also 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.
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. We recommend them for all your larger pots and pans.
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" can dig into your hand.
Overall, we 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. 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, a few brands, like Demeyere and Huftgold have handles that are welded to the pans. The result is that there are no rivets to collect gunk on the cooking surface.
Rivets aren't a dealbreaker. Plenty of excellent brands have rivets. But rivetless cookware is definitely easier to clean and it is available, so we mention it as an option. Our top pick, Demeyere Industry 5, has welded handles.
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. Often there is not a huge difference, though, between rimmed and rimless pouring.
There is also no difference in how lids fit.
Ultimately, we 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!
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.)
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:
What do you do if the set you want comes with a too-small skillet? Here are your options:
- You can buy the set and augment it with a larger skillet.
- You can keep looking for a set with the size skillet you want.
- You can buy all the exact pieces you want separately rather than buy a set.
Option 1 makes the most sense. Because it's not that an 8-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 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 can be too small to cook meals for a family.
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!
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. We recommend that you don't buy anything that has a narrower opening than it does a base.
- They're harder to clean
- They don't stack.
So even if you fall in love with how pretty the pans look (and they are pretty), 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. (We discuss this above in How to Care for Your Stainless Cookware.)
Demeyere cookware has a proprietary coating ("Silvinox®") that makes it a little bit easier to wash than other stainless brands. (It helps, but don't expect nonstick, because it's not.)
Rivets are also a consideration: while most cookware has riveted handles, some have welded handles, resulting in a rivetless cooking surface that is definitely easier to wash (and nowhere for gunk to build up).
If ease of cleanup is big factor for you but you still want clad stainless, consider Demeyere Industry 5 (reviewed below). It's designed especially for people like us who hate cleanup. 🙂
Don't buy cookware without a warranty. Just don't do it. In fact, don't buy clad stainless cookware with anything less than a 30-year warranty. Because all decent clad stainless cookware should last at least this long.
The good news is you shouldn't have to.
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 cookware brand known for another product (refrigerators, blenders...) may not be.
This is because of what we 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 quality control over the products they re-sell.
This isn't what you want.
How to avoid this? Once again, do your research, and buy a reputable brand that gets good reviews.
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, we'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.
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.
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 adding the extra pieces as you figure out what you need.
You won't save money buying a set if it has pieces you won't use.
Also, you may not like all those extras. The best cookware sets tend to not come with extras like utensils and strainers. Including utensils borders on gimmicky and they 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!)
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 with induction stoves--but make sure before you buy.
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 we 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?
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 (or the sports car).
If all things are mostly equal, our 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 cookware is that you can afford to replace it every few years if it rusts, pits, or warps.
However, after doing this a few times, you'll have as much invested as if you'd just bought a good 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, and 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.
We think it's worth every penny.
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?
Many people don't think they can justify spending a lot on cookware when there's waaay less expensive cookware available. But that logic is flawed, and here's why:
- 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.
- 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 in the first place.
- High quality cookware is a joy to work with. The heft, the polish, the aesthetics: as we said above, good tools are a joy to use. 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 reviewed here will serve you well for many years (decades, actually) to come.
Notes About Our Buying Options
- We've included as many buying options as we can for each set. Even if 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.
- Compare sets from different suppliers carefully. Sometimes the pieces are slightly different, enough so that you would prefer a set from another vendor.
- Sur la Table Demeyere Industry 5 has thermal lids (i.e., double-walled) for the same cost you'll find at other vendors. This is probably because for awhile, Sur la Table was the only retailer of Industry 5 in the US. This is a great feature for no extra cost.
$1000+: Demeyere Industry 5 10-Piece Set
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. 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 an 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.
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 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 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 pan with full cladding (like you may prefer for something like oatmeal), you have to purchase the saucier pan separately.
For these reasons, we 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 truly 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. The different alloys are probably there to help the aluminum bond better to the steel exteriors. No matter, though, because the result is a super thick, heat-spreading interior that's going to hang onto and spread 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 if you do any serious cooking, you will use them all. The pieces in this set are some of the most versatile we've seen, including the nicely-shaped 11-inch skillet that's large enough to cook for most families. (The 2 large skillets are exciting! You have to buy a much bigger set of All-Clad to get a 12-inch skillet included in the set.)
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.
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 at sur la Table (Insulated lids at no extra cost)
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 ensures 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 (double-walled lids if you buy at Sur la Table)
- Stay-cool handles
- Induction compatibility
- Lifetime warranty
- Made in Belgium.
Demeyere spared nothing in the superb design of Industry 5:
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 don't forget: 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 and a 9.5-inch skillet, larger than the skillets in most other cookware sets.
