To find the best cookware for your needs, first do an inventory of your present pots and pans to determine what you're missing. Individual pieces, or "open stock" are considerably more expensive. But if you only need to replace a scratched frying pan, it might be the way to go. Think, too, about what you like to cook, which will affect your choice of materials. If you fry a lot of meat, for example, you'll probably veer toward at least one uncoated pan.
Consider your cooktop
Flat-bottomed pans are essential for a smoothtop range. (Nearly every set out there is flat-bottomed, but double-check with a straight edge.) If you have an induction cooktop, magnetic stainless steel is your best bet (bring along a magnet: if it sticks to the bottom, it'll work with an induction cooktop).
Choose your pieces
You'll want an assortment of skillets and pots, a stockpot, and lids. Manufacturers count a lid as a piece, and it might fit more than one piece of cookware in the set. Don't overbuy. A set that contains more pieces might not be the smartest choice if you use only a few pieces and the rest gather dust in your cabinet.
Pick it up
You might be tempted to buy online, but it's essential to handle the cookware at a retailer. See how it feels in your hand. If it's heavy, think how much heavier it will feel when it's full of food. Is the handle easy to grasp, and is the pot or pan well-balanced overall? Check that handle attachments are tight and sturdy. Read the packaging to see if the cookware can be cleaned in a dishwasher.
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