Best Cheap Cookware Sets

Stock your kitchen and cook like a pro with great pots and pans that don't cost a fortune. Compare features of stainless steel, non-stick and cast iron.

What We Considered

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 $80 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, Wayfair, and Walmart.  

We Looked At

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. One cheap 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 2-quart saucier is just not as large as you might think. 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.

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 it, but consumers with small children or clumsy hands may worry about breakage. We looked for tempered-glass lids, which will shatter if broken, rather than breaking into dangerous shards.

Our Top Pick

Wearever Cook & Strain 10-Piece Set
Our Picks
Wearever Cook & Strain 10-Piece Set

1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded Dutch oven | 9.5-inch skillet | 2 utensils and colander

Consumers who've purchased the WearEver Cook & Strain 10-Piece Set (A834S974) consider it a high-quality product for a really low price. The bottoms of the pots are said to be thick enough to distribute and hold heat well, and features like the pour spouts and straining lids add convenience. The set takes care of the essentials, and a colander and two serving spoons sweeten the deal. Expect years of life from this tried and trusted cookware.

  • Pots have pour spouts, and pan lids have a straining feature so foods like pasta don't have to be poured into a colander (although the set comes with one).

  • Oven-safe to 500 degrees.

  • Many praise the durability of the set, which has a limited lifetime warranty.

  • Can be used on any stovetop, including induction.

  • Dishwasher-safe; users say even burnt-on foods clean off easily after soaking.

  • Some purchasers who've previously owned WearEver sets claim that they used to be much heavier.

  • Pans discolor if the heat is too high.

Farberware High Performance Nonstick 17-Piece Set

1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded Dutch oven | 10-inch lidded skillet | 8-inch skillet | 11-inch square griddle | 6 utensils and cookie pan

The Farberware High Performance Nonstick 17-Piece Set is a solid starter cookware set, particularly for a first apartment, because it comes with all the basics a kitchen needs, including a cookie sheet and an assortment of utensils. Those who appreciate just a hint of hue in their kitchen will also like the color choices. Just keep in mind that the bases are aluminum, which heats well and evenly but cannot be used on an induction range.

  • Comes in black, red, aqua blue, and champagne.

  • Very durable, with a lifetime warranty; some users have had the same set for 20 years.

  • Reviewers marvel that nothing sticks to these pans; they're easy to clean and the coating is high quality.

  • Oven-safe to 350 degrees; included cookie sheet can withstand 450 degrees.

  • Includes a griddle, uncommon in cheap cookware sets and very much appreciated for making pancakes.

  • Finish can discolor easily with high heat.

  • Low heat threshold means it takes a long time for water to boil.

  • Users say the included nylon tools are small, melt easily, and are poor quality; the cookie sheet is also smaller than expected, holding 6 to 8 cookies at best.

  • Some assert that the handles could be better made and a bit more secure.

1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded stockpot | 7- and 9.5-inch skillets | 2.5-quart lidded sauté pan | 4 utensils

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, buyers don't have to worry about harmful chemicals leaching into foods. While it's difficult to find a cheap ceramic cookware set of decent quality, the highly rated GreenLife Soft Grip 14-Piece Ceramic Set (CW0004970) provides a safe and moderately durable cooking surface at an affordable price.

  • Comes in a variety of colors, including turquoise, red, and black.

  • Ceramic coating raises fewer health concerns than traditional nonstick; interiors are non-toxic and contain no PFAS, PFOA, lead, or cadmium.

  • Pans heat up quickly (although they should be used only on low heat) and are oven-safe to 350 degrees.

  • Soft handles are easy to hold; cookware feels sturdy.

  • Longevity is an issue, according to some reviews.

  • Exterior paint scrapes off easily and can become discolored.

  • Ceramic coating shows scratches and can peel off or chip after a while; white interiors can stain with high heat or use of oil with a low smoke point.

  • Not compatible with induction stoves.

