The Best Cookware Sets for $80 or Less

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NOW YOU'RE COOKING!

Whether you're setting up a new home, ready to refresh your kitchenware, or looking for a good gift, a quality cookware set is the ticket. Preferences and prices vary widely, however. Some swear by nonstick cookware for low-fat cooking and easy cleaning, while others express concern about potential health risks and prefer stainless steel or ceramic. Cheapism.com looked at all types and zeroed in on the best cookware sets for $80 or less, based on an analysis of features and online reviews. There are also some pricier picks here for those willing to spend a bit extra for cast iron or more celebrated brand names. We've even got a set you may have seen on TV -- and scores of users say it actually lives up to the hype.

Prices and availability subject to change.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

T-FAL EXCITE NONSTICK 14-PIECE SET

Good Nonstick Cookware Set Under $80
Est. Price: $46 | Buy it on Amazon

Included Pieces: 1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded Dutch oven | 10-inch lidded skillet | 8-inch skillet | 5 measuring spoons

Pros:
- Comes in a variety of vivid colors, including red, blue, green, purple, and orange.
- Frying pans have a "thermo spot" indicator in the middle that shows when it's time to add food.
- Good-size pieces for a small family.
- Heats evenly, according to reviews.
- Oven-safe to 350 degrees.
- All pieces are dishwasher-safe and clean wonderfully, users say.
- Nonstick coating is PFOA-free, with no lead or cadmium, and 100 percent recyclable.

Cons:
- Some reviewers who've had T-fal products previously say this set is not as substantial.
- Outside can discolor after extended use.
- Nonstick coating wears off after a while, users report.

Takeaway: Most owners are very happy with the T-fal Excite Nonstick 14-Piece Set, thanks to the quality of the nonstick coating -- as long as it lasts. The bright color choices add appeal (the blue cookware set is a favorite). Although five of the 14 pieces are measuring spoons, consumers still consider the set a good value for the money. The lightweight aluminum construction raises questions about the lifespan of this cookware but is a boon for users who don't like lifting heavy pans. Potential buyers should keep in mind that aluminum pans are not compatible with induction ranges.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

COOK N HOME 12-PIECE SET

Good Stainless Steel Cookware Set Under $80
Est. Price: $49 | Buy it on Amazon

Included Pieces: 1.5-quart lidded saucepan | 1.5-, 2-, and 3-quart lidded casserole pans with loop handles | 5.5-quart lidded stockpot | 10-inch lidded skillet

Pros:
- Metal handles allow the cookware to go in an oven up to 500 degrees.
- Encapsulated aluminum bottom for even cooking.
- Can be used on any kind of stove, including induction.
- Each pot and pan comes with a vented, tempered glass cover, allowing users to see the food inside without lifting the lid and letting heat and steam escape.
- Medium weight is easy to hold, even when full of food or water.

Cons:
- Handles are hollow, so they might hold water if put in the dishwasher; they also get hot with cooking and require potholders.
- Users say the pans can scorch and stain easily; water marks are an issue.
- Some reviewers wish the glass lids were more substantial, and there are some reports of shattering.

Takeaway: The Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Set is not too hefty but still sturdy enough to cook food without burning -- although reviewers warn that high heat can cause discoloration and should not be used. Although the set only includes one skillet and one small, 1.5-quart saucepan, the three casserole pans increase versatility. The glass lids for every pot and pan also help make this cookware collection a good value for the price.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

T-FAL INITIATIVES 14-PIECE SET

Good Ceramic Cookware Set Under $80
Est. Price: $60 | Buy it on Amazon

Included Pieces: 1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded Dutch oven | 11-inch lidded skillet | 4.5- and 7.5-inch skillets | 4 utensils

Pros:
- Pans heat evenly, according to reviews, and can withstand up to 570 degrees on the stove (medium heat) and 350 degrees in the oven.
- Users say the ceramic coating performs well and foods don't stick; this set is very easy to clean.
- Comes in black or champagne.
- PFTE- and PFOA-free; contains no lead or cadmium.

Cons:
- Ceramic coating can peel off and is said to discolor easily.
- Nonstick surface can lose its effectiveness over time.
- Some griping about loose handles that need constant tightening.

