After researching more than 50 cookware sets and rigorously testing 12, we concluded that the reasonably priced Tramontina 12-Piece Tri-Ply Clad Cookware Set was the best. It’s one of the only sets we found to include the larger pot and pan sizes our pros recommended. The pieces in the Tramontina set provide excellent heat conduction, and they’re comfortable to hold and very durable. We’re confident that this cookware set will provide you with years of use.
The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set costs less than our top pick but doesn’t conduct heat quite as evenly. However, our testers liked the weight of the cookware, which felt more durable and comfortable to hold than much of the competition. Since the skillets in the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro set are smaller and able to accommodate less than those in the Tramontina set, we recommend it for smaller households. This cookware also stands out because it’s available in a seven-piece set, which is a great option if you don’t cook often or don’t have room for the 12-piece set in your kitchen.
If you need a durable basic set that won’t break the bank, we suggest the Cuisinart 77-7 Chef’s Classic Stainless 7-Piece Cookware Set. This is an ideal cookware set to give to a college student or to outfit your rental or vacation home. Since this set isn’t fully clad, meaning the aluminum core doesn’t extend up the sides of the cookware, it’s prone to scorching. However, the tri-ply disks (also called encapsulated bottoms) welded to the bases allows this cookware to distribute the heat more evenly compared with pans made from a single piece of stainless steel. We think this set is a great budget choice for occasional cooking.
If you want superior-quality cookware that will last a lifetime, we recommend the All-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set. The pros we talked to said that All-Clad Tri-Ply cookware is the best for both professional and home use, because it’s so durable. In our tests, the All-Clad pans heated evenly, remained comfortable to hold, and tackled every cooking job without any hiccups. While the largest skillet measures only 10 inches instead of 12, this set will outfit your kitchen with all the other pots and pans you’re ever likely to need. And if you’re partial to keeping your cookware bright and shiny, note that in our tests this set was the only one that looked like new after cleaning.
I’ve reviewed knife sets and portable induction cooktops as well as other kitchen gadgets for The Sweethome. For this guide, I researched more than 50 cookware sets and tested 12 of them in The Sweethome’s test kitchen.
To find the best cookware set for most people, we interviewed restaurant and cookware professionals, including Candy Argondizza, vice president of culinary and pastry arts at the International Culinary Center; Janet Crandall, a private chef and cooking instructor in Los Angeles; and Penny Rosema, executive vice president of the Cookware Manufacturers Association. We also spoke with several home cooks, including members of our own staff, who have been using cookware sets for years.
Additionally, we read reviews in Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) and Consumer Reports (subscription required). We also looked at cookware sets in person at stores such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, JCPenney, Macy’s, Sur la Table, Target, Walmart, and Williams-Sonoma. Finally, we looked at highly rated models on Amazon.com.
If you’re not into tracking down pots and pans one piece at a time and just want something that cooks well, a cookware set costs less and makes buying easy. Cookware sets also make great gifts for weddings, graduations, or other special occasions.
If you have only nonstick cookware in your home, you’ll have to replace it in a few years once the coating deteriorates. In upgrading to a stainless steel cookware set, you’ll gain greater durability and longevity from your pots and pans—in some cases, they will last a lifetime. If your nonstick cookware is scratched and worn from metal utensils, now is a good time to make the switch to stainless steel.
Fully clad, tri-ply stainless steel cookware allows you greater versatility in the kitchen. You can cook over higher heat without damaging the pan, which is critical for getting a good sear on meats. Stainless steel pans will give your food a rich color and develop better fond (the caramelized bits that form on the bottom of a pan), resulting in more flavorful food. Stainless steel is also great for other tasks like stir-frying and pan-frying. Many cooks love that it can go directly from the stovetop to the broiler. Also, stainless steel pans can go into the dishwasher, while nonstick pieces can’t (heat and harsh detergents break down the nonstick coating). If you already own stainless steel cookware, but it’s dented, warped, or inclined to cook unevenly, you’re probably due for an upgrade.
Some people want a cheap, basic cookware set to outfit their rental or vacation home. College students living on their own for the first time also benefit from a cheap set. Even if they will use their cookware only for preparing boxed mac and cheese, a decent set will make performing the task better.