1.5-quart lidded saucepan | 1.5-, 2-, and 3-quart lidded casserole pans with loop handles | 5.5-quart lidded stockpot | 10-inch lidded skillet

The Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Set is not too hefty but still sturdy enough to cook food without burning -- although reviewers warn that high heat can cause discoloration and should not be used. Although the set only includes one skillet and one small, 1.5-quart saucepan, the three casserole pans increase versatility. The glass lids for every pot and pan also help make this cookware collection a good value for the price.

  • Metal handles allow the cookware to go in an oven up to 500 degrees.

  • Encapsulated aluminum bottom for even cooking.

  • Can be used on any kind of stove, including induction.

  • Each pot and pan comes with a vented, tempered glass cover, allowing users to see the food inside without lifting the lid and letting heat and steam escape.

  • Medium weight is easy to hold, even when full of food or water.

  • Handles are hollow, so they might hold water if put in the dishwasher; they also get hot with cooking and require potholders.

  • Users say the pans can scorch and stain easily; water marks are an issue.

  • Some reviewers wish the glass lids were more substantial, and there are some reports of shattering.

1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded Dutch oven | 10-inch lidded skillet | 8-inch skillet | 5 measuring spoons

Most owners are very happy with the T-fal Excite Nonstick 14-Piece Set, thanks to the quality of the nonstick coating -- as long as it lasts. The bright color choices add appeal (the blue cookware set is a favorite). Although five of the 14 pieces are measuring spoons, consumers still consider the set a good value for the money. The lightweight aluminum construction raises questions about the lifespan of this cookware but is a boon for users who don't like lifting heavy pans. Potential buyers should keep in mind that aluminum pans are not compatible with induction ranges.

  • Comes in a variety of vivid colors, including red, blue, green, purple, and orange.

  • Frying pans have a "thermo spot" indicator in the middle that shows when it's time to add food.

  • Good-size pieces for a small family.

  • Heats evenly, according to reviews.

  • Oven-safe to 350 degrees.

  • All pieces are dishwasher-safe and clean wonderfully, users say.

  • Nonstick coating is PFOA-free, with no lead or cadmium, and 100 percent recyclable.

  • Some reviewers who've had T-fal products previously say this set is not as substantial.

  • Outside can discolor after extended use.

  • Nonstick coating wears off after a while, users report.

1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded Dutch oven | 11-inch lidded skillet | 4.5- and 7.5-inch skillets | 4 utensils

The T-fal Initiatives 14-Piece Ceramic Set is a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition for users looking for healthier alternatives to traditional nonstick pots and pans. While the set receives endorsements from many satisfied consumers, it also receives its fair share of grumbles regarding construction, quality, and longevity. Some users insist that the instructions must be read carefully, because care and usage are more complicated for ceramic cookware than for ordinary cookware. Others claim that no matter how much they baby these pans, they can't seem to keep them looking or performing their best. Still, there are a lot of pieces for the price -- including a small "one egg wonder" skillet -- and all the cookware is dishwasher-safe, although users say hand washing is the way to go. This set cannot be used on an induction cooktop.

  • Pans heat evenly, according to reviews, and can withstand up to 570 degrees on the stove (medium heat) and 350 degrees in the oven.

  • Users say the ceramic coating performs well and foods don't stick; this set is very easy to clean.

  • Comes in black or champagne.

  • PFTE- and PFOA-free; contains no lead or cadmium.

  • Ceramic coating can peel off and is said to discolor easily.

  • Nonstick surface can lose its effectiveness over time.

  • Some griping about loose handles that need constant tightening.

1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 4-quart lidded stockpot | 9.75-inch skillet | Knife set with block | Flatware and dishes for 4 | 21 kitchen tools | Plastic storage containers

Getting everything you need to set up a kitchen in one box may seem like a good deal -- and a few buyers continue to think it is, given the incredibly cheap price of this cookware combo package. In general, however, users have found the products flimsy, the lids ill-fitting, the knives dull, and the kitchen tools unworkable. The cookware is not suitable for induction cooktops and cannot go in the oven, lest the plastic handles melt. Add to this the manufacturer's recommendation that the entire set should be hand washed, and it's easy to see why many consumers say it has made life harder, not easier.

  • Complete starter set for a student or someone setting up a first home.

