Now You're Cooking!

Purchasing a multi-piece cookware set typically costs significantly less than buying each pot and pan individually. The trick is to find a set with the qualities, performance, and pieces you want within your budget. For our Cheapism.com buying guide, we researched a wide range of options — from nonstick pots and pans to stainless steel and ceramic — and compared features as well as expert and user reviews to zero in on the best cookware sets for cost-conscious chefs. Our recommendations are top-rated, carry lifetime warranties, and come from trusted brands like T-fal, Farberware, and Cuisinart. Better still, a majority cost around $80 or less. We’ve also included a cast iron set for old-school chefs and a few pricier picks for choosier cooks willing to spend a bit extra for higher-end materials or more celebrated names. We’ve even got a set you may have seen on TV — and scores of users say it actually lives up to the hype.

Prices and availability are subject to change.

See full Buying Guide

Our Top Pick

Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Nonstick Hard Anodized 7-Piece Set

Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Nonstick Hard Anodized 7-Piece Set Review

Our Picks
Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Nonstick Hard Anodized 7-Piece Set

Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Nonstick Hard Anodized 7-Piece Set Review

Pieces: 1.5 and 3 qt. lidded saucepans | 8 qt. lidded stockpot | 10" skillet

Pros:

  • Hard anodized aluminum exterior provides extremely even heat distribution.
  • Titanium-reinforced interior coating is scratch-resistant and easy to clean.
  • Users confirm the nonstick surface works very well, with no butter or oil necessary.
  • Sturdy, solid, and long-lasting, according to reviews.

Cons:

  • Limited variety of pieces, although buyers say it’s a good starter set.
  • Nonstick coating is supposed to be safe for metal utensils, but some claim it can scratch eventually.
  • A few reports of the exterior paint peeling.

Takeaway: Hard anodized aluminum is particularly good for heat transfer: It heats evenly with no hot spots. It’s also durable. This helps make the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Hard Anodized 7-Piece Set (66-7) an excellent value for the money, according to buyers, who praise the quality of these pots and pans and say the PFOA-free titanium-infused nonstick coating works like a charm. Eggs and pancakes can be cooked without oil, and cleanup is hassle-free. Riveted handles and tight-fitting glass lids add to the feeling of sturdiness, and it’s a good-looking set to boot. Many owners say they’ve had these pots and pans for several years and they’ve stood the test of time. Just take care with the nonstick coating — it may be tougher than typical nonstick, but it’s still vulnerable to scratching if you’re not careful. Also, while these pots and pans are said to be dishwasher-safe, users suggest hand washing only, unless you want them to become discolored and damaged. This Cuisinart cookware set is oven-safe to 500 degrees but not for use with induction ranges.

T-fal Titanium Advanced Nonstick 12-Piece Set

T-fal Titanium Advanced Nonstick 12-Piece Set Review

Pieces: 1 and 2 qt. lidded saucepans | 5 qt. lidded Dutch oven | 8" and 9" skillets | 3 qt. lidded sauté pan | 2 utensils

Pros:

  • 12-piece set covers most cooking needs.
  • Owners say these hard anodized pots and pans heat up quickly and distribute heat evenly.
  • Titanium coating for enhanced nonstick properties.
  • Lightweight enough for easy handling.
  • Dishwasher safe; several reviews say they hold up very well to machine washing.

Cons:

  • Pieces are on the slightly smaller side; some might want to supplement with a roomier skillet or saucepan.
  • A handful of complaints about durability and nonstick coating that began peeling.

Takeaway: Recommended as a “best value” pick by testers at both Good Housekeeping and Reviewed.com, this T-fal 12-piece cookware set certainly satisfies owners. A majority of reviews we read rave about the cooking performance and say the titanium-reinforced coating exceeds expectations; nothing gets stuck or burned on, and the cooking surface holds up against abuse over time. The interiors of the frying pan and sauté pan are even equipped with temperature-indicator spots in the center to show when they’re sufficiently preheated. Other touches that reviewers appreciate include comfort-grip handles, vented glass lids, and the included spoon and spatula, which are said to be of good quality. According to several reviews, the sturdy yet relatively lightweight build and easy cleaning make this set a very good choice for older users or home cooks trying to avoid hand strain. The T-fal Titanium Advanced Nonstick 12-Piece Set (C561SC) is safe for oven use up to 350 degrees but not suitable for induction stoves.

Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless 7-Piece Set

Pieces: 1.5 and 3 qt. lidded saucepans | 8 qt. lidded stockpot | 10" skillet

Pros:

  • Encapsulated aluminum bottom for better heat conduction.
  • Cooks, sears, and browns foods equally well, according to reviews.
  • Stockpot is large, a good size for soup.
  • Can be used on a variety of cooktops and in the oven (up to 500 degrees).
  • Freezer- and dishwasher-safe.

Cons:

  • Not a lot of pieces included; only one frying pan.
  • Foods can stick to the stainless steel surface; seasoning the pans is recommended.
  • Some users complain of discoloration and spotting, particularly with high heat.

Takeaway: Cooks willing to invest a little extra effort in upkeep will find the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless 7-Piece Set (77-7) a sleek, elegant addition to their kitchens. While some buyers complain about foods sticking and staining, others point them to the instruction manual — stainless steel is a quick conductor; to avoid discoloration, it should not be used on high heat. Reviewers who followed instructions for seasoning, usage, and cleaning say this set can be the next best thing to nonstick and will keep its shiny finish for a very long time. These pots and pans are also more durable and heftier than cheaper nonstick cookware, but not so heavy that they are difficult to lift. While some miss having glass lids, which makes it easier to monitor the cooking process, the stainless steel covers on these pots contribute to their versatility and make them better able to move freely from stovetop to oven and even to the freezer. The set can be put in the dishwasher, but owners recommend hand washing (and warn of water spots). While this stainless steel cookware set is advertised as “induction-ready,” we’ve read conflicting reports from owners regarding actual usability. If you’re considering these Cuisinart Chef’s Classic pieces for use on an induction range, it may be best to research exact compatibility.

Farberware Glide Copper Ceramic Nonstick 12-Piece Set

Farberware Glide Copper Ceramic Nonstick 12-Piece Set Review

Pieces: 1 and 2 qt. lidded saucepans | 5 qt. lidded Dutch oven | 10" lidded skillet | 8.5" skillet | 3 utensils

Pros:

  • Users say these aluminum pans heat very quickly, and water boils in just moments.
  • Copper ceramic nonstick cooking surface performs very well; foods don’t burn and nothing sticks, according to reviews.
  • Extremely easy to clean.
  • PFOA-, PTFE-, lead-, and cadmium-free.
  • Lots of color choices to suit kitchen decor.

Cons:

  • Pans need to be pre-treated/soaked before use.
  • Amazon reviews suggest some quality-control issues; items arrived damaged, sometimes with missing or ill-fitting lids.
  • Included turner, spoon, and pasta fork are not made by Farberware and not necessarily sturdy.

Takeaway: Owners who love the Farberware Glide Copper Ceramic Nonstick 12-Piece Set say they were surprised and delighted with its nonstick qualities. The aluminum cookware boasts a copper ceramic interior that users say is pretty phenomenal — many claim it performs much better than ceramic cooking surfaces they’ve used in the past and say you can cook virtually anything without the addition of oil or cooking spray. Afterward, simply wipe the pan clean. The set is oven-safe to 350 degrees and has handles made to stay cool and be easy to hold. Although these pieces are technically dishwasher-safe, over time the heat of the dishwasher could damage the nonstick properties of the interior, so hand washing is recommended. Also, remember to follow manufacturer’s instructions for pre-soaking in baking soda for optimal results. All in all, most purchasers say this Farberware cookware set works well and looks great. It’s available in a variety of finishes, including black, deep blue, teal, red, and even a copper color, but not all colors are available at all retailers. This set is not for use with induction ranges.

