A well-rounded cookware collection will look different to different people: A family of five may rely on big-batch dinners on the regular, whereas a single person moving into their first apartment may want as few pots and pans as they can get away with to make decent meals. And as with knives, buying a set to fit your specifications can be tricky, though no matter who you are, you probably don’t want to end up with space-stealing equipment you’ll never use. The key, then, is to curate a mix of types (saucepans, skillets, pots) and materials (nonstick, cast iron, stainless steel) without going overboard — but exactly what that combination should look like will depend on how you cook. To that end, in this story, with the advice of experts, I focused mostly on smaller-size sets because they give you the ability to curate more pointedly.
Best overall | Best less expensive | Best non-stick | best cast iron | Best fancy cast iron | best stainless steel
Number of pieces: As I said, these are mostly smaller-size sets (four to five pieces). The exception to this is our experts’ first pick, which has 11 pieces of varying types and materials and would therefore be a great choice for someone starting completely from scratch. It’s also important to say here that “pieces” sometimes includes accessories (like the seasoning wax in our first pick) and always includes lids (all of them) — so, for example, a five-piece set may be made up of three different pots and pans and two lids.
Material: As I also stated above (and as is the case if you’re buying cookware individually), you should have some cast-iron or carbon-steel, some nonstick, and some stainless-steel pieces in your kitchen. (You can also splurge on copper, which is basically like an even more reactive stainless steel, but that will cost you a very pretty penny.) For this, I’ve stated whether the set is all one material or a mixed batch.
Types: Beyond just the number, you should look at the shapes and sizes of all of the parts in each set you consider. Here, I’ve listed them out so you can take a quick look and know whether or not it might be a fit for you (though it’s also worth noting that I’ve linked to some other options within the descriptions of each one, if you take a more careful read through).
11 pieces | mixed | Nonstick frying pan, stainless-clad frying pan (both ten inches); 12-inch carbon-steel frying pan; two-quart saucepan, four-quart saucepan, 3.5-quart sauté pan, eight-quart stock pot (all stainless clad with lids); two-ounce can of carbon-steel seasoning wax
This is the largest, most comprehensive set on this list, and it comes recommended by culinary producer Kiano Moju. As with Made In’s knife set, she first bought it when she was stocking her creative studio in Los Angeles, a kitchen she needed to outfit from scratch. “They have been used and abused since 2019, and I’ve never had to replace them,” she says. “They’re properly made. They literally still look brand-new. Especially the fact that the nonstick is still in good shape is shocking to me. I cook on pretty fast and high heat and have destroyed some other pans in, like, a month.” They even got her to cook on stainless steel, something she hadn’t done so much before. “Stainless steel always seemed so chef-y to me, and I’m really a home cook,” she says. “I bought the set because of the price — it’s discounted — but then I learned how to use them, and they’re so well built.” Strategist editor Maxine Builder agrees. A few years ago, she tested a bunch of cookware sets from direct-to-consumer start-ups, and though Made In’s was a slightly different grouping that the brand doesn’t sell anymore, it had the stainless-steel pots and pans she naturally gravitated toward the most in her two-week trial period. She described them as having “heavy bottoms with well-designed, easy-to-lift handles” and that because “the cookware is made of brushed stainless steel rather than polished, it was easy to clean and keep clean.” (She also loved the nonstick.)
The Sous Chef set also includes a 12-inch carbon-steel frying pan (sort of like a lighter cousin to cast iron), something that journalist and cookbook author Lesley Téllez especially appreciates. In fact, she owns most of the pieces in Made In’s all-carbon-steel set, which includes that frying pan, a wok, and a roasting pan (plus a couple of accessories). “This line is super-sturdy,” she says, “Your pans get blazing hot, and it cooks super-evenly. You get the same high-heat conduction as you would with cast iron, but because it’s not as thick, you have more control.”
five pieces | mixed | 10.5-inch nonstick pan, 10.5-inch sauté pan with lid | three-quarter sauce pot with lid
Material’s only cookware set is also a mix of types and materials — only fewer. In fact, I have added all three pieces individually to my own collection over the past couple of years (yes, I should have just bought the discounted bundle, but you live and you learn). In the end, they come in handy all the time. The pieces all have a copper core overlaid by other materials (self-explanatory for the nonstick, and in the case of the sauté pan and sauce pot, a stainless-steel and aluminum coating). Copper conducts heat particularly well but is notoriously expensive, so by using it only at the center, Material’s pots and pans reap the benefit while also staying at a reasonable price. I particularly love the nonstick (which, for what it’s worth, I think is one of the nicest-looking skillets of its kind out there). So does recipe developer and cookbook author Hetty McKinnon. “This is by far the most durable nonstick pan I have owned,” she says. “It heats up super-quickly and cooks evenly. It also feels balanced and light in my hand, which is such a nice change from my cast-iron skillet. Importantly, it has not warped after extended usage, which is an issue I always face with nonstick pans.”
