by Staff Writer
The key to buying the best cookware is first considering your needs. In order to get the most from your pots and pans, think about everything from your preferred methods of cooking to your desire to spend time keeping it clean. Keep these tips in mind as you shop for cookware.
What you like to cook determines the materials you should consider. What kind of cook are you? If you often make eggs and fish, you'll need pots and pans with nonstick finishes that can handle those delicate foods. Cast iron is sturdy enough to handle high heats, so it's the best for getting a delicious sear on chicken, steak, or pork. Copper is an excellent conductor of heat, so it's great for all kinds of stovetop cooking, but it will take more work to maintain. Read our cookware buying guide to learn more about cookware materials.
Think about how it will feel when you lift it. Many chefs like the sturdy feeling of a cast-iron skillet, but if you have physical limitations, a heavy pan may be too cumbersome. On the other hand, a small nonstick frying pan is excellent for some foods, but if you're hard on your cookware, it may be too flimsy for you.
Decide if you want to buy a cookware set or individual pieces. If you want a custom set of pots and pans or if you only need to replace one or two, you'll want to choose each piece separately. If you think you might want a whole set, read our guide about the best reasons to buy a cookware set to see if that would be right for your kitchen.
Think about what type of stovetop you have. A gas stove can handle just about any type of cookware, but electric stovetops pose a few more concerns. If you have an induction cooktop, for example, you'll need flat-bottom pots and pans made of a magnetic metal. Be sure to read our guide on the best cookware for electric stoves if that's what you have in your kitchen.
Utensils make a difference to your cookware. What kind of utensils do you typically use? Nonstick linings are very popular because they keep food from sticking without needing a lot of oil or fat. However, nonstick cookware cannot be used with metal utensils because it scratches easily and should only be used with plastic or wooden spoons and spatulas. Copper cookware is also prone to nicks and scratches and is best used with plastic, rubber, or wood utensils.
Be aware that different cookware will require different care. How much time do you want to spend cleaning your pots and pans? Copper is beautiful when you buy it, but in order to keep that bright sheen, you must polish it regularly. Over time, the lining thins and you may eventually need to reline it or replace it. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations for cleaning and care, but be wary of pots and pans that say they are dishwasher safe; it's not a bad idea to hand wash all of your cookware.
Insist on durability if you do a lot of cooking. Copper is very durable unless you don't maintain it properly. Aluminum cookware is durable, and the thicker the surface, the better its conductivity. Thinner aluminum is prone to uneven cooking, which can damage the surface over time. Stainless steel is also quite durable unless you do a lot of cooking with salt or acidic foods. Nonstick pans will need to be replaced every three to five years, more if you use them often.
Published October 1, 2009
Updated March 20, 2015