  • About as cheap as kitchenware gets.

  • Included dishes have attractive red or black banding.

  • Buyers complain of items that were broken in the box or missing.

  • Cookware is too small for most uses.

  • Plastic handles; cookware cannot go in the oven.

  • Very poor quality; many reports of breakage after just a few uses.

  • Not guaranteed to be dishwasher-safe; the manufacturer recommends hand washing.

Tramontina Simple Cooking 9-Piece Nonstick

1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 4-quart lidded Dutch oven | 7-inch skillet | 9-inch lidded sauté pan

If you shop for cookware sets at Walmart, you might be tempted by the Tramontina name and the low price tag attached to this cookware set. But many owners complain that the nonstick coating starts to peel off after a few months and the pans are easily dented. And while the extremely light weight is a benefit for users who have trouble lifting heavy pans, it speaks to an overall lack of quality. This cookware is not suitable for use on an induction cooktop or in the oven. Consumers attracted to this brand might consider stepping up to a more substantial Tramontina cookware set.

  • Comes in red or a polished metal finish.

  • Good sizes for single people.

  • Nonstick finish lives up to its name and is easy to clean.

  • Relatively flimsy; one reviewer says this cookware is so lightweight that the handles are heavier than the pans.

  • "Nonstick" coating needs to be seasoned.

  • Many buyers were disappointed that these pots and pans are so small; they say the packaging is deceptive.

  • Tempered glass lids reportedly shatter easily.

  • Not oven-safe; plastic handles.

Other Products We Reviewed

T-Fal Signature Total 12-Piece

The T-Fal Signature Total 12-piece set (starting at $63, Amazon) comes with six nonstick pans, including a griddle, a pretty cool extra that other sets don't have. This cookware also has a Thermo-Spot heat indicator, a circle in the middle of the pans that turns red when the surface has sufficiently pre-heated. Gimmicks aside, more than two dozen T-Fal Signature Total reviews on the Walmart website are almost entirely positive, and many reviewers mention easy cleaning as a selling point. One shopper says it couldn't be easier to get the cookware spic and span. She also notes that the nonstick coating lives up to its name.

If this set has a flaw, reviewers say, it's in the sizing. Several reviews on Overstock mention that some of the items are on the small side. One shopper points to the circumference of the skillets and another opines that the pots could be a bit bigger. This set comes with two saucepans in 1-quart and 2-quart sizes, a 5-quart Dutch oven, and 8- and 11-inch fry pans, in addition to the 10.25-inch square griddle. Many consumers say they're happy with the assortment of pots and pans in the set. Other sizes are available in this line, so it's possible to purchase them separately.

The T-Fal Signature Total 12-piece set also includes a nonstick-safe spatula, ladle, and large spoon, which some reviewers like but others dismiss as poor quality and a waste of money. The pots and Dutch oven have tempered-glass covers with vents, and the handles are made of stay-cool plastic and riveted onto the pots. The cookware is dishwasher-safe and oven-safe to 350 degrees, but the aluminum exterior makes it unsuitable for use with induction cooktops. This set comes in three colors: red, blue, and black.

One other issue some reviewers have with this cookware is how it performs at high heat. On Amazon, one reviewer observes that the heat discolored the pan and caused the nonstick coating to peel. There are also a few complaints about the griddle warping. However, nonstick cookware is not recommended for cooking over high heat, and most reviewers have had no problem using this set, as evidenced by the hundreds of 5-star ratings.

The T-Fal Signature Total 12-piece nonstick set does everything inexpensive cookware should do, according to reviewers -- just don't expect perfection. For a casual cook on a budget, this set should suffice.

Cook N Home 12-Piece

The Cook N Home 12-piece stainless steel cookware set (starting at $58, Amazon) is quite versatile considering its low price point. Because the pieces are all stainless steel and there is no plastic anywhere on them, they can be used with multiple heat sources, from electric and gas to induction stoves (including glass and ceramic cooktops) as well as in the oven. The pots can withstand up to 500 degrees, but the glass lids are not oven-safe. Consumers who have posted Cook N Home reviews on Amazon have also found the set to be durable and high quality. One reviewer comments that the pans are nice and heavy, although a number of others are pleased with how lightweight the cookware feels.

