Best Cookware Sets of 2020
The Tramontina Prima Set is our favorite; it makes the crispiest bacon, cooking evenly throughout and providing exceptional heat management. This set is versatile and can smoothly go from the fridge to the stove and into the oven. It comes with all the necessary pieces to keep your kitchen fully stocked and ready for any meal. We love the easy pour-over rims and the durable lids. What's more, the cooking performance is out of this world. We were able to sear meat easily, roast veggies evenly, and cook rice without sticking. The stainless steel construction works well with metal tools and ensures that cleanup is easy. Take a stainless steel scrubber to the surface to remove caked-on food, or simply run it through the dishwasher. This set is an investment, but it's worth the cost. If you're seeking a set that you won't have to replace, this stainless steel selection is our top choice.
While this is our favorite set, it's not perfect. First, the steel easily gets watermarks and can discolor. Special care is also needed to maintain its shimmering stainless steel finish. We love the ergonomic skillet handles, but they do get hot. Finally, it's not non-stick in nature, and butter or oil is required for cooking, with some practice to ensure food doesn't stick. This is our favorite stainless steel set tested with exceptional performance — a look that'll perk up any kitchen.
Not only does the Calphalon Premier feature the most durable non-stick coating we've tested, but it's also incredibly easy to store. It fits easily in our cupboards and won't take much to maintain. Cooking performance is excellent with even heat distribution that makes sauteing and searing a breeze. Given its non-stick nature, loads of oil or butter aren't needed to keep food from sticking on the surface. The non-stick finish is amazingly durable, which means it's okay to use with metal tools. Quick clean-ups without extra maintenance is what this set is all about. It can handle the oven up to 450F max and comes with high-quality construction and ergonomic handles and lids.
Even though it boasts easy maintenance and storage, we worry about the glass lids breaking if accidentally dropped. The lids stack easily, but the long handles get in the way, with a chance of being knocked off the burner. Finally, be aware that you may need to use pot holders when the heat gets cranked up. We appreciate its sleek, stackable look; if easy clean-up and cooking with minimal oil are what you are looking for, this is our top recommendation.
The Lodge Season is our favorite cast iron set because it offers excellent heat retention and cooking performance. It can sear a tuna steak like no other, fry up eggs and pancakes, and includes a dutch oven in the set, which we used for baking bread. When properly maintained and seasoned (and not overheated), cooking performance is unparalleled. If you're seeking a skillet, dutch oven, and tortilla maker that'll last you for decades, this cast iron set is a great choice.
Extra care, seasoning, skills, and maintenance are required to use cast iron sets in general, and some folks simply aren't interested in taking on these chores. The surface comes with a pebble finish, which may scrub off over time when metal tools are used. Be prepared to heat it slowly and use oil or butter for all cooking dishes; otherwise, you'll be dealing with stuck-on foods. Even though it's marketed as "pre-seasoned", we recommend seasoning it yourself to ensure its non-stick performance. Cleaning is straightforward and doesn't require delicate care like non-stick pans, but you do need to dress it with oil after use. While maintenance does take a little extra time, you won't be disappointed with its cooking performance or longevity.
Not only is the Cuisinart MCP 7 Piece a top-quality cookware set, but it heats up quickly, which is unusual for stainless steel. Its stunning exterior looks at home in any kitchen, and its 3-ply construction with aluminum core ensures even cooking on any stovetop. We cooked eggs (sunny-side up), made pancakes, roasted potatoes, and boiled rice without a fuss. The cooking performance is similar to our top-performing models, without the additional price. To clean up, try an abrasive scrubber or throw it in the dishwasher.
Like any stainless steel cookware on the market, it requires cooking know-how to ensure that food doesn't stick. While stickiness wasn't a problem for us, we had to be diligent about preheating and used a temperature gun to ensure the skillet was ready to sear meats and make eggs. Once you get this technique down, food quality is excellent. Another important note — be sure to use oil or butter every time you cook with sticky foods. The handles don't feel particularly ergonomic, and the metal pan scratched when we used metal utensils or tried to clean it with steel wool. Fortunately, this doesn't compromise cooking performance; it is stainless steel, after all. If you're seeking a great deal on a stainless steel set, this is your best bet.