GreenLife Soft Grip Ceramic Nonstick 14-Piece Set

Pieces: 1 qt. and 2 qt. lidded saucepans | 5 qt. lidded stockpot | 7" and 9.5" skillets | 2.5 qt. lidded sauté pan | 4 utensils

Pros:

  • Ceramic coating raises fewer health concerns than traditional nonstick; interiors are nontoxic and contain no PFAS, PFOA, lead, or cadmium.
  • Pans heat up quickly (although they should be used only on low heat).
  • Soft handles are easy to hold.
  • Comes in a variety of colors, including turquoise, red, and black.

Cons:

  • Limited longevity, according to some reviews.
  • Exterior paint scrapes off easily and can discolor.
  • Ceramic coating shows scratches and can peel off or chip after a while; using high heat or oil with a low smoke point can stain the white interiors.

Takeaway: It’s difficult to find a cheap ceramic cookware set of decent quality, but this highly rated GreenLife Soft Grip Ceramic Nonstick 14-Piece Set provides a safe and moderately durable cooking surface at an affordable price. For people who are accustomed to other types of pans, there is a learning curve to ceramic cookware — be sure to cook at lower heats and stay away from olive oil and cooking spray or you can expect a stained and sticky surface. On the plus side, owners insist that the interior ceramic coating has superb nonstick qualities and is durable as long as the instructions above are followed. Cleanup is as easy as wiping the pans with a paper towel. Reviews also say this cookware heats evenly and is not too heavy to handle. More important, buyers concerned about the potential health risks of cooking on nonstick surfaces don’t have to worry about harmful chemicals leaching into foods. These pots and pans are suitable for oven use up to 350 degrees but not compatible with induction stoves.

Lodge Cast Iron 5-Piece Set

Pieces: 5 qt. lidded Dutch oven | 8" and 10.25" skillets | 10.5" round griddle

Pros:

  • Large pots and pans big enough for a family.
  • Nonstick once properly seasoned and easy to clean.
  • Cast iron heats evenly and retains heat for a long time.
  • Can be used on any cooking surface (even grills, wood stoves, and campfires) and handle any temperature.
  • Cast iron cookware is virtually indestructible and can last for generations.

Cons:

  • Although it's advertised as preseasoned cast iron, many users say this cookware set needed initial seasoning.
  • Slow to come up to heat.
  • Heavy; can be difficult to handle and can scratch certain cooktops.
  • Not that easy to clean; can rust if not dried right away.

Takeaway: Lodge cast iron cookware has been made in the USA since 1896. There are some complaints about the tedious seasoning process needed to keep these pots and pans performing at their best, but once that’s done properly, cast iron cookware is fairly nonstick. Even if foods do stick, they are easily cleaned; just be sure to follow specific recommendations for care and upkeep. Always hand wash and dry immediately, and avoid abrasive pads — some say salt and/or a mesh scrubber will do the trick. Despite the extra effort needed to maintain cast iron, many feel it’s a small price to pay given that these pots and pans will probably last a lifetime, if not longer. Users also appreciate the lack of harmful chemicals in the coating and say the Lodge Cast Iron 5-Piece Set (L5HS3) cooks food to perfection and can get hot enough to leave a great sear on steaks. Bottom line: People have been cooking on cast iron for generations, and there’s a reason for it.

Gotham Steel Nonstick Ti-Cerama 10-Piece Cookware Set

Pieces: 1.5 and 2.5 qt. lidded saucepans | 5 qt. lidded pot | 10.25" lidded skillet | 8.5" skillet | steamer insert

Pros:

  • Many users say the nonstick surface works as advertised in the infomercials.
  • Heats evenly with no hot spots and retains heat well.
  • Lightweight but sturdy.
  • Can be used with metal utensils.
  • Dishwasher-safe, but also cleans up easily with just a soft sponge.
  • No harmful chemicals: PTFE-, PFOA-, and PFOS-free.
  • Attractive black, blue, copper, or red finish and copper interiors.

Cons:

  • Reports of the coating peeling or flaking, sometimes just weeks after purchase.
  • Nonstick surface can wear off after a while, according to reviews.
  • Metal handles tend to get very hot.
  • Food can burn easily; low heat is recommended.

