How to Choose Cookware on a Budget

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Choosing cookware is not as easy as it seems, especially with so many different brands on the local market. With various materials for different items there is also an issue of selecting the right material for the task.

Keeping all these factors in mind, it is crucial to make the right decisions in order to get your money’s worth.

How to Choose Cookware on a Budget

Whether you are a professional who can cook world-class dishes at will, or an amateur chef looking to up your skills, with this guide, I got you covered.

Budget cookware set in black

By the end of this article, you’ll know how to choose cookware on a budget. So, let me dive in!

Understand Your Budget

While this may seem like a no-brainer, it is imperative to have a good idea of your budget. Many people tend to get carried away or end up becoming too restrictive when they shop for cookware. Throw in a few quality brand names, and the dilemma becomes a nightmare.

Understanding your budget makes your job so much easier and efficient. Depending on whether you are willing to spend a few hundred or several thousand, you can pinpoint your exact requirement in terms of quality.

Buying cookware should be a lifetime investment, and deciding on how much you are willing or able to spend should put you on the right track for this investment.

Pick the Right Material

The next step is to know which material you need your cookware to be. Always make sure to check if it is a conductor of heat (i.e., it can heat food easily) and also if the material is safe and has been approved by international standards.

As a general rule of thumb, stainless steel is the best middle-of-the-road material out there in terms of weight, safety, and performance. The cookware should ideally have a copper or aluminum core. Aluminum is of course cheaper than copper for budget pieces.

In addition to the type of core material added, how the core material is incorporated will drastically impact price and performance. For example, a good budget option is a 3 ply aluminum core or a 5 ply thin core under 2.5mm. The more metal and layers in the core, the more it costs but the better it can perform.

It’s also important to consider is if the core is just in a disc at the bottom of the pan, called sandwiching. Sandwiched construction means heat transfer is optimal on the bottom of the pan. Compare this with the much more expensive all-clad construction where the core material is incorporated through the sides as well, which aids in browning and evaporation.

There is of course a major convenience factor with materials as well. If you are a person who likes to store food away for a prolonged time, ceramic cookware is a good choice to store food in. On the other hand, pure cast iron pieces are very cheap to produce, but they cannot cook acidic foods or remain wet for a long period of time.

Determine Your Cooking Habits

Everyone has different cooking habits and tendencies. Your cooking habits can influence your cookware choices.

If you have already developed a passion for cooking and want to make the most out of your investment, it make may sense to aim for a few higher-end pieces than a full set of lower quality cookware. With just a few pots and pans, you can make the vast majority of restaurant-quality meals at home.

Are you a busy person always in a rush to make a meal? If so, cast iron and stainless steel are probably poor choices for you, as they take longer to heat up and require maintenance.

Aluminum with non-stick coatings may be the best option for you here. If you run a tight schedule and cook just to make it through the day, your cookware should be easy to maintain and safe to store food in for prolonged periods.

Choose a Color Scheme

Let’s not forget about aesthetics. If your kitchen is all black or silver, you can go with just about any brand. If you have your eye set on a specific color scheme though your options will be more limited.

Think About the Types of Food You Cook

If you are into frying and searing, go for stainless steel cookware with an aluminum core. This material can easily sustain high temperatures without taking damage, which is an important feature for high-temperature cooking.

For simple boiling or heating needs, stainless steel is still a good choice, but aluminum might be a better value option.

Budget cookware set in red and black

Determine How Many Pieces You Need

How many pieces of cookware you need can depend on a couple of factors, such as the number of people you are cooking for and why you are cooking.

Ask yourself, do you ever make soups? Do you need a crepe pan? If you plan to cook 90% of your food in a fry pan, a sauce pan, and a stock pot, then you probably can go for fewer items and higher quality.

If you are cooking for a large family of 6-8 people, you will need an appropriately sized cooking vessel for that many servings. Frypans, for example, should be 12 inches minimum. And when it comes to pots, you are looking at 4 quarts or more on the low end.

If you cook professionally or as a hobby, then extra frying pans and pots are essential. It is not uncommon to see multiple pans of the same type and size in a commercial kitchen. There are definitely times where it makes more sense to use two 8 inch pans over one 12-14 inch one.

Know Your Cooking Stove

A big trend has been moving to induction stoves. Induction stoves use magnets to heat the material of your pots and pans rather than the cooking element they sit on.

Induction stoves are wonderful miracles of science. They use less electricity, have finer heat control, and don’t output waste heat like gas.

The catch is, the material you cook with needs to work with magnets. If you remember from middle school chemistry, that is Iron, Nickel, and Cobalt. So cast iron, stainless, and carbon steel are your best options for induction.

Avoid aluminum and copper products for induction cooking, as they will not heat and will be a waste of money. If your stove runs on gas, any type of cookware will do.

Things to Steer Clear of

Whatever you buy, never go for pure stainless steel items. Stainless steel items must always have a copper or aluminum core in order to heat.

Also when it comes to nonstick, stay clear of anything that produces or contains PFOA’s which are a health risk.

What Cookware Do You Actually Need?


While choosing cookware can be difficult while on a budget, it does not have to be a painful experience. Hopefully, this article equipped you with enough information to get started.

But remember, many factors come into play when choosing the right cookware set, so try not to rush into things. Make your investment worth it.

Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.