If you’re an experienced home cook, cookware sets probably aren’t for you. Though it will cost you more in the long run, you’re better off buying individual pieces that suit your exact needs. For that, see our guides to the best skillet, nonstick pan, saucepan, and Dutch oven.
Cookware is the cornerstone of your kitchen. While most people are inclined to buy cookware in sets because doing so is cheaper than buying pieces individually, sets involve a compromise. In general, some or nearly all of the pieces in sets run smaller than what’s preferable, which will slow you down in the kitchen and require you to cook in batches. Candy Argondizza, vice president of culinary and pastry arts at the International Culinary Center, told us, “Sets often sell you pieces that you don’t need. I like to pick and choose what I want. It might be a little more expensive this way, but space is a commodity in my tiny kitchen, so I choose what I need wisely.” Janet Crandall, a Los Angeles private chef and cooking instructor, agreed, saying, “I prefer to buy individual pans. Sometimes sets don’t always have the exact size I want.” Both Argondizza and Crandall gave a range of pot and pan sizes to look for, including skillets ranging from 8 to 12 inches, saucepans ranging from 1 to 3 quarts, and stockpots with an 8-quart capacity.
We’ve found that most skillets in sets are 8 to 10 inches (though we prefer 10- and 12-inch versions because they offer a larger surface area for cooking two to four chicken breasts at once). Many set stockpots are 6 quarts and too small for making large batches of stock (8-quart or larger stockpots are best for preparing stocks and provide ample room for boiling pasta). It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to cut corners by including smaller pot and pan sizes in a set to reduce the overall price. But keep in mind that the smaller the pan’s circumference, the smaller the actual cooking surface will be.
We searched for sets that included the most useful pan sizes our experts recommended. Note that the number of pieces advertised in a set includes lids, so you’re generally getting half the listed number of pots and pans. A good set should include the following 10 pieces:
You can always purchase other essential pieces, such as a Dutch oven, a cast iron skillet, and a nonstick pan, in addition to your main set. Don’t be tempted to buy huge sets with lots of pieces. Most of the pots and pans in those larger sets are just filler. Ultimately, those pieces won’t see use and will only clutter up your kitchen. Our experts agreed that you’re better off getting a set with fewer but better-quality pieces you’ll reach for again and again.
Aside from the number and sizes of the pieces in a set, Argondizza told us, “the most important factor when choosing cookware is its heat conduction and its balance and comfort for you individually.” We took the advice of our pros and looked at many cookware sets in person before testing to get a feel for the weight and the actual size of the pots and pans. It’s difficult to get a sense of each set just by looking at pictures online.
For this guide, we tested stainless steel cookware sets ranging from $80 to $800. Ideally, we wanted sets of fully clad tri-ply stainless steel, which has an aluminum core sandwiched between layers of stainless steel extending up the sides of the pan. Fully clad tri-ply stainless steel is the best option for both pros and home cooks because of its even heat distribution. It’s also very durable, dishwasher safe, and nonreactive to acidic ingredients like tomatoes or vinegar. Such pieces are more versatile than nonstick cookware because you can use them over high heat and move them directly from the stovetop to the oven. Bottom line: Good-quality stainless steel pans are buy-it-for-life items.
In addition to tri-ply cookware, most high-end manufacturers produce sets that are made from five or more layers of stainless steel, aluminum, and sometimes copper. With each layer, the pans become more expensive. However, we tested two five-ply sets against regular tri-ply sets and found that the latter actually heated more evenly. Ultimately, we don’t think the extra cost of five-ply cookware is worth it.
We did our best to avoid sets that aren’t fully clad, meaning the aluminum core doesn’t extend up the sides of the cookware, because they’re prone to scorching. However, if you’re looking for a cheap set, cookware with tri-ply disks welded to the bottom of the pan (also called encapsulated bottoms) will distribute heat more evenly compared with pans made from a single piece of stainless steel. Crandall said to avoid a lot of the cookware sold by Winco or Farberware because those sets “are too thin and have a tendency to scorch or burn food.” In our experience, sets with encapsulated bottoms performed better than those that had just a single layer of stainless steel.
