Since the beginning when it was just a sharp stick holding fresh meat over an open fire, cookware has been evolving as long as people have been eating hot food. It is intriguing to see what has changed, and what has stayed the same in a ‘modern’ kitchen with regards to the pots and pans we use. In some ways, someone who cooked 100 years ago will recognize the devices to transfer heat to food and thereby cook. Of course the delivery systems for heat, from microwave to sous vide to induction, have radically changed.
We want to look at just the cookware, the development of new technologies and the companies that bring them to our homes. Some will be names the 100 year old cook would know, others will be newer to the market. All of them are ones that our experience says you can count on to deliver a product that will work for you, and deliver value to your kitchen.
This is a list of the top ten producers in the market place today, offering an expansive variety of products at varying price points. This is not a ranked list, although we have given them a price rating of one to five dollar signs for your reference. We will explore the brand history, quality delivered, and unique aspects of their lines.
All-Clad Metalcrafters, LLC $$$$-$$$$$
The roots of this company are in the late sixties, in Pennsylvania, working with the US mint to create the bonded metal coins we now use, versus the single metal coins of the past. The owner literally made himself a pan, and by 1971 they were being sold in Bloomingdale’s. Now they have global distribution, still making products in the USA, they are part of Groupe SEB based in France.
All-Clad has kept themselves fresh by partnering with great chefs like Emeril and Thomas Keller for product development. Lines include beautiful stainless clad copper at the top end and stalwart anodized aluminum with quality non-stick coatings. Price points will push them to a more exclusive level, however their products deliver sturdiness and consistency that will literally last generations when treated properly.
Le Creuset $$$$-$$$$$
In 1925 these folks started making very dense cast iron cookware, and legend says the first items bore their distinctive flame color, embodying their name which translates as ‘the crucible’. Seventy years later they branched out into different materials. Their stoneware is high quality and they use metallurgical skills to make solid stainless steel goods as well. The Le-Creuset tea kettle was our absolute favorite when testing it up against 13 other whistling kettles.
But the enameled cast iron is what made them iconic and is their most familiar product line in the market place. Diversity in color and design is also their hallmark. In particular Le Creuset Dutch ovens, roasters and brasiers are unique and functional, with sizes that accommodate the volume required for some meals.
You can’t really bring up cast iron cookware and not mention Lodge. Started in 1896, they are still cranking out rock solid pots and pans from their facilities in Tennessee. Many people have Lodge items that were passed to them from parents and grandparents, their quality is that good. Some of that is inherent to cast iron. Treated correctly it is virtually indestructible.
The have expanded into enameled cast iron, and it keeps the Lodge quality at the core. But their classic designs in skillets and such, plus new items like woks or servers, are all simple and functional. The pricing for uncoated cast iron products is very approachable, and now comes fully ‘seasoned’ and ready to use.
For twenty years Calphalon (then Commercial Aluminum Cookware) was only available to the commercial kitchen world. Finally in the eighties their anodized aluminum products were marketed to consumers in boutique stores, the name change to Calphalon occurring in 1992. The trials of restaurant kitchens established the brand as highly durable and effective cookware, they’re still a ‘go to’ for many pros. The Calphalon 12″ nonstick pan is our favorite pan for making omelets as tested in our Omelet Pan Test Kitchen, you can see the results here.
Their line has expanded to include some more approachable products in terms of price point, bringing with them durability for an active home kitchen. Simplicity and consistency defines their products. Using them comes with the great sense of a tool designed to accomplish a certain goal, and does.
We’ve probably all owned or used a piece pf WearEver at some point. They are the perfect starter set for college or a new couple. What is interesting about their history is that Alcoa used them to market products from their newly patented process to make aluminum back at the end of the 1800s. This value line of cookware is where it all started for using aluminum in the kitchen.
Today they are known for being an inexpensive product that is passable and certainly effective because of the price equation. Your avid cook will want to be higher on the spectrum, but learners and newbies will have workable wares to get started with.
You have to like a company that has such deep roots bringing coffee to our table. Started in 1899, their first focus was kitchen ‘appliances’, slightly different than our meaning of the phrase today. They even earned kudos for their secret government projects in WWII.
For today’s kitchen they have numerous lines of mid-grade cookware that is diverse enough that you are bound to find a product that meets your needs. And, they still offer a limited lifetime warranty for many of their products.
Another innovator, in the seventies Cuisinart brought the food processor to the American market with the support of icons like Julia Childs and James Beard. They’ve since expanded to offer products in every category of the kitchen realm.
Their cookware choices are across the spectrum from stainless to aluminum to copper, they cover all the bases. They also offer a deep assortment of products for the range, from griddles to roasting racks to stock pots and accessories. They’ve managed the expansion well, and seem to maintain a high quality that meets expectations judging by their reviews.
Analon’s roots are in WWII, although the original company, Meyer Manufacturing was established in the 1950’s. Since moving to cookware in the seventies, their focus has been on the ceramic non-stick interiors of their cookware. Like most manufacturers, they also offer non-treated pans with metal interiors allowing for higher heat cooking, along with enamel clad cast iron products.
This is a company that has built a solid name over the years. Their products have nice design components, including their flush process of riveting their handles giving you a more easily cleaned interior pan surface. Like many products that push into higher price ranges, these offer a long life of use for a good return on our dollar.
Tefal is a French made brand most associated with nonstick cookware for the everyday cook and has been around for over 60 years. In the USA we know their products as T-fal, because the original name sounds too much like Teflon. Don’t get confused in the name change; this is because DuPont insisted on the name change as it seems similar to the name Teflon. Nonethless, this pan came in at the top of our list in our roundup of the best non-stick cookware sets. This brand not only manufactures cookware product but, also manufacture linen care products too. Their cookware is fairly ubiquitous, and available through many outlets.
They are another company whose products are excellent for a starting cook or more occasional cooks. Their sets include basic pot shapes and sizes, along with easy maintenance and reasonable durability. The value equation is there for you, with a reasonable product at a very reasonable price point.
The people known for bringing commercial grade ranges and appliances into the home market teamed up with Clipper Corporation to deliver a line of cookware that represents the same quality they were known for. They are particularly recognized for their multi-clad products with efficient heat transfer and very high tolerances, using as many as five layers in parts of their line.
Their designs are classic with roots in the commercial kitchen. They offer a limited cast iron line that is unique with an enameled interior which precluded seasoning and is easier to maintain. They are a solid manufacturer delivering dependable quality products.