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Our favorite cookware sets in 2021

Including a budget pick, our favorite ceramic cookware, cast iron and the best two-piece cookware sets.

There's so much cookware to sort through and it can be overwhelming figuring out where to begin. And finding the best cookware set for your kitchen needs depends on some important factors that vary from cook to cook. One thing is universally true, however: Investing in good pots and pans will pay dividends, making you a better and more confident chef. Not to mention, when you spring for quality cookware it's far more likely to last and you'll probably care for it better too. The longer you have your cookware, the more comfortable you'll become when using it.

Ask anyone who has made the leap from takeout titan to an amateur home chef with a repertoire of recipes, learning to cook or improving your existing kitchen skills is as rewarding an endeavor as any. It's made even more rewarding -- and fun -- when you've got great cookware set to do it with. Keep in mind, the best cookware doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive cookware. Every home cook has a unique set of skills, their own budget for cookware and various kitchen goals, and so the "best" cookware set for you may not be the best set for someone else. That's why we're here to break down a few great options in various cookware categories, materials and price ranges that you might find a collection of pots pans that's just right.

Beyond deciding what type of cookware set you want -- cast iron, nonstick, copper, stainless steel -- there's also the question of how best to attain your dream cookware set. Some folks recommend buying cookware piece by piece, but that may be a practice best suited for an experienced chef with a good working knowledge of their own kitchen abilities as well as the intricacies of the various types of cookware. Buying a full cookware set certainly has its advantages: Not only will you nab all the essentials to make great meals in one fell swoop, but your collection of pots and pans will look wonderfully cohesive as a little aesthetic bonus. Plus, you'll get familiar with the cookware type -- be it Teflon, ceramic, aluminum, cast iron or steel -- with less time spent adjusting from pan to pan.

Sounds easy, right? With so many solid cookware sets to choose from and prices ranging anywhere from under $100 to $1,000 or more, choosing the best cookware set for your situation can be daunting. The decision becomes further complicated when you're not familiar with common cookware brands or surface materials. And what if you need a special piece of cookware, like a saucepan, French skillet, roasting pan, extra-large or extra-small frying pan, grill pan, cast-iron pan or stock pot? To help make your decision a little easier, here are some of our absolute favorite cookware sets in various categories. We made sure that all of these high-quality pots and pans nail the basics like even heat distribution and quality cooking surface and none of that cheap stuff. So, what are you waiting for? Peruse our list of a few of the best cookware sets for any budget, style and skill set and get cooking. We update this list periodically.

What to look for when buying a cookware set

When shopping for a quality cookware set at a fair price, you'll want to consider a few key factors. First, there's deciding what cookware material is best for your plans in the kitchen. Cookware is commonly made from aluminum, cast iron, stainless steel, copper or a combination of several materials. As you might guess, each type of cookware surface has its pros and cons as it relates to cooking, cleaning, durability and even storage.

Aluminum pieces are typically less expensive, for example, but they're also less durable. A stainless steel pot can withstand heavier use, but stainless steel cookware generally costs more and isn't as great at conducting heat (which is why stainless steel pans often have a core made from a more conductive material such as aluminum or copper). Then you have to consider the cookware coating. Do you prefer enameled cast iron over regular cast iron cookware? Do you find cast iron too heavy and time-consuming to season and clean? Nonstick pans such as ceramic- and Teflon-coated make cleanup much easier but will wear out much faster than other materials and may not allow you to sear steaks and burgers quite like cast iron or stainless steel.

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You'll also want to think about what specific pieces you need. If you already own a stock pot you love, for example, you might want to look for a smaller set without one to save money. Make sure to carefully look at what's included in each cookware set, as some brands try to inflate the number of pieces by counting lids and even small utensils like spoons and spatulas as part of the set. We've included a few picks for two-piece sets in case you're after frying pans only and not the whole cookware kit and kaboodle.

Other important considerations include the type of stove you have -- not all cookware works on an induction cooktop, for instance -- as well as how you plan to use it and what you plan to cook regularly. Some cookware is dishwasher-safe, oven-safe or both while other sets need to be cared for by hand or can't withstand certain types of oven heat.

We've taken all these factors into account as we selected the following cookware sets for our buyer's guide. After hours of research, reading in-depth product reviews comparing brands and pricing and taking a deep dive into buyer ratings, we've landed on these eight great cookware sets for any type of home cook. We update this periodically.

Amazon

If you want the absolute best cookware set, no matter the price, arguably the best option is this 10-piece stainless steel set from All-Clad. While it's not cheap, this set of stainless-steel cookware could very well last for the rest of your life if taken care of properly, making it a worthwhile investment for serious home chefs. If you've ever held an All-Clad pan in your hands you probably get what I'm talking about.