Takeaway: The T-fal Initiatives 14-Piece Ceramic Set is a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition for users looking for healthier alternatives to traditional nonstick pots and pans. While the set receives endorsements from many satisfied consumers, it also receives its fair share of grumbles regarding construction, quality, and longevity. Some users insist that the instructions must be read carefully, because care and usage are more complicated for ceramic cookware than for ordinary cookware. Others claim that no matter how much they baby these pans, they can't seem to keep them looking or performing their best. Still, there are a lot of pieces for the price -- including a small "one egg wonder" skillet -- and all the cookware is dishwasher-safe, although users say hand washing is the way to go. This set cannot be used on an induction cooktop.

Photo credit: Courtesy of homedepot.com

WEAREVER COOK & STRAIN 10-PIECE SET

Best Stainless Steel Cookware Set Under $80
Est. Price: $64 | Buy it from Home Depot

Included Pieces: 1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded Dutch oven | 9.5-inch skillet | 2 utensils and colander

Pros:
- Pots have pour spouts, and pan lids have a straining feature so foods like pasta don't have to be poured into a colander (although the set comes with one).
- Oven-safe to 500 degrees.
- Many praise the durability of the set, which has a limited lifetime warranty.
- Can be used on any stovetop, including induction.
- Dishwasher-safe; users say even burnt-on foods clean off easily after soaking.

Cons:
- Some purchasers who've previously owned WearEver sets claim that they used to be much heavier.
- Pans discolor if the heat is too high.

Takeaway: Consumers who've purchased the WearEver Cook & Strain 10-Piece Set (A834S974) consider it a high-quality product for a really low price. The bottoms of the pots are said to be thick enough to distribute and hold heat well, and features like the pour spouts and straining lids add convenience. The set takes care of the essentials, and a colander and two serving spoons sweeten the deal. Expect years of life from this tried and trusted cookware.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

FARBERWARE HIGH PERFORMANCE NONSTICK 17-PIECE SET

Best Nonstick Cookware Set Under $80
Est. Price: $54 | Buy it on Amazon

Included Pieces: 1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded Dutch oven | 10-inch lidded skillet | 8-inch skillet | 11-inch square griddle | 6 utensils and cookie pan

Pros:
- Comes in black, red, aqua blue, and champagne.
- Very durable, with a lifetime warranty; some users have had the same set for 20 years.
- Reviewers marvel that nothing sticks to these pans; they're easy to clean and the coating is high quality.
- Oven-safe to 350 degrees; included cookie sheet can withstand 450 degrees.
- Includes a griddle, uncommon in cheap cookware sets and very much appreciated for making pancakes.

Cons:
- Finish can discolor easily with high heat.
- Low heat threshold means it takes a long time for water to boil.
- Users say the included nylon tools are small, melt easily, and are poor quality; the cookie sheet is also smaller than expected, holding 6 to 8 cookies at best.
- Some assert that the handles could be better made and a bit more secure.

Takeaway: The Farberware High Performance Nonstick 17-Piece Set is a solid starter cookware set, particularly for a first apartment, because it comes with all the basics a kitchen needs, including a cookie sheet and an assortment of utensils. Those who appreciate just a hint of hue in their kitchen will also like the color choices. Just keep in mind that the bases are aluminum, which heats well and evenly but cannot be used on an induction range.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

GREENLIFE SOFT GRIP 14-PIECE SET

Best Ceramic Cookware Set Under $80
Est. Price: $72 | Buy it from Walmart

Included Pieces: 1- and 2-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded stockpot | 7- and 9.5-inch skillets | 2.5-quart lidded sauté pan | 4 utensils

Pros:
- Comes in a variety of colors, including turquoise, red, and black.
- Ceramic coating raises fewer health concerns than traditional nonstick; interiors are non-toxic and contain no PFAS, PFOA, lead, or cadmium.
- Pans heat up quickly (although they should be used only on low heat) and are oven-safe to 350 degrees.
- Soft handles are easy to hold; cookware feels sturdy.

