No matter what type of cook you are – beginner, average, professional or expert – one of the best investments you can make along with your stovetop and oven is the best cookware set.
With the plethora of choices in the market, however, how do you exactly find and choose the best option? Should you go for the most expensive or the most popular brand?
Is nonstick better than stainless steel or should you go for cast iron instead? Is buying a cookware set more economical than purchasing individual pieces? Does the brand really matter?
The considerations are vast and many when shopping for cookware which can be confusing and sometimes daunting. This definitive guide will help you find your way to the best options that are in sync with your needs.
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Before even considering factors such as material, features, brand and price, first you must know your needs and cooking style. Remember that there is no one universal best option for everyone. Just because a cookware set from a known brand is a bestseller doesn’t mean it is right for you.
To know which cookware set to invest your money, think about what you already have in your kitchen. Then try to assess your cooking style and what you like to cook. But more importantly, consider what you need. Only when you know your needs will you be able to find the best and affordable cookware set to invest in.
Type of Cookware by Material
When you already know what you need, the first order of business is to peruse the different cookware materials. There are five common materials you’ll find in the market and they include:
Aluminum boasts excellent thermal conductivity. Because it has high sensitivity to temperature changes, pots and pans made in aluminum heats up and cools down quickly and evenly. The material is also durable not to mention lightweight thus easy to handle. Aluminum, however, is reactive with alkaline foods which is it’s usually coated with stainless steel or nonstick finish.
To make raw aluminum non-reactive, the material was subjected to a type of electrochemical process to harden the material creating what is referred as anodized aluminum. The material also has nonstick properties and is resistant to scratch. Naturally, it’s also more expensive than raw aluminum.
Though stainless steel has poor heat distribution, the material is nonreactive, durable and inexpensive. It is also resistant to rust and corrosion and you can cook pretty much anything on stainless pots and pans. Because of the poor conductivity, however, the material is often combined with aluminum and copper or you can opt for higher grade stainless steel for better heat conductivity.
Cast iron pots and pans are heavy and take time to heat up but that’s also the beauty of the material. It is durable, inexpensive and can be nonstick when seasoned property. It also boasts excellent heat distribution and retention. In terms of reactivity, the material is not very compatible with acidic foods.
If you can afford pots and pans made of copper, they are one of the best rated cookware set options in the market in terms of thermal conductivity and even cooking. To offset the material’s reactivity to alkaline foods and its expensive price tag, copper is often combined with other metals.
Popular Cookware Brands
Choosing your best cookware set based solely on the brand name is not always wise. But it still does pay to check out profiles of the different popular brands in the cookware industry to compare which ones have solid track records of providing high quality cookware products. Below are some of the more popular brands in the market today:
- All-Clad – This brand is popular for their premium stainlesss steel and copper core cookware sets. Because of the superior quality, All-Clad offerings are also among the highest priced in the market. The giant brand also carries the Emerilware line by popular TV personality and Chef Emeril Lagasse.
- Calphalon – Popular for their anodized aluminum, nonstick and stainless steel products, Calphalon included mid to high end options for a diverse group of customers.
- Cuisinart – Many of the best rated cookware set options in the market today are offered by Cuisinart. Prices fall between mid to high range for products made in multiclad materials, hard anodized aluminum and stainless steel among others. Also popular after the Teflon scare is the brand’s Green Gourmet Cookware which uses ceramic for a safe and eco-friendly collection.
- Wearever – This is the brand of choice if you’re after low-priced cookware sets. Offers include nonstick aluminum and stainless steel.
- Cook N Home – Another brand that is known for affordable cookware sets. Choices include stainless steel and nonstick aluminum among others. Some of its collection is priced below $100 which is incredibly affordable for beginners.
- Anolon – Famous for their line of nonstick products, Anolon work hand in hand with Circulon, both manufactured by Meyer Corporation, to offer cookware set collection within the mid to high range categories.
Cookware Essentials for Every Kitchen
Whether you’re a novice home cook or a professional chef, there are pieces of cookware that you must have if you want to cook everything and anything you want at any time. When looking for the best cookware set, make sure you have the basic kitchen workhorses which include the following:
- Fry pan – is a pan with a flat bottom, low sides and long stick handle which is great for fast cooking like frying, searing or browning. It is available in different sizes including 8, 10 and 12-inch diameter choices.
- Sauce pan – is pan with a flat base, tall sides and a long stick handle. It’s great for cooking dishes with a good amount of liquid like boiling, poaching and of course, whipping up sauces.
- Sauté pan – is a pan with a flat and wide bottom, moderate sides and a long stick handle. This cookware is great for fast cooking. If you’re opting for the larger sized sauté pans, make sure it comes with a helper handle.
