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Everything You Need to Know to Buy the Right Cookware

Pots, pans, and cooking utensils on a wooden counter.
New Africa/Shutterstock

If you’ve been cooking at home a lot more, it might be time to invest in some proper cookware or bakeware. With so many varieties and price ranges on the market, though, it’s difficult to know what to get. This guide will help you select exactly what you need while helping you stay within your budget.

When you’re just getting started with cooking or baking, you likely have no idea which materials would work best for your setup and the dishes you make the most. That’s why we’ve eliminated the guesswork with this helpful guide.

Cookware vs. Bakeware

Both cookware and bakeware are terms used to describe any cooking vessel used to prepare foods. Cookware is for cooking food on a stove, whereas bakeware goes in the oven.

However, some pots and pans can serve as both bakeware and cookware, like a cast-iron Dutch Oven. Chances are you might need some of each, so you can look for mixed sets or start with cookware if that’s what you would use most often.

Sets or Open Stock

Gray pots and pans on a stove in a red kitchen.
Ekaterina Bratova/Shutterstock

Before learning about the materials used to make various cookware, there are many ways that you can buy these products.

To help you decide whether to purchase a set or individual (open stock) pots and pans, it’s important to first take inventory of what you already have. Do you want to replace all your pots and pans? Is your selection of hand-me-down cookware just not cutting it anymore?

Purchasing a set is great for getting everything you need at once, but the set must have all the pieces that you want or need to complement your cooking style. Plus, keep in mind that sets are marketed with a set number of pieces, including a lid and a pot as two separate pieces.

So, you might purchase a set with eight pieces that are actually just four pots and their accompanying lids. Also, if a set comes with a few pieces that you don’t think you’ll use, you’ll be purchasing things that you don’t need.

If you’re determined to own a wide variety of cookware but don’t mind accumulating it over time, purchasing open stock is an excellent option. You’ll spend money over a longer period, only replace items when necessary, and build an inventory of cookware that you’ll love using.

There’s plenty to consider when purchasing the right cookware for your cooking style, kitchen setup, and more. So, before whipping out that credit card, there are a few more factors to ponder.

Consider Your Budget

Selecting top-quality cookware will definitely put a bigger dent in your wallet compared to taking a drive to a Family Dollar and purchasing a $5 pan. However, like most top-notch products, you’ll get a better bang for your buck over time, especially if you put them to good use.

Remember that purchasing different cookware pieces over time is an excellent way to invest in quality kitchen gear without breaking the bank in one transaction. That’s why we recommend purchasing the best quality items that you can afford.

If you love to cook, it’s imperative to look at your cookware as an investment, especially because good cookware will last you for years, decades, or even a lifetime if properly cared for. Many timeworn pots last beyond one or two generations and become family heirlooms.

Choosing the Right Material

Choosing which type of cookware to purchase depends greatly on the type of cooking you do. For example, some ingredients react poorly to metals, like copper and aluminum, while some cookware is generally heavier and takes more work to clean and maintain.

Keep in mind that purchasing open stock means that you can purchase various materials over time rather than just sticking with one type.

Next, we’ll explore the different materials that cookware and bakeware are made of, the type of cooking or baking that each is best for, and some options of each variety.

Stainless Steel

Two images featuring the All-Clad stainless steel skillets.

Ideal for browning and braising meats, it also doesn’t react to ingredients. As long as the handle is made of an oven-safe material, it can go from stove to oven without any problem. The main issue with stainless steel is that it’s known to stick and can be harder to clean.

All-Clad has made a name for itself in the premium cookware world for its bonding or “cladding” of high-quality materials. They’ve perfected their heat-conducting core system throughout the entire pan and along the sides.

These timeless stainless-steel pans feature a wide flat base that’s perfect for searing, and low-sloped sides for easy flipping. They’re convenient, easy to use, and dishwasher safe, although handwashing is always the best choice for pricey pans.


Two skillets from the Rachel Ray nonstick cookware collection.
Rachael Ray

Nonstick cookware boasts a reliable, easy-to-clean material coating that’s perfect for cooking just about anything without having to worry about (You guessed it!) sticking. Today, nonstick coating is stronger than ever, but this type of material is known to scratch easily. A nonstick skillet will come in handy for tons of dishes, especially for novice home cooks.

If you aren’t interested in investing in cookware over time, then a nonstick set of pots and pans is a great option because they’re super easy to work with.

These Rachael Ray pots and pans are suitable for all stovetops (except induction) and include multiple sizes with corresponding lids, plus two skillets. It’s a great starter set, and you can choose from seven colors.


