The Best Cookware Sets of 2020
The Tramontina, is our favorite set, making the crispiest bacon, cooking evenly throughout, and providing exceptional heat management. This set is versatile, and can easily go from the fridge to the stove, and into the oven with ease. 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 with excellent durability. What's more, the cooking performance is out of this world. Sear meat with confidence, roast veggies evenly, and cook rice without sticking. The stainless steel construction works well with metal tools, and cleanup is easy. Take a stainless steel scrubber to the surface to shed 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 favorite 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 required to maintain its shimmering stainless steel finish. We love the ergonomic skillet handles, but they do get hot when searing meat. Finally, it isn't non-stick in nature, and butter or oil is required for cooking. While this type of cookware can be tricky to keep free of sticky food residue, you'll be cooking gourmet in no time — provided you learn proper care and cooking techniques.
Not only does the Calphalon Premier feature the most durable non-stick coating tested, but it's also the easiest to store. This set fits easily in your cupboards and doesn't take much to maintain. Cooking performance is excellent with even heat distribution that makes sauteing and searing a breeze. If you love gourmet cooking without always having to use butter or oil, you've got to consider this set. The non-stick finish is amazingly durable, allowing you to easily use it with metal tools. Quick clean-ups without additional care is what this set is all about. It can be put right into the oven (450F max) with high-quality construction and ergonomic handles and lids.
Even though this set boasts easy maintenance and storage, we worry about durability. The glass lids are excellent for cooking, but take care as to not drop them. The lids stack easily, but the long handles can 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.
The Lodge Season is our favorite cast iron set that offers excellent heat retention and cooking performance. It'll sear a tuna steak like no other, fry up eggs and pancakes, and provides a dutch oven in the set-up, 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 what you need.
Extra care, seasoning, skills, and maintenance are required to use cast iron sets in general, which some folks simply aren't interested in dealing with. The surface comes with a pebble finish, which will 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 said to be "pre-seasoned", we recommend seasoning it yourself just to ensure its non-stick performance. Cleaning is simple, which doesn't require delicate care, as other 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 and 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 stainless steel exterior will look at home in any kitchen, and its 3-ply stainless steel exterior coupled with an aluminum core offers 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, use an abrasive scrubber or throw it in the dishwasher. If you're in the market for an excellent deal, this is one to consider.
Similar to any stainless steel cookware on the market, it requires cooking know-how to ensure it doesn't stick. While stickiness wasn't a problem for us, we needed to be diligent about preheating; we 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 scratches with metal utensils or cleaning with steel wool. Fortunately, this doesn't compromise cooking performance; it is stainless steel after all.
The Amazon Basics Cast Iron is a high quality, low cost cast iron set that crushes at searing meats and baking bread. It's a five-piece set complete with two skillets, one griddle, and one dutch oven. It offers exceptional searing, roasting, and baking capabilities, reminiscent of any cast iron set. Very similar to the Lodge in all of its advantages, this set can be found at a price just a smidge lower than most cast iron sets. We also appreciate the hanger on the dutch oven that makes it easy to use in a campfire as well as the kitchen. Expect excellent cooking quality, easy storage, with a durable construction that'll last for many years.
This set offers great durability and functionality but seems a little lesser in craftsmanship than the Lodge. The exterior finish is more pebbled and the "pre-season" is far from non-stick. We made sure to pre-season the set ourselves, which helped, but was still a little stickier than we wished for. Be ready to use lots of oil or butter; that said, after making five meals, this problem seemed minuscule. This set takes longer to heat and loses heat faster than other cast iron sets tested. While its overall performance is very similar to other competitors, it doesn't perform as well.
The GreenPan ceramic non-stick offers the best stackability and storage of any cookware set tested. The finish is built with multiple layers of diamond-infused ceramic which is supposed 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 transfer soups and sauces quite easy. It's also simple to wipe clean or simply put into the dishwasher. The pans feel heavier and study, offering the feeling of good craftsmanship.
