When you’re trying to figure out how to choose cookware, it’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed with the mind-boggling number of options out there. There are lots of good choices, but are they right for you? Should it really be this hard to find the right cookware?
I’m here to make it really simple for you.
Remember, it all starts with YOU.
Here are the 7 guidelines on how to choose cookware that is best – for YOU.
1. Your Budget
The golden rule of buying cookware: whatever your price limit, buy the best cookware set you can afford.
When it comes to purchasing cookware, it’s more like an investment, because chances are, it will stay with you for several years and in some cases for life, handed down to the next generation.
2. The Material
- You want cookware constructed of a material that is an excellent conductor of heat so you get even heat and there are no hot spots in your pans.
- The material should not react with food.
Here’s a summary of the different materials, their pro’s and cons.
|Material||Pros||Cons||What to look for|
Does not react with food.
Easy to maintain.
|Poor conductor of heat.|
A bit of a learning curve to prevent food from sticking.
|Looking for stainless steel that is bonded with copper or aluminum to make it a good conductor of heat.|
|Aluminum||Excellent conductor of heat.|
|Very soft, dents easily.|
Reacts with acidic food.
|Look for hard anodized aluminum (anodization is a process which strengthens aluminum to twice the hardness of stainless steel and makes it non-reactive to food).|
|Requires seasoning to maintain.|
Can react with food if not seasoned.
|Can be bare or enamel coated. If buying enameled, the quality and thickness of enamel is important at it can chip into the food.|
|Copper||Excellent conductor of heat.||Very expensive.|
Reacts with acidic food.
|Look for copper cladding in stainless steel cookware for the heat conductivity of copper at a more affordable price.|
Good choices for the home cook:
- Stainless steel with Aluminum Core like Cuisinart Chef’s Classic; or
- Stainless Steel with Copper Core, like the All Clad set.
[Having a core means having an aluminum or copper disc at the bottom, sandwiched between layers of stainless steel.]
Keep in mind that cookware with copper will always be more expensive than aluminum.
If your budget allows, look for Stainless Steel cookware with aluminum or copper cladding. Cladding means layers of metal not just on the base but all the way up the sides. The result is you get even more even and efficient heat in the pan. It’s also referred to as tri-ply (3 layers) or multiclad cookware. Good choices are:
- Stainless steel with aluminum cladding like Potluck Cookware (new launch 2018, read full review here), Cuisinart Multiclad Pro or the All Clad 5 ply set.
If you’re in the market for a more premium cookware and considering All Clad but feeling the sticker shock, check out Made In Cookware. They are a new company which launched in Sept 2017 and offer American made 5-ply stainless steel cookware with aluminum core. Like All Clad but much more budget friendly. You can read my review here.
Hard Anodized Aluminum with a nonstick coating is another good choice, like the Rachael Ray Hard Anodized Nonstick set. And if you prefer ceramic coated vs teflon type, Caraway cookware offers some excellent heavy gauge aluminum pans. (Read review here).
If you’re wondering about the difference between hard anodized and non-stick, read our guide on Aluminum cookware.
Lastly, if you are someone who wants to be completely sure that nothing can leach from their cookware to their food, you might be a candidate for 100% ceramic cookware like Xtrema.
Xtrema is completely free of any metals and any chemical toxins and I would consider it one of, if not THE, safest cookware available in the market today.
3. Your Cooking Personality
Everyone has a cooking personality. Everyone! And it plays a part in your choice of cookware. So it’s time to figure out yours. Are you a gourmet chef at home or someone who just likes to slap things together and convince your family that it’s a meal?
In a simple world, everyone falls within a wide spectrum of people who:
- Cook because they love to
- Cook because they have to
You are probably somewhere between these two extremes, with shades of both in your cooking personality.
If you cook because you love to, you will most likely:
- Be willing to pay for quality cookware that is likely to last a lifetime
- Choose cookware that looks as good as it performs. Looks do matter because you are very likely to display them in the kitchen.
- Not mind spending time and effort maintaining your cookware. After all, it’s a lifetime investment.