Cons:
- Longevity is an issue, according to some reviews.
- Exterior paint scrapes off easily and can become discolored.
- Ceramic coating shows scratches and can peel off or chip after a while; white interiors can stain with high heat or use of oil with a low smoke point.
- Not compatible with induction stoves.

Takeaway: For people who are accustomed to other types of pans, there is a learning curve to ceramic cookware -- be sure to cook at lower heats and stay away from olive oil and cooking spray or you can expect a stained and sticky surface. On the plus side, buyers don't have to worry about harmful chemicals leaching into foods. While it's difficult to find a cheap ceramic cookware set of decent quality, the highly rated GreenLife Soft Grip 14-Piece Ceramic Set (CW0004970) provides a safe and moderately durable cooking surface at an affordable price.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

LODGE CAST IRON 5-PIECE SET

Bonus: Cast Iron Cookware Set Under $100
Est. Price: $87 | Buy it from Walmart

Included Pieces: 5-quart lidded Dutch oven | 8- and 10.25-inch skillets | 10.5-inch round griddle

Pros:
- Large pots and pans are big enough for a family.
- Nonstick once properly seasoned and easy to clean.
- Cast iron heats evenly and retains heat for a long time.
- Can be used on any cooking surface (even grills and campfires) and in the oven at any temperature.
- Cast iron cookware can last for generations.
- Made in the USA by a multi-generation family business.

Cons:
- Not nonstick out of the box.
- Slow to come up to heat.
- Heavy; can be difficult to handle.
- Hand wash only.

Takeaway: There are some complaints that these pans take several weeks of seasoning before they develop a nonstick surface. But once they get there, most users are happy with the Lodge Cast Iron 5-Piece Set (L5HS3). Users appreciate the lack of chemicals in the coating and say the pans cook food to perfection. They also love the versatility of the material. For many, the seasoning process is a small price to pay given that these pots and pans will probably last a lifetime, if not longer. Just be ready for a bit of a workout if you pick up this cookware -- cast iron is notoriously heavy.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

GOTHAM STEEL NONSTICK TI-CERAMA 10-PIECE SET

Bonus: As Seen on TV Cookware Set
Est. Price: $99 | Buy it from Walmart

Included Pieces: 1.5- and 2.5-quart lidded saucepans | 5-quart lidded pot | 10.25-inch lidded skillet | 8-inch skillet | steamer insert

Pros:
- Attractive, with graphite, black, or red finishes and copper-colored interiors.
- Many users say the nonstick surface works as advertised in the infomercials.
- Heats evenly with no hot spots and retains heat well.
- Lightweight but sturdy.
- Oven-safe to 500 degrees.
- Can be used with metal utensils.
- Dishwasher-safe, but also cleans up easily with just a soft sponge.
- No harmful chemicals: PFTE-, PFOA-, and PFOS-free.

Cons:
- Reports of the coating peeling or flaking, sometimes just weeks after purchase.
- Nonstick quality can wear off after a while, according to reviews.
- Metal handles tend to get very hot.
- Food can burn easily; low heat is recommended.

Takeaway: Many consumers have been drawn to the Gotham Steel Nonstick Ti-Cerama 10-Piece Ti-Cerama Cookware Set based on the infomercials: Some skeptics have become believers, and some initial fans have become disenchanted. The nonstick interior, which is made of titanium and ceramic, does work extremely well, but it's important to carefully follow maintenance and usage instructions. And even with the best of care, some say, this isn't a set that's built to last. There's a 90-day money-back guarantee, however, and at a price under $100 it may be worth the risk. Keep in mind, the exterior is aluminum and therefore incompatible with induction cooktops.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

RACHAEL RAY CUCINA HARD ENAMEL NONSTICK 12-PIECE SET

Bonus: Porcelain Enamel Cookware Set
Est. Price: $95 | Buy it from Walmart

Included Pieces: 1- and 3-quart lidded saucepans | 6-quart lidded stockpot | 8.5- and 10-inch skillets | 3-quart lidded sauté pan | 2 utensils

Pros:
- Comes in a variety of colors: red, blue, brown, lavender, orange.
- Exterior enamel is porcelain-coated for strength and better conductivity.
- Pans are lightweight but seem solid and well-made, reviewers say.
- Users find that the PFOA-free nonstick coating really works.
- Soft, silicone-coated handles add comfort and don't get hot.
- 6-quart Dutch oven is larger than most found in cheap sets.
- Dishwasher-safe (although owners recommend hand washing) and oven-safe to 400 degrees.
- Limited lifetime warranty.

