A couple of years ago, I decided it was finally time to upgrade my cookware from the starter-pack pots and pans I bought right after college. Some items had seen better days because, well, learning to cook can wreak havoc on your kitchen essentials. Case in point: The bottom of my stockpot was burnt to a crisp. My nonstick pan definitely had multiple scary (and probably toxic) Teflon scratches. And the bright orange Le Creuset I inherited from my mother had a crack all the way across the lid.
Slowly but surely, I researched, read reviews, and began updating items one by one. After a year or so, I felt like the Goldilocks of cookware: Some pieces were too small, some were impossible to store in my cabinets, and some fit just right. Similarly, some were stove-top champs and others were total fails. Today, my cupboards are filled with just five brands. Here’s my unbiased review of each one, including my holy grail product and what I’m investing in next.
The hype: Touted as the cast-iron brand of choice, Le Creuset’s reputation is nearly flawless. The century-old French company prides itself on superior culinary craftsmanship; chip-resistant finishes; and even heat distribution that promotes caramelization, prevents sticking, and resists stains.
The review: My love for Le Creuset runs deep: It’s what I grew up learning how to cook with, it’s what I use every time I go home to visit my parents, and it’s what carried me through many kitchen mishaps. (Do not let anything cook on high heat unattended.) But I received this particular cocotte as a gift, and though it has all the above-mentioned qualities that make the brand so successful, the shape and size are a little awkward. It’s not large enough for casseroles, it doesn’t have a large flat surface at the bottom to distribute heat evenly, and, to be honest, I still haven’t quite figured out what to make in it. But it sure sits pretty on the table for serving! While I’d definitely recommend the brand, next time I’d go for a more traditional Dutch oven shape.
The rating: 4/5
The hype: Scanpan’s TechnIQ pan promises superior browning, even cooking, and ergonomic comfort. The Danish eco-friendly brand (the surface is made from 100 percent recycled aluminum) also claims to have the most durable nonstick finish on the market.
The review: This little pan (I have an 8-inch) is a mini miracle. It feels more like a cast-iron skillet than a traditional nonstick pan, but it cooks and cleans easily. The eco-friendly aspect makes me feel good about owning it, and the PFOA-free surface can be used with metal utensils, so it doesn’t give me a panic attack every time it comes near a fork or a spoon. It’s also super-lightweight and you can tell it’s been thoughtfully designed. I would definitely invest in the larger 10-inch one, which is a much more versatile size compared to my tiny version.
The rating: 4/5
The hype: Italian design, artisanal finish, and triple-layer construction are just a few qualities that explain Lagostina’s popularity among home cooks. The brand boasts evenly distributed heat, drip-free flared edges, and handles that stay cool to the touch. The hammered details are a signature style that’s been adored for decades.
The review: My mom has always praised the virtues of the iconic Italian brand, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t get the hype. Sure, the textured copper looks extra fancy on my stove top, but the skillets feel heavy and the stainless steel surface isn’t ideal for beginner cooks who aren’t used to working with cookware that isn’t nonstick. But the most disappointing part for me is the uneven distribution of heat: The middle of my two pans aren’t perfectly flat, which means the oil tends to slide down to the edges. My food often seems to be sizzling on one side and lukewarm on the other. And while I originally assumed it was an issue with my stove top, it hasn’t happened with any other cookware.
The rating: 3/5
The hype: Calphalon’s cooking set claims to be seriously space saving, thanks to flat lids and nesting pots and pans. The hard-anodized aluminum is said to promote even heating without hot spots, and the nonstick should make cleanup easy. The brand recommends using wood, plastic, or heat-resistant nylon tools to avoid scratching the surface.
The review: I was lured into getting this set because it’s stackable, and, well, I have a tiny New York City kitchen. But I quickly found out how difficult it is to put them all together. Each piece needs to be perfectly aligned, otherwise the whole tower gets wonky. And it’s really only convenient if you’re looking to use the top pot or pan. But the worst part is that piling each piece on top of one another scratches the top edges of the nonstick surface (which is not toxin-free!), so now I’m terrified to use them. After only two years, I just ordered a Caraway set as a replacement (which is made from chemical-free ceramic and stores horizontally, not vertically).
The rating: 2/5
The hype: This cool girl–acclaimed direct-to-consumer brand is on a mission to take over cult favorites like Le Creuset and Staub, and it’s off to a solid start. The already-iconic Dutchess has an oval shape that gives ample space for browning and searing (it fits a whole chicken) and it has roomy handles that fit four fingers, even with oven mitts. The cast iron is a champ at retaining heat, and the smooth enamel finish makes it easy to deglaze and clean.
The review: Ever since I replaced my damaged Le Creuset with this curvy broccoli-hued Dutch oven, I’ve been obsessed. No, really, I cook with it 90 percent of the time. I was hesitant at first to invest in a newer brand for such an important cooking essential, but it did not disappoint. It’s easy to clean, cooks evenly, and looks great on my stove top (and my dining room table). It is on the heavier side and can be a little cumbersome to transport and clean, so I wouldn’t mind a smaller round alternative, but all in all, I’m sold. If you only make one cookware investment in 2020, this should be it.
The rating: 5/5