The best cookware sets of 2023 | CNN Underscored


Few items in a home will see as much use as cookware, which you may be handling up to three times a day. And considering how you’re using it — open flames, scalding temperatures, grease, and scrubbing pads, just to name a few of the regular rigors pots and pans are subjected to — it’s no wonder that choosing a cookware set can be so complicated.

Cookware can be a significant investment, and if you spring for an entire set you want it to meet your needs and last for a very long time. However, with so many materials, designs, and price points, it can be difficult to know where to start. That’s why we scoured the options and put them through the paces in a real kitchen to determine which sets were worth it. Read on for the results.

Best cookware set overall

Affordable cookware with an excellent variety of pieces, Tramontina’s 12-piece set is crafted from aluminum clad stainless steel and is induction-friendly to boot. A solid choice which checks all the boxes, these pots and pans were our favorite in terms of performance, ergonomics and even non-stick handling. All for a great value.

Best splurge cookware set

This gorgeous cookware set from Sardel easily melds form and function with its Italian handcrafted construction. And, this smaller, 4-piece set with two lids, even includes a non-stick skillet for easy clean-up. You’ll love the shiny finish and refined design, which make this cookware a perfect centerpiece for your kitchen — if you’re willing to pay a little extra.

Best budget cookware set

Cuisinart is our best budget pick because of its excellent array of pots and pans, including a handy double boiler. We also liked its glass lids and easy to read markings inside the pans for common measurements. Though not fully clad cookware, it did hold up to our testing in the kitchen — and you just can’t beat the low price.

Best non-stick cookware set

This copious set from Zwilling uses super durable, non-toxic materials to coat its non-stick pieces. The slickest surface of any cookware set we tested, the pots and pans also clean up easily and dry quickly.

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It might be surprising that we named such an affordable set the overall winner, but this cookware has it all. The set includes a nice variety of pieces, with both 8- and 10-inch skillets and a 6-quart saute pan with lid, three different size saucepans (1.5-, 2- and 3-quart), and a stockpot, which covers all your basic kitchen needs and then some. Having smaller pots and pans can be nice for sauces and other small-batch recipes.

All the pieces are aluminum clad with 18/10 stainless steel, which makes it induction-friendly. Tri-ply construction means you get the best of both worlds in terms of heat conductivity and durability, so these pans weather temperature changes without warping. The 8-inch skillet passed our warp test of plunging a hot pan into ice water without a shudder.

The pans have a solid, no-frills design that’s in line with what you might expect to find in professional kitchens: very clean and classic, without a lot of branding. The stainless finish resists fingerprints and looks attractive, if slightly utilitarian (you could ding a point for the stockpots not having any taper or pouring spout).

Importantly these pans handle nicely, too. They have the substantial heft of quality stainless that gives you confidence from the get-go that they won’t warp under pressure, but are still lightweight enough to swirl oil in one-handed, or toss vegetables gently when sauteeing. This is an often underrated quality in cookware, but a vital one because whether you’re slinging pots and pans all day for a living or just taking a smoking-hot skillet from the stovetop to the oven, you want to feel in control of the cookware, and fatigue can make cooking techniques both sloppy and, worst-case scenario, dangerous.

For the same reason, comfortable ergonomic handles attached with rivets are essential. Comfort level will vary from individual to individual, but these handles were among the easiest to grip and look elegant, too. They’re cast stainless steel, not too round or too thin, and the handles for the pot lids are high enough to accommodate an actual pair of knuckles without grazing the hot metal. The rivets are small and minimal, as low-profile as it gets for riveted handles.

Where these pans really shine, though, is their performance. The flour test revealed some of the most even heating in a skillet out of all those tested, including several pricier versions. One of the drawbacks of stainless cookware in general is that it isn’t nonstick, but in our fried egg test this skillet fared the best out of the options that weren’t made with nonstick materials: While the egg didn’t slide around in the pan even, it lifted out easily with no sticking and little mess, and the pan cleaned easily afterward, with barely more than a swipe with a damp sponge needed. Stainless sometimes has a tendency to stain when used with oil at high heats but that didn’t happen in our protein-searing test either, and the skillets had deep enough sides to rein in splatters. Even the starch from rice was easily cleaned out of a saucepan easily. The saucepans are nice and deep as well, which helps prevent bubble over. The cookware is rated safe up to 500 degrees F which means a saute pan can go from the stovetop to the oven.

Given the value for the money, this cookware set is a great choice for anyone who is looking for performance that will last. The combination of tri-ply construction, quality materials, and ergonomic design make for a set that does everything in the kitchen exactly the way it should, and will continue to for years. If it doesn’t, this cookware set comes with a lifetime warranty. If you’re more concerned about even heating, easy handling, and durability than brand names, this is the set for you. It’s what we recommend for anyone looking for a solid set to cook with daily.

