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A set of brand new pots and pans are one of the most important items on a registry, and yet many of us don’t quite understand what we're looking for. The world of cookware can be confusing and many of us just end up registering for whatever our friends and family have, without thinking about what each style offers. Just because your sister or best friend registered for classic stainless steel doesn't mean it's the best option for you.
There's a lot of vocabulary thrown around when shopping for these pieces—tri-ply, non-stick copper core, enameled cast iron—and frankly it takes some time and research to figure out which items will best suit you and your partner's needs in the kitchen. To help, we've highlighted everything you need to know about the various types of cookware you might encounter. From the best omelet pan to wow guests at brunch to the perfect baking dish for your famous mac and cheese, you'll have all the information you need to choose the set that right for you.
Read on for the best cookware sets you need for your registry.
Best Overall: All-Clad d3 Tri-Ply 10-Piece Cookware Set
This is the set you’re likely to see on every registry, and we’ll tell you why—stainless steel is both long-lasting and gorgeous. These pots and pans should stay in good shape for decades and with the high shine, they’re nice enough to go from stovetop to table. Stainless is also super versatile, so this type of cookware is a major workhorse that can help prep anything from roast chicken to pasta sauce. It's also the thing you need for excellent browning and braising.
Did we mention the heat is distributed super evenly so everything cooks at the same temperature at the same time? Stainless also works with induction cooktops (yay!) and is dishwasher safe. The only major downsides are that they can be a little more pricey than some other varieties and they’re harder to clean (you’ll probably want some nonstick items in your registry too).
This dishwasher-safe set from All-Clad set is just about perfect with an aluminum core that helps attract and retain heat. With fry pans, quart pans, a covered sauté, and covered stockpot, you'll be well prepared to cook just about anything.
Best Budget: Cuisinart 55-11BK Advantage Nonstick 11-Piece Cookware Set
Aluminum cookware is crazily affordable—and also happens to work really well. It’s a good conductor of heat (the material is often used in the core of stainless steel cookware), is strong, and lightweight.
Most people consider aluminum to be an affordable alternative to stainless steel, but that’s not without a few trade-offs. It won’t work on induction tops and tends to warp with high heat. It can also have a poor reaction with acidic foods, but many of these issues are solved in anodized aluminum, which has been treated with a hardening agent. Yes, anodized is more expensive but it works much better.
We like this Cuisinart set because of its cool-touch handles, non-stick finish, and the fact that it can go in the dishwasher. Flip golden pancakes with ease in the frying pan or simmer soup in the stockpot.
Best Nonstick: Calphalon Classic Nonstick 10-Piece Cookware Essentials Set
The idea of nonstick can be confusing because it’s not necessarily related to a material—it’s more of an add-on. Items achieve nonstick status when covered in Teflon (PTFE) or another nonstick coating which helps food to slide right off the pan making them super easy to clean.
This kind of surface is super helpful when making eggs, fish, or pancakes. You can get that nonstick quality in ceramic and steel items, and most commonly aluminum. Nonstick items are suitable for any cooktop, can usually go in the oven (just check the handle material), and typically requires little to no oil for cooking, so it can help make your meals a little healthier.
In the last few years, people have raised concerns about the chemicals in the nonstick coating, and it’s true that if you heat a nonstick pan past 600 degrees, it can release dangerous fumes—but generally speaking, the nonstick coating won't come off your pan easily. Calphalon makes their set with an eco-friendly nonstick coating so you get the best of all worlds. This comprehensive collection includes two fry pans, two saucepans, two sauté pans, and a stockpot.
Best for Small Spaces: Our Place Always Pan
If the storage in your kitchen leaves something to be desired, nesting cookware is a must-have. When Items can nest inside each other, so much more space is created in your cabinets—which means cooking and organizing is that much easier.
This innovative, multipurpose pan is perfect for any place that you need a little extra space (read: tiny city apartments). It basically serves the role of skillet, steamer, saucepan, frying pan, and more—all in one pretty package. Available in eight gorgeous matte hues, it looks great on your counter and it arrives complete with a spoon with integrated spoon rest. Whether you're a novice in the kitchen or a seasoned cook, you'll be totally prepared to cook any meal.
Best Copper: Mauviel M150 12-Piece Cookware Set
Copper is a hefty investment and, no matter where you shop, these pieces are going to be pricey. To put it simply, copper is the custom Vera Wang gown of the cookware world—it looks incredibly luxurious and you really do get what you pay for. Copper is the best heat conductor among the bunch, which means pans get hot fast and cook food evenly. You’ll definitely want to pull these pieces out for any type of sauteing. It’s also extremely precise, so if you’re the type of cook to whip up a finicky sauce, these pots and pans will have your back.
If you’re wondering why the inside of all the copper pots you see is silver, it’s because a pure copper pan would give your food a yellow cast (yuck), so they’re typically lined with stainless steel or cast iron. The biggest cons of copper are that they need to be hand-washed, they dent easily, and over the years they develop a patina that you’ll need to keep polishing off (unless you're into the rustic look).
The venerable brand Mauviel is one of the best copper crafters out there, and this set has it all—two lidded saucepans, one lidded sauté, a lidded stewpan, and two fry pans. A note for induction cooktop couples—copper is magnetic so it won't work on your stove (don’t try it!).