We avoided cookware made only from aluminum because that metal is reactive to acidic foods and not induction compatible. (Since induction burners transfer heat through a magnetic field, cookware must contain sufficient amounts of iron, such as cast iron or magnetic stainless steel, in order to be compatible.) We also ruled out anodized aluminum because it’s more difficult to clean; also, the material’s dark color can make it hard to see if foods are browning properly, which is especially important for challenging tasks like making caramel. We avoided nonstick sets because they aren’t ideal for high-heat cooking such as searing and have a shorter lifespan than regular stainless steel. (Having one nonstick pan in your batterie de cuisine is all you need for preparing eggs.) We didn’t include carbon steel sets in our guide because they require more upkeep to maintain the cooking surface. Though we love cast iron and recommend that you have at least one cast iron skillet in your kitchen, we’ve excluded that category from this guide because cast iron is heavy, reactive to acidic food, and more difficult to maintain. We’ve covered the common materials used in cookware in our guide to the best skillet.
Additionally, we limited our search to cookware with sloped sides. Some skillets, such as this Viking Contemporary Frying Pan, have sharp edges that make tossing vegetables while sautéing difficult.
We also looked for cookware that didn’t discolor over heat (though most under-$300 sets we tested had this problem). According to the Cookware Manufacturers Association, the higher the chrome content in the cookware, the less prone it is to discoloring. You should expect very slight discoloration even from expensive sets, such as All-Clad cookware. The discoloration on All-Clad sets, however, is barely noticeable compared with cheaper sets such as the Cuisinart 77-7 Chef’s Classic, which will discolor more dramatically.
We excluded sets with glass lids because they can break or crack easily if dropped. They also offer little advantage over stainless steel lids since you can’t see through them when they’re covered with condensation. Besides, stainless steel lids are more durable. Pot and pan lids should fit well but somewhat loosely. We looked for cookware sets that sealed pots effectively but left enough wiggle room to allow steam to escape.
We dismissed sets with plastic handles, because even those made to withstand high temperatures can deteriorate over time. Ideally, we wanted cookware that could safely withstand oven temperatures of at least 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which ruled out most plastic components. Several members of our staff have also seen plastic handles crack after spending time in the dishwasher.
We avoided sets with small or medium saucepans that have two side handles. Stick handles that provide an easy grip and a comfortable angle allow you to quickly move saucepans around the stovetop one-handed. We looked for sets that included stick handles with a hole for hanging. Side handles are best for larger saucepans (those over 4 quarts) and stockpots, which have a bigger volume and require two hands.
Many sets include a pasta insert or steamer basket for stockpots, pieces that are superfluous. In our experience, these inserts take up too much space or have a shallow design that doesn’t allow enough circulation for pasta when boiling.
Also, know that cookware manufacturers often sell variations of the same cookware set to different retailers. They do this primarily to avoid competition among big-box stores, such as Target and Walmart, that sell similar items. For instance, one store may sell a set of cookware with a saucepan that has a stick handle, while another store might sell the same set with a saucepan that has two side handles. If you want to avoid the hassle of scouring multiple retailers looking for these variations in an attempt to find the most useful set, take heart: We’ve already done that for you. We tested the best version of each cookware set we could find across multiple retailers.
For this guide, we tested 12 cookware sets within the following price brackets:
Sets $80 to $300
Sets $600 to $800
For each set, we evaluated how easy the handles were to hold, especially when retrieving the pots and pans from a hot oven wearing oven mitts or using pot holders. We also took note of the individual weight and thickness of the pieces in each set. We observed how easily we could pour liquids from each pot, to see whether they dripped. By hand-washing the pots and pans, we got a sense of how easy they were to clean. And we looked at how well each set nested for convenient storage.
We tested how well the large skillets retained heat by making a heat map of their cooking surface using an infrared thermometer. We sprinkled the surface of the 10-inch skillets with a dusting of flour and used the pans over high heat to check for hot spots. We also sautéed chicken pieces in the skillets to evaluate how evenly they could brown the skin. We prepared small batches of caramel in the saucepans to check for hot spots, and we simmered large batches of tomato sauce in the stockpots to test for scorching.