- Make sure that food tastes authentic and there is no possibility of metal leeching into your food.
Your choice of cookware: Stainless Steel with Aluminum or Copper cladding, Copper cookware and Cast Iron. You might want to invest in an All Clad or Made In Cookware set that will pretty much last you a lifetime. Another excellent choice is Potluck cookware that offers quality cookware at affordable prices. And if you want metal free, a great choice is Xtrema 100% ceramic cookware.
If you cook because you have to, your thoughts might be something like these:
- Cookware should be low hassle, easy to maintain and clean. Dishwasher safe preferred.
- Convenience is very important.
- Decent quality but within a budget. I have other things I’d rather spend on.
- I don’t really care to display my cookware so if it shows some signs of wear, so be it.
Your choice of cookware: Stainless steel with Aluminum core like Cuisinart Multiclad Pro, budget friendly triply cookware Potluck (read review) or Hard Anodized Non Stick Aluminum like Rachael Ray for convenience and ease of cleaning. The Rachael Ray set now comes in a dishwasher friendly version which is great news.
Here’s a great set that’s perfect for both ‘love-to-cook’ and ‘have-to-cook’ personalities – Caraway Cookware. It looks great, performs fabulously, and is ceramic coated which means no chance of anything leaching into food plus great convenience when it comes to cleaning up. Read my full review here.
4. Your Type of Cooking
Yes, your type of cooking does matter when it comes to finding your best cookware set.
For example, if you do a lot of searing and deglazing, then stainless steel might be right for you. If you do lots of stir frying, then cast iron might be right for you. For boiling, a basic stainless steel stock pot would do.
There is no perfect pan. But you can shortlist what would work best for you based on cooking needs.
5. How many pieces you need
This depends on the number of people you cook for as well as your cookware personality.
So if you cook for a small family and are a ‘have to cook’ person, then these are the basic must haves for your kitchen: a 8” or 10” nonstick skillet, a 10” or 12” skillet with lid, a stock pot with a lid, a sauté pan with lid and a saucepan with lid. Look for a 7-10 piece set or pick up individual pieces from open stock.
If you are a ‘love to cook’ personality, then you will need several more pieces , like extra saucepans, a larger stock pot and possibly a cast iron skillet for your nonstick needs. Look for a 14 or 17 sized set. Or of course pick up individual pieces.
6. Your Type of Stove
Cookware of any material is fine for gas, glass and ceramic cooktops. The main thing you have to watch out for with glass and ceramic cooktops is that the cookware is completely flat so make sure it’s a heavy gauge material.
If you have an induction cooktop, you can only use cookware that is magnetic since induction cooking uses the transfer of magnetic energy. Therefore you cannot use regular Aluminum, Stainless Steel, Glass, Pyrex or Ceramic.
Your choices include Cast Iron, Magnetic Stainless Steel and some brands of aluminum cookware which are specially adapted to induction cooktops. If you are not sure if a cookware is induction compatible, try sticking a magnet to the base of the pot. If it sticks, it probably is.
Check out this selection of different induction compatible cookware.
7. What to avoid
Here are the items to avoid:
- Stainless steel cookware with no aluminum or copper as that would be a bad conductor of heat.
- Basic aluminum with no coating or anodization as that is not durable and reacts with food.
- Cheap nonstick pans that flake off easily.
Don’t feel pressured into buying a pre-made set if you don’t think you will need all those pieces. Sets are usually more cost effective but what’s the point if you are not going to use all the pots.
In the end, the best cookware set for you might be a collection of different types of pans of different materials put together to form your perfect cookware collection!
Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
Guide to the safest cookware available by Cookware Ninja
What Everyone Needs To Know About Aluminum Cookware
What’s That Pan Made Of? A View Beyond The Marketing Clutter
What Do You Mean It’s Not Teflon? (A comprehensive guide to non-stick cookware)
Ceramic vs Teflon Cookware-How To Choose The Best One
Buying Stainless Steel Cookware? Read This First
In Search of a Flat Pan