Cooking is a fundamental life skill. You can't be relying on takeout and other people's cooking for the rest of your life. Especially since more people have start making meals at home since the coronavirus pandemic, sales of cookware, especially cookware sets, have soared. For those looking to get in on the fun, these are all of the things you need to buy to get breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table every day. And even if you're already well-stocked on cookware essentials, there are some upgrades in here for you, too.
Cookware is such a huge industry that a number of celebrities have slapped their name on pots and pans and made bank. In theory, cookware sets are great. They contain everything you need — from varying sizes of pots and pans — and each piece is built nearly the same for consistency of use. Then again, some sets don't let you customize exactly what you want or need. Luckily there are a few good sets out there if you're really not looking to get into the nitty gritty of shopping for pots and pans.
Smart Spend: Calphalon Simply Pots and Pans Set
$216.19 (34% off)
Calphalon has a reputation for being a high-performing, yet affordable, cookware brand that can hold its own among the heavy hitters. Its Simply collection is made durable hard-anodized, and each piece can withstand temperatures up to 400°F.
Just Get This: Equal Parts The Cookware Set
When your cookware looks nice, you're more likely to use it. Equal Parts' cookware is non-stick, Teflon-free, and oven safe up to 450°F. They have a chip-resistant interior, ergonomic handles, smoothed-out edges, streamlined lids, and yes, they look really good.
The Step-Up: All-Clad Copper Core
$923.10 (34% off)
All-Clad is the Holy Grail of stainless steel cookware. The brand did invent cladded cookware in 1967, which means metals are layered for fewer heat spots, even heating and screaming hot temperatures. The use of copper bumps everything to the nth degree. You don't need to be a Michelin-starred chef to own this line, but you do need a fairly big wallet.
You could get away with owning one pan. Whether it's stainless steel, non-stick or cast iron, you can make do with whatever pan you decide to buy. Here are three that'll work as hard as you do.
Smart Spend: Made In 10" Frying Pan
The brand might not say it outright, but Made In is basically a direct response to the exuberant prices of All-Clad pieces. Made In's prices are much more approachable than the legacy cookware company, but its pieces operate pretty much identically. There are cheaper stainless steel skillets, but few come close to Made In's.
Just Get This: All-Clad 10" Skillet
$129.96 (46% off)
If you absolutely need to get a pan that says "All-Clad" on it, then feel free to spend the extra money on it. The brand's been around for over half a century, and no single company will ever bring down its legendary status.
The Step-Up: Our Place Always Pan
The 10-inch all-in-one cooking tool has a domed lid, nesting steam basket and a detachable wooden spoon. If you need to sauté, sear, steam, boil, fry or braise, you can do it with this. At $145, it's not expensive per se, but when you take into account how many pieces of cookware it replaces, it's a pretty good deal.
If you're only going to buy one pot, go big or go home. It'll make it annoying to cook a box of pasta, but you'll never be scrambling to find something big enough to make soup.
Smart Spend: Cuisinart Stock Pot
This classic-looking pot clocks in at a cool $60. It has an aluminum base to help with even heat distribution while the stainless steel interior gives the pot its rust-resistance. The rim is tapered so you don't wind up with have your food dripping down the side of the pot.
Just Get This: Great Jones Big Deal
Great Jones' fully clad pot is like All-Clad's but cheaper. It also differentiates itself with its sleek and ergonomic handles. Plus, there's a cool-kid rep that comes with Great Jones and that has to be worth something.
The Step-Up: Le Creuset Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens retain their heat for a long time, and the enameled cast iron makes sure things get super hot. You may recognize Le Creuset's Dutch oven as the go-to for braises and stews, but it performs just as well at boiling water for pasta or getting a pot of rice going.
It's hard to determine what is true necessity when it comes to cooking utensils. Spatulas are a definite must, but everything else kinds a little fuzzy. Do you need a whisk? Some variation of a spoon? At the end of the day, it's up to you and what you want to cook.
Smart Spend: Equal Parts The Utensils Set
At about $13 a piece, this is a true essential kit for cooking utensils. A lay-flat design is meant for easy stow away in drawers (but that doesn't mean you can't get a utensil holder), and they're all dishwasher safe for an easier, faster cleanup.
Just Get This: Oxo Good Grips Utensil Set
Everything Oxo makes focuses on intuitive designs and high-quality materials. This 15-piece set — 14 utensils and a holder — has everything you need and a couple things you might want in the future. We highly doubt someone just starting a kitchen setup might need a pizza slicer, but hey, it's there if you need it.
The Step-Up: Material The Icons
From a slotted spatula to a timeless wooden spoon, Material has you covered so you aren't scrambling for a tool you don't have. The additional knives nix the need to buy separate blades, so for $245, this is probably a better deal than you'd expect.
There is no perfect kitchen knife, but there are some pretty great ones out there. A chef's knife is the first knife you should buy, and it'll tackle anything from dicing vegetables to carving a chicken. It won't excel at any one task, but it can successfully navigate whatever ordeal you put it through.
Smart Spend: Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife
Hands down, Fibrox makes the some of the best affordable knives on the market. They work really well as in they stay sharp for a long time and they're not a pain to use. It may chip sooner than you'd like, but then it's just time to upgrade to the mid-tier pick.
Just Get This: Tojiro DP Gyuto
Welcome to the world of Japanese knives. The Tojiro combines the style of German knives with the capabilities of its Japanese counterparts. It's a full tang knife, so expertly balancer, and comes with a stainless steel handle that's easy to care for but still maintains its sharp-as-hell edge.
The Step-Up: Mac Professional Hollow Edge Knife
There are Mac knives, and then there are Mac Pro knives. With a 25-year warranty, the hollow edge is expected to last a long time. It has a high carbon stainless steel blade so it's sharp and dangerous without being prone to rust and corrosion. The dimpled metal takes cues from santoku knives so wet food doesn't get stuck as you're chopping.
Wooden cutting boards are a classic. Nowadays, cutting boards come in all sorts of shapes and materials, but we find ourselves turning to the humble wooden cutting board more often than not. And we think you should, too.
Smart Spend: Farberware Hardwood Cutting Board
For $20 you get a decent hardwood board with a grooved perimeter, so liquids stay on the board and not on the counter. Reviewers note that the board will show signs of wear, but with such a low price tag, you won't feel so bad about tossing this when it's cut to death.
Just Get This: Five Two Bamboo Cutting Board
Five Two, the in-house brand of food blog Food52, makes some pretty good, millennial-appealing kitchenware for their matching budgets, and it reaches out to its audience to get feedback for what they look for in cookware. For the cutting board, it meant a juice groove, a pour spout and a phone holder — so you can follow a recipe or FaceTime your friends.
The Step-Up: John Boos Block BBQBD
John Boos has been around since 1887, and it's because the cutting boards are just so damn good. Made in the US, this Boos Block is made of sustainably sourced maple that's been found to be one of the more durable materials for a cutting board. The board even has naturally occurring bacteria-killing enzymes.