Published Friday, May 01, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.

Does buying a set of cookware get you a bargain—or a bunch of pans you don’t really need?

  All-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware Set, 10-piece

This set came closest to our ideal and includes winning pans from previous testings in sizes we’ve identified as the most useful. The fry pans have low, flaring sides and broad cooking surfaces; the saucepans are sturdy and hefty for slow, steady cooking; the stockpot is roomy enough for most big cooking jobs. 
Pros: Superb construction; proven winner; plenty of pans to add 
Cons: Expensive; available only at Williams-Sonoma

*** *** *** $699.95
  Tramontina 18/10 Stainless Steel TriPly-Clad Cookware Set, 8-piece

This fully clad cookware set is an amazing bargain, with performance, design, and construction comparable to All-Clad cookware (though cooking surfaces are slightly smaller). Sturdy and moderately heavy, with riveted handles and slow, steady heating. 
Pros: Well designed; performance comparable to All-Clad
Cons: Small pans; limited supply; available only at Wal-Mart

*** *** * $144.97
  Calphalon Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware Set, 8-piece

A strong performer at less than half the price of the top-ranked All-Clad set. Wide, low saucepans made it easy to see the food inside; fry pans with low, angled sides encouraged evaporation during simmering. We only wish that instead of glass, the lids were stainless steel, which is more durable and heatproof at any temperature. 
Pros: Solid performers; stable supply of additional pans
Cons: Stockpot and fry pans are small; glass lids

*** ** ** $299.99
Recommended with Reservations
  KitchenAid Gourmet Reserved Brushed Stainless Cookware Set, 10-piece

Pans are less solidly constructed than we prefer and were the lightest of all the sets we tested. The stockpot shifted as we stirred our chili, and its handles didn’t protrude as far as we like for a good grip. The disk bottoms tended to heat up a little too quickly so that chili boiled instead of simmered. Sauces stuck to the raised handle rivets inside the sauté pan, making them harder to clean. Handles became quite hot. 
Pro: Decent performer 
Cons: Disk bottoms; glass lids; light weight; racing heat

** ** ** $179.99
Recommended with Reservations
  Kenmore Stainless Steel Cookware Set, 10-piece

This set was adequate, if underwhelming. We liked the low, open shape of the saucepans, but the silicone handles, while comfortable, got very hot. Pans were all on the lightweight side, and flames tended to darken meatballs, onions, and pan sauce along the perimeter where the heat bypassed the disk bottom. The fry pan heated oil too fast, forcing us to throw out a batch we were using for a frittata, and its sides were a little too high. 
Pro: Stainless lids
Cons: Disk bottoms; light weight; overheating handles

** ** * $159.99
Not Recommended
  Rachael Ray Stainless Steel Cookware Set, 10-piece

Bulging pan sides set atop a comparatively small disk bottoms guaranteed that flames would reach past its protective three layers to scorch food touching the thin metal of the overhanging sides. In fry pans, high sides made it harder to reach under delicate food with a spatula and encouraged steaming rather than browning. Pans were lightweight, and handles became very hot despite silicone grips. 
Pro: None
Cons: Disk bottoms; hot handles; light weight; bulging shape

** * ** $189.95