Best Ceramic: GreenPan Food52 x GreenPan Nonstick 8-Piece Cookware Set
Ceramic has become a super popular material for cookware in recent years. This high-tech substance is all-natural—usually made from sand—and is the most environmentally friendly of the bunch. It's nonstick, but the coating is made out of a material called Thermolon, which doesn’t require the use of any potentially toxic chemicals.
Ceramic conducts heat evenly, is easy to clean, and pretty affordable, so it’s popping up in tons of retailers. Just note that it can chip easily and won’t work well with super high heat. This set is made by GreenPan, the OG of ceramic cookware—we love this new version that comes in a beautiful shade of blue with chic gold handles. In addition to a skillet, saucepan, sauté, and casserole, it also comes with a bonus steamer basket and protective pads to layer in between the pans in your cabinet.
Best Cast Iron: Finex 4-Piece Classic Family Cookware Set
You probably have a piece of your mom or grandma’s cast iron laying around somewhere and that’s because this stuff lasts forever. Really, once you buy it, it will be in your family for generations, providing it gets the proper care.
Cast iron heats up fast, is oven-safe, and will brown a piece of meat perfectly. The only thing to be mindful of is that some of these pans can cook pretty unevenly—so when you’re using them, make sure your dish is getting heat in every spot. They are also heavy and sometimes a challenge to clean, which we’re sure you already knew since everyone has had that one impossible-to-remove encounter with a marinade or sauce. These pans are hand wash only and need to be carefully taken care of—rinse the pan, dry it, and then coat it with a thin layer of olive oil to keep it going.
Finex took the classic cowboy look of the material and turned it on its head with these Instagram-worthy pans. The coiled handle is fast-cooling and the octagonal shape makes it easy to pour from any side. This set includes one small skillet, another larger lidded skillet, and a cherry wood trivet to make the oven to table presentation that much easier.
Best Enameled: Staub Enameled Cast-Iron 3-Piece Set
Now, meet cast iron’s smooth cousin, enameled cast iron. Just like the classic version, this type of cookware is extremely durable and oven-safe. The added bonus is that you don't have to season and is much easier to wash. It works well for many of the same tasks like searing or sauteing but many versions—especially the dutch oven variety—can also be used to braise or slow cook meat.
One of the best parts is that enameled cast iron comes in a variety of fun colors and is usually dishwasher safe (as opposed to regular old cast iron). Just be aware that, like anything enameled, it can chip if it falls (and watch out for your toes because it's very heavy). These guys are definitely heritage pieces that can stand the test of time.
This Staub collection has a special chip-resistant coating and includes a frying pan and round cocotte (similar to a dutch oven) with a lid. They're the perfect thing to serve family-style items like chili and cornbread.
Best Chef's Pan: de Buyer French Mineral B Carbon Steel Cookware
Professional chefs love using carbon steel because of its excellent performance. The material works on both standard and induction cooktops, and conducts heat fast and efficiently. The cool thing about carbon steel is that it’s actually a great mix of stainless steel and cast iron qualities.
Like cast iron, it’s fairly nonstick, reacts to changes in heat quickly, and needs to be hand washed and carefully seasoned. Carbon steel is similar to stainless in that it can be used to cook a variety of things like eggs, meat, vegetables, cake—you name it. It can sometimes be harder to find and is often sold in pieces that are made for a very specific purpose (like an omelet pan). De Buyer is a chef's favorite—they make their pans with a beeswax finish to protect against oxidation and last longer.
For a durable, versatile cookware set, you can't go wrong with the All-Clad d3 10-Piece Cookware Set. This set is excellent for cooking a variety of meals and is particularly great for browning and braising. Looking for a heritage piece? Try the Staub Enameled Cast-Iron 3-Piece Set. It's oven-safe, dishwasher-safe, and comes in a variety of colors.
What to Look for in cookware sets
From stainless steel to ceramic to copper to cast iron and more, there are various types of cookware materials on the market. Your cookware set should be durable, easy to clean, and work with your kitchen. Stainless steel is a popular option as it meets all these requirements, however, it can be pricy. Aluminum cookware is a cheaper alternative, but won't work on induction cooktops.
Then you have ceramic, copper, cast iron and enameled cast iron, and carbon steel cookware. Ceramic is a great eco-friendly choice as you won't have to worry about any toxic chemicals leaking from the non-stick coating if the pot is overheated. However, it can chip easily. Copper is rather luxurious cookware, but it has to be hand-washed and is prone to denting. Cast iron, enameled cast iron, and carbon steel are all great, durable options, but they need to be well-maintained. Which one you choose will depend on your kitchen needs, budget, and personal preferences.
Number of Pieces
Always check the size and number of pieces in the cookware set you're registering. You'll want to make sure that the pots and pans will cook enough servings for you and your spouse-to-be. The set should also be versatile enough to cook whatever type of food you're craving from pasta to omelets to stir-fry and more. Also, consider the storage space you have in your kitchen. Make sure you have enough room for all the pieces included.
Depending on what type of cookware you're buying, the weight will vary. You don't want to feel like you're lugging pots and pans across your kitchen so make sure you're buying a set that is both durable and lightweight.
Different types of cookware have different needs. Make sure that you pay close attention to the cleanup of the cookware you're looking to register. If you like to throw your pots and pans into the dishwasher, you'll want to opt for a set that is dishwasher-safe and won't require any extra maintenance.
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Contributing writer Erica Finamore is an expert in the world of cookware, home decor, and lifestyle. She has shared her knowledge and market skills in published pieces at Food Network Magazine, HGTV Magazine, Real Simple, and Refinery29.