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Cookware set and saucepan buying guide

How to choose the best pots and pans for your kitchen

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Are your kitchen cupboards full of pots and pans with wobbly handles and mismatched lids? Does more of your meal end up fused to the bottom of your saucepan than on your plate? Here's what to look for in a cookware set.

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Are cookware sets good value?

Cookware sets can seem like a bargain, but don't be swayed by the number of pieces on offer. Think about whether you'll actually use all the pots and pans. It may be more practical to buy individual pieces, and you may not end up saving all that much either.

"Manufacturers can add pieces such as steamers or skillets just to increase the number of pieces you get to make it look like you're getting value for money," says CHOICE home economist, Fiona Mair. "Really, these pieces may be unnecessary and take up too much of your cupboard space."

Sets from major brands like Anolon, Baccarat, Circulon, Raco or Tefal can range from $100 to more than $1000 depending on the number of pieces and the quality of the material. But many retailers frequently sell well under the recommended retail price. Some cookware sets may be exclusive to a particular retailer.

It's important to check whether the pan sizes match your cooktop's cooking zone size, and if you have an induction cooktop, we recommend buying induction-compatible cookware

Be aware, too, that the quality of the sets may vary. For example, a 'starter pack' or 'basic' set could be great value for students setting up a new home away from home, but may have a cheaper aluminium core, rather than a copper one, and may not last as as long as a 'premium' offering.

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What you should get in your cookware set

A typical ten-piece set (including lids) comprises:

  • Two different-sized saucepans with lids, ranging from 16-18cm
  • Two frying pans, ranging from 20-26 cm
  • A stockpot with lid
  • A sauté pan with lid

These are usually made of the same material (eg stainless steel, non-stick).

Fiona has a recommended list of must-have pieces for novices and experts alike:

Essential cookware pieces
Item Typical cost Good for
Large Dutch oven (6L) $50 to $500 Stove-to-oven slow cooking, baked bread, casseroles. Major brands include Baccarat, Chasseur, Fiskars, Le Creuset, Lodge and Staub.
Large non-stick and/or stainless steel frypan (26 or 28cm) $30 to $300 Shallow frying, crumbed foods, sautéing, fried eggs, omelettes.
Large saucepan (4-5L) $20 to $320 Boiling and mashing vegetables, rice, pasta, soups.
Small saucepan or milk pan (1.5-2L) $10 to $180 Sauces, melting butter, chocolate, custard, heating milk.

Fiona's "nice to have" list of pots and pans includes:

Optional cookware pieces
Item Typical cost Good for
Stock pot (8-10L) $15-$300 Making stock, large batches of ragu, boiling pasta, sterilising jars.
Small frypans (20cm) $20 to $250 Stainless steel frypans are great for searing meat and finishing it off in the oven, non-stick is ideal for single eggs and omelettes.
Saute pans with glass lids $50 to $500 One pot meals such as risotto, mac and cheese, stroganoff.
Cast iron chargrill plate $30 to $400 Cooking steaks, charring vegetables, browning bread.
Flat-bottomed wok $30 to $400 Stir fries and deep frying.

What is the best brand for cookware?

It really depends on the model, which is where CHOICE's unbiased reviews come in. We review a range of induction-compatible saucepans and frypans in our test kitchen, from brands of all price points including budget Kmart models to offerings from Anolon, Baccarat, Circulon, Essteele, Pyrolux, Scanpan, Raco and Tefal.

When it comes to cooking performance, price or brand generally has little impact

When it comes to cooking performance, price or brand generally has little impact on our results. When we test non-stick frypan durability (which involves 10,000 passes of a scourer with a 10kg weight attached) we still get very good results for some models that are half the cost of others.

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Aluminium, stainless steel, copper or cast iron? 

How your saucepan performs depends on how it's made and what it's made from. If you have an induction cooktop, you need to make sure any cookware you buy is induction-compatible. Check out our induction cookware buying guide for more details.

Otherwise, these are your main options:

Stainless steel

A popular choice because it's strong, hard, non-corrosive and affordable, but stainless steel cookware doesn't conduct heat well, so it's often combined with aluminium or copper in multi-layered bases, which are better at conducting and dispersing heat. 

Quality pots are usually made of top-grade stainless steel (18/10), which contains 18% chromium (added for rust resistance) and 10% nickel (for acid resistance). Stainless steel with 8% nickel (18/8) is similar in properties to 18/10.

Aluminium

Aluminium pots conduct and retain heat very well, are lightweight, don't rust and tend to be cheap, but they heat up over the total pan surface so some food may stick to the sides. Aluminium can also pit if you leave moist food in it, which can cause it to leach into your cooking. Anodising can help to prevent this.

Copper

Copper saucepans conduct heat well and allow precise temperature control, heating up and cooling down rapidly. Copper looks good but is not easy to keep clean and needs to be coated so it won't contaminate the food.

Cast iron

Cast iron saucepans have a very even heat transfer at low settings, but take longer to heat up and cool down. Iron is very heavy, and it can rust and become brittle. While enamel coatings can help stop rust, they can chip if roughly handled.

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Features to look for

Size

A saucepan should suit the size of your cooktop elements, especially if you have a ceramic or induction cooktop.

Base

A heavy base helps with heat distribution and cooking performance. Aluminium and copper conduct heat well, so they're often used for the core of the base (the disc).

Lid

A glass lid lets you keep an eye on the cooking without releasing heat and moisture.

Lip

A shaped lip or spout makes pouring easier.

Handle

A comfortable, moulded handle should be securely attached and stay cool to the touch during cooking. An extra support handle helps with lifting larger pans.

Weight

If a saucepan is heavy when empty, it will be even heavier when it's full.

Induction cooktops

Induction cookware has a ferrous metal base and must fit one of the elements perfectly. Check the manufacturer's recommendations.