The Amazon Basics Cast Iron is a high-quality, low-cost cast iron set that excels at searing meats and baking bread. It's a five-piece set complete with two skillets, one griddle, and one dutch oven. We were pleased with its searing, roasting, and baking capabilities, reminiscent of any cast iron set. Comparable to the Lodge in all of its advantages, this set can be found at a price just a smidgen lower than most cast iron sets. We also appreciate the hanger on the dutch oven that makes it convenient to use in a campfire and the kitchen. Expect excellent cooking quality, easy storage, and durable construction.
This set offers excellent durability and functionality but seems a little worse in craftsmanship than the Lodge. The exterior finish is more pebbled, and its initial "pre-season" condition is far from non-stick. We made sure to pre-season the set ourselves, which helped, but it was still a little stickier than we'd hoped. Be ready to use lots of oil or butter at first, and after making five meals or so, the problem will be in the past. This set takes longer to heat and loses heat faster than other cast iron sets tested. While its overall performance is similar to other competitors, it doesn't perform at quite the same level. Overall, this is a high value cast iron set.
The GreenPan ceramic non-stick offers the best stackability and storage of any cookware set we tried. The finish is built with multiple layers of diamond-infused ceramic, which is meant to make it quite durable. It stands out for its excellent cooking performance, features, and simple stackable design. The pans are balanced and sturdy, and the handles stay cool while you cook. We appreciate the pour-off features on the pots that make transferring soups or sauces quite easy. It's also simple to wipe clean, or you can put it into the dishwasher. The pans feel heavy and study, which lends a sense of good craftsmanship.
While we didn't experience any major problems, we did notice that the non-stick is stickier than other contenders. During our egg test, the egg stuck and tore, which wasn't an issue we had with most other non-stick cookware. If a clean ceramic set that stacks well is what you seek, take a look at this product.
The Green Cuisinart is an excellent high-value set that boils water quickly and makes an excellent pancake. It comes with all the necessary pieces you'd need for a complete kitchen set. The non-stick ceramic coating offers good performance with sticky meals, which makes for easy clean-up. It heats quickly and offers decent cooking performance, but not the best we've seen. It's quick to boil a pot of water, and the different pieces will have you cooking up all sorts of gourmet meals. The handles are stainless steel, so this set can also go right into the oven — up to 400F. Another plus is the construction and manufacturing of this product are claimed to be "green". We also appreciate the price. It's hard to find a ceramic set for this price point with this level of craftsmanship.
The biggest caveat we have with this set is the size of the skillet. There is only one, and it is only eight inches in diameter with a fairly shallow wall. This makes it hard to make a large stir-fry or cook for a big family. You can re-season it to replenish its non-stick properties, but this needs to be done twice a year to ensure longevity. The manual recommends you do not cook with extra virgin olive oil; if you do, it's unclear if this voids the warranty. We noticed that this set scratches easily, so make sure you're gentle with it. This is a great low priced non-stick set that's amenable for anybody on a tight budget.
With the T-Fal Titanium, you don't have to waste time soaking or scraping food because its impeccable non-stick finish is slippery and super easy to clean. We enjoyed cooking with it because it offers even heat distribution and superior cooking qualities. After preparing over 20 different meals with it, we concluded that it has the slipperiest surface among the group, with no food sticking — ever. What's more, is that it's straightforward to clean. Simply use a soft brush or sponge to wipe away any build-up. You can slide it right into the oven, but be sure you don't heat it over 350 degrees. The price point is where you want it to be, and it offers an incredible value.
While we love this set, it's far from the most durable we've tested. The non-stick coating scratches easily, so you should avoid using metal utensils or abrasive scrubbers on the surface. It does heat evenly, but it took a long time to heat a pot of water. Since the coating isn't free from PTFE, be careful not to heat it over medium heat. If slippery and easy to clean is attractive to you, consider this one.
