Cookware Sets

From Who Wants Pasta?

Cookware Sets

How We Tested

We’ve never liked cookware sets. Most bundle together a lot of pans we don’t need and not enough of the ones we do—the five or six hardworking multitaskers that we turn to every day. Besides pans in impractical sizes (1-quart saucepans good for little more than melting butter or 8-inch skillets that are only useful if you’re cooking for one), these sets typically feature limited-use “specialty” cookware. Why clog your cabinets with sauté pans (skillets with high, straight sides), sauciers (rounded saucepans with wide rims), or “chef’s” pans (saucepans shaped like woks with domed lids) if you’ve already got a Dutch oven and other basic pans that can do anything they can do and more? And if you think you’ve found an incredible deal on a “14-piece” assortment, beware: Manufacturers count each lid and anything else that isn’t riveted on as a separate piece.

That said, buying pieces one by one gets expensive—particularly with high-end brands. If we could find a set that was a truly good va...

How We Tested

We’ve never liked cookware sets. Most bundle together a lot of pans we don’t need and not enough of the ones we do—the five or six hardworking multitaskers that we turn to every day. Besides pans in impractical sizes (1-quart saucepans good for little more than melting butter or 8-inch skillets that are only useful if you’re cooking for one), these sets typically feature limited-use “specialty” cookware. Why clog your cabinets with sauté pans (skillets with high, straight sides), sauciers (rounded saucepans with wide rims), or “chef’s” pans (saucepans shaped like woks with domed lids) if you’ve already got a Dutch oven and other basic pans that can do anything they can do and more? And if you think you’ve found an incredible deal on a “14-piece” assortment, beware: Manufacturers count each lid and anything else that isn’t riveted on as a separate piece.

That said, buying pieces one by one gets expensive—particularly with high-end brands. If we could find a set that was a truly good value for the money, offering durable, high-quality construction and a selection on a par with our needs, we’d happily recommend it.

Seeking Out the Sets

Our natural starting point was All-Clad, a brand that has consistently topped our ratings over the years. We like its line in fully clad, stainless steel “tri-ply,” a style boasting three layers of metal fused together and extending from the bottom of the pan all the way up to the rim. Such construction helps to ensure even cooking and a steady transfer of heat. Our ideal set would include a roomy 12-inch traditional skillet (or fry pan—we use the terms interchangeably) that’s big enough to fit four chicken breasts; a 10-inch nonstick skillet for cooking delicate omelets and fish; a 12-inch cast-iron skillet for frying and searing; a 4-quart covered saucepan for vegetables and other side dishes; a 2-quart covered saucepan for heating soup or cooking oatmeal; a 6- or 7-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven for braising, deep-frying, and even baking bread; and a large stockpot that can do double-duty for pasta, lobster, or corn on the cob.

The downside of All-Clad, of course, is the price: It’s one of the most expensive brands on the market. A cursory search unearthed a 14-piece assortment that included four of the pans on our list, along with four others that definitely were not, and all for an outrageous $1,899.95. We also found a 10-piece All-Clad set (offered exclusively by a single retailer—an irksome trend with sets) that had four of the pans we wanted (the 12-inch skillet, the 2- and 4-quart saucepans, and a reasonably large 8-quart stockpot) and just one we didn’t (a 4-quart sauté pan). This was a definite improvement, but we were still stuck with the sauté pan and a total cost of $799.95. Could we do better?

One fully clad, tri-ply set offered eight pieces that were mostly undersized (8- and 10-inch skillets, 1½- and 2½-quart saucepans, and a 6-quart stockpot) and sold for a much more reasonable $299.99. We put it in our lineup. More searching revealed an amazing find: a fully clad 8-piece tri-ply set costing just a hair under $145. Again, the assorted sizes were not ideal (8- and 10-skillets, 1-quart and 2-quart saucepans, and a 5-quart Dutch oven)—but given its attractive price, we had to test it.

To get other sets priced under $200, we’d have to abandon our desire for fully clad tri-ply and go for the next best thing: disk-bottom pans. Here, manufacturers duplicate the three-layer effect on the pan bottom by attaching a disk of aluminum to the underside of a stainless steel pan, then covering it with another layer stainless steel. We found three sets worth considering. A 10-piece set from a popular manufacturer had the usual too-small pans (8- and 10-inch skillets and 1- and 2-quart saucepans), but it did offer an 8-quart stockpot, and its price ($179.99) was reasonable. For just a bit more ($189.95), a similarly composed 10-piece set caught our eye with its bright orange silicone handle grips and unusual convex design. Finally, another 10-piece set (8- and 10-inch skillets, 1- and 2-quart saucepans, a 6-quart stockpot, plus a 3-quart sauté pan and a steamer insert for the 2-quart saucepan) seemed worth a look at $159.99.

Watch the Full Episode

Who Wants Pasta?Season 10, Ep. 1013

Different cooking times for the ingredients in shrimp and garlic pasta make for a precarious balancing act. We’ll show you how to simplify this recipe and prepare another pasta classic: baked ziti.