Menu
Search
Menu
Close

We make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Try CooksIllustrated.com Free for 14 Days

Email is required
How we use your email address

How to Build Your Own Cookware Set: The Best Pans, Add-Ons, and Extras

By Lisa McManus Published

Instead of a prepackaged set, why not pick your own perfect pan lineup? Here’s our expert guide.

You can buy a prepackaged cookware set (we reviewed them here), but creating your own customized a la carte set lets you focus your space and resources on the pans you need most.

To help you get started, we’ve organized choices into three categories:

  • The Essentials: These are the absolute basics we think a home cook needs to prepare the widest selection of recipes with the fewest pans.
  • The Add-Ons: With a little more money to spend and space to spare, you can add these pans next. We consider them to be great choices to build out your core set of essential pans.
  • Awesome Extras: We admit that we love certain pans that may not be utterly essential, but they make us happy. And, truth be told, we find ourselves reaching for them more often than we expected. Some are a bit of a splurge, but we think they’re worth it.


All of the specific products we list below are winners of full testings we conducted here at America’s Test Kitchen. Where relevant, we’ve also included the best inexpensive version of each piece—what we call our Best Buys—to give you more budget flexibility.

The Essentials

These are the absolute basics we think a home cook needs to prepare the widest selection of recipes with the fewest pans. With these four pans, you can make almost any stovetop recipe.

The Add-Ons

With a little more money to spend and space to spare, you can add these pans next. We consider them to be great choices to build out your core set of essential pans.

Awesome Extras

We admit that we love certain pans that may not be utterly essential, but they make us happy. And, truth be told, we find ourselves reaching for them more often than we expected. Some are a bit of a splurge, but we think they’re worth it.

The Best Cookware Set

Our advice has always been to skip sets and just buy the pans you need. But if you're interested in buying a pre-packaged cookware set, these are the ones you should consider.

Winner: All-Clad D3 Tri-Ply Bonded Cookware Set, 10 Piece
Best Buy: Tramontina Gourmet 12-Piece Tri-Ply Clad Cookware Set