Many consumers mention that they zeroed in on this set as a low-cost alternative to nonstick cookware, which they saw as a potential health risk. One reviewer reassures fellow shoppers used to nonstick cookware that they are unlikely to burn food or damage this set as long as they use enough oil or liquid and don't cook at very high heat. Reviews on the retail site Wayfair also mention that the stainless steel pieces are easy to clean. One shopper recommends soaking the pans in water for a bit. This cookware is also dishwasher-safe.

There is a vented, tempered-glass lid for every one of the six pots and pans. The set includes a 1.5-quart pot, a 5.5-quart stockpot, and a 10-inch saute pan. There are also 1.5-, 2-, and 3-quart casserole pans, with handles on either side, in lieu of the saucepans common in other sets. The bottom of each piece contains an aluminum disc to aid in heat distribution. Although users report that the pans conduct heat evenly, some point out that this can be an issue when it comes to the stainless steel handles. One reviewer grumbles about having to use potholders.

The Cook N Home 12-piece stainless steel cookware set may be inexpensive, but many reviews speak to its durability and quality, with very few complaints all around. In one review, an Overstock customer says she originally bought this as a starter set until she had enough money to afford a more "permanent" one but now has no plans to purchase another. On the whole, buyers of the Cook N Home 12-piece stainless steel set consider it an excellent value for the money.

WearEver Admiration 12-Piece

WearEver cookware has been around since the 1900s (it was one of the first aluminum cookware brands). However, the WearEver Admiration 12-piece set (starting at $50, Amazon) isn't your grandmother's cookware; you can't feed a large crowd with this set. Many consumers who have posted WearEver Admiration reviews online consider the pieces a tad small -- better suited to couples or singletons. On Overstock, the reviews are mostly positive but often mention that the pots are shallow and the frying pans somewhat cramped.

Included in the set are 1- and 2-quart saucepans, a 5-quart Dutch oven, and two skillets measuring 8 inches and 10 inches (although the online description identifies these as saute pans, they do not have straight sides). There are also four nonstick-safe utensils packaged with this cookware. The pots have tempered-glass lids, and the Dutch oven lid fits on the large fry pan. The cookware is dishwasher-safe and oven-safe to 350 degrees, but it is not appropriate for use on induction ranges. The wide handles are designed to be easy to hold and made of plastic, so potholders are not necessary. Although some experts recommend riveted handles, because they're less likely to come loose, Good Housekeeping points to the rivets on this cookware as the primary con of the WearEver Admiration set. They proved difficult to clean and discolored in testing.

In general, consumers reviewing the WearEver Admiration 12-piece set on Amazon seem to consider it pretty well constructed. However, one shopper found that the included utensils melt easily. Another complains that the nonstick coating comes off the pots and pans, even when they're washed with just soapy water and a dishcloth. Buyers must remember to use wood or other non-metal utensils with this set or risk scratches on the pans.

While some pieces in this WearEver Admiration set are on the small side, reviewers suggest that this cookware makes a good starter set for someone setting up their first kitchen. Many users have been relying on the brand for years.

Farberware has been a trusted brand for decades. Many users report that their older Farberware sets are still going strong 10 and 20 years later. The Farberware Classic 10-piece set (starting at $70, Amazon) may become a kitchen standby for a new generation, based on the positive reviews. The general feeling is that the quality has not really diminished over the years, and many Farberware Classic reviews come from parents and grandparents who have given this set to recent grads for their first apartments.

The set includes two nonstick frying pans that measure 7 and 9 inches. The saucepans hold 1, 1.5, and 2 quarts, and the biggest pot is 5.5 quarts. The stainless steel pots have an aluminum-core base to help heat their contents quickly and evenly. The lids for the pots are tempered glass and the handles are made of phenolic, a type of resin that stays cool to the touch during use. The cookware is oven-safe to 350 degrees. This is primarily a stainless steel set, but users should be aware that the aluminum skillets are not compatible with induction cooktops (although some reviewers have tried them on a ceramic glass stovetop and found that they work fine, thanks to the flat bottoms).