The Tramontina 12-Piece Tri-Ply Clad Cookware Set is the best cookware set for most people due to its larger pot and pan sizes, durability, and even heat distribution. We found the Tramontina’s roomier cookware to be the most versatile, as it allowed us to accomplish more cooking tasks compared with all the other sets in our roundup. In our tests, the Tramontina skillets produced perfectly brown chicken pieces with nice fond development, while the saucepans and stockpot simmered liquids without scorching. We found the handles on both the cookware and the lids wide and comfortable to hold. Though this cookware discolored slightly over heat, the effect was common among all of the sets we tested in this price range. All of the cookware in this collection is dishwasher safe, induction compatible, and oven safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Included in this Tramontina set are 12 pieces: 10- and 12-inch skillets, a 5-quart sauté pan with a lid, 1½- and 3-quart saucepans with lids, a 5-quart Dutch oven with a lid, and a 12-quart stockpot with a lid. In contrast to most cookware sets, which typically provide only 8- and 10-inch skillets, Tramontina’s is one of the only sets we could find that offered both 10- and 12-inch skillets. (We recommend the same 12-inch skillet as our runner-up pick in our guide to the best skillet.) The pieces in this set are also available open stock at Walmart.
The larger pan sizes in this set provide you with more cooking surface area, so you can, for instance, sauté a whole chicken in the 12-inch skillet in one batch to save time. Using the smaller skillets in the other sets we tried, such as the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro set, our testers had to cook chicken pieces in multiple batches, which took twice as long. Since the pieces in the Tramontina set are so large, this is the perfect cookware collection for families of four or more who want to get dinner on the table quickly.
|Tramontina 12-Piece Tri-Ply Clad Cookware Set||Cuisinart MCP-12N MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel Cookware Set||Cuisinart 77-7 Chef’s Classic Stainless 7-piece Cookware Set||All-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set|
|Skillet||10 inch||8 inch||10 inch||8 inch|
|Skillet||12 inch||10 inch||–||10 inch|
|Saucepan with lid||1½ quart||1½ quart||1½ quart||2 quart|
|Saucepan with lid||3 quart||3 quart||3 quart||3 quart|
|Stockpot with lid||12 quart||8 quart||8 quart||8 quart|
|Sauté pan with lid||5 quart||3½ quart||–||3 quart|
|Dutch oven with lid||5 quart||–||–||–|
The Tramontina set also stands out because it was the only one in our test group to include a 12-quart stockpot. We like the large stockpot in this set because not only is it big enough for boiling pasta and making large batches of stock, but it also works for home canning purposes. (If you’re worried that bringing a 12-quart pot of water to a boil will take forever for pasta, just remember that you don’t need to fill the pot all the way to the top.) And while the 5-quart sauté pan may seem unnecessary, our testers found it useful for boiling small batches of pasta or boxed mac and cheese.
In our tests, the Tramontina 3-quart saucepan made perfect caramel without burning, though some of our testers felt they had to swirl the pan more to distribute the heat evenly. The large stockpot didn’t scorch while simmering tomato sauce, which wasn’t the case with the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic stockpot, which required frequent stirring to prevent the sauce from burning. Also, the 10-inch Tramontina skillet made perfectly golden-brown chicken breasts with extra-crispy skin. In our heat-map tests, the Tramontina skillets heated evenly and were about on a par with the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro and Kirkland skillets we tried.
Our testers also liked the weight of the pieces in the Tramontina set, which felt durable enough to withstand the rigors of daily cooking. The handles on the stainless steel lids were big enough to grab onto, even when we used a side towel or pot holders. We also found that the stick handles were comfortable to hold and the appropriate length, unlike the handles on the Anolon Tri-Ply Clad Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set, which were too short.
This Tramontina set, sold exclusively at Walmart, comes with a lifetime warranty (PDF) that covers manufacturer defects. If you encounter problems with this cookware under normal household use, contact Tramontina for a replacement.
As with most of the sets we tested in this price range, the Tramontina skillets discolored slightly after normal use. Although we easily removed burned-on oil and food bits using a combination of baking soda and warm water, the pans retained a slight tint after cleaning. Since the discoloration in no way affects the cooking performance, and because this set has all the desired pot and pan sizes, we’re willing to forgive this minor drawback.
Since the stockpot is larger than those in the other sets we tested, it will take up more space in a cupboard, though not as much as the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro stockpot, which includes a steamer basket that hogs more space when stacked. That said, all of the pieces in this collection stack nicely and have holes in the handles if you prefer to hang them on the wall or on a rack.