Takeaway: Many consumers have been drawn to the Gotham Steel Nonstick Ti-Cerama 10-Piece Cookware Set based on the infomercials: Some skeptics have become believers, and some initial fans have become disenchanted. The nonstick interior, which is made of titanium and ceramic, does work extremely well, and it’s just as easy to clean as the infomercials say. But it’s important to carefully follow maintenance and usage instructions, and some say that, even with the best of care, this isn’t a set that’s built to last. Although the specs claim it is safe to use metal utensils, buyers suspect that using them is one reason for the shortened life span. There’s a 90-day money-back guarantee in addition to the lifetime warranty, however, and at a price around $80, it may be worth the risk. The aluminum set is oven-safe to 500 degrees and can be used on all cooktops except induction.

Rachael Ray Cucina Hard Anodized Aluminum Nonstick 12-Piece Set

Pieces: 1 and 3 qt. lidded saucepans | 6 qt. lidded stockpot | 8.5" and 10" skillets | 3 qt. lidded sauté pan | 2 utensils

Pros:

  • Hard anodized aluminum construction makes for fast, even heat distribution.
  • Users find that the PFOA-free nonstick coating really works and is easy to clean.
  • 6-quart Dutch oven is larger than most in other cheap sets.
  • Soft, silicone-coated handles are easy to hold and don’t get hot.
  • Different color options for handles; matching slotted turner and spoon.

Cons:

  • Some say this cookware has a tendency to slide on glass stovetops.
  • Complaints of scratching on both interior and exterior.
  • Reports of warping, which also causes lids not to fit.

Takeaway: Rachael Ray cookware is extremely popular, and the Rachael Ray Cucina Hard Anodized Aluminum Nonstick 12-Piece Set is one of her bestsellers. It has a reasonable price tag and contains a good variety of pots and pans to serve most everyday cooking needs. While some reviewers consider the pieces a bit small overall and perhaps not best suited for larger families, the set does include a stockpot big enough to feed a crowd; you can serve up a lot of soup or chili with its 6-quart capacity. In terms of performance, users say that cooking with this set is a breeze — it’s lightweight and not too heavy to handle (but not flimsy either). It heats evenly and cooks food well, and the nonstick coating makes it very easy to clean. On the other hand, it gets somewhat mixed reviews for durability. While plenty of owners swear by this highly rated set and claim it’s lasted several years and still looks good as new, some insist the pieces were quick to wear. The easy-to-scratch (and stain) exterior was a particular disappointment, as the stylishness of the set is a primary draw: Owners say these pieces are truly a gorgeous addition to any kitchen. The colored handles add a bit of flair to the classic graphite finish of the pans. The set is safe for oven use up to 400 degrees and dishwasher-safe, but many recommend hand washing for best results. The pots and pans are not for use on induction cooktops.

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 10-Piece Set

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 10-Piece Set Review

Pieces: 1.5 and 3 qt. lidded saucepans | 8 qt. lidded stockpot | 8" and 10" skillets | 3 qt. lidded sauté pan

Pros:

  • The Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad line is recommended as a top value by a number of experts, including professional cooks at America’s Test Kitchen.
  • Aluminum core between 2 layers of stainless steel for better heat conduction; experts and owners say the set heats evenly and doesn’t scorch.
  • Nice weight, solid construction, and very durable, according to reviews.
  • 8-quart stockpot is generously sized for large-batch meals.
  • Wide handles for comfort.
  • Compatible with all cooktops, including induction.

Cons:

  • Some users wish the pots had lips, as it can be difficult to pour without spilling.
  • A bit of a learning curve to using stainless steel compared with nonstick.
  • Prone to discoloration, particularly if used with high heat.
  • Can take a bit of extra effort to clean.