Although most of the set is dishwasher-safe, the manufacturer recommends washing the nonstick skillets by hand. Farberware Classic reviews on the retail site Wayfair suggest that hand washing might be good practice for the pots, as well. One reviewer says the stainless steel comes out of the dishwasher looking somewhat dull and blotchy. However, a number of other users comment that the set is easy to clean.

A couple of reviewers posting on Amazon mention a family history of using Farberware and comment that the materials just aren't as durable as the older cookware they grew up with. They found that the nonstick frying pans, in particular, don't seem to hold up as well as the pots do. One reviewer noticed wear after only a few months.

Otherwise the consensus seems to be that the Farberware Classic 10-piece set looks nice and works well enough for basic cooking. Reviewers say the size of the cookware is better suited to a couple or small family than for cooking for a large group, but for a starter kitchen, it's a good buy.

The Sunbeam Armington set (starting at $20, Amazon) comes in sunny colors indeed -- turquoise, red, and lime in addition to black. But a colorful kitchen doesn't make up for a lack of quality. The nonstick surface comes in for particular criticism in Sunbeam Armington reviews. On Amazon, reviewers complain that the nonstick coating comes right off -- and many specify that they use only plastic utensils and follow the manufacturer's directions. One user says the coating came off the first time the pan was used and the food took on an orange tinge, raising health concerns. Others writing on the Walmart website assert that the coating is too thin to keep food from sticking to the cookware. When they scrub off the burnt residue, even with a plastic pad, the nonstick coating begins to peel off.

The carbon-steel exterior is magnetic and will work with induction stoves but is not oven-safe. (Carbon steel is typically used in cookware that needs to get extremely hot, such as a wok or a pan that will be used for searing and deglazing.) Another complaint with this set is that the pots and pans are too lightweight and seem unlikely to last very long. Positive reviews often point to the low price, and many buyers seem to consider the cookware disposable -- a perfectly fine choice for college or another temporary living situation.

There are just four pots and pans in this ultra-cheap set: a 9.5-inch fry pan, 1.5- and 2-quart saucepans, and a 4.5-quart Dutch oven. The sizes are fairly typical, although our top picks have Dutch ovens that hold at least 5 quarts. The pots come with vented, tempered-glass lids and the pieces have Bakelite plastic handles designed to stay cool during cooking. The whole set is supposed to be dishwasher-safe, but again, some users report that even hand washing disturbs the nonstick coating.

For less than $20, the Sunbeam Armington 7-Piece might be good enough for a beginner who doesn't do much cooking. But be aware that you get what you pay for with this set; the nonstick coating may not stick around for long.

Chef’s Du Jour 32-Piece

Chef’s Du Jour 32-Piece Review

The Chef's Du Jour 32-piece set (starting at $25, Amazon) may seem like a good buy if you are looking to equip a kitchen without spending much money. Unfortunately, Chef's Du Jour reviews rail against the quality, warning shoppers that it likely won't be long before they have to buy everything again.

A 32-piece set may sound like it includes practically every pan you could imagine, but it comprises only four pieces of cookware: a 3.25-quart Dutch oven (tiny compared with the other sets we researched), 1.25- and 1.75-quart saucepans, and a 8.625-inch saute pan. The rest of the 32 pieces: three lids; six kitchen tools; a seven-piece cutlery set that includes scissors and a wooden block; and four knives, forks, and spoons. The pot lids are made of vented, tempered glass and the handles are a stay-cool material. Although everything but the knife block is dishwasher-safe, none of the pieces can go in the oven.

The pans in the Chef's Du Jour 32-piece set are made of carbon steel with a nonstick coating. The steel rusts very quickly, as does the flatware, according to user reviews on Amazon. The nonstick interiors don't seem to work very well, either. Food sticks to the surface, reviewers say, and pieces of the coating come off easily.

