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by ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Reliable cookware is an investment. Use our guide to research the best cookware brand for you. We explain what to consider if you want to find a quality piece of cookware. Different materials react to heat in different ways, while some shapes are better suited for certain types of cooking.

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What to look for when buying cookware

1. Cookware function

Cookware comes in various shapes, each designed with a specific function in mind. While certain shapes are multifunctional and best for everyday use, other shapes won't be used that often in the kitchen. It is best to understand the difference before investing in pieces.

  • Skillets or frying pans: The workhorses of the kitchen, skillets are primarily used for stove-top cooking, although they can be used to finish cooking food in the oven. Skillets have an outward sloping side that makes it easier to stir food and to slide food from the skillet for serving. They come in a variety of sizes measured by the diameter in inches at the top of the pan. A skillet in the 10"–12" range will prove the most versatile.
  • Sauté pans: Similar to skillets, sauté pans have straight sides. This allows more food to fit into the pan, so it is ideal for cooking sauces. Sauté pans are measured in quarts, rather than inches.
  • Saucepans/pots: Also known as pots, saucepans have straight sides and are several inches deep. Their capacity is measured in quarts, and they are typically used on the stove top to cook rice, heat soup and cook vegetables.
  • Saucier pans: Not as deep as saucepans, saucier pans are still measured in quarts based on capacity. Their curved bottom allows even stirring for items that burn easily, such as risotto.
  • Stockpots: These large, deep pots come in a variety of sizes. Versatile, they are used to make liquid-heavy dishes such as soup, chili, stock and to boil pasta. They are measured by their quart capacity.
2. Heat conductivity

The type of cookware material will determine how well it conducts heat and how long food needs to be cooked. If food needs to be cooked for an excessively long time, consumers risk drying out the food or having to use excessive liquid such as oil to compensate.

  • Responsive heat: Cookware that is made of good heat conductors, like copper or aluminum, will react quickly to changes in temperature. When you turn the heat on the stove top up or down, the cookware should respond to the change right away.
  • Even heat diffusion: Cookware with good heat conductivity will diffuse the heat from the heat source and spread it evenly across the bottom of the pot or pan. Home chefs won’t have to worry that food is scorched in one spot and undercooked in another.
  • Fast heat flow: Heat flows faster through good heat conductors, so cookware won't take too long to heat up. If you’re someone who boils pasta often, not having to wait too long for a stockpot to come to a boil is a good reason to look for cookware that is a good conductor of heat.
3. Durability

Cookware that is a heavier gauge and that feels substantial when lifted will not only hold up over time, but will result in a better cooking experience. You can determine if cookware is thick enough by knocking on the side of the cookware. Heavy gauge cookware will produce a dull thud.

  • Durable: Cookware that is heavier is more likely to handle wear and tear and a lot of daily use. Heavier-gauge cookware won't dent and scratch as easily as its thinner gauge counterparts.
  • Even heat: Heavy gauge cookware is also a good conductor of heat, producing an even heat to the bottom of the saucepan, skillet or pot.
4. Finishing material

Not only does the type of material the cookware is composed of make a difference, but the finishing material matters as well. The primary difference in the finishing material is whether a nonstick finish has been applied or not.

  • Stainless-steel nonstick finish: The nonstick finish is designed to easily release food. The lifespan of the finish, under continuous wear, depends on how well it is cared for.
  • Porcelain enamel nonstick finish: Usually used in conjunction with cast iron or stainless steel cookware, porcelain enamel finish can be applied to either the interior, exterior or both. It is a good heat conductor, and it tends to hold up well with use.
  • Uncoated finish: Not every piece of cookware is coated. Some, such as cast iron, can and should be treated before initial use to ensure it will hold up over time. Not allowing food to burn or scorch in the pan will help maintain the finish, regardless of the pan type.
5. Secure lid

Most cookware comes with lids, although some companies sell them separately. They are useful for retaining moisture and heat during cooking. Lids should fit snugly on the pan for best results.

  • Glass: Glass lids allow cooks to monitor food without needing to lift the lid to check on it. This keeps heat and moisture in.
  • Metal: More lightweight than glass, metal lids are best for items that can cook without a lid on. Metal lids prevent foods that splatter from making a mess on the stovetop.
6. Well-constructed handle

Much more than just an aesthetic feature, handles enable cookware to be easily transported from the stove top to the oven, then to the table, so you do not have as many pans to clean. In addition to the types of handles, how the handles are attached can make a difference. For the strongest and most secure connection, look for handles that are riveted to the pan or pot and not screwed or welded.

