We all have that moment where we’re sorting through our mismatched and stained pots and pans and realize that our cookware is going nowhere. We end up at the store looking at the walls of shiny new vessels, asking ourselves, “Which massive and expensive box holds the best pots and pans set?” Then we go home to try to scrape the stains off of our old set because there were just so many numbers and options that we got tired and gave up.
Of course, once we took a nap and had some coffee, we rolled up our sleeves and searched for the definitive answers about what pots and pans we should buy.
Here’s the one catch: For the vast majority of people, the best choice is buying new pots and pans piece by piece. It allows you to be 100 percent sure you’re going to use that pan and that it fits all your desired specifications.
We’ve put together guides on the best frying pans, saucepans, dutch ovens, and stockpots, but let’s be real, it’s a lot more effort to search out individual pans. And the reality is that they’re most likely going to be different brands, meaning they won’t match. Cookware aesthetics aren’t that important in the long run, but if you display your pots and pans, it’s nice to have them look nice. Sets have their place, so let’s figure out which ones are best for you.
A note about prices here: We looked for brands with consistent quality and performance. If we're buying all of our pans from one place, we need to know each piece is going to hold up. Keep in mind that these are complete cookery sets — they're technically all you need to get by for the vast majority of recipes. So the initial sticker price might be a little more intimidating than a $20 pan, but they make sense when you consider quality and quantity.
If you’re freshly done with a move and have zero cookware, the Tramontina Stainless Steel 8-Piece Tri-Ply Clad Cookware Set is the perfect choice. It’s $119.99 for two skillets (8 inch and 10 inch), two saucepans (2 quart and 3 quart), and one 5-quart stock pot. Although we don’t love the smaller skillets and the slightly rounded handles, the set as a whole is an excellent value for the amount of culinary ground it covers.
For an extra $30, you can get the skillets, a 1.5-quart saucepan, a 3-quart saucepan, an 8-quart stockpot, and, most importantly, a 3-quart sauté pan that makes braising and roasts a cinch.
Most importantly, culinary legend and Serious Eats Chief Culinary Consultant J. Kenji Lopéz-Alt vouches for Tramontina, even when compared to the king of high-end cookware: All-Clad.
All-Clad is a legendary brand for a reason. They use steel for the interior and exterior of their pan and put a core of aluminum in between those two layers. Aluminum heats quickly and evenly, but it’s much softer and can leach into food if it’s exposed, which is why aluminum pans are generally not recommended. By sandwiching it between two layers of stainless steel, All-Clad pans heat more evenly and more rapidly than other pans without any weaknesses or leaching.
Fortunately, this innovation has spread to other manufacturers. Tramontina’s Tri-Ply line is constructed in a similar way, and so’s our next suggestion.
The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel Cookware 7-Piece Set is $132.99 and has two saucepans, a stockpot, and a frying pan. We’re fully confident with Cuisinart’s MultiClad Pro line (their frying pans and saucepans made our lists of top individual pans), so this set is a safe bet.
And, of course, if you’re really fiending for that premiere money-is-no-issue level set...behold, the All-Clad 7-Piece Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Cookware. A frying pan, sauté pan, saucepan, and stockpot, all complete with All-Clad’s classic steel and aluminum construction, can be yours for the price of $499.95.
It’s quality and arguably the best you can get...but the truth is that it’s only marginally more efficient at an exponentially higher price. Splurge if you want, but our advice is to stick with Tramontina or Cuisinart.