The Greenlife 16 piece is best for any cook looking for a complete ceramic set of tools to fill their kitchen. It has the most pieces of any set tested, including serving utensils, soup pots, and deep-walled skillets. It is easy to maneuver and monitor because the pots and pans are light, and the lids are see-through. It can withstand oven heat as well, at temperatures up to 350F. We also love that the handles are ergonomic and cool to the touch when cooking. Clean-up is simple—wipe it clean or carefully load it into the dishwasher.
The cooking performance is good, but not great, which is unavoidable due to its super thin design. We also noticed hot spots, despite the aluminum cores with a "non-stick" coating that does stick after cooking on it for a few minutes. It scratches and wears easily, with the handles loosening after a few uses. While this is a full kitchen set, be aware that the lower price also means the durability may not be up to snuff.
Why You Should Trust Us
The lead tester in this review is Amber King, a long-time cook, baker, and gear tester. Over the last seven years working for GearLab, she's reviewed hundreds of different products and over 20 different categories, including the popular Camping Cookware review. Amber has been cooking and baking for over 15 years and loves to spend her extra time concocting new recipes, baking bread, and making new things. As a self-trained cook, she's spent countless hours reading about cookware, stovetops, and cooking techniques. While cooking isn't her main profession, she brings a wealth of experience and the perspective of a self-made cook, which any reader can appreciate and trust.
To start our scientific testing, we began with extensive online research of currently available cook sets. After choosing nine sets to test, we bought them at retail prices and got to work. We spent over 40 hours in our kitchen, cooking up a storm; this includes release tests with pancakes and eggs, searing tuna steaks, whipping up rice, and boiling water. With all sets in hand, we took the time to meticulously compare each, noting performance differences while working through a carefully designed testing regime. After our testing period commenced, we provide you with our feedback. We continue testing throughout the year, providing updates on durability and performance as we continue to use the sets.
Analysis and Test Results
Any kitchen needs an excellent cookware set, and that's where we can help. With nine sets tested and compared, we offer our recommendations after thoroughly using each. To help us evaluate the product quality, we focus on important metrics for each, showcasing which are the best and which can be left at the warehouse.
To test cooking performance, we cooked! We also constructed several careful tests to see how each set compared. We specifically looked at cooking evenness, pan stickiness, rate of boiling, and searing ability. We also tasted the food to see which offered the best quality (yum). The cast iron sets, including the AmazonBasics and Lodge totally crushed the competition, offering some of the tastiest and crispiest food of all. Other top performing cook sets include the Tramontina and Cuisinart MCP.
To test for the cooking evenness of each set, we put each on medium heat and used an infrared temperature gun to measure temperature differences on the pan when on medium heat. We also made pancakes. We carefully watched to see how the pancake batter spread and bubbled, then examined the cake pattern to look for hot spots or unevenness. In general, non-stick sets with thicker layers and an aluminum core offer the best cooking evenness. Thick stainless steel is also great, with thinner materials and cast iron doing the worst.
Of all the sets, the T-Fal Titanium(+/-5F) proves to have the lowest variations in temperature on the pan. This is followed by the Greenpan Stackable (+/- 10.8F) and the Cuisinart Stainless Steel (+/-10.9F). All cooked evenly, and when using butter or oil, heat distribution was even better. It's not surprising that cast iron is quite uneven, given that the casting process results in different levels of materials in different concentrations along the side of the pan. When searing or cooking, these temperature differences weren't noticeable, even though the temperature gun showed variations up to 33 degrees Fahrenheit.
To evaluate pan stickiness, we look at the surface of each pan and test it out. We cook eggs, pancakes, bacon, and sear meats. We evaluate how easily food lifts off the pan and which has foods that stick. We also cooked at a medium temperature, pre-heating the pans appropriately, and using oil for both the cast iron and stainless steel sets (as recommended). We learned that the non-stick pans are the least sticky, but more importantly, ceramic non-stick is stickier than those constructed with Teflon-like materials.