  • Silicone handles: These handles stay cool even under higher temperatures and are safe to wash in the dishwasher. While silicone handles can go in the oven, check the manual that comes with the cookware to see the maximum safe temperature.
  • Plastic handles: While they won't get hot to the touch like metal handles do, plastic handles tend to break easier than other handle materials. Lightweight plastic handles cannot withstand high oven temperatures.
  • Solid or hollow metal handles: These handles are sturdy with a long lifespan. Both solid and hollow metal handles can handle high oven temperatures, although they will get hot to the touch whether used in the oven or on the stovetop.

Types of cookware

Aluminum cookware

Though lightweight, aluminum is an effective heat conductor. Because it's cost-effective, it is often used by cookware manufacturers. It can be scratched easily, so it is usually treated with a nonstick finish or electrochemically treated to form hard-anodized aluminum. Hard-anodized aluminum is extremely durable.

Stainless steel cookware

Although it is durable, stainless steel is not the best heat conductor. Because of this, cookware made from it is usually paired with copper or aluminum.

Copper cookware

Considered the best heat conductor, copper heats up and cools down quickly. Because it is a softer metal, it tends to dent easily. It also reacts with some foods, so most copper cookware is treated on the interior with stainless steel.

Cast iron cookware

Heavyweight, cast iron cookware is incredibly durable. It both conducts and retains heat well. It is either left uncoated or treated with a porcelain enamel. If the interior is uncoated, it should be seasoned with cooking oil before the initial use. It should not be scrubbed clean, but instead wiped clean to retain the oils.

Porcelain enamel cookware

Combined with either stainless steel or cast iron, porcelain enamel cookware comes in a variety of colors. It is best used in the oven since it doesn't conduct heat as well as other types of cookware.

Cookware brands FAQ

What is the safest cookware for your health?
To keep harmful chemicals away from your food, use cookware made from:
  • Stainless steel
  • Cast iron
  • Titanium
  • Anodized aluminum
  • Copper
  • Ceramic
  • Glass

Most nonstick pans made after 2013 are also free of harmful chemicals, but be sure to confirm that your chosen cookware doesn’t contain PFOA.

Are scratched pans dangerous?
Scratched pans are not dangerous unless they contain PTFE or PFOA, which are chemicals formerly used in nonstick coatings. Most cookware brands no longer use these chemicals in their manufacturing process, so recently purchased pots and pans that are scratched should be safe — though they may lose their nonstick characteristics.
Do you need special pans for induction?
Cookware must have a flat bottom and contain magnetic materials, such as cast iron or stainless steel, to work with an induction stovetop.

Touch a magnet to your pots and pans to test if they work with induction cooktops. If the magnet sticks, you’re good to go.

Is titanium cookware better than stainless steel?
Titanium has several advantages over stainless steel, but titanium cookware is generally more expensive as a result.
  • Stainless steel cookware can leach very small amounts of heavy metals into your food, but titanium’s nonporous nature prevents leaching.
  • Titanium cookware is also lighter than stainless steel and has comparable durability.
What does waterless cookware mean?
Waterless cookware lets you cook without adding water or oil by providing and retaining an even, fast heat. This type of cookware often has a steam-release valve lid with built-in steam control.
What is the difference between cookware and bakeware?
The difference is simple: You primarily use cookware on your stovetop, and you primarily use bakeware in your oven.

Not sure how to choose?

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    Cookware reviews

    AUTHORIZED PARTNER
    Royal Prestige Cookware

    Royal Prestige was founded in 1959 and continues to grow at a rate of about a quarter of a million new customers each year. With several lines of stainless-steel cookware, Royal Prestige is sold through distributors.

    • Greaseless cooking: The 5-ply line of cookware Royal Prestige offers is designed to allow consumers to cook food such as chicken and meat without any oil.
    • Ergonomic handles: These handles on the company's products are designed to be comfortable to hold, and don't heat up with the pans.
    • 50-year warranty: Royal Prestige provides consumers buying cookware a 50-year warranty on their products.
    • Redi-Temp valve: Most cookware designed by the company has a built-in valve that will alert consumers when the temperature reaches 180 °F or 82 °C.
    • Versatile: Royal Prestige's cookware can be used on induction-stove tops and in ovens.
    Read 1378 Reviews
    AUTHORIZED PARTNER
    Kitchen Charm

    Kitchen Charm has more than 50 years of service, with more than 350 employees and 2,200 independent distributors throughout North America. Designed to be sold as a complete set, the cookware comes with a cookbook and manual on how to use the cookware.