While we didn't have any negative experiences with this set, several online reviews alarm concerns when it comes to durability. Some say the non-stick won't last for a month, while others mention the blackening of the pan material. While we didn't experience this, we did note that the non-stick is stickier than other contenders. For example; during our egg test, the egg actually stuck and tore, which wasn't an issue we had with most other non-stick cookware. If you do purchase this set, know that it likely will not last as long as cast iron or stainless steel, as is true with any non-stick set.
The Green Cuisinart is a complete high value set that boils water quickly and makes a perfect 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 means an 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 gourmet meals. 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 handles are stainless steel so this set can also go right into the oven — up to 400F.
The biggest caveat we have with this set is the size of the skillet. There is only one (that isn't deep walled) and it is only eight inches (medium/small). This makes it hard to make a large stir-fry or cook for many. Another concern is the number of online reviews that state it loses its non-stick properties after just a few months of use. The positive here is you can re-season the set, outlined here, and it 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, we're unsure if it voids the warranty. We noticed that this set scratches easily, so make sure you're gentle with it.
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 really enjoyed cooking with it, as it offers even heat distribution and superior cooking qualities. After preparing over 20 different meals with it, we deem it to be the slipperiest surface, with no food sticking — ever. What's more is that it's very easy to clean. Simply wipe away or use a soft brush to remove 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 exactly 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. While it heats evenly, it took a long time to heat up a pot of water. Since the coating isn't free from PTFE, be careful not to heat it over medium heat. This limits its performance significantly, even though it does a good job of searing a tuna steak.
TheGreenlife 16 piece is best for any beginner cook looking for a complete set of cookware tools to fill their kitchen. It offers the most pieces of any set tested, including serving utensils, soup pots, and deep walled skillets. This set is easy to maneuver and monitor as the pots and pans are light, and the lids are see-through. This set can easily be put into the oven, with 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 inherently due to its super thin design. It has hot spots, despite having an aluminum core. We also noticed that the non-stick actually does stick after cooking on it for a few minutes. The non-stick coating shows scratches and wear marks, even after cooking with the provided utensils. The handles also loosened after just a few uses. Luckily you can tighten them with the exposed screw, but it certainly doesn't boast the highest quality in our fleet.
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 did our online research — two hours per product to be exact. After choosing nine different sets to test, we got to work. We spent over 40 hours in our kitchen, cooking up a storm, over an entire week. With all sets in hand, we took the time to meticulously compare each, noting performance differences while using carefully thought out testing regimes. We controlled temperatures and delicately selected food in our effort to compare the performance of each set. We scrambled eggs, flipped pancakes, seared tuna steaks, roasted veggies, boiled rice, cooked pasta, and made stir fry. Each set was cleaned by hand, put into the oven, used with metal utensils, and scrubbed with steel wool. All of this data was used to choose our award winners after each was scored. This is one of the most scientific approaches to testing cookware you'll find, with unbiased recommendations from our testing team.
Analysis and Test Results
Whether you're an aspiring chef or brand new to cooking, we've got recommendations for you. We've analyzed and tested 9 mid-range priced kitchen cookware sets hands-on and side-by-side. After cooking for over 40 hours in the kitchen, we ranked each set based on six key metrics; cooking performance, ease of use, clean-up, durability, and features.
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, offering the best in cooking performance. Other top performing cooksets include the Tramontina and Cuisinart MCP.
To test for cooking evenness of all cookware sets, we made pancakes and used an infrared temperature gun; the gun was used to find differences throughout the pan when on medium heat. We watched carefully to see how the pancake batter spread and bubbled, then looked at the pattern of the cake to see hot spots and unevenness. In general, non-stick sets with thicker layers and an aluminum core did almost as well as the stainless steel sets. The cast iron did the worst in this test.
Of all the sets, the T-Fal Titanium(+/-5F) proved to have the lowest amount of variation in its temperatures. 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 actually quite uneven, given that the casting process results in different levels of materials in different concentrations along the side of the pan. That said, when actually searing and cooking, these differences in cooking evenness weren't noticeable, even though the temperature gun showed a difference of 33 degrees Fahrenheit; the biggest variation of any of the pans tested.