The Cuisinart MCP-12N MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set is our runner-up pick because while it’s very durable, it offers smaller pots and pans, and in our tests it didn’t heat as evenly as our top pick. That said, the pieces have a comfortable weight and handle length, both of which made it easy for us to maneuver the cookware around a crowded stovetop. Additionally, our testers liked the attractive brushed-metal finish on the exterior of this set. Since this set runs smaller than our top pick, we think it’s ideal for smaller households that aren’t as likely to cook large batches of food. All of the cookware in this set is dishwasher safe, induction compatible, and oven safe up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit.
This set includes 1½- and 3-quart saucepans with lids, a steamer insert with a lid, a 3½-quart skillet with a lid, 8- and 10-inch skillets, and an 8-quart stockpot with a lid. Unlike our top pick, this set doesn’t provide a 12-inch skillet, but you can always buy that pan separately; in fact, we recommend the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Stainless 12-Inch Skillet with Helper as a runner-up in our guide to the best skillet. The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro cookware is also available in a seven-piece set, which is a great option if you don’t cook often or don’t have room for the 12-piece set in your kitchen.
Since the pots and pans are smaller in this set compared with the Tramontina cookware, you’ll need to cook larger portions of food in batches. However, we don’t think this is a dealbreaker, especially if you live in a household with three or fewer people, where large-batch cooking isn’t necessary. If space is at a premium in your kitchen and you plan to store this cookware stacked in a cupboard, keep in mind that the steamer insert adds height compared with the Tramontina set.
The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro pieces didn’t cook as evenly as those in our top-pick set, but they still performed admirably in all of our tests. Sugar melted evenly in the 3-quart saucepan and achieved a nice caramel color; our testers noted that the caramel became darker toward the handle side of the pan, but when swirled, the color evened out. Chicken breasts turned out nicely golden brown when we sautéed in the 10-inch skillet, though one piece was slightly lighter than the other. Our testers had to move the chicken breasts around in the pan to achieve even browning. This wasn’t the case with chicken we cooked in the Tramontina skillet, which resulted in perfectly cooked chicken with a crispier skin. Tomato sauce didn’t scorch in the MultiClad Pro stockpot, but our testers felt they had to stir more frequently compared with when they were simmering sauce in the Tramontina stockpot. The MultiClad Pro stockpot didn’t drip when we poured tomato sauce from it into quart containers.
Our testers liked the brushed-metal finish on this set and said the handles were an appropriate length. However, some of our testers found that the rounded handles on the Tramontina and All-Clad sets were more comfortable to hold compared with the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro’s thin, narrow handles.
Like the skillet in our top-pick set, the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro 10-inch skillet discolored slightly over heat. We were able to remove burned-on oil using a simple slurry made from baking soda and little warm water.
The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro set comes with a lifetime warranty that covers manufacturer defects. If anything happens to your cookware during normal use, contact Cuisinart for a replacement.
If you’re looking for a cookware set under $100, or if you need only a few pieces to outfit your kitchen, the durable Cuisinart 77-7 Chef’s Classic Stainless 7-Piece Cookware Set supplies the most basic pieces. Unlike the other sets we recommend in this guide, the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic cookware is not tri-ply and has a design with an aluminum-core encapsulated bottom, so the sides of the pans are more prone to scorching. Even so, our testers were still able to do most cooking tasks in this cookware, albeit with a more watchful eye. Since this set includes fewer pieces, it nests well and takes up less space in a cupboard overall. We think the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic set is an excellent choice if you want something for a college student, if you’re setting up your first apartment, or if you need a small, cheap cookware set for a rental.
While other budget sets we tested (such as the Kirkland Signature 13-piece set from Costco) performed better than the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic, it was the best set we found for under $100, cooking more evenly than the other sets in this price range. We also like that this collection is widely available and sold in multiple sizes (including a 10-piece set with stainless steel lids, and 11-piece and 14-piece sets with glass lids).
The Cuisinart 77-7 Chef’s Classic set comes with seven pieces total: 1½- and 3-quart saucepans with lids, a 10-inch skillet, and an 8-quart stockpot with a lid. Although this set includes fewer pieces, it supplies all of the essentials. This set is dishwasher safe and oven safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike the other cookware we recommend, however, this set is not induction compatible, so you’ll be able to use it only on electric and gas cooktops.