- Dutch oven – It is a large pot with vertical sides, loop handles and tight-fitting lid. This is best for long and slow cooker recipes such as stews, casseroles and roasts.
- Stock pot – It is large pot with tall vertical sides and flat base plus two loop handles. The cookware is best for cooking recipes with large amounts of liquids.
Common Pieces in a Cookware Set
Whether you’re looking for the best nonstick cookware set or stainless steel, it is important to buy only the set which includes pieces that you are sure you are going to use. Most cookware sets include 7 to 12 pieces. Some sets may include the basic and essential pieces combined with a few unnecessary ones. To avoid wasting your money or your kitchen space, make sure to check every piece including sizes, lids and handles.
Among the common pieces you’ll find in a basic cookware set from different brands include the following:
- 1-1/2-quart saucepan with cover
- 3-quart saucepan with cover
- 3-1/2-quart sauté pan with helper handle and cover 8-quart stockpot with cover
- 8&Prime open skillet
- 10&Prime open skillet
Other sets may include additional pieces or extras like utensils and other kitchenware. Again, the key is to pick only sets which suit your needs and have cookware essentials that you will use. Otherwise, you’ll only waste your money on something you won’t maximize in the end. Once you have the basic workhorses for your kitchen, you can build up your collection by purchasing individual pieces.
Cookware Set Features to Consider
Aside from materials, other key features to consider when shopping for the best quality cookware set include the following:
- Cover/Lids – Most cookware sets come with cover and lids. Some offer glass lids while others are non-glass which means you can’t see what you’re cooking. No matter what you prefer, the most important thing to investigation is fitting of the cover to your cooking vessel. Pick tight-fitting lids to lock in the flavor while you’re cooking.
- Handles – When it comes to handles, there are different choices available and they include stainless steel, silicone or plastic. Metal handles may be unwieldy and easily gets hot but they are also sturdy and allow you to go from stovetop to oven. Plastic handles, on hand, do not get hot easily but they can’t go in ovens especially at very high temperatures. Silicone handles can stay cool during cooking and it can go in the oven but only up to a certain temperature. When checking out handles, look for one with a cool grip and is comfortable to handle.
- Performance – Whether you’re cooking simple everyday dishes or elaborate menus, performance is a critical feature that you best budget-friendly cookware set should boasts. Regardless of which material you choose, the most important thing is to look for a cookware set that can promise even heat distribution and no hot spots.
- Technology – Each brand has their own signature technology embedded on their cookware sets. Take for instance Cuisinart which incorporates a Heat Surround Technology on their stainless steel collection. When looking at your choices, make sure you opt for the technology that boosts your cookware’s overall performance.
- Construction – How the cookware set is constructed is another consideration you should not overlook. Famous among stainless steel options, for example, is the tri-ply construction which put together a stainless steel interior, pure aluminum core and brushed stainless exterior. The result is a cookware with unsurpassed heat conductivity, heat distribution, retention and it even eliminates hot spots.
- Durability – To make your investment count, durability is another feature to take into account. Depending on choice of material, respective warranties are often offered by most kitchenware and cookware brands. Obviously, you should go for the best cookware set with a lifetime warranty. The fact that the warranty lasts that long is a testament to the product’s quality and durability.
- Safety – Don’t forget about safety either. Because cooking deals with heat, often at very high temperatures, you need a cookware set that can handle temperature changes. The best option should be able to handle long exposure to heat. If you leave an empty pot on the burner, for instance, a good pot should not discolor right away.
- Stovetop Compatibility – If you’re using different methods of cooking, make sure your best cookware set is compatible with those methods. Most cookware sets are compatible with gas and electric but not necessarily with induction. If you’re stovetop is induction, you may need a more specific type of cookware set to ensure compatibility.
- Maintenance – Nobody wants to spend more time cleaning up after cooking and enjoying your dinner. When comparing your options, it would help to include ease of maintenance to your list of considerations. Ideally, your cookware set should be dish-washer friendly for easy clean-up every time.
- Price – Price points for cookware sets vary from option to option. The best nonstick cookware set choices are usually the more affordable with price tags below $100 for beginners and the more expensive above $100 to $300. Stainless steel also come in low, mid and high range varieties. But the most expensive sets are probably the ones that are made of copper with some choices tagged at around $1,000 or more.
As a major investment for your kitchen and cooking needs, buying a cookware set should be carefully planned and thoughtfully considered. Finding the best is not just about the brand or the bestselling options in the market. It’s not just about the price either. Those factors do matter but there are other factors that should be taken into account when shopping around. You can buy the priciest cookware collection but it wouldn’t do much unless it is in sync with your needs. The bottom line, therefore, is all about meeting your needs. And this definitive guide on cookware sets was compiled and created to help you look for the right features on your cookware set.