What 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 set.
- 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 middle part on 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 --
they're usually not recommended for use under the broiler. Stainless steel
works on the stovetop, in the oven, and sometimes on a grill. Cast iron can be
used in all of the above, and over an open campfire.
Know before you go
What 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.
How 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 8-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 8-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.
How 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. 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 cookware.