Here's what you should consider when shopping for your next set of pots and pans.
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Best Rated Cookware Brand: Le Creuset
A cookware legend, Le Creuset is known for its signature cast-iron products. Topping the list for design and cooking performance, as well as for cleaning and maintenance, it's no surprise it was the overall winner.
Quick facts about cookware
- Cookware can be purchased in packs that include pots and pans of all different sizes, or individually, depending on your needs and budget.
- The material of your cookware matters. Different materials conduct heat differently, and non-stick surfaces can be damaged by metal utensils. Understanding the different options helps you get the most out of your purchase.
- Pricing varies drastically depending on what you purchase and whether you purchase individually or in bulk.
What is cookware?
Cookware is a term that encompasses all the different types of pots and pans, skillets and steamers that you might use in the kitchen to cook a meal. You can purchase cookware either individually, or in sets.
Cookware sets include different types of pots and pans for cooking a number of different styles of meals, and typically offer more value for money than buying each piece by itself. However, it's worth noting that there is also the chance that buying a cookware set will see you end up with items that you may not use, which can take up precious storage space in your kitchen cupboards.
Types of cookware
While most home chefs are comfortable handling a frypan or a saucepan, there is quite a range of different cookware types that you can add to your collection to help you cook up different types of meals. Some examples include:
- Saucepan. With high sides, a long handle that enables you to grab the pot without burning yourself and a lid, saucepans are ideal for boiling water or making sauces or any other type of food that requires larger quantities of liquid. Learn more about choosing the right saucepan here.
- Stockpot. Also known as a stewpot, these are large saucepans with high sides and a lid. Because of their size, they will typically have two side handles rather than one long handle, and they're ideal for making soups, stews or stocks, or anything that requires a large volume of cooking space.
- Steamer insert. If you prefer your food steamed rather than boiled or fried, then a steamer insert will help. More an attachment to a saucepan than a dedicated piece of cookware, steamers sit above the water in a saucepan and cook the food by using the steam from the boiling water below.
- Pasta insert. Another piece of cookware that sits inside a saucepan or stockpot, a pasta insert is full of holes that will drain out the water when you remove it while still holding the pasta (or other food) that you've cooked.
- Frying pan. Frying pans typically have shallower, sloped walls and a longer handle, along with a flat base that makes them great for frying (as the name suggests). They are also known as skillets and can come either with or without a lid.
- Grill pan. This is a small shallow frypan that features ridges along the base rather than a flat cooking surface. These ridges allow fat to drain from the meat being cooked, giving you a nice texture and flavour.
- Sauté pan. This is a variation of a frying pan, typically a little bit deeper than a traditional frying pan and with a well-fitting lid. The walls of a sauté pan are vertical as well, so you're less likely to spill what you're cooking.
- Chef's pan. Also known as a pot roast pan, these round dishes have medium-height walls and a larger diameter than a typical saucepan. They usually come with two side handles for more even weight distribution, and they can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven, making them great for roasting meats and vegetables.
- Wok. With a narrow base, a wide top and rounded sides, woks are designed for high-temperature cooking, offering plenty of surface area to quickly fry meat and vegetables.
- Casserole dish. You may know this piece of cookware by its variants, the French oven and the Dutch oven, but they all act in the same way. They are heavy dishes – usually made of cast iron or enamelled cast iron – which can be used both on the stove and in the oven. They feature a heavy, well-fitting lid to keep the moisture in the dish and your meal tasting great.
- Roasting pan. Throw in some meat, fish or vegetables (or all three), stick this pan in the oven and use the oven's heat to cook your dinner for you. A roasting pan may also come with a rack to keep your food above any fat drippings that come from your meat while it cooks.
How to compare cookware
To find your next cookware set you'll need to consider a range of factors. But beyond anything, you should consider the types of meals that you want to cook. If you eat a lot of pasta, then a large saucepan or stockpot and a pasta insert should be at the top of your list. If you eat a lot of steak, a grill pan will go a long way.
