Some people simply will not even consider nonstick cookware. If you're one of those folks, or if you just prefer to cook like the professionals do, you'll want to explore your stainless steel cookware options. For cookware with a natural nonstick surface -- assuming you have the patience for seasoning and the muscles for wrangling it -- cast iron cookware is a great choice with superb results.
However, most home cooks prefer the convenience of nonstick pans because food doesn't stick, making it easier to prepare food and then to clean up the mess afterward. The main drawback with nonstick cookware is that it can scratch or the coating can otherwise wear off over time. If that happens, the safest option is to replace it. The good news is that there are plenty of affordable choices that make replacing a set every few years or so no big deal.
Tops in one professional test and highly rated by owners as well is the Simply Calphalon Nonstick 10-piece Cookware Set (Est. $200). In addition to being a top pick and a best buy in that test, reviewers on retail sites give it solid marks, saying that the pieces in the set perform very well, heating quickly and evenly, and are a breeze to clean. Many comment that cooking is so much easier with these pans than others because their performance is so consistent. They also like the stay-cool handles. It's made from anodized aluminum, which is very sturdy.
Users are less than united on the issues of durability, however. While a number of reviewers praise how well the cookware stands up over the long haul, we also saw several complaints that the nonstick finish began to wear off within a few months. The exterior surface is also easily scratched, some say, requiring extra-careful handling to keep pots looking good. A few people note that they put these pans in the dishwasher, which is a no-no, and that helps to explain some of the reported durability issues.
The Anolon Advanced Bronze Collection 11-piece Set (Est. $260)) gets better user reviews for durability and is the top-rated nonstick cookware set in a Good Housekeeping Research Institute (GHRI) roundup that includes expert testing. GHRI testers say it distributes heat evenly on both gas and electric stoves and likes that the pans and lids are safe in the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. We found very few complaints about the interior coating scratching or peeling from owners, who also rave about the superior nonstick properties, easy cleanup and stylish looks. The bronze outer coating is universally loved by owners, who say it's one of the most attractive cookware sets they've ever seen. It stays out of our top spot only because it has fewer reviews overall and the one professional review is fairly old.
Even the best nonstick cookware will eventually wear out. If you'd rather not make an investment in nonstick cookware that might not last, there are plenty of relatively inexpensive choices that get reviews for performing as well as pricier sets.
We found the best reviews overall for the Rachael Ray Hard Anodized II 10-pc. Cookware Set (Est. $130). It's not included in any professional tests, but it's one of the highest-rated cookware sets on Amazon.com, with hundreds of reviewers saying the pieces all perform very well, and are easy to use and clean. Several say they have bought additional pans to add to their set. Most say they heat quickly and evenly and seem sturdy and solid, in spite of the price. Even the lids get a few glowing mentions for their perfect fit. As with all nonstick coatings, there are complaints about scratching and peeling within the first three years, but these are very much in the minority.
Another cookware set that gets a lot of love from consumer reviewers is the T-Fal C112sc74 Signature Nonstick 12-Piece Cookware Set (Est. $75). In spite of its bargain basement price it get very high ratings from hundreds of customers on Amazon.com, who say they are surprisingly solid, sturdy pans. The lids are reported as well-fitting (an important consideration for less-expensive sets as slightly out-of-round pots are not unusual). America's Test Kitchen recommended one of the pans in this set in a 2014 episode, several reviewers note, and they purchased them on that recommendation. There are a few complaints of warping, scratching, and other quality issues, but most agree that it's an incredible value for the price. It's nice-looking too, reviewers say, and comes in black, red and blue.
Elsewhere in this report:
The five best cookware sets
The best cookware sets you can buy today as identified in reviews and our editors' analysis.
Stainless steel cookware
A favorite of professional chefs and home cooks alike, they are top performers.
Cast iron cookware
A perennial favorite and kitchen workhouse, cast iron will last a lifetime.
Don't go shopping for a cookware set without learning what you need to know first. Our Buying Guide explains what to look for the best cookware.
Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top cookware sets, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.