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 stick-resistant surface -- assuming you have the patience for seasoning it, and the muscles for wrangling it -- cast iron cookware is also a great choice.
However, most home cooks prefer the convenience of nonstick pans because they make it easier to prepare food, especially delicate items that tend to fall apart like eggs or fish, and then to clean up the mess afterward. The main drawback with nonstick cookware is that the coating can scratch or 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. $150). 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.
Users are less than united on the issues of durability, however. Although the Simply Calphalon pans are made from anodized aluminum, which owners say holds up well over the long haul, we also saw several complaints that the nonstick finish begins 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. $300) also gets good 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. If aesthetics and performance are equally important you may want to seriously consider this set. The only thing that keeps it out of our top spot, all else being mostly equal, is that it's twice the price of the Simply Calphalon set.
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 Paula Deen Nonstick 15-Piece Porcelain Cookware Set (Est. $100). It's included in the same GHRI test as the Anolon set, and earns top marks for consistent heating, cooking performance and it superior nonstick properties. Editors do pan the cookware for its flimsy-seeming construction, although we saw plenty of owners comment that one thing they like about these pans is that they are so lightweight and don't require much muscle to lift and move around.
The most notable feature about the Paula Deen Cookware set is its very attractive appearance. It comes in nine bright, engaging colors and owners rave about how much they enjoy having a cookware set that's so easy on the eyes. However, while beauty is sometimes only skin deep, those who may have bought these for their good looks are typically pleased to find so much substance behind the style -- the set earns almost universal praise for great cooking performance and easy clean up. Some complain that the coating scratches or begins to wear after a relatively short period of time -- and we saw some comments that the pots warped after being used at higher heats -- but most say they hold up well with proper usage and hand washing (they're dishwasher safe, but, as we've noted throughout this report, we recommend hand washing all cookware).
Although it's a little pricier, our former Best Reviewed budget cookware set, the Rachael Ray Hard Anodized II 10-pc. Cookware Set (Est. $125), is still worth a look if you'd like something that's a bit more sturdy then the Paula Deen set, but that's not as expensive as more premium cookware. 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 the pans 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. $70). In spite of its bargain basement price it get very high ratings from thousands 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, blue or red.