In our tests the encapsulated bottoms on the pots and pans heated evenly, but food scorched consistently on the sides of the pans, which are made from a single layer of stainless steel. When we made caramel in the 3-quart saucepan, the sugar became very dark around the perimeter. Some of the crystallized pieces of sugar never fully dissolved in the final caramel, an issue we avoided with the Tramontina, Cuisinart MultiClad Pro, and All-Clad saucepans we tested. While simmering tomato sauce in the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic stockpot, we had to stir more to avoid scorching. And although we achieved an even color on our chicken breasts using this set’s 10-inch skillet, we noticed that pieces of skin stuck slightly to the sides of the pan.
Though most of the cookware sets we tested discolored over heat, the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic pieces developed the most dramatic tarnish. Still, we don’t think this is a dealbreaker considering the set’s affordable price.
The Cuisinart 77-7 Chef’s Classic cookware set has a lifetime warranty that covers manufacturer defects. Contact Cuisinart if you encounter problems or need a replacement.
If you want a cookware set that you’ll likely never have to replace, the All-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set is hands down the best-quality cookware we tested. The pots and pans in this collection have the perfect weight, and in our tests they cooked food more evenly than our top-pick set due to their superior heat conduction. This cookware set was the only one that turned out spotlessly clean after washing, even when coated with burned-on oil. And while this set is much more expensive than our main pick, we think it’s worth the extra cost thanks to the pieces’ durability and proven longevity.
The All-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set includes 8- and 10-inch skillets, 2- and 3-quart saucepans with lids, a 3-quart sauté pan with a lid, and an 8-quart stockpot with a lid. The only drawback to this set is that it doesn’t include a 12-inch skillet, but we don’t think this omission is a dealbreaker since you can always grow your collection by adding that piece down the road. (We also recommend the 12-inch All-Clad pan as our upgrade pick in our guide to the best skillet.) All of the pieces in this set are dishwasher safe, induction compatible, and oven safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Our testers liked the angle of the stick handles in the All-Clad set, which have a rounded bottom that fits nicely in your hand even when you’re holding a dish towel or pot holder. Additionally, we found the handles on the lids easy to grab, unlike those of the Mauviel M’cook set, which were tiny and difficult to grasp.
In our tests, the chicken we sautéed in the All-Clad 10-inch skillet cooked evenly and turned out perfectly golden brown with a crispy skin, about on a par with the chicken we made in the Tramontina cookware. When we prepared caramel, the dissolved sugar bubbled evenly across the bottom of the All-Clad 3-quart saucepan, which wasn’t the case with the other sets we tested. In fact, due to its unparalleled heat conduction, the All-Clad saucepan allowed us to make caramel from start to finish in almost half the time we took using the saucepans from the Tramontina and Cuisinart MultiClad Pro sets. Also, since the saucepan heated so evenly, our testers didn’t have to swirl the sugar in the pan as frequently as they did in the saucepans from other sets. We had no scorching in the stockpot while simmering tomato sauce, and it required minimal stirring. We noticed that some tomato sauce dripped down the side of the stockpot while we poured, but we had no splatters on the counter.
If you’re partial to keeping your cookware looking bright and shiny, note that this was the only set we tested that looked like new after cleaning. Though burned-on oil or grease can be more challenging to remove with just regular dish soap or a run through the dishwasher, Bar Keepers Friend or a slurry of baking soda and warm water applied with a nonabrasive sponge (and a little elbow grease) gets the job done. The All-Clad skillets discolored slightly over heat, though significantly less than any other cookware we tested.
Since it’s so durable, All-Clad was the name that came up again and again when we spoke to the pros. Chef Candy Argondizza, vice president of culinary and pastry arts at the International Culinary Center, said, “Both professionally and personally, I use All-Clad.” Janet Crandall, a Los Angeles–based private chef and cooking instructor, told us, “They are expensive, but worth it because of their durability.” Members of our own staff have owned or worked with All-Clad cookware for years, including writer and Sweethome test kitchen manager Lesley Stockton, who said, “My oldest All-Clad is eight years old, and it’s as good as the day I bought it. When I worked in the Martha Stewart test kitchen, we were cooking on All-Clad pieces that were at least 15 years old.”
All-Clad offers a wide range of cookware outside the main set, so you can grow your collection. We recommend several pieces from this line, including the 12-inch skillet, the 10-inch nonstick skillet, the 2-quart saucier, and the flared roaster. Check out the All-Clad website to see a full list of its cookware.