Of the non-stick cookware, the T-Fal Titanium is the least sticky, followed by the Calphalon Premier. Food slid right off the pan, making clean-up super easy. Both are made with traditional non-stick materials, with the Calphalon providing the best durability. Of the ceramic-based non-stick options, the Greenpan Stackable and Cuisinart Green Gourmet have nearly the same performance level. While both are non-stick when completely clean, food clung a little to each pan, becoming stickier the longer we cooked. The same is true for the Greenlife 16 set, but after just a few meals, this set became noticeably more sticky than the others.
It's no secret that cast iron takes work to get to a state where food won't stick. It must be appropriately seasoned and cared for to ensure food doesn't stick or hold on. It's also important to use oil or butter when making foods like eggs or pancakes. Every time you use it, the more oil the cast iron absorbs, the more it will become "seasoned" and avoid sticking to food in the future. In our testing, we made sure to pre-season each set following these instructions, even though each set claimed that they came pre-seasoned.
Out of the box, each felt rough and pebbly, with the Lodge being the smoothest and the Amazon Basics Cast Iron being much rougher. When cooking, we didn't have any issues with stickiness following all these directions. We cooked at medium heat and preheated the pan. With a little oil, we were able to make an egg sunny-side up without a problem. While it does require priming and isn't as smooth as non-stick cookware, the cooking performance supersedes stainless steel and non-stick contenders.
Stainless steel is a tricky material that requires skill and knowledge to ensure that it won't stick. Most importantly, sticky food results from differences in temperatures. Properly preheating a pan will ensure that stainless steel doesn't stick. We didn't have an issue with either the Tramontina or the Cuisineart Stainless Set when following these directions. However, it's not nearly as non-stick as either cast iron or non-stick cookware.
Rate of Boiling
Boiling time is all about material conductivity and the structural integrity of the material. Materials, like aluminum with casted and seamless construction, will boil water faster than sets with less conductive materials (i.e., titanium) or with baseplates that have been welded on. Of all the sets tested, the non-stick ceramic set and stainless steel offer the best boiling times. We boiled water in the pots and pans of each set, standardized the data, and looked at the averages to determine success in this metric.
The Cuisinart Green Gourmet had the best rate of boiling (1:50 min), followed by the Greenpan Stackable (2:27 min), and the Greenlife (2:35 min). All have a delicate ceramic overcoat with an aluminum core that conducts heat well. The Calphalon Premier and Tramontina (both at 2:50 min) followed. The Calphalon Premier also has an aluminum core but a thicker construction of non-stick materials, making it slower to heat than the other ceramic non-stick options. The Tramontina uses 3-ply stainless steel, which takes much longer to heat up but holds heat well. The T-Fal Titanium (3:05 min) is the slowest of the non-stick, which isn't surprising because titanium used in its core doesn't conduct heat nearly as well as aluminum.
Of these sets, most of the smaller pots boiled water under two minutes. Those with a welded on bottom, like the T-Fal, took a lot longer to heat the water as it comes only from the bottom and very little from the sides. The Cuisinart Green Gourmet has a full cast construction, which maintains its conductivity. Of the larger pots, it was able to boil two cups of water in 2:13 min. The Tramontina also has a full cast construction and boils water in 3:50 min; the non-cast construction of the Cuisinart Muliclad took 7:31 min!
Even though cast iron sets don't have pots, we performed the tests in the skillets. Here we learned that the Lodge skillet could boil water in 3:25 minutes, while the AmazonBasics took 9:10 minutes!
During this test, we put two tablespoons of oil in the skillet of each set and allowed it to preheat to 400 degrees (measured with an infrared temperature gun). We then put a chunk of seasoned tuna of the same thickness into each skillet. We allowed it to sit for 45 seconds on each side, monitoring the temperature, and then analyzed the final product.
The Lodge and Amazon Basics cast iron skillets are the best for searing. Even though these pans took longer to preheat, the outer was the crispiest and most delicious. This was followed by the Tramontina and the Cuisinart — both the stainless steel options. Of the traditional non-stick contenders, the T-Fal Titanium prevailed, with the Greenpan Stackable winning the ceramic non-stick category.