The other items in the Chef's Du Jour 32-piece set seem no better in quality. In reviews, consumers describe the knives as very soft and flimsy and report that they don't cut much of anything. (A knife from the set will cut butter, but only just, says one reviewer.) The flatware bends easily, according to some reviews, and the handles have come off after a few uses.

On the whole, the Chef's Du Jour 32-piece set is exactly what most purchasers seem to expect from cookware that costs about $1 per item; i.e., the quality is poor. Although some customers who posted reviews on Overstock are glad to have outfitted a starter kitchen on the cheap, a couple of other reviewers say the pieces remind them of a children's toy set. Even a parent who was happy with this purchase for a son's first apartment concedes that, if he does much more than boil water, he'll need a replacement soon enough.

5-quart lidded Dutch oven | 8- and 10.25-inch skillets | 10.5-inch round griddle

There are some complaints that these pans take several weeks of seasoning before they develop a nonstick surface. But once they get there, most users are happy with the Lodge Cast Iron 5-Piece Set (L5HS3). Users appreciate the lack of chemicals in the coating and say the pans cook food to perfection. They also love the versatility of the material. For many, the seasoning process is a small price to pay given that these pots and pans will probably last a lifetime, if not longer. Just be ready for a bit of a workout if you pick up this cookware -- cast iron is notoriously heavy.

  • Large pots and pans are 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 and campfires) and in the oven at any temperature.

  • Cast iron cookware can last for generations.

  • Made in the USA by a multi-generation family business.

  • Not nonstick out of the box.

  • Slow to come up to heat.

  • Heavy; can be difficult to handle.

  • Hand wash only.

Gotham Steel Nonstick Ti-Cerama 10-Piece Set

1.5- and 2.5-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded pot | 10.25-inch lidded skillet | 8-inch skillet | steamer insert

Many consumers have been drawn to the Gotham Steel Nonstick Ti-Cerama 10-Piece Ti-Cerama 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, but it's important to carefully follow maintenance and usage instructions. And even with the best of care, some say, this isn't a set that's built to last. There's a 90-day money-back guarantee, however, and at a price under $100 it may be worth the risk. Keep in mind, the exterior is aluminum and therefore incompatible with induction cooktops.

  • Attractive, with graphite, black, or red finishes and copper-colored interiors.

  • 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.

  • Oven-safe to 500 degrees.

  • Can be used with metal utensils.

  • Dishwasher-safe, but also cleans up easily with just a soft sponge.

  • No harmful chemicals: PFTE-, PFOA-, and PFOS-free.

  • Reports of the coating peeling or flaking, sometimes just weeks after purchase.

  • Nonstick quality can wear off after a while, according to reviews.

  • Metal handles tend to get very hot.

  • Food can burn easily; low heat is recommended.

Rachael Ray Cucina Hard Enamel Nonstick 12-Piece Set

1- and 3-quart lidded saucepans | 6-quart lidded stockpot | 8.5- and 10-inch skillets | 3-quart lidded sauté pan | 2 utensils

Consumers looking for attractive cookware in colors that match many kitchens will like the Rachael Ray Cucina Hard Enamel Nonstick 12-Piece Set. The pots and pans are comfortable to hold, particularly since the handles are rubber coated, and food cooks well. As with much nonstick cookware, there are complaints that the coating isn't durable, and some naysayers that pan this Rachael Ray line. A majority of owners, however, say they're very happy with this purchase, and even happier to display the cookware. The outside is porcelain enamel over aluminum, so this cookware is not suitable for use on induction stovetops.

  • Comes in a variety of colors: red, blue, brown, lavender, orange.

  • Exterior enamel is porcelain-coated for strength and better conductivity.

  • Pans are lightweight but seem solid and well-made, reviewers say.

  • Users find that the PFOA-free nonstick coating really works.

  • Soft, silicone-coated handles add comfort and don't get hot.

  • 6-quart Dutch oven is larger than most found in cheap sets.

  • Dishwasher-safe (although owners recommend hand washing) and oven-safe to 400 degrees.

  • Limited lifetime warranty.

  • Color can fade after a while or become burnt and discolored, according to reviews.

  • Nonstick coating is prone to chipping and peeling.

  • Reports of cookware sticking to glass stovetops.