Takeaway: Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad stainless steel cookware pieces appear on many experts' recommendation lists, often lauded as an affordable alternative to coveted All-Clad cookware. These Tramontina pots and pans boast tri-ply construction, which features an aluminum core that extends all the way up the sides, so heat is distributed evenly throughout and is better retained for more efficient cooking. Reviewers at Wirecutter name the larger 12-piece set their top cookware choice, and say it served up a commendably crisped and browned chicken breast while performing better than many other brands in scorch tests. It’s also oven-safe to 500 degrees and dishwasher-safe, although hand washing is preferable to avoid spotting. More experienced stainless-steel-cookware users suggest that Bar Keeper’s Friend will keep these pieces looking almost as new. While this 10-piece set doesn’t have all the benefits of its more fully outfitted and top-billed 12-piece sibling — it’s missing a Dutch oven, and the stockpot and frying pans are smaller — it’s still a solid choice as a starter set and costs about $100 less. If you discover that this Walmart-exclusive Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 10-Piece Set (80116/566DS) is sold out, you can find a similar Tramontina 10-piece set at other major retailers including Macy's and Home Depot. That one is made in Brazil rather than China and carries a much higher price tag.

Buying Guide

Buying Guide

Whether you’re setting up a new home, ready to refresh your kitchenware, or looking for a good gift, a quality cookware set is the ticket. Preferences and prices vary widely, however. Well-burnished names such as All-Clad, Le Creuset, Calphalon, and Swiss Diamond are aspirational, gourmet brands that can easily cost well over $700 for a set. But it's possible to get a good set of cheap pots and pans that features elements of the upmarket sets. We found several cookware sets, bearing brand names such as Farberware or T-fal, for as little as $80 or less that can help home cooks turn out good-tasting, good-looking food on the cheap.

Expert sources such as America's Test Kitchen tend to evaluate individual pots and pans with high price tags. Most of the cookware sets tested by Consumer Reports and the Good Housekeeping Research Institute also exceed our low price ceiling, and the handful of budget options in those tests generally did not perform well. In choosing the best cheap cookware sets, we relied heavily on reviews by home cooks on retail sites such as Amazon, Walmart, Macy's, and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Ultimately, frugal shoppers want good-quality cookware that does the job competently. Consumers want a well-rounded set with pieces they'll actually use. Oven-safe pieces are a particular boon. The quality should be good enough that the pots and pans don’t burn easily and the lids should fit properly. Reviewers who use nonstick cookware are adamant that the coating should be durable and not scratch or flake. The best cookware, whether nonstick or stainless steel, evenly distributes heat so food doesn't get burned. Cooking and cleaning should both be easy. Foodies may assert that only expensive cookware can produce gourmet meals, but the cookware reviews we read suggest that frugal cooks are more than satisfied with the dishes that come out of their cheap cookware.

But before making a purchase, cheap or otherwise, you should also consider what kind of cookware is right for your range. This is particularly important with a smooth, ceramic-glass or induction stovetop, because some cookware can't be used on those heating elements. And, while some swear by nonstick cookware for low-fat cooking and easy cleaning, others express concern about potential health risks and prefer stainless steel or ceramic. Take account of your cooking style, too: What size pots and pans do you prefer? Do you want to peer into a covered pot through a glass lid as a dish bubbles away? Do you prefer metal spoons and spatulas or plastic, wood, or silicone? Do you mind washing by hand? Also, pay attention to the handle: Will the vessel be comfortable to hold when full? Will the handle get hot to the touch? You might try stopping in a nearby store to physically check out the goods: feel the weight, hold the handle, and inspect the finish.

Pricey vs. Cheap Cookware

Surely a soupcon of snob appeal partly accounts for the sky-high prices affixed to gourmet cookware. But the difference in build quality — the material components and how they're put together — is the primary factor that distinguishes cheap cookware sets from the rest. The rap on super low-cost cookware is that food scorches, pots have hot spots, the bottoms warp, the finish stains, and the nonstick coating flakes off. Pricier cookware tends to be heavy duty, far more durable, and — holding the cook's skills constant — likely to deliver better results. These pans transmit heat evenly and quickly, so food cooks faster at lower temperatures; seared meats and caramelized vegetables are easily accomplished.