Ease of Use
When assessing ease of use, we noted key features and details about the functionality of each set. For example, does the lid fit tightly? Is the handle ergonomic? Do you need to use potholders when using each pan? We also considered which sets require cooking skills and which can be used out of the box with ease.
Hands down, cheaper non-stick sets like the T-Fal Titanium and the Greenlife are the easiest to use. Their non-stick constructions don't require much prior experience, and even the newest chef can quickly figure out how to keep food from sticking. They are also lightweight and come complete with all pieces, making them super easy to use in the kitchen. Neither, though, have pots that pour exceptionally well.
Of the higher quality non-stick sets, we prefer the Celaphon Premier and the Greenpan Stackable. The Greenpan Stackable features a lighter construction than the Calphalon Premier and comes with two lids with drainage holes, perfect for straining water without using a colander. It also features pour out runnels that add convenience.
The Calphalon Premier has bigger glass lids that are bulkier and harder to use, but each skillet has a compatible lid. Unfortunately, the handles on it get hot after cooking for over half an hour. It's no surprise that all the non-stick sets, which are easy to use out of the package, don't require special cooking skills.
The cast iron sets don't come with lids, get hot, and require the use of potholders. They are also quite heavy, which can be difficult for some. Cooking can also be a challenge if these sets aren't properly maintained or cooked with; both sets are virtually the same, except the Lodge set comes with larger skillets. The Amazon Basics, however, has a dutch oven with a hanging wire, which the Lodge does not. If you plan on camping and taking your cast iron with you, the Amazon Basics is a better investment.
Of the stainless steel sets, we prefer the Tramontina over the Cuisinart Multiclad. Even though the pieces are heavier, the Tramontina has a more balanced and ergonomic design that doesn't slip when pouring or moving pots and pans around. The Cuisinart Stainless Steel has thinner handles that are much more difficult to hold, especially when loaded down with food. The Cuisinart handles also get much warmer than the Tramontina, so make sure you have potholders available.
Clean-Up & Maintenance
You don't want to spend precious minutes scrubbing pans when you could be with your family. So how hard is it to clean up and maintain your cookware? While testing this, we took the time to scrub each pot, pan, and lid, by hand. We also loaded up pieces that could be put into the dishwasher to see how they fared on a hot water rinse cycle. We were most impressed by the stainless steel pot sets, specifically the Tramontina and the Cuisinart MCP.
While the stainless steel sets are stickier than non-stick and cast iron sets, they proved to be the toughest. Being constructed of 3-ply stainless steel, you can use metal utensils, steel wool, and other abrasive materials to clean up stuck-on foods. Even though the Cuisinart Muliclad shows scratches after wear, it doesn't affect performance because the entire piece is made from these heavy metals. While both might need to be polished from time to time, neither need to be seasoned or treated carefully. Both can be put into the dishwasher.
All the non-stick cookware sets, like the Calphalon Premier and T-Fal Titanium, are easy to clean up. The non-stick coating doesn't hold onto food, so it doesn't require an abrasive brush or much muscle to clean-up. Our only gripe with this type of cookware is that you're not supposed to use abrasive sponges on most of the sets. So if you're dealing with stuck-on rice, you're limited in the tools you can use to remove this food. However, a simple soak with hot water and soap usually does the trick. Some lids are harder to clean than others, with numerous cracks and crevices. Most of the sets can be put into the dishwasher.
Some non-stick ceramic sets, like the Cuisinart Green Gourmet, need seasoning twice a year to maintain their non-stick layer. This is similar to cast iron sets. However, we a little know-how; we found both the AmazonBasics and Lodge to be incredibly easy to maintain. The cleanup is simple—you can take a pot scraper or steel wool to the set and even use a little soap if needed. You can scrub the material without worry about damaging it. It's important to dry it completely on your burner or with a towel (or it will rust) and add a little oil, which will keep it seasoned and maintained. You also can't put it in the dishwasher.