  • Many users complain that lids don't fit properly.

Cuisinart Chef's Classic 11-Piece Set

1.5- and 2.5-quart lidded saucepans | 8-quart lidded stockpot | 8- and 10-inch skillets | 3-quart lidded sauté pan | steamer insert

Consumers willing to spend a few extra dollars and invest a little extra effort in upkeep will find the Cuisinart Chef's Classic 11-Piece Set (77-LG) 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, so it should not be used on high heat to avoid discoloration. The set includes a good selection of sizes for most kitchens, and a steamer insert is an added bonus. While the cookware is dishwasher-safe, users say it's best to wash by hand if you'd like to keep it looking lovely.

  • Encapsulated aluminum bottom for better conduction; heat is evenly distributed with no hot spots.

  • Cooks, sears, and browns foods equally well, according to reviews.

  • Sturdy yet lightweight.

  • Can be used on a variety of cooktops and in the oven (up to 500 degrees); also freezer-safe.

  • Users say the high-shine finish is very attractive and looks expensive.

  • Lifetime warranty.

  • Takes some effort to clean; instructions suggest washing with vinegar, and several owners recommend using Bar Keepers Friend to keep them shiny.

  • Foods can stick to the stainless steel surface.

  • Although the set is supposed to be "induction ready," user reviews suggest it may not be.

1.5- and 2.5-quart lidded saucepans | 6-quart lidded stockpot | 8- and 10-inch skillets | 3-quart lidded sauté pan

While the Calphalon Classic Nonstick 10-Piece Set is a definite splurge, users agree that the quality and durability are well worth it. The set cooks food evenly, has a nonstick surface, and, unlike cheaper nonstick cookware, is perfectly fine for use over high heat -- just avoid cooking spray, which will damage the interior. Buyers can expect a lifetime of usage out of this "starter" set, and customers who have contacted customer service at Calphalon report that the company honors its warranty. While the price may go up, this is currently the best cookware set under $200. Just bear in mind, these pieces are not designed to be compatible with induction cooktops.

  • Pot have pouring spouts and glass lids include strainers.

  • Very durable, with a full lifetime warranty; users say the cookware maintains its good looks over time.

  • Double-layer nonstick surface works very well and is easy to clean.

  • Hard anodized aluminum construction makes for fast, even heat distribution.

  • Measuring marks on the inside of the pots.

  • Oven-safe to 450 degrees.

  • Some say the stainless steel handles can get a bit hot.

  • Exteriors are prone to scratching.

  • Requires hand washing.

Buying Guide

Choosing a Cookware Set

Purchasing a multi-piece cookware set typically costs significantly less than buying each piece individually. The trick is to find a set with the pieces, features, and performance you want within your budget. 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. It's possible, however, to get a good set of cheap cookware that features elements of the upmarket sets and bears a brand name such as Farberware or T-fal. We found cookware sets for less than $80 that can help home cooks turn out good-tasting, good-looking food.

Before making a purchase, consider what kind of cookware is right for your range. This is particularly important with a smooth, ceramic-glass or conduction stovetop, because some cookware can't be used on those heating elements. Also take account of your cooking style: What size pots and pans do you prefer? Do you want to start a dish on top of the stove and then pop it in the oven for a while? 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 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 is heavier, 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 a stainless steel or anodized aluminum interior crafted in a way that makes it 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. After looking at both nonstick and uncoated cookware, we chose the best cheap cookware and one good option in each of the following categories: stainless steel, nonstick aluminum, and ceramic-coated. We also researched a few other choices that might be worth a little extra.

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. 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. 

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 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 cookware isceramic cookware, which releases foods just as easily but is nontoxic and distributes heat more evenly. It’s also non-porous and non-reactive, 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.

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 can’t be used on induction ranges. 

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 grandmothers and will certainly 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. 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. 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. 

Features Comparison

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Product Title
Induction Compatible
Oven Safe
Dishwasher Safe
Product Title
Induction Compatible
Oven Safe
Dishwasher Safe

Wearever Cook & Strain...

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Yes (but hand washing is recommended)

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