The component materials of choice in the mid- and upper ranges of the market include cast iron, aluminum, copper, and stainless steel. Some higher-cost cookware features a nonstick finish, but many pieces have stainless steel or hard anodized aluminum interiors crafted in a way that makes them easy to clean. Cast iron can be finished with an enamel coating. Consumers who buy high-end cookware undoubtedly figure they're making a long-term investment. Most budget cookware is made from aluminum, carbon steel, or stainless steel. The interior cooking surface may be the same metal as the exterior, but cheap aluminum and carbon steel cookware usually features a chemically-based nonstick finish; although less toxic, more eco-friendly options are becoming more widely available, even in the Cheapism price range.

Nonstick Cookware

A nonstick coating applied to a metal pot or pan helps it release foods easily and clean up quickly. With a nonstick surface, users can cook without adding any fat to the pan, or at least very little. This makes nonstick cookware the most popular choice among home cooks. But keep in mind that a nonstick surface doesn't brown or caramelize foods very well, and the coating can scratch off if you don't treat the pieces with care. We read reports from users saying the nonstick surface of some low-cost cookware degrades quickly, raising concerns about the release of potentially toxic compounds. Bottom line, according to experts: Avoid temperatures higher than 500 degrees, and if the nonstick coating starts chipping off, it's best to toss the cookware. While many people have expressed concern about chemicals from nonstick cookware leaching into food, most newer nonstick surfaces are PFOA-free.

Some nonstick cookware boasts a titanium coating that makes it nontoxic and safe to use with metal utensils. Titanium is a selling point because it's very durable; it’s nonporous, so smells won’t seep in; and it’s unaffected by acids. It also resists corrosion and scratching. Titanium is usually combined with ceramic to produce a coating that is both nonstick and that distributes heat evenly, as pure titanium does not conduct heat well. Premium titanium-reinforced cookware can be quite costly.

Stainless Steel Cookware

Although the Food and Drug Administration has found no risk to humans, the health concerns surrounding nonstick cookware prompt many consumers to seek out other materials. With that in mind, we looked at a relatively easy-to-use alternative available on a budget: stainless steel. Stainless steel cookware is the most versatile, because it can be used on any type of range, is oven safe, and can withstand a good bit of heat without worry of damaging the pan (although discoloration is often an issue).

Stainless steel is dense, does not hold smells or tastes, and is highly resistant to pitting or staining. It is also strong and nonreactive, which means that acidic foods such as tomatoes won't damage it. Unlike aluminum, the basis of many low-cost pots and pans, steel is magnetic (as is cast iron) and will work on an induction stovetop. However, steel is not as good at conducting heat, so the best cheap stainless steel cookware incorporates an aluminum or copper disk at the bottom for better heat diffusion. Some cookware sets also let users keep one foot in each world, by combining stainless steel pots and nonstick aluminum skillets in the same set.

Ceramic Cookware

Another alternative to traditional nonstick pots and pans is ceramic cookware, which releases foods just as easily but is nontoxic and distributes heat more evenly. It’s also nonporous and nonreactive, so there won’t be any residual smells, and users can cook acidic foods like tomatoes without the worry of leaching chemicals.

Despite its health benefits, ceramic cookware may just be too finicky to suit everyone’s taste. While one of the benefits of a nonstick surface is that added fats are not needed, the directions on most cheap ceramic cookware expressly caution users not to use olive oil or cooking spray, because these oils burn at a low temperature and can carbonize, adding burnt spots to the pans. Users are also admonished to use ceramic pans only on low to medium heat. High heat can cause foods to stick and damage the surface. Like regular nonstick cookware, ceramic has a coating that makes it sensitive to scratching, so users should avoid metal utensils. Note also, that “copper” ceramic is not to be confused with true copper cookware — most of these pans simply have a copper-colored coating and are made of little to no actual copper.

Some reviewers say that, although they follow the rules for care and usage assiduously, pans still become scratched and discolored. Some also lament the inability to get a good, dark sear on meats using this type of pan. And since the exterior of ceramic cookware is aluminum, it usually can’t be used on induction ranges, although manufacturers are now producing aluminum sets with specialized magnetic bases. (There’s also the option of purchasing an induction interface disk for your stovetop; with these stainless steel disks, you can use any type of pot or pan on an induction range.)