Quality & Durability
When buying cookware, this is probably one of the most important metrics to consider. You don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a new cookware set, only to find that you have to re-purchase a new one a few years down the line. While we didn't have any of these sets for years to truly test durability, we made sure to do online research and assess the quality of the materials at our testing facility. We also used metal utensils on all cookware (just to see how they fared) and cleaned each up with steel wool. In general, those constructed of higher quality materials, with more layers, did best in this category.
It's no surprise that our cast iron contenders totally crushed in this metric. For example, cast iron has been known to last for 20+ years if cared for properly. Of our two contenders, the Lodge offers the highest level of quality. Lodge has been making cast iron skillets for over 120 years, and the cooking performance shows. These sets are well cast, balanced, and crafted. While the Amazon Basics brand does good work, it feels lighter and not as balanced in hand, earning a lower score in this category.
Stainless steel is also an incredibly high-quality material, so it's no wonder most chefs stock their kitchens with it. Look for a set with at least 3-ply construction. The Tramonina set is our favorite because the pieces seem to be thicker, with a cast construction throughout. The Cuisinart Multiclad Set is a good choice too, but the pieces are thinner and don't regulate heat as well. Of the two, the Tramontina seemed to discolor more quickly than the Cuisinart. But this didn't seem to affect performance. With proper maintenance, a quality stainless steel set should last you 10+ years.
The non-stick cookware is the least durable of all cookware types; this is because the non-stick material can eventually chip away and scratch, which isn't ideal when cooking. Of all the non-stick cookware, the Calphalon Premier and Greenpan Stackable (ceramic non-stick) are our favorites, and both have a super-durable surface. When cleaning both with steel wool (not recommended) and using metal utensils, we didn't notice any scratching on the surface. All the other non-stick cookware scratched easily. While Titanium is a durable metal, it's prone to deforming because it's quite malleable.
In this metric, we evaluated how easily each set was to store. How do the lids stack with the pots and pans? Do the lids have big handles, resulting in a cluttered mess? Or does the entire set nest together? All the cookware has holes in the handles for hanging if you prefer to store your cookware that way. If you have cabinets, however, stacking might be the easiest solution. Of all the contenders, the Calphalon Premier and Greenpan Stackables dominated this category.
Both offer excellent stacking capabilities. The Greenpan Stackable uses only two lids that fit both pots, but there are no lids for the skillets, making things easier to manage. Fewer pieces, right? The Calphalon Premier uses lids for all the pieces, and they stack into each other in a variety of ways. We like the Greenpan Stackable for its simplicity, while the Calphalon Premier uses completely flat lids with handles on them to get around the problem of lid handles, making the cookware challenging to stack. With stackable sets like this, it takes time to unstack and access the pots and pan you might need. While it looks good, it's not quite as functional in some situations.
Other sets that aren't marketed towards storage solutions but do well in this metric include the Cuisinart Green Gourment, Tramontina, and the Cuisinart Multiclad set. The Green Gourmet nests nicely in a tower with balanced handles that don't fall over. The lids need to be stored separately. The Tramontina has many pieces, but if you flip the lids upside down, the pots and pans nest together; this is a bit of a balancing act, but it works. The Cuisinart Stainless Steel just has few pieces, and they nest well, especially if you store the lids separately.
In this section, we just looked for neat features and what's included in all the sets. The more features each had, the better they did. For example, the Tramontina offers all the right pieces you'd want in a full kitchen set. There are no extraneous pieces that you'd never use, and it has everything you need. The Calphalon Premier also has everything you need. The flat glass lids are pretty nifty, with latch points that articulate well with each pot and pan, making them stable and easy to use.
Other cheaper sets like the Greenlife and T-Fal Titanium come fully loaded with everything you'd want in a starter kitchen set, from a tiny little egg pan to strainers to cooking tools. While they aren't the highest quality, this is a set you'd appreciate if you want all pieces at once, without a need for the best of the best or the highest in quality.
Finding an excellent kitchen cookware set can be troublesome, especially with so many options out there. You're in luck, though, because we've done the hard work for you! Our recommendations are thoroughly researched, unbiased, and will help you find what you need for your kitchen ambitions. After taking the time to read through this article, we hope we've helped you find the cookware set of your dreams.
— Amber King