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Sardel is a relatively new name in the cookware world but the reputation for quality is deserved. If you’re looking for something with a little more aesthetic appeal that’s also going to function well, and are willing to pay more for it, Sardel cookware is the way to go. These pots and pans combine the best of form and function with Italian design and five-ply construction. Though many brands, including All-Clad, have attempted to sell the idea that more layers are better, for the most part, testers have agreed that it’s not really any more conductive than tri-ply — and five-ply is just fancy marketing. But these pans will function as well as tri-ply and may be slightly more durable.

The Small Set includes a 10-inch nonstick skillet, a 12-inch stainless skillet, a 2-quart saucepan and a stock pot. If you eat eggs or other similarly delicate foods regularly, it’s nice to have a set that includes at least one nonstick pan with the workhorse stainless steel, and Sardel’s  honeycomb-patterned PTFE coating resists scratches and is slick enough to slide a fried egg around in.

This cookware is a step up designwise from the Tramontina set, with a shinier finish, more elegant handles, and pouring lips, all small touches that make this cookware set seem more refined overall. The branding is minimal, with a simple S logo, so these pots can easily go from stovetop to table. The skillets are larger and shallower, more like a crepe pan, but heat evenly, and the nonstick performs as well as any we’ve tried.

Looks aside, how do these pans perform? The company claims the 5-ply construction, with three layers of aluminum sandwiched in 18/10 stainless steel, makes for better reactivity, but we didn’t notice these heating any more quickly than tri-ply pans. That said, they did heat and cook evenly and with little effort. The stainless steel pots and pans are oven safe up to 500 degrees F, but even the nonstick is oven safe up to 480 degrees F. The handles are comfortable and riveted, making these pans easy to handle with confidence. The company also offers a 30-day period to try the pans and return them if you’re not satisfied.

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To be fair, this isn’t fully clad cookware, it’s what is known as “aluminum encapsulated,” or sometimes ”disc bottom,” which is more budget-friendly but lower in quality. Unlike fully clad cookware, which has an inner core of aluminum sandwiched by stainless steel comprising the entire pan, this cookware only has a clad bottom. That can be problematic because you won’t get the same even heating up the sides of the pans (which is really only an issue with skillets, although those do tend to be everyday pieces), and the pans may be bottom heavy.

These pans are actually well-balanced and easy to maneuver, however, and the rapid heating comes in handy when using the saucepan or stockpot to boil water, or the saute pan to brown meat. It did result in the flour getting a little dark in our tests, but it’s easy enough to adjust by using lower heat. Once we did that, the egg fried as well as any in clad cookware.

For its price, this cookware not only performs, it’s also well-designed, with touches you normally see in higher-end cookware including dripless pouring rims (that work!), interior measurements so you can tell at a glance how much to fill a saucepan for two quarts, for instance, stay-cool handles and clear glass lids let you see what’s cooking. The set includes the basic pieces as well as a steamer insert. In general, a good set for a budget price — it just may not be the best value over time, as fully clad cookware tends to hold up better and heat evenly for longer. If you’re looking for a better quality set you can invest in long term, Cuisinart makes fully clad sets with many of the same features at a reasonable price point.

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Many home cooks just want a decent pan that’s easy to clean up, and nonstick cookware fulfills that requirement. But recent concerns over chemicals in nonstick coatings has expanded the market for materials. The Zwilling nonstick cookware set uses a traditional polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE nonstick coating bonded to metal, but without the harmful PFOA “forever chemicals.” The brand calls its coating DuraSlide and claims that it is much more durable than other kinds thanks to a plasma primer base.

Our experiments show that there is a lot of legitimacy to this claim. The nonstick coating stood up to tough scraping with metal spatulas and a metal spoon. What’s more, it was one of the slickest surfaces, hands down, of every pan we tested. A fried egg actually slid around in the pan, and likely would have sans butter or fat. The coating even seems to almost repel water, so these pots and pans not only wash super easily, but dry quickly as well.

The Madura Plus 10-piece set includes 8- and 10-inch skillets, 1.5- and 3-quart saucepans with glass lids, a 2.6-quart sauté pan with a lid, and a 5-quart Dutch oven. All are forged aluminum construction, which means they excel at heating quickly and evenly. The Madura pots and pans are mid-weight, with smooth oval handles and a clean profile. With a matte black finish and brushed nickel accents, they’re sleek looking, something you wouldn’t mind having sitting out on your stove top. The Zwilling logo is emblazoned on both the pans and lids, but it’s fairly discreet. Glass lids allow you to see what you’re cooking, although the handles are screw-on so they have the potential to loosen over time.

