the best cookware has
- A useful assortment of pieces According to experts, the most-used cookware pieces in the
kitchen are 10- and 12-inch skillets, 2- and 4-quart saucepans, a Dutch oven
and a stockpot. Most cookware sets come with an 8-inch skillet and no Dutch
oven. However, 8-inch skillets are great for smaller families and for singles,
and a 12-inch skillet can easily be added to your set (we review 12-inch skillets in their own report). Still, be sure you understand what you're getting in each
- Good cooking performance. Pots and pans should heat evenly and consistently so there
are no hot spots where sauces scorch, or cool spots on skillets where parts of
food end up less cooked. Also, the entire pan should heat up, not just the part
that touches the burner.
- For nonstick cookware, a surface that is truly nonstick. In professional tests, some pans
did an excellent job of releasing food cleanly, while others were just so-so.
Some ceramic and stainless pans claim to be nonstick, but we found little
evidence to back up those claims. Stick with known names for the best results.
- Comfortable weight and balance. Pots should be heavy enough to hold heat and to keep from
warping or denting. When you pick them up by the handle, they should not feel
like they pull overly to one side or another and they should sit flat and firm
on the burner.
- Well-designed handles. They should be sturdy and comfortable to grip. If you want
your pan to go from stovetop to oven, look for steel handles. If that's not
important, rubber or silicone handles tend to be very comfortable to use and
grip. Stay cool handles are nice for the stovetop.
- Durable construction. This means thick bottoms, securely attached handles, fully
clad construction for stainless cookware (meaning the aluminum core extends up
the sides of the pan) and a durable nonstick surface for nonstick cookware.
- Versatility. Nonstick cookware is the least versatile choice as
it can only be used on the stovetop
and sometimes in the oven at lower heats -- it's usually not recommended for
use under the broiler. Stainless steel works on the stovetop, in the oven, and
sometimes on a grill or smoker. Cast iron can be used in all of the above, and
over an open campfire.
before you go
foods will you cook most? Stainless-steel pans (with an aluminum or copper core) are ideal for browning
and braising. However, nonstick pans are better for low-fat cooking, since they
allow you to cook foods such as eggs without oil. Cast iron is superior for
baking and extended braising. If you need to a lot of different kinds of
cooking, plan to buy extra pieces to supplement your cookware set.
many are you cooking for? If you have a large family or regularly cook for guests, you'll need
bigger pots. By contrast, extra-small pans, such as 8-inch skillets, are really
only useful when cooking for one. Most cookware sets are available in a variety
of assortments, from eight-piece sets to 12- or 14-piece sets. Also, be warned
that manufacturers count every single piece in a set as a piece, even lids, so
you may be buying an eight-piece set that includes only four pots or pans and
four lids. Be sure you fully understand what's included.
What kind of cooktop do you have? For a smoothtop electric range,
flat-bottomed pans are a must. If you use an induction cooktop, you'll need
cookware made of stainless steel, cast iron, or another magnetic material. (If
you're not sure about a pan's construction, you can test it by sticking a
magnet to the bottom.) We discuss this topic further in the introduction to this report.
much time are you willing to spend on cleanup? Nonstick pans are generally easier
to clean than stainless steel. Some cookware is labeled as dishwasher-safe, but experts say hand washing will keep your pans in better shape and help
them last longer. If you plan to use a dishwasher anyway, read the fine print
carefully to make sure your cookware can be safely cleaned this way. Be aware
that, regardless of claims, dishwasher use can shorten the life of non-stick