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cookware buying guide

find out how to choose the right cookware and how to care for it correctly

When it’s time to stock your kitchen or add to the cookware you already have, the first question you should ask yourself is, “How will you use the cookware?” Do you need a specific type of pan, such as a sauté pan? Would a complete set of cookware cover all the bases? Find out how to choose the right cookware and how to care for it correctly.

top cookware qualities to look for

Versatile cookware is essential if you cook frequently. For example, you can use a sauce pan to boil eggs too.

Safe for stovetop, oven, and broiler are qualities that add to the versatility of your cookware set. They also cut down on cleanup because you can use the same cookware from start to finish.

Durable cookware is best. You should select cookware that you can use for years to come.

Temperature control simplifies cooking in slow cookers and air fryers. Choose a model with several settings for best results.

Nonstick cookware is easier to cook with and clean up.

Safe to simmer all day is a quality you want in a stock pot or Dutch oven.

Safe for searing over high heat is a feature you need for cooking meat like roasts and steaks. Searing seals in the juices for a moist result.

Long lasting cookware forms the foundation of your family kitchen. You want pots and pans that last far beyond that breaking-in period.

High quality/chef style cookware is typically the most long lasting. Each pot or pan is designed for a specific cooking method.

Made from sustainable materials, your cookware should pose zero health risks to your family. It should also help you minimize your carbon footprint.

Easy to clean cookware, such as a nonstick pan, makes cleanup quicker. You won’t find yourself scrubbing cooked-on food.

pro tip:

Not sure which cookware set to choose? Consider the meals you cook most often, and make sure the set has the items you need.

types of cookware, pros/cons, and care

Stainless steel cookware does not react to acidic foods, so it lets the true flavors come through. Stainless steel can be harder to clean because food can stick.

Nonstick cookware cleans up easily. It cooks most foods without additional oil, so you can skip the added calories.

Enameled cast iron such as Le Creuset cookware has a smooth, durable coating that prevents the cast iron from rusting. Equally as versatile as non-coated cast iron cookware, it’s made for the stove as well as the oven. It is a heavy material that requires muscle to maneuver.

Uncoated cast iron is long lasting and easily transitions from stovetop to oven. It is also nonstick if you season it right. However, cast iron is heavy. It will rust if you don’t care for it properly.

Carbon steel and blue steel provide the plusses of cast iron cookware at a lighter weight. A mixture of mostly iron and a bit of steel, they are vulnerable to acidic foods like tomato sauce, which can remove the seasoning.

Copper is a great heat conductor and produces evenly cooked food. Cons include a higher price tag than other metals. Also, copper reacts to acid and alkalinity, so such foods cooked in copper can take on a metallic tang.

Ceramic nonstick cookware comes in colors and patterns, so it’s great for oven-to-table use. It heats your food evenly and cleanup is easy. On the downside, ceramic is more fragile than metal cookware. It may chip or crack over time.

Anodized aluminum pans are lightweight, durable, and scratch-resistant. Pricier than plain aluminum cookware, anodized aluminum cookware from brands like Anolon® cookware does not react with acidic foods.

Ceramic coated aluminum cookware is nonstick without potentially hazardous chemicals. As such, the ceramic coating is more environmentally friendly.

pro tip:

Choose versatile cookware that you can use on a variety of cooktops. That way, if you get a new induction stove for example, you won’t have to buy a new set of magnet-friendly pots and pans.

what cookware materials are sustainable and environmentally friendly?

Uncoated metals like aluminum, cast iron, and stainless steel may leach toxic chemicals such as iron, chromium and nickel, into your food. Too much of these metals in your system is unhealthy.

Cookware coatings that contain PFOA, a known carcinogen, are safe to use until they begin showing wear. Then, they give off substances that raise your risk for cancer, low birth weight babies, and immune system suppression.

Ceramic-coated cookware does not pose the environmental and health risks of other nonstick coatings. Ceramics like earthenware are sustainable too.

handle construction

When you’re choosing cookware, don’t forget to consider the handles. When you think about it, cookware handles are just as important in the type of coating on the pans. The handles can be the first thing that wears out, rendering your cookware unusable.

Riveted handles are attached to the cookware with metal fasteners. Unlike the screwed-on handles you see on low-end cookware; riveted handles are more firmly attached and likely to last longer.

Welded handles are adhered to the cookware with high heat, which causes the metals of the pan and handles to bond together. Unlike riveted and screwed-on handles, welded handles do not leave minute spaces that are difficult to clean out. Also, food can stick onto rivets inside the pans. Welded handles do not present this problem.

