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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

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    • 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.

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