    • Healthy cooking: Consumers can prepare food using Kitchen Charm's cookware without adding oil, grease, or butter making meals healthier to eat. The company touts that meat can be pan-broiling in its own juices without adding anything else, heating a pan to medium-high heat and dropping some water in the pan to test, can do this. When the water beads and "dances," the pan is hot enough.
    • iCore construction: Kitchen Charm cookware is created by combining metals to maximize even heat distribution.
    • Product warranty: Cookware bought at Kitchen Charm has a 50-year conditional warranty.
    • Vapor seal: No more smelly fish because Kitchen Charm's cookware has a vapor seal that not only allows vegetables to steam using little to no water, but it eliminates the smell permeating the entire house when fish is on the menu.
    Read 1419 Reviews
    AUTHORIZED PARTNER
    NutraEase

    NutraEase is a Wisconsin-based company that sells a wide range of cookware and related items. Cookware from NutraEase is manufactured in Italy to maintain high quality without charging prices that are too high for consumers to afford.

    • 50-year warranty: NutraEase products come with a 50-year limited warranty that protects buyers from subpar items that do not meet the company's expectations.
    • 316Ti stainless steel: NutraEase uses a combination of 316 type titanium stainless steel and aluminum alloy to make cookware that distributes heat evenly no matter what kind of cooking surface owners use.
    • Removable handles: Cookware from NutraEase uses removable handles so owners can choose an option that matches their specific cooking needs.
    • Stack cooking: Many of the products from NutraEase are stackable, making it possible for owners to save room in their cabinets and find combinations that they can use for steaming ingredients easily.
    • NutraValve: Cookware tops from NutraEase come with valves that keep recipes at the right temperature while letting ingredients cook in their own flavorful juices.
    Read 426 Reviews
    NutriChef USA

    Founded in 1874, NutriChef cookware combines stainless steel in a 7-ply construction with titanium and aluminum to deliver superior heat reactivity and durability. Products by NutriChef USA is sold mostly through in-store and bridal show demonstrations by professional chefs so customers learn the ideal way to use the cookware.

    Read more about NutriChef USA
    KitchenAid Cookware

    Available from major retailers nationwide, KitchenAid was founded in 1919 with its iconic and beloved Stand Mixer. The company is known for its timeless craftsmanship.

    Read more about KitchenAid Cookware
    Rachael Ray Cookware

    Sporting the name of TV personality and chef Rachael Ray, the Rachael Ray Cookware collections can be found at most major retailers. Bright colors and fun accents are the cookware's hallmark.

    Read more about Rachael Ray Cookware
    Paula Deen Cookware

    As part of the Paula Deen empire, Paula Deen Cookware is sold online and in major retailers. Paula Deen began her professional career more than 25 years ago and continues to focus on bringing Southern-style cooking and entertaining to everyone.

    Read more about Paula Deen Cookware
    Anchor Hocking Cookware

    Since 1805, Anchor Hocking has made bakeware and kitchen prep tools. The company's products are sold in major retailers nationwide and online. Its tempered soda-lime-silicate glass bakeware is designed to be durable and safe, virtually eliminating the chance of the bakeware breaking or scratching under normal conditions.

    Read more about Anchor Hocking Cookware
    Farberware

    Founded more than 100 years ago, Farberware is available at major nationwide retailers. A few different lines are available, each designed for cooks starting out on their kitchen adventures.

    Read more about Farberware
    All-Clad

    Built for professional and semi-professional use, All-Clad cookware is available in upscale department stores and kitchen specialty retailers. The company offers several lines of cookware, each with a different metal construction.

    • Copper core: Consumers can achieve quality heat conductivity with a 5-ply construction, with copper between stainless steel.
    • Layered metal: Stainless steel and aluminum sandwiched in layers provides homogeneous heat diffusion.
    • Dishwasher safe: Consumers can safely place cookware in the dishwasher to be cleaned.
    • Solid metal handles: Securely fastened to cookware, the solid metal handles withstand high heat.

    Compare Top Cookware Brand Reviews

    by ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    The ConsumerAffairs Research Team believes everyone deserves to make smart decisions. We aim to provide readers with the most up-to-date information available about today's consumer products and services.

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