Cons:
- Color can fade after a while or become burnt and discolored, according to reviews.
- Nonstick coating is prone to chipping and peeling.
- Reports of cookware sticking to glass stovetops.
- Many users complain that lids don't fit properly.

Takeaway: Consumers looking for attractive cookware in colors that match many kitchens will like the Rachael Ray Cucina Hard Enamel Nonstick 12-Piece Set. The pots and pans are comfortable to hold, particularly since the handles are rubber coated, and food cooks well. As with much nonstick cookware, there are complaints that the coating isn't durable, and some naysayers that pan this Rachael Ray line. A majority of owners, however, say they're very happy with this purchase, and even happier to display the cookware. The outside is porcelain enamel over aluminum, so this cookware is not suitable for use on induction stovetops.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

CUISINART CHEF'S CLASSIC 11-PIECE SET

Bonus: Cuisinart Stainless Steel Cookware Set
Est. Price: $113 | Buy it on Amazon

Included Pieces: 1.5- and 2.5-quart lidded saucepans | 8-quart lidded stockpot | 8- and 10-inch skillets | 3-quart lidded sauté pan | steamer insert

Pros:
- Encapsulated aluminum bottom for better conduction; heat is evenly distributed with no hot spots.
- Cooks, sears, and browns foods equally well, according to reviews.
- Sturdy yet lightweight.
- Can be used on a variety of cooktops and in the oven (up to 500 degrees); also freezer-safe.
- Users say the high-shine finish is very attractive and looks expensive.
- Lifetime warranty.

Cons:
- Takes some effort to clean; instructions suggest washing with vinegar, and several owners recommend using Bar Keepers Friend to keep them shiny.
- Foods can stick to the stainless steel surface.
- Although the set is supposed to be "induction ready," user reviews suggest it may not be.

Takeaway: Consumers willing to spend a few extra dollars and invest a little extra effort in upkeep will find the Cuisinart Chef's Classic 11-Piece Set (77-LG) a sleek, elegant addition to their kitchens. While some buyers complain about foods sticking and staining, others point them to the instruction manual -- stainless steel is a quick conductor, so it should not be used on high heat to avoid discoloration. The set includes a good selection of sizes for most kitchens, and a steamer insert is an added bonus. While the cookware is dishwasher-safe, users say it's best to wash by hand if you'd like to keep it looking lovely.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

CALPHALON CLASSIC NONSTICK 10-PIECE SET

Bonus: Hard Anodized Cookware Set
Est. Price: $199.99 | Buy it from Bed Bath & Beyond

Included Pieces: 1.5- and 2.5-quart lidded saucepans | 6-quart lidded stockpot | 8- and 10-inch skillets | 3-quart lidded sauté pan

Pros:
- Pot have pouring spouts and glass lids include strainers.
- Very durable, with a full lifetime warranty; users say the cookware maintains its good looks over time.
- Double-layer nonstick surface works very well and is easy to clean.
- Hard anodized aluminum construction makes for fast, even heat distribution.
- Measuring marks on the inside of the pots.
- Oven-safe to 450 degrees.

Cons:
- Some say the stainless steel handles can get a bit hot.
- Exteriors are prone to scratching.
- Requires hand washing.

Takeaway: While the Calphalon Classic Nonstick 10-Piece Set is a definite splurge, users agree that the quality and durability are well worth it. The set cooks food evenly, has a nonstick surface, and, unlike cheaper nonstick cookware, is perfectly fine for use over high heat -- just avoid cooking spray, which will damage the interior. Buyers can expect a lifetime of usage out of this "starter" set, and customers who have contacted customer service at Calphalon report that the company honors its warranty. While the price may go up, this is currently the best cookware set under $200. Just bear in mind, these pieces are not designed to be compatible with induction cooktops.

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