While that will get you started, there are also some fundamental questions that you should ask yourself before you hand over your credit card to buy any new cookware.
You can find cheap frypans and saucepans for a bargain at discount stores, but you can also spend hundreds of dollars on premium sets at department stores. Unless you cook a lot, finding the right balance of price vs quality is important.
What the cookware is made out of matters. Different types of metals absorb and hold heat differently, and non-stick pots and pans can't be used with metal utensils without being scratched and worn. Consider how you are likely to use the cookware to decide what material is best for your needs. See our detailed breakdown below.
Depending on your stovetop, you may need a particular type of cookware to use on top of it. Not all pots and pans can be used on a gas flame, while induction cooktops require specific types of cookware. Also be mindful of whether you want to also be able to put your cookware into the oven.
Ease of cleaning
Having the most delicious roast ever isn't as nice if you have to spend an hour scrubbing it off the roasting pan you cooked it on. Check whether your cookware is dishwasher safe, or if it has a non-stick surface that makes it easier to clean.
It's important to double-check that your new cookware will suit your cooktop, particularly if you use induction cooking. But once that's confirmed, most cookware will be made out of one of these materials:
Big, heavy cast iron cookware does an incredible job of retaining heat, making it great for searing or roasting. But while it retains heat, cast iron takes time to heat up, it's not easy to heat evenly, and without the proper care, iron is susceptible to rust. Cast iron can be a great piece of cookware for meals that start on the stovetop and end in the oven (or fire pit), but that versatility comes at the expense of not being easy to clean. Some considerations need to be made with acidic food types, particularly with cookware that hasn't been properly seasoned.
Enamelled cast iron
Take cast iron cookware and coat it in enamel and you have enamelled cast iron cookware. This extra layer often has the benefit of making the cookware dishwasher-safe, and it allows you to cook acidic foods without worrying about the iron reacting and the flavour changing. The extra enamel layer does make it more expensive than regular cast iron cookware though.
Stainless steel is hard, it doesn't rust and it's typically more affordable than many other types of cookware. But that affordability comes at the expense of heating ability – stainless steel doesn't conduct heat as well as other metals. You can find some stainless steel cookware that tries to work around this by adding a copper core inside the steel, but this will typically drive up the price. On the upside, stainless steel cookware is typically dishwasher safe, which makes it ideal for busy families.
As a metal, copper is a fantastic conductor of heat, which makes it a great option for cookware, as it can be heated and cooled quickly. It doesn't retain the heat as well as cast iron, but it is durable. It's also somewhat expensive. It does require regular seasoning to prevent rust and corrosion, or it often comes coated with another material like stainless steel to prevent reaction with different food types.
Most aluminium cookware is anodised, which hardens the metal and makes it so that it doesn't react with different types of food. Aluminium cookware conducts heat well, doesn't rust and is relatively lightweight, making it easier to move about the kitchen.
Clay-based cookware is perfect for cooking in the oven, but can't be used on a stovetop, which makes it less versatile than metal cookware. But the upside is that it is non-reactive to acidic or basic food types, and it can be used to store food in the fridge as well as cooking it. Ceramic cookware heats up slowly, so it's better suited to longer cooking meals.
3 things to consider
- If you use an induction cooktop, make sure you check that your cookware is compatible.
- Cookware sets will typically offer better value for money than buying individual pots and pans, but make sure you take into account your own needs before buying one. Oftentimes they will include pans that you may not actually need.
- Carefully consider the weight of the pan. Cast iron cookware, in particular, can be extremely heavy when it's empty, so once it's being used to cook a meal it will be even heavier. If you don't think you can manage lifting it out of the oven, consider something lighter.
Best rated cookware brand award breakdown
|Total Score||Overall rating||Value for Money||Cleaning & maintenance||Cooking performance||Design|
|Smith + Nobel||7.68||4.17||3.92||3.75||4.42||4.00|