Non-stick | Oven parts | Two-quart saucepan, 9.5-inch frying pan, three-quart sauté pan, one interchangeable lid
Cookbook author and broadcaster Yasmin Khan is a fan of GreenPan’s nonstick cookware. “They’re great,” she says, “The saucepan you can use for a stew, for pasta — it’s very versatile. You can use other ones for frying onions, for poaching eggs. Also, I’m half-Iranian, and in a lot of Iranian recipes, we use a nonstick pan, like for tahdig. At the end of the day, it’s just easier to cook things in a nonstick. You don’t necessarily need to splurge on fancy pans.” Other pros, like recipe developer and food writer Caroline Lange and cookbook author Vallery Lomas, have also sang the praises of GreenPan to us before. This four-piece set will get you pretty far, but GreenPan also makes an 11-piece one, should you really want to go all out.
Cast iron | five pieces | 10.5-inch round grill, eight-inch skillet, 10.25-inch skillet, five-quart Dutch oven, one interchangeable lid
If you want to go hard for cast iron, this set by Lodge is a real deal. For only $100, you get two different-size skillets, a griddle, and a Dutch oven. As I explained when I named Lodge’s skillet the best overall in this piece, cast iron can pretty much do it all: get really hot and retain that heat, go from the stove to the oven, and hold a nonstick surface if seasoned properly. You can sear, sauté, braise, fry, and bake with it — and having two sizes of skillet, more the Dutch oven (good for things with more volume, like soups, stews, and pastas) and the griddle (nothing better for making pancakes, eggs, and bacon), just takes it over the top.
Cast iron | five pieces | Ten-inch frying pan, 1.75-quart saucepan with lid, 4.5-quart round Dutch oven with lid
If you want to get a bit fancier, the Le Creuset Dutch oven is broadly considered one of the best pieces of cookware you can buy — but the company also makes other equally useful cast-iron pieces. Both cookbook author Erin Gleeson and recipe developer (and soon-to-be cookbook author) Jessie Sheehan endorse it as a long-term investment that will truly never need to be replaced. “I’ve had my Le Creuset pieces for ten years and use the skillets daily,” Gleeson says. For her part, Sheehan uses her Dutch oven “all the time for boiling water for pasta, for frying tofu or chicken fingers or donuts, for making bacon or hamburgers (the high sides of the pan mean less mess when making greasy, splatter-y things).” Not to mention the signature colors are so pretty that all of the pieces can not only go from the stove to the oven but also (stylishly) to the table.
stainless steel | five pieces | Ten-inch frying pan, three-quart saucepan with lid, three-quart sauté pan with lid
If you’re looking to invest in new stainless steel, All-Clad is as classic as it gets. Matt Rodbard, food writer, editor, and co-author of the recently released Food IQ, uses his skillet all the time (and even commonly gifts it to people). “It’s my workhorse,” he says. “You get such an even temperature, and it cleans up really nicely with Bar Keepers Friend. Plus, I think that having a piece of iconic culinary gear in your house feels great. The handle is iconic. If you look through most cookbooks in the last 20 years, you’ll spot the handle.” Jamie Knott, chef of Saddle River Inn in New Jersey, told us that he uses his three-quart saucepan because “it has a heavy bottom, heats evenly, and lasts forever.” As with the GreenPan nonstick, All-Clad offers a bigger set with more pieces if that’s what you’re after.
• Maxine Builder, Strategist editor
• Erin Gleeson, cookbook author
• Yasmin Khan, broadcaster and cookbook author
• Jamie Knott, chef of Saddle River Inn
• Caroline Lange, recipe developer and food writer
• Vallery Lomas, cookbook author
• Hetty McKinnon, recipe developer and cookbook author
• Kiano Moju, culinary producer
• Matt Rodbard, food writer, editor, and author
• Jessie Sheehan, recipe developer
• Lesley Téllez, journalist and cookbook author
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