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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

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.