Like the other cookware sets we recommend, the All-Clad Tri-Ply set has a limited lifetime warranty that covers manufacturer defects. Should you experience any problems with this set, contact All-Clad for repairs or replacements.
Though most stainless steel cookware is dishwasher safe, we recommend washing it by hand whenever possible. A sponge does a much better job of getting into the nooks and crannies of a pan (especially around where the handle meets the pan, or around rivets). For difficult-to-remove items like burnt-on oil or lime deposits, Bar Keepers Friend applied with a sponge usually does the trick. In the Sweethome test kitchen, we often remove burnt-on oil or discoloration using a slurry of baking soda and warm water along with a sponge and a little elbow grease. For other cleaning options, see the suggestions in our guide to the best skillet.
Never clean your stainless steel cookware with harsh chemicals, such as oven cleaner, that could cause permanent damage. Also, avoid using steel wool, which can severely scratch your cookware.
It’s industry standard for cookware manufacturers to advise against cooking over high temperatures to avoid liability for damage caused by misuse. However, judging from our years of experience, as long as you reduce the heat after preheating your pan on medium or medium-high heat, you won’t damage your pans.
For information on how to prevent food from sticking to your stainless steel cookware, check out our blog post on the subject.
If you’re worried about using metal utensils on your stainless steel cookware, don’t be: While such tools may cause minor scratches on the surface of pots and pans, they will not damage the cookware’s performance.
Also, don’t place a screaming-hot pan under running water or in a sink to soak. Chef Janet Crandall told us, “I can’t stress enough the care of good cookware. NEVER put a hot pan or pot into water. Let them cool down. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on cookware, they will warp.”
Sets $80 to $300
The Kirkland Signature 13-piece Tri-Ply Clad Stainless Steel Induction Cookware Set impressed our testers with its durability and even cooking. Though it did well in all of our tests and is reasonably priced, we went with the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic as our budget pick because it’s cheaper, sold at multiple retailers, and available in more sizes.
The design of the Cuisinart FCT-10 French Classic Tri-Ply Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set gives the skillets higher sides that make tossing vegetables a bit more challenging than with our top picks. In addition, for the price, we wish this set came with a second skillet.
The stick handles on the Anolon Tri-Ply Clad Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set were too short and less comfortable to hold compared with the wide, longer handles on the Tramontina cookware.
The Duxtop Whole-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Induction Ready Premium Cookware 10-Pc Set did poorly in our caramel test, as areas of the saucepan started to burn the sugar before the center had fully dissolved. This set also dripped the most when we were pouring liquids.
Sets $600 to $800
The All-Clad d5 Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set held on to heat more, so it took longer for us to make caramel and achieve nicely golden-brown chicken. This set also costs $100 more than our upgrade pick.
Although the Mauviel M’cook Stainless 9-Piece Cookware Set performed well in our tests, it includes a small, 1-quart saucepan, which we felt was more limiting than a 1½- or 2-quart saucepan. On top of that, the lids have tiny handles that we found difficult to grasp, and the set comes with only one skillet.
The Viking 3-Ply Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set discolored badly on the interior and exterior of the pans when we placed them over heat. Our testers weren’t able to remove the discoloration even after persistent scrubbing.
Sauce stuck more to the sides and bottom of the stockpot in the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Aurora 5-Ply Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set. Also, some of our testers didn’t love the lids in this cookware collection due to their dull finish.
We previously tested the 12½-inch skillet from the Breville Thermal Pro line for our guide to the best skillet. In that guide, Lesley Stockton writes that “the Breville Thermal Pro pan we tested weighs almost 5 pounds and retains too much heat due to its thick base, making temperature control difficult.” Based on those results, we opted not to test the Breville Thermal Pro Clad Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set in this roundup.
We’ve read reviews indicating that the Williams-Sonoma Signature Thermo-Clad Stainless-Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set discolors badly after persistent use. Since we expect more from a set in this price range, we decided not to test it.
The Demeyere 5-Plus 10-Piece Cookware Set was out of the price range we established for this guide. Though it’s very expensive, this collection has all of the appropriately sized pieces we look for in cookware sets. It’s also a great option for people who prefer rivet-free cookware. We hope to test it for a future update.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)