To be a good cook, you have to have the right tools. I consider my knives to be my most important tools ( http://terrygruggen.blogspot.com/2011/04/weapons-of-choice-knives.html ). Number two on my list of critical tools would be pots and pans. And for this I have a clear favorite: All Clad.
The most important attribute is for a pot or pan to heat evenly. If it doesn't do that well, it's a failure. All Clad pots and pans achieve even heating through tri-ply construction. The center layer is made of aluminum, which is an excellent conductor of heat but highly reactive to acidic foods. The top and bottom layers are typically made of stainless steel. Stainless steel is non-reactive to acidic foods and while less conductive than aluminum, it helps to modulate the heat. The top of the All Clad line (Cop-R-Chef) uses stainless steel for the inside, an aluminum center and then copper on the outside...copper being a better conductor of heat than stainless steel.
When you pick up an All Clad product, you can just feel the quality. It has a great feel in the hand and each piece is perfectly balanced. The lids all seat tightly and do a fabulous job of holding the heat in. The pans feature steel handles that stay cool to the touch during cooking.
All Clad is pricey, but very well worth the money. They last a lifetime....all of my pots and pans are over 25 years old and are just as good as the day I bought them. If you are just starting out, I would recommend you get three pieces as your foundation....a 10" fry pan, a 4-quart sauce pan and a Dutch oven. These three pieces will cover about 90% of your needs and you can add on from there. If you'd like to check out All Clad products, Williams Sonoma has a pretty good selection in their stores. If you are ready to buy, Amazon.com has some excellent pricing on All Clad products.