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The 7 Best Pots And Pans To Help You Cook Like A Pro, According To Chefs

And how to choose the best material.

best cooking pans
Christine Giordano

Are you someone who's been using the same three pans for as long as you can remember? You’re not alone. Many people don't give a second thought to getting new ones or even searching for the best cooking pans. Maybe you're using hand-me-down cookware from your family, or you only invest in new ones when your current set becomes rusty, sticky, or burns your food.

Believe it or not, the cookware you use matters not only because of what it can do but also because the material needs to be safe. ”Many cookware options, especially the non-stick ones, have polytetrafluoroethylene (PFTE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that can leach into our food," says Meghan Telpner, the founder of the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. "These chemicals are linked to cancer and thyroid disruption. Plus, they can accumulate in the environment."

Before you start dumping out all your old pots and pans, know that non-stick cookware is typically not a significant source of PFOA exposure, according to the American Cancer Society. The studies that found a link between cancer and this chemical looked at people living near or working in PFOA-related chemical plants. Similarly, the nonprofit points out that PFTE, which is usually sold under the brand name Teflon, has not been a main focus of concern.

That said, if your pans are falling apart, you should seriously consider replacing them. Here's everything you need to know about picking ones that will last and actually help you in the kitchen from seasoned chefs. (Also check out our Healthy Cooking Awards for some inspo!)

What do I need to know about cookware material?

If you've shopped for pots and pans before, you know there are several types of material to choose from. Turns out each is best suited for whipping up different foods.

  • Copper is a great option for even heat distribution, which makes it perfect for cooking temperature-sensitive foods. But it tends to be a bit pricey. If you do want a copper pot, look for one that’s made with stainless steel instead of other coatings that can scratch off and get into your food.
    • Cast iron cookware is incredibly durable and non-stick, so you’re in for an easy clean-up process. “I wish beginners weren’t so intimidated by cast iron cookware,” says Great Jones co-founder Sierra Tishgart. "Cast iron is superior at retaining and evenly distributing heat, so it’s worth the investment.” The downside is that it's as heavy as it looks. And if it’s not taken care of properly, it may begin to rust. This material is a great go-to for cooking steaks, fish, and other meats.
      • Stainless steel is super durable, lightweight, and also affordable. A big con, though, is that they’re not non-stick, which means foods like eggs, pancakes, or even fish are off the table. Stainless steel is pretty steady in demand, making them highly available for purchase.
        • Ceramic cookware has become more popular over time, especially because of its smooth, matte finish. Unlike other pots, ceramic won’t peel as it ages. It also distributes heat evenly. However, it’s not non-stick and doesn’t work on induction stovetops since it’s not made of metal. One note, though: This is not the same as a ceramic-coated pot, which only refers to the exterior design, not the actual material.

          What pieces should you look for in a cookware set?

          So, now that you know a little more about the materials, what about the actual pots and pans? You can mix and match the brands you like, but having cookware that can provide all the functions you need to prepare the foods you love is a must.

          “Overall, you want and need a mix of materials in your kitchen. Non-stick ceramic, cast iron, stainless steel, and aluminized steel all serve very different purposes, but with a mix of them all, you’ll be set up for long-term success,” says Tishgart. In other words, diversity is key.

          Looking for more specific options? Read on for cookware sets we chose based on recommendations from editors and experts.

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          Best Multipurpose
          Home Cook Duo
          Our Place

          This cookware duo does it all. Designed to replace 16 pieces of traditional cookware, the Always Pan and Perfect Pot make for a great combo purchase. It's also available in six different earth-tone colors.

          Best Beginners Set
          The Starting Lineup
          Great Jones

          If you're a big-city, small-apartment kind of gal, this Dutch Baby set from Great Jones is a solid option for tiny kitchens. It was made with beginners in mind too. Plus, it's safe for gas, electric, and induction stovetops.

          Best Aesthetic
          Reserve Hard Anodized Ceramic Set

          This ceramic set comes in seven colors, so you'll never have to worry about sacrificing the style you had in mind for your cooking space. And if you prefer gold over silver, the sleek stainless steel handles ensure a beautiful yet comfortable grip.

          Best Non-Stick
          Enameled Cast Iron Signature Cookware Set
          Le Creuset

          A well-known brand in the culinary industry, Le Creuset's cast iron set is made with a long-lasting enamel on the outside that prevents chipping and cracking. Its heat distribution abilities work for slow or high-temperature cooking, so it's definitely worth the hefty price tag.

          Best In Durability
          Stainless Steel Cookware Set

          Created to be slightly thicker than the others on the market, this set is a good alternative to coated, non-stick frying pans or any aluminum-based ones. The surgical-grade stainless steel also works great on a variety of surfaces.

          Best Budget Buy
          Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Set
          Now 25% off

          If you're looking to purchase a set that's high quality but won't break your bank account, this cast iron set from Lodge is something you can't pass up on. You can use it indoors on the oven or stove, or you can take it outside to the grill or campfire.

          Best Heat Distribution
          Stainless Steel Kitchenware
          Now 58% off

          A copper exterior together with a stainless steel interior will keep your set from getting scratched up over time. This eight-piece set also has heat-resistant handles and is safe for up to 500 degrees in the oven or broiler.

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