What the best cookware has
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. Still, be sure you understand what you're getting in each set.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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
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.
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
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.)
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.