To evaluate pan stickiness, we look at the surface of each pan. We cooked eggs, pancakes, bacon, and seared meats to see if there was any type of sticking. In addition, we cooked all at a medium temperature, pre-heated the pans appropriately, and used oil for both the cast iron and stainless steel sets (as recommended). We learned that the non-stick pans were 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 offering much better durability of the non-stick materials. Of the ceramic-based non-stick options, the Greenpan Stackable and Cuisinart Green Gourmet have the same level of performance. 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 less non-sticky than the others.
It's no secret that cast iron takes work to get to a state where food doesn't stick. It must be appropriately seasoned and cared for to ensure food doesn't stick of 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, and in turn, becomes more and more seasoned. In our testing, we made sure to pre-season each set following these instructions, even though it's claimed that each comes 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; when using 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 doesn't stick. Most importantly, sticky food results from differences in temperatures. Ensuring a proper preheat of the 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, which are more conductive with a seamless construction from the base of the pot to the sides, will boil water faster than sets with less conductive materials (i.e. titanium) and 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 has the best rate of boiling (1:50 minutes) followed by the Greenpan Stackable (2:27 minutes), and the Greenlife (2:35 minutes). All have a delicate ceramic overcoat with an aluminum core that conducts heat well. The Calphalon Premier and Tramontina (both at 2:50 minutes) follow. The Calphalon Premier also has an aluminum core, but a thicker construction of non-stick materials, which makes 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 minutes) is the slowest of the non-stick, which isn't as surprising as titanium (used in its core construction) doesn't conduct heat nearly as well as aluminum.
Of these sets, most of the smaller pots actually 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 minutes. The Tramontina also has a full cast construction and boils water in 3:50 minutes; the non-cast construction of the Cuisinart Muliclad took 7:31 minutes!
Even though cast iron sets don't have pots, we performed the tests in the skillets. Here we learned that the Lodge skillet is able to boil water in 3:25 minutes, while the AmazonBasics took 9:10! This huge difference lends to the idea that it's constructed with less heat conductive materials. We also noticed this in cooking performance.
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, with the same thickness, into each skillet. We allowed it to sit for 45 seconds on each side, monitoring the temperature, and analyzing the final product.
The Lodge and Amazon Basics cast iron skillets are the best when it comes to 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 looking at ease of use, we note 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 consider which requires 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. The non-stick construction doesn't require much prior experience and even the newest chef can figure out how to keep food from sticking. They are also lightweight and come complete with all pieces, which makes 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 the use of a colander. It also features pour out runnels that come in handy. 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 really hot, and require the use of potholders. They are also quite heavy, which might 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 have. 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 and 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 on hand.
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; the Tramontina and the Cuisinart MCP.
While the stainless steel sets are stickier than non-stick and cast iron sets, they prove 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, as the entire piece is made of 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 stuck with stuck-on rice (when you forgot about the pot), you'll find it hard to remove this stuck-on food. However, a simple soak with hot water and soap will do the trick.
In addition, some lids are harder to clean than others, with numerous cracks and crevices. Most of the sets can be put into the dishwasher.
Some ceramic non-stick sets, like the Cuisinart Green Gourmet, need seasoning twice a year to maintain its non-stick layer. This is much like cast iron sets. We find 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 just 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 you're going to 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 our 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 fare) 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 is known to last for 20+ years, if you take proper care of it. 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; 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 you are 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 easily scratched. While Titanium is a durable metal, it's prone to deforming as it's quite malleable in nature.
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 to hang if you prefer to store your cookware that way. However, if you have cabinets, stacking might be the easiest solution. Of all the contenders, the Calphalon Premier and Greenpan Stackables totally dominated this category.
Both offer great stacking capabilities. The Greenpan Stackable uses only two lids, that fit onto 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 difficult 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 may not be completely functional for some.
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 actually 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 that 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 a great kitchen cookware set can be tumultuous, especially with so many options out there. You're in luck though, because we've done the research for you! Our recommendations are thoroughly researched, unbiased, and will help you find exactly 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