one rule my mother told me (and i didn't listen) was never to skimp on cookware. here are some of the top rated from low to high end depending on your budget and preference. i got emeril's cookware and was very disappointed. i cook on high temps at times and one to the pans literally got burn-in that can't be cleaned out (cheap). • Cuisinart Everyday Stainless (*est. $130/7-piece set) Stainless steel. Experts prefer stainless-steel cookware, which preserves as much flavor as possible—especially important for rich sauces and gravies made with pan drippings. Reviewers say this mid-priced Cuisinart line strikes an excellent balance between quality and value, with even heating, well-balanced weight, helper handles and rolled rims for spill-proof pouring. Cuisinart Everyday is oven-safe to 500-degrees, great for dishes that start on the stovetop but finish in the oven. Plus, this stainless-steel cookware is dishwasher safe. • All-Clad Stainless (*est. $525/9-piece set) Stainless steel. The All-Clad's heavy aluminum core (which extends up the sides of the pan) makes it a good choice for use with gas ranges, where flames can lick against the sides of cookware. This is the single most popular stainless-steel line, top-picked by five reviewers—its also very expensive. The All-Clad line shares most of the features of the Cuisinart Everyday above, but is heavier, with more substantial handles and heft. It, too, is oven safe, but dishwashing isn't recommended. • Wearever Soft Luxury Stainless (*est. $70/8-piece set) Stainless steel. This is one of the cheapest stainless steel sets we found—and Good Housekeeping says the Wearever Soft Luxury pots and pans do everything well, from eggs to spaghetti sauce. This set isn't as sturdy feeling or heavy as the Cuisinart or All-Clad above, but if you're not a gourmand, the Wearever is a great value. Experts especially like the skillet, which has a nonstick interior—great for folks who want just one piece of nonstick along with their stainless steel cookware. • Scanpan Classic (*est. $290/7-piece set) The state-of-the-art Scanpan uses ceramic titanium, which is significantly more durable than other nonstick coatings and is better at browning foods. Scanpan inks the best scores for even heating and durability in recent testing, but unless you're a real aficionado, Scanpan may be more than you need. Still, unlike most other nonstick cookware, Scanpan is safe for the oven, the dishwasher and for use with metal utensils. • Farberware Millennium Satin Enamel Nonstick (*est. $150/12-piece set) Nonstick. Reviews says it's difficult to find good, nonstick cookware at a reasonable price, but Farberware Millennium Satin Enamel Nonstick gets the nod from Good Housekeeping. You get a lot of pieces for the money with this set, but they are hand-wash only, and you can't use metal utensils on Farberware's nonstick surface. Still, with three saucepan sizes, two skillets, a stockpot and a 12-inch sauté pan, you won't need much more. • Le Creuset (*est. $350/6 piece set) Cast iron. Beloved by gourmet cooks, this beautifully designed, enamel-coated line is also fairly expensive, very heavy and prone to chipping. Still, experts say a piece or two—perhaps a casserole dish—would make a nice addition to the stainless steel or nonstick models described above.