Two images featuring the All-Clad copper core cookware. The left image features two pots and the right image features a wok skillet with various ingredients surrounding the pan.

Copper is an excellent heat conductor, which means that it will quickly and evenly cook whatever is in it. It’s also nice to look at. Of course, some ingredients won’t fare well when cooked in copper, but you’ll find that most feature a different metal on the outer layer.

We love these All-Clad copper core skillets for so many reasons. The five-ply bonded construction means that it’s assembled with five layers of metals, which reduces the chance of warped pans over time.

The skillet provides exceptional heat distribution and control due to the copper core in the center, which is layered with aluminum for rapid heat up. The outer layer is made of stainless steel, which also distributes excellent heat and even cooking. It’s one efficient, fine piece of cookware.

Cast Iron

Two images displaying the Lodge cast iron skillet. The left image displays a seared salmon and asparagus dinner and the right image features a kale, onion and bacon side dish, made in the skillet.

This extremely durable cookware material has been popular since the 1700s. You can preheat it to high temperatures and take it from stovetop to oven. It’s a myth that maintaining cast iron is time-consuming. You just wash, dry, and season it. You can’t put it in the dishwasher, soak it, or leave it in a damp or wet environment, though.

Cast-iron skillets are fantastic for sautéing, searing, braising, and so much more. We love using ours to make a homemade deep-dish pizza or to fry beer-battered fish and chips.

While your family cast-iron heirloom is a precious gift that you can’t get anywhere else (especially if you’re willing to put in the restorative effort), there are lots of excellent modern skillets on the market.

Lodge has been in the game for well over a century, and one of its skillets won’t break the bank, either. This 10-inch general-purpose pre-seasoned skillet is perfect for anyone who’s just getting into the cooking game or looking for a lifelong piece of cookware.

Enameled Cast Iron

Two images featuring the Le Creuset; The left image features a chicken pomegranate dinner, ready to be served and the right image demonstrates the Dutch ovens ability to create a gorgeous artisan loaf of bread.
Le Creuset

Adding at least one brightly colored enameled cast-iron form of cookware is a must if you plan to invest and build your collection over time.

Again, stove to oven transitions are easy, and they make a lovely table showpiece for guests. Plus, the durable enameled coating won’t react to acidic ingredients. A good piece of this material to invest in would be a Dutch oven.

The Le Creuset 5.5-quart Dutch oven will last a lifetime if it’s well taken care of. This gorgeous showpiece is excellent for braising, roasting, slow cooking, and so much more. There are more affordable options as well if the Le Creuset is over your budget.

Carbon Steel

Two images featuring the Lodge carbon steel skillet. The left image features someone searing a tuna steak using the skillet and the right image features someone cooking bacon-wrapped scallops over a grill using the skillet.

This extremely efficient, durable material is similar to cast iron. It does take some maintaining (It isn’t dishwasher safe.). However, it’s much lighter-weight.

The Lodge pre-seasoned carbon steel skillet is an excellent multifunctional pan that’s fit for any professional or novice chef. Similar to cast iron but fit for flipping and turning foods, this skillet will do great on the stovetop, in the oven, or over a campfire.

What’s Your Cooking Style?

Now that you know a little bit about the materials used to make cookware, think about what you like to cook. What kind of cooking do you do the most? Do you love to entertain and impress guests with luxurious meals? If so, an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or a set of copper pans would be perfect.

If cooking and eating healthy is your number one priority, perhaps investing in some nontoxic cookware is your best bet.

On the other hand, if you prefer quick, easy meals that you can get on the table in 20 minutes or less and you plan to toss everything in the dishwasher afterward, then some simple, long-lasting nonstick pans will work fine.

Your Stove Matters

A woman cooing on a stove.

The type of stovetop that you have can make or break your purchasing choices, so be sure to look into this. For example, induction stovetops won’t work with copper or aluminum. However, any magnetic material should do, so take a magnet with you when you go shopping.

Many pans also warp over time, especially if they’re often heated and cooled rapidly. This is why you’ve probably heard never to put a hot pan under cool running water.

However, any flat-bottomed pans that aren’t warped work well on smooth-top ranges.

There’s a lot that goes into selecting the right cookware, but you don’t have to fill your cabinets with one purchase. Now that you’ve done some research, it’s time to select a few of the items that you need most.

Be sure to add some of these awesome kitchen gadgets to your wish list for when you’re in the mood for a real splurge.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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