This All-Clad D3 stainless steel cookware set consists of both an 8- and a 10-inch frying pan, 2- and 3-quart saucepans with lids, a 3-quart sauté pan with lid and an 8-quart stock pot with lid. All the pieces are made from three-ply stainless steel with a thick-gauge aluminum core for better conduction and more even heat distribution, and they feature riveted stainless steel handles. The pots and pans are warp-resistant, induction-compatible, dishwasher-safe and oven-safe up to 600 degrees (without their lids).

All-Clad products are made in the US and come with a limited lifetime warranty. Reviewers say they heat evenly and look beautiful and most agree that they're 100% worth the investment.

Amazon

Cuisinart offers quality midprice wares, and many people have good things to say about the 12-piece stainless steel cookware set. The cookware pots and pans have an elegant, minimalist look and have a variety of features that will make your time in the kitchen more enjoyable.

This sturdy stainless steel set gives you 1.5- and 3-quart saucepans with lids, 8- and 10-inch open skillets, a 3.5-quart saute pan and lid, an 8-quart stock pot and lid and a steamer insert with matching lid. The pans are made with a pure aluminum core, triple-ply stainless steel walls and a beautiful brushed finish. The rims are tapered for drip-free pouring, and the company says its Heat Surround technology allows even surface heat distribution along the sides and walls -- so say goodbye to hot spots!

The cookware is all dishwasher- and oven-safe up to 550 degrees, and it can be used over induction stove heat. According to reviewers, this pots and pans set will last for years if you take care of it properly, and many say it performs as well as other high-end stainless steel sets.

Amazon

No one loves scrubbing burnt food off the bottom of a favorite skillet, which is why nonstick cookware is so popular. This nonstick cookware is made from hard-anodized aluminum to ensure even heat distribution and eliminate hot spots, and the aluminum cookware is oven-safe to 400 degrees. Important note though: Nonstick coatings don't hold up against metal utensils, so use wood or silicone utensils when you're cooking with this set. 

The pots and pans in this 12-piece cookware set from Cuisinart are easy to care for, as pretty much all food will slide right off the scratch-resistant, ceramic-based nonstick coating. It's important to remember that all nonstick cookware will scratch to some extent, but some nonstick materials are more sensitive than others. 

This Cuisinart cookware set consists of an 8-inch skillet, a 10-inch frying pan with lid, 1.5- and 2.5-quart saucepans with lids, a 3-quart "everyday" pan with a lid and a 6-quart Dutch oven with a lid and a steamer insert. Because the set is part of Cuisinart's GreenGourmet line, the products feature an eco-friendly nonstick coating and the handles are made from 70% recycled steel.

Made In

Made In is one of the best new players in the cookware game and its pots and pans are found regularly in the hands of the world's best chefs. Made In has a number of cookware types available, but the slimmed-down Starter Set is exactly what you need to get off and running. 

This six-piece set comes with a stainless steel skillet, saucepan and stock pot along with a blue carbon steel frying pan, which is ideal for searing meats like steaks, burgers and pork chops. Blue carbon cooks a lot like cast iron but isn't nearly as heavy. I own one myself and I absolutely love it. Also like cast iron, it does require a bit of special care so consider yourself warned.

While this is not exactly budget cookware, the set won't totally break the bank either, and Made In's very solid steel construction reminds me a lot of All-Clad. If you're looking for a few really good pots and pans to kick off your 2021 cooking journey, I can't say enough about these.

Walmart

Stainless steel pans are undeniably pretty, and they also deliver in terms of performance, as this metal is incredibly durable. If you're partial to stainless steel, you'll like this 12-piece cookware set from Tramontina, as it provides unbeatable heat diffusion and durability. 

In this stainless steel cookware set, you'll find both a 10- and 12-inch fry pan, 5-, 3- and 1.5-quart saucepans with lids, a 5-quart Dutch oven with lid and a 12-quart stock pot with lid. The cookware is made from triple-ply stainless steel and features riveted, ergonomic handles. All of the pieces can be put in the dishwasher and are oven-safe up to 500 degrees. Plus, their precision-fitted lids help to lock in flavor, and reviewers say you can't beat this set for price and performance.

I wouldn't recommend paying much less than $240 for a full cookware set unless it's on major discount. If this is still out of budget, consider piecing together a smaller set with one or two good frying pans and adding a stock pot and saucepan which you can find for pretty cheap. I've made some recommendations further down in this article. 