This cookware set is induction friendly, and handles nicely — not too heavy or difficult to maneuver, and they have a dripless pouring rim to keep mess to a minimum. The handles are ergonomic and stay cool during cooking, and the pans didn’t warp even under extreme temperature changes. One caveat with these pans, however, is that they are not designed to be used in high heat or in the oven.

While this cookware, like any nonstick, isn’t as multipurpose as stainless, it’s a good everyday set. It’s upscale aesthetic along with the unbeatable nonstick performance and durability puts this nonstick cookware set ahead of the rest

Deciding whether to buy an entire cookware set, instead of stocking your kitchen a la carte, depends on a few key things. Most of us have certain pieces we use day-to-day, so it’s important to check what you already own, what needs upgrading and if it’s worth investing in a basic, quality set.

For those looking to save some money, buying a set can be more economical than buying individual pieces separately. In addition, buying a set will help with kitchen aesthetics as well, offering a consistent look.

Nonstick pans offer a quicker, easier way to cook and clean up, but the newest nonstick pans are also a safer alternative to older Teflon cookware. One thing to consider is that non-stick cookware will need to be replaced sooner than other types, mainly because the nonstick coatings will eventually fade. In addition, they won’t hold up as well to metal utensils without scratching.

There’s a reason most professional kitchens are stocked with stainless steel cookware: It’s incredibly durable. Because stainless is not an excellent heat conductor, however, most modern cookware has an aluminum or copper core, giving you the best of both materials. This process is known as cladding and was patented by its inventor, who would go on to found the company All Clad. Those patents have since expired, so many companies can use the same technology. Clad stainless cookware has a number of benefits that make it ideal for everyday use: It heats evenly, is sturdy without being super heavy, is oven-safe, won’t warp in extreme temperatures, won’t react with acidic foods or be scratched easily by metal tools, and cleans up nicely. It’s also induction-friendly. Stainless can take some getting used to cooking with, however, since it’s not naturally noonstick. Clad stainless cookware is a good choice 99% of the time.

To save money, some cookware is what is known as partially clad, also called encapsulated cookware or disc-bottom cookware. Only the base of these pots and pans is clad with a disc of aluminum or copper encapsulated in stainless steel. In general, these are not recommended over fully clad because they don’t heat as evenly and can be bottom heavy. If you do want to save money by going for some partially clad pieces, your best bets are saute pans, saucepans, and stock pots, because these don’t need the sides to heat up for cooking food the way skillets do.

Anodized aluminum is made using an electrochemical process that permanently alters the surface of aluminum pots and pans to make them more durable and nonstick and less reactive. In some cases, these can be much harder than stainless steel, and tend to be less expensive than fully clad cookware while offering many of the same benefits. The main drawbacks of anodized cookware is that it is not induction-friendly, needs to be hand-washed, and has a darker appearance than stainless.

You may hear cast iron and carbon steel called “naturally nonstick,” but this comes only after repeated seasonings, which can be tedious. Some cast iron is enamel-coated, a process that fuses powdered glass to the metal, which makes seasoning unnecessary. These pans are generally durable and add some color to a kitchen, but can chip, and are heavy. Carbon steel is a much lighter material, so it is more maneuverable, but tends to heat less evenly and be more expensive.

An affordable and eco-friendly nonstick option, ceramic is an even better heat conductor than metal. Solid ceramic is just clay and water, but ceramic-coated metal cookware may be made from a silicon product. The major complaints about ceramic cookware is that it becomes less nonstick with use and time, and that it isn’t as durable as stainless.

Each cookware set was unboxed and the pieces washed before use. Testing was done on a Waring Pro professional induction cooktop and a Kenmore Elite gas stovetop. For each set, we put the pieces through the following tests:

Flour test: Using the smallest size skillet available, one tablespoon of all-purpose flour was sifted evenly to cover the bottom of the dry pan. The skillet was then heated on an induction burner to medium high (setting 4/7n on a Waring 120v induction range, first confirmed by Leidenfrost effect) and observed as the flour browned. The resulting pattern showed how evenly a pan heats, and how difficult it was to clean afterward.

Egg test: Using the same skillet as the flour test, one-half tablespoon (7.06 g) of unsalted butter was melted on medium on an induction cooktop, then one large egg was cracked into the skillet and fried for a total of two minutes. This tests the pan’s release and cooking.