Some cookware, such as Rachael Ray™ cookware sets, has stay-cool silicone sleeves on the handles, so cooking is easier and more comfortable. Other pans have handles coated with stay-cool polymer materials. Be sure to check with your user manual before placing cookware with coated handles in the oven.

pro tip:

Choose cookware with handles that fit your cleaning priorities. Wood handles, for instance, stay cool while cooking but do not stand up well in the dishwasher.

what are the cookware pieces available?

A frying pan/skillet is mainly for stovetop use. With a wide bottom and curved, low sides, it is ideal for frying and turning out eggs, meats and fish.

A sauté pan is similar to a frying pan, but it has taller, more perpendicular sides to keep food contained.

Braiser pans have a wide bottom and higher sides plus a lid. They are useful for slow cooking food in liquid and browning meats prior to roasting.

A wok is a round pan with a narrow bottom for concentrated heat and tall curved sides. A wok is designed for stir frying and deep-frying foods.

Griddle pans have large, flat surfaces for grilling foods like pancakes and grilled cheese.

A saucepan has tall sides to contain liquids.

A saucepan set comes in several sizes for cooking everything from a dessert sauce to mashed potatoes.

A saucier pan has a wider bottom and curved sides that make it easier to cook recipes that require frequent stirring.

A grill pan features raised ridges on the bottom of the pan for holding meats up out of the drippings. The ridges leave grill lines on the food.

A stock pot is a large, tall pot with a lid for cooking whole foods like chicken for soup stock.

A dutch oven is a heavy, lidded pot. You can use a Dutch oven for cooking main dishes like stews or for baking bread. The Le Creuset Dutch oven is one of our favorites.

Sauteuse pans are frying pans with curved sides that prevent steam from forming in the pan. Food comes out crispier.

Buffet casserole dishes are shallow, lidded pans for pot luck casseroles and oven-to-table service.

Gratin dishes are made for baking casseroles with cheese such as pasta.

A cassoulet is a baking dish for small casseroles.

A roaster pan is a heavy-duty, oven-safe pan for roasting meats and poultry. A roaster pan comes with a removable grill for lifting out the food.

pro tip:

Choose a roasting pan that is thick and heavy so that it won't bend under the weight of the food. A heavier pan will also heat and cook more evenly.

essential cookware for any kitchen

If you are just starting to outfit your new kitchen, your most economical option is to purchase a cookware set rather than individual pieces. We feature a wide selection of cookware sets from trusted brands that include:

  • Frying pan
  • Saute pan
  • Saucepan
  • Stock pot
  • Braiser
  • Dutch oven

pro tip:

If the cookware set you purchase does not have some of the pieces you need, you can add to it over time with additional items.

what is the right cookware for your stovetop?

If you have a glass-topped stove, your cookware should have flat, smooth bottoms that will not damage the glass. Coated cookware, such as Caraway® ceramic nonstick aluminum pots and pans, are a great choice.

For induction stovetops, appropriate cookware from brands like Ninja® will do the trick. The bottoms of the pans must be magnet-friendly for induction cooking.

Stainless steel cookware from brands like All-Clad will work too. Stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and cast iron are the best cookware materials for gas stovetops. Our selection of Cuisinart® cookware is ideal for gas stovetop cooking.

The cookware you use on an electric stove should have good heat distribution properties and a durable finish. A Calphalon® cookware set is perfect for all-around use.

pro tip:

Avoid buying specialty cookware, such as a crepe pan, if you are not certain you will use it. Instead, wait until an occasion calls for a specialty purchase.

what is the right cookware for your cleaning style?

1. I tend to soak pots and pans after use.

If you automatically put your cookware in the sink to soak, you should probably avoid nonstick pots and pans as well as uncoated cast iron. Neither type of cookware needs soaking. If you soak cast iron pans, they lose their seasoning and eventually rust.

2. I tend to put everything in the dishwasher.

Unless the manufacturer says it’s okay, do not put your nonstick cookware in the dishwasher. It could cause the coating to deteriorate faster. Instead, purchase cookware like stainless steel that has a “dishwasher safe” designation.

3. I clean as I go in the kitchen.

If this is true for you, then nonstick cookware is the way to go. Typically, it only requires a quick rinse and drying with a dishcloth. It will fit right in with a clean-as-you-go regimen.

pro tip:

After lots of use, your nonstick skillet may develop greasy buildup. Instead of using an abrasive pad or cleanser, mix up a paste of baking soda and water to effectively remove buildup without scratches.

use and care of cookware

Extend the life of your nonstick cookware by using only non-scratching utensils like silicone, bamboo and wood. Metal spoons, ladles, and spatulas will scratch the nonstick coating.

Do not place your cookware in the dishwasher unless the manufacturer specifically says it’s dishwasher safe. Otherwise, hand wash it.

Wipe out your seasoned cast iron cookware instead of immersing it in your sink. It will retain its nonstick seasoning longer. Similarly, your nonstick pots and pans will last longer if you avoid soaking them.