Zwilling USA

Perhaps you've already got a stockpot and saucepan you like but your frying pans need an upgrade. Zwilling's 2-piece stainless steel fry pan set should do the trick and an 8- and 10-inch are likely the sizes you'll want. The frying pans are constructed much like All-Clad cookware and other top kitchen brands with 3-ply and fully clad brushed stainless steel with a thick aluminum core that'll make for very even and responsive cooking. 

You might think $90 is a lot to pay for two pans but if you care for these skillets properly, they should last for years and you'll likely use them more than anything else in the pots and pans drawer. It's also half the price of All-Clad's comparable 2-piece fry pan set.

Caraway

This flashy ceramic cookware set gets points for being budget-friendly and stylish. The ceramic pots and pans also hold up well in tons of online buyer reviews. If you covet easy, nonstick cookware but are iffy on the chemicals often used, ceramic cookware is probably your best bet. Ceramic coating has become the darling of the amateur kitchen cookware world since it's nontoxic and as easy to clean as any other surface.

For less than $400, this Caraway set includes a 10.5-inch fry pan, 3-quart saucepan, 4.5-quart sautè pan and a 6.5-quart Dutch oven. It also comes with a smart magnetized storage rack and canvas lid for keeping your cookware organized. You can buy the pieces individually, but you'll get the best bargain when you snag a set.

Amazon

A large collection of cookware can quickly take over your kitchen cabinets, and if you live in a smaller home or apartment, the Space Saving collection from Calphalon will be your best friend. These pans are specially designed to stack together neatly, taking up 30% less space.

This nine-piece set consists of 8- and 10-inch fry pans, a 2.5-quart saucepan with cover, a 3-quart saute pan with cover, a 4-quart chef's pan and a 5-quart Dutch oven with cover. The pans are made from hard-anodized aluminum with a nonstick finish, and what's unique is that they're metal utensil-friendly -- there are multiple layers of the nonstick finish to resist scratching when they're stacked. The pieces have silicone grip handles, and you can pop them in the dishwasher for easy cleaning. Buyers say these pans "exceeded expectations," performing beautifully and saving space in the cupboard.

There's also a 7-piece version of this same set at Walmart for $190 if this feels like too much cookware. The smaller set is the fry pan, chef's pan and stockpot with lids and a few utensils.

Calphalon

If it's stainless steel you're after but still have limited cupboard space to consider, Calphalon makes a similar set to the nonstick collection above but in tri-ply stainless steel. It has all the cookware you need to outfit your kitchen from scratch and stacks up neatly to keep things tidy and in one place.

It is worth noting that this is stainless steel with a steel core, unlike the pricier All-Clad and Zwilling pans that have an aluminum core and conduct heat a bit faster. If that precision control is important to you, you may consider leveling up to one of those brands but this Calphalon set should get the job done for most types of home cooking. 

Amazon

This collection of copper pots and pans from cookware specialist BerghHoff will look lovely in your kitchen -- and its performance is nothing to scoff at, either! The saucepan-heavy set comes with 1-, 2- and 3-quart saucepans (all with lids) plus a 5.75-quart Dutch oven with lid and an 8- and 9.5-inch deep skillet.

These pieces feature a lustrous brushed-copper exterior and satin stainless steel interiors and lids, and they have an inner aluminum core for superior heat conduction. The riveted handles are designed to be ergonomic and resist heat. You can stick these pieces of cookware in the oven or broiler, but they don't work with induction cooktops and shouldn't ever be put in the dishwasher. Folks rave about the beautiful, regal look of these pans, but be warned that copper cookware requires more maintenance than your average stainless steel pan.

Amazon

Cast iron is ideal for searing, braising, roasting and anything else that takes advantage of its heat retention. It's also super durable, which is good as this seven-piece preseasoned cast-iron bundle from Lodge will get plenty of use in your kitchen. The cast-iron set consists of a 10.5-inch griddle, 10.25-inch grill pan, 10.25-inch skillet, red silicone pot holder, handle mitt and two safe pan scrapers.

The cooking surface of each pan is preseasoned with 100% vegetable oil and the pieces need to be hand-washed and dried to maintain the integrity of the seasoning. Reviewers say that every piece in this set is high-quality, which is no surprise coming from a legacy brand like Lodge.

All-Clad

If you don't need an entire kitchen cookware set, you might think about nabbing one or two frying pans. I love All-Clad's nonstick frying pans with comfortable handles and relatively tough PFOA-free coating. For quick stir-fries, omelets and reheating leftovers these are my go-to pans. In this set you'll get the versatile 10.5-inch pan an the 12-inch for larger meals.   

More kitchen essentials

This article was written for Chowhound by Camryn Rabideau and updated by David Watsky.