Cast Iron Cookware

While it’s hard to come by cast iron cookware on the cheap, it has a number of advantages. Cast iron is good for searing foods like steaks, because it can get screaming hot with no adverse effects, although it can take a while to heat up. It can go in the oven at any temperature and cleans very easily (a well-seasoned cast iron pan is, for all intents and purposes, nonstick). For the price, there is probably nothing more durable; cast iron is practically indestructible. Some people have cast iron cookware that was passed down from their grandparents and certainly will be around for future generations. There are no chemicals that could potentially leach into foods, although some iron may be absorbed if the pan is not well-seasoned (this could actually be a plus for people who are anemic).

On the downside, there’s no getting around the fact that cast iron is really heavy; lifting a full pot is a two-fisted job. Handles are not coated, so oven mitts are a necessity. Dropping a cast iron pan on a glass-top stove can be a disaster, and they can easily scratch surfaces (some recommend using parchment paper or a silicone baking mat when cooking atop an induction range). Because it’s porous, cast iron can hold smells such as fish or garlic, and tomato sauce cooked in a cast iron pot can come away with an off color and a metallic taste. Enameled cast iron has a coating, which does away with the problems of porousness and pre-seasoning, but it is among the most expensive types of cookware on the market and far above Cheapism’s price threshold. Finally, cast iron can’t go in the dishwasher — in fact, even using soap is not recommended, because it can wear away that hard-won seasoning.

Cookware Pieces

What comes in a set of cheap cookware? That all depends. Expect to get a combination of saucepans, skillets/fry pans (with slanted sides) or sauté pans (with straight sides), a stockpot or Dutch oven, and a few lids. Larger sets usually come with a bonus of some kind, such as a griddle. A full set can be a bargain, especially for a first home, but only for someone who's going to use all (or most) of the pieces in it. Consumers should match our picks against the way they cook and what they really need.

A cookware set may contain as few as three pieces or more than 30. Note that those numbers often include lids, cooking utensils, and other miscellaneous items in addition to pots and pans. Also, price is not an indicator of the quantity of pieces that make up a cookware set. One of the cheapest we researched boasts 83 pieces.

The size of the pieces seems to be a bigger issue for reviewers than the size of the set. A budget set might have a 3.25-quart Dutch oven, for example, compared with the 5-quart size that's typical among the best cheap cookware. Consumers are often surprised at the relatively small size of the pots and pans in many cheap cookware sets; a 1-quart saucepan doesn’t hold an awful lot, particularly when serving a family. If you routinely cook for a crowd, you'll probably need to augment a cookware set with larger open-stock pieces that may or may not match.

Oven Safety

Some cooking methods, such as braising, call for a dish started on the stovetop to be transferred to the oven. While cheap aluminum and stainless steel pans are typically oven-safe, the temperature they can withstand depends largely on the handle material. Consumers appreciate "stay-cool" handles made of silicone, plastic, or Bakelite (a type of resin), because they don't require potholders, but most max out at about 350 degrees. Some nonstick pans also can't go in the oven. Although all our top picks are oven-safe cookware, be sure to check the manufacturer's directions before attempting to put a nonstick pan in the oven. For example, a pan might be safe up to 500 degrees unless the lid is on.

Construction and Durability

Consumers who use nonstick cookware are adamant that the coating should be truly nonstick. It should also be durable and not scratch or come off easily. Handles should be riveted onto the pots and pans, or they are likely to come loose. Scorch-free bottoms and proper-fitting lids are also important. Reviewers are somewhat divided on glass lids. They're useful because you can see what's going on in the pot without lifting lids, but consumers with small children or clumsy hands may worry about breakage. We looked for shatter-resistant lids.

Ease of Use

In general, users want cookware that makes the cooking process uncomplicated and the cleaning process speedy. Nonstick, ceramic, and cast iron cookware can usually be washed with a regular sponge, a big part of its appeal. Stainless steel pans might be a bit harder to clean but shouldn't rust or stain. Most cheap cookware featured here is dishwasher-safe, but manufacturers and experts recommend washing by hand. Cast iron should be washed only by hand, with minimal soap, to preserve the seasoning.