The seared protein test: Using the largest skillet of each set, the pan was heated to high (6/7 on an induction cooktop) and one-half tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil was added. A 3-ounce portion of salmon fillet with skin was added, skin side down, and the heat reduced to medium low (3/7). The fish was cooked for 5 minutes, then was flipped using a metal fish spatula and cooked for another 90 seconds until an instant read thermometer read 120 degrees F. This tested the searing capabilities of the pan, and how well it releases proteins.

The warp test: The smallest skillet of each set was placed on an induction burner on the highest setting (7/7) and heated for 5 minutes, then plunged directly into ice water (48 degrees F). The pan was observed for any signs of warping.

The rice test: The smallest saucepan of each set was used to cook one cup of jasmine rice according to package directions. The rice was rinsed, combined with one and a half cups of water in the saucepan and brought to a boil. The rice was then reduced to a simmer and the saucepan covered with its lid for 15 minutes.

Pots and pans were also washed with dish soap and hot water. We noted the aesthetics and any functional features like ergonomic and stay-cool handles, pour spouts, and how well finishes stood up to fingerprints and stains. We considered the materials and construction of each cookware set, as well as its delivery on quality for value and any warranties offered.

This set is new from OXO, a brand with a great balance of form and function, and was an extremely close second to our winning nonstick pan. This cookware set is utilitarian but also pleasing to the eye with matte gray and brushed stainless and a textured bottom. The handles are comfortable to grip and this cookware set is one of the few tested that has its handle rivets flush with the pan’s interior, which helps prevent debris from building up there, a common problem. That said, the lack of an opposing handle to grip on the saute pan feels like an oversight. The nonstick is free of harmful chemicals and cooks and cleans like a dream, but we did manage to scratch it (it took an effort, however). This set is also oven-safe to 600 degrees F (without lids) which is impressive for nonstick.

This set is like a higher-end version of our winner, but in terms of design and performance, functions much the same. The brand has gained favor in the culinary world and does a lot of restaurant supply — the cookware set even came with an offer for a free online cooking class, which is a nice touch. And these are good, quality pots and pans, no doubt. They passed all tests with flying colors. At this pierce point, though, we were left wanting something more than a one-time cooking class. While durable and practical, these pans aren’t the prettiest to look at, and the nonstick was tougher to clean and showed more scratches in our tests than others.

Known for their classic enameled cast-iron, Le Creuset is no stranger to quality cookware, and this set further exemplifies that. It’s design-forward with a mirror finish, obvious branding (so obvious one wonders why they have to include so many stickers on their products, which was an annoyance), and an appealing design. The flared pouring lips and interior measurements are nice touches as well, but as far as performance, this cookware was less consistent with even heating in both the flour and egg test. If you want cookware that’s instantly recognizable and are a sucker for a brand name, this may be a good fit. Otherwise, there are better ways to spend your money.

This was definitely the most-fun-to-unbox set of cookware, as these ceramic-coated aluminum pots and pans come in a variety of colorways and with a complimentary fabric lid hanger and storage solution. The cookware is simple but modern, with curved stainless handles, and it includes a skillet, saute pan, saucepan and stockpot with lids. So you don’t get as many pieces as other cookware sets, but what you do get is well-designed and sturdy. It’s nonstick that’s free of harmful chemicals and oven safe up to 550 degrees F. It’s also more conductive than stainless, so heed the box’s warning to use medium to low heat. It’s not as versatile as stainless clad for everyday use, but if you’re going to invest in a second set, this could easily be the one for you.

This nonstick set has similar issues to the Cuisinart set with uneven heating because of its aluminum encapsulated base. It’s also got a more basic design that wasn’t our favorite, but the brushed metal handles are comfortable and the pan was easy to clean. It comes with a 10-year guarantee against the nonstick chipping or flaking. You get one lid for the price of two because two of the pans are the same size, which can save on storage space. Also, the small skillet was fairly deep, which can help keep sauces from splattering and making a mess.

This brand originated tri-ply technology and sweeps most reviews, so our non-recommendation may be surprising. This isn’t a bad set by any means, but we could not get past the ergonomics of the handles, which have a distinctive but unwieldy flattened V-shape. Some people don’t mind, and some might even prefer it, but our testers found it unnerving to sling hot pans by such a flimsy, uncomfortable grasp. This cookware set also failed to distinguish itself from comparable products by either design or performance. In fact, while the skillet seemed impervious to scratching, oil stains were extremely hard to remove.

This is the brand’s midrange cookware set, made with tri-ply construction. In our tests, it always performed just slightly below other similar products, however, and was definitely harder to clean. The pans are a little heavier and not as easy to handle as others as well, and are only oven safe to 450 degrees F. The heating was also little less even.



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