If you need the basics, this set has pretty much everything (except a roasting pan and a sheet pan). It 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, we highly recommend the Demeyere Industry 5 set as the best cookware set for most people.
Pros and Cons
- Excellent quality
- Extremely durable
- Great pieces included in the set, including an 11-inch skillet.
- 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), we 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.
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 a lighter set.
To buy The Demeyere industry 5 10 piece set:
$500+: All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply
If you've read through this whole article, then you know that All-Clad pioneered clad tri-ply stainless steel cookware about 50 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 (D3) 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 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 a great all-around choice for most people. But it would be dishonest to say it's the best cookware available, because it isn't.
But it's close.
The All-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless set includes:
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.
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.
All-Clad tri-ply has an interior layer of aluminum around 1.7mm thick, enough to provide 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; we 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.
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 sloped sides but still providing a good amount of flat of cooking surface.
Pros and Cons
- Excellent quality with lifetime warranty
- Lots of options for sets.
- 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 current cookware lineup:
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. (Discontinued, but still available.)
LTD: 3-ply anodized aluminum-aluminum-stainless. With this much aluminum, expect great performance--but not induction compatibility.
MC2: One 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.
C4: Their newest copper line. 4-ply copper-stainless-copper-stainless. Probably similar to Copper Core, in that it's beautiful cookware, but you will get more bang for your buck (i.e., more copper) if you go with a "real" copper brand like Mauviel.
Note: For a more detailed discussion about All-Clad products and how they compare to other top-of-the-line cookware, see our Ultimate All-Clad Cookware Review or All-Clad Vs. Demeyere: Which Is Better?
All-Clad is the original clad cookware, and it is certainly 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:
Under $500: Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad Stainless12-Pc. Set
Tramontina is a Brazilian company, founded 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 Clad 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).
(We should note here that only the 12-piece and the 14-piece sets have the large skillets. Other Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad sets have 8" and 10" skillets.)
The Tramontina skillets have the widely-sloped sides that make them less than ideal, but because they're big, it doesn't matter as much as it would if the pans were smaller.
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. 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 close. So much so, in fact, 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 Clad will perform well enough that you will rarely notice a difference (from All-Clad).
If you don't believe us, check out the reviews on Amazon.
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.
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.
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. (Some Tramontina is made in Brazil, but it's more expensive for what we believe is identical cookware.)
The riveted handles stay cool. They're thick and easy to hold without edges that cut into your hand.
The 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.
We would prefer that the skillets were a little less sloped, with more flat cooking surface:
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
- 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, which usually has the best price.)
- The skillets are a bit wok-shaped, with long sloped sides and a smallish flat cooking surface
- Not as high-performing as All-Clad (but very close).
Other Tramontina Cookware LInes
Tramontina makes some other lines, but the Tri-Ply Clad is the only one we recommend.
Recommended for people on a tight budget who need a big set with big pieces. 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, not to mention a 4qt sauce pan--so no shelling out later on 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, but its very 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 and honoring their warranties. For these reasons, we give this cookware an enthusiastic two thumbs up.
Remember, you only get the great pieces in the 12-piece set and the 14-pc 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:
Under $200: Cuisinart MultiClad Pro
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.)
We 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:
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).
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
- Dishwasher safe
- Oven and broiler safe up to 550F
- Lifetime warranty
- Made in China.
Cuisinart Multiclad Pro looks a lot more expensive than it is. On most pieces, the design is as good as All-Clad, and maybe in some ways it's even better. (Many people prefer the MC Pro handles, for example.)
The skillets have steeply sloped sides that give them wide, flat bottoms--a lot of cooking surface. The 12-inch skillet has a helper handle:
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:
The lids are stainless and fit snugly. (Note: Some pieces have glass lids. Be sure before you buy if this matters to you.)
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
- Cladding and heating properties almost identical to All-Clad
- Great skillet shape wit lots of cooking surface
- Competitively priced.
- 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.
Cuisinart French Tri-Ply Classic is as good as the Multiclad Pro, but is more expensive. This line is made in France, so considering that, it's actually very economically priced. It's no better than Multiclad Pro (though just as good), so we recommend the MC Pro because of its lower cost. However, if you want a French-made cookware, this is a great set at a great price.
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.
Their Chef's Classic line is probably their lowest price stainless cookware. It is bottom-clad with glass lids (everything we hate about cheap cookware). The roasting pan is about the only piece we can recommend.
The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro cookware offers near 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:
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, we've given the best options at different price points, as well as all the logic behind our choices.
We hope this has helped you find a cookware set that you can love and that will serve you well for decades and maybe even get passed on to your children or grandchildren.
Thoughts or questions? Please leave them in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading!