Not all stainless steel cookware is created equal. The cooking efficiency of your stainless steel cookware depends highly on its composition— the main factor you should consider as it affects how the cookware delivers heat and how well-cooked food is when you plate it. Read on to find out why.
Stainless Steel Vs. Non-Stick Cookware Set
Stainless steel cookware has grown in popularity over the past few decades, and for good reason. Besides searing, the best stainless steel cookware is also great for browning, roasting, stir-frying and pan-frying, making it a super versatile addition to your kitchen.
Many own non-stick pans, but even with the best nonstick cookware, their coatings are usually unsafe at high temperatures; it can degrade and leach into your food.
Stainless steel, however, is particularly well-suited/designed for high heat cooking tasks. If you want to get a great sear on meats or veggies, use a stainless steel skillet. Since it can cook over high heat to give a rich brown crust on the surface of your food.
Most stainless steel cookware is oven-proof and can be compatible with almost all types of cooktop. Your stainless steel pots can go directly from the induction cooktop to the oven. While metal utensils can make superficial scratches to the stainless steel surface, they’re not ones that affect the ability or safety of your cookware. A decent cookware set should be exceptionally durable, lasting for years and years if properly maintained.
Stainless steel cookware isn’t non-stick, so food can stick to the surface unless you have follow the cooking methods properly. If you have been used to cooking with nonstick, it can take a little while to get the feel for stainless steel and adjust accordingly.
If food burns, hand washing a burnt stainless steel pan can be challenging. Some scrubbing may be required to remove burnt-on food. But in general, most things will come right off with a little time soaking.
If you own a dishwasher, let your machine take over. Stainless steel cookware is generally dishwasher safe, but it’s best to check the manufacturer’s instructions for sure. This is another advantage over nonstick pans that often are not dishwasher safe. Heat and harsh detergents can ruin the nonstick coating, causing it to flake off over time.
If the cookware is washed by hand, its coating will likely last longer. Still, who wants the prospect of nonstick coating in their food? Stainless steel is a safer option and more convenient to clean.
The Composition of Stainless Steel Cookware
Stainless steel has great heat retention, but it doesn’t conduct heat well. That’s why stainless steel cookware is often made from multiple layers of different metals. There are two main types of stainless steel cookware: fully-clad and disc-bottom (also called encapsulated-bottom.)
Fully-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware
Fully-clad stainless steel cookware has multiple layers of stainless steel sandwiching an aluminum or copper core extending up the sides of the cookware. The core of pure aluminum or copper is an incredible conductor of heat. And the stainless steel interior holds heat nicely, ensuring even cooking, and a non-reactive surface for the food.
With fully-clad cookware, heat is evenly distributed across all sides to reduce “hot spots”. Because of this, sets of fully-clad stainless steel are often perfect for cooking food that needs the even heat from the cookware’s sides, such as a custard.
Ideally, you should find fully-clad tri-ply stainless steel cookware. The one that has an aluminum or copper core sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. Sets of fully-clad tri-ply stainless steel are great options for both professional chefs and home cooks thanks to their durability, versatility, and even heat distribution.
If you’re looking for high-end sets, five-ply, seven-ply, and nine-ply cookware are good options. Keep in mind that the number of metal layers bonded together will significantly affect the weight, price, and thickness of the cookware.
While five-ply cookware is heavier and quite a bit more expensive than tri-ply, it performs almost identically to its counterpart. In other words, cookware with a higher “ply” doesn’t necessarily heat more evenly and uniformly than tri-ply.
To be honest, we prefer sets with tri-ply because it offers an unbeatable combination of price, efficiency, and build-quality. We think if you decide to buy fully-clad stainless steel cookware, rather than pondering on the number of “ply”, you should consider the number of pieces included in the set.
Encapsulated-Bottom Stainless Steel Cookware
Disc-bottom stainless steel cookware has a disk of copper or aluminum welded only at the bottom of the cookware to distribute the heat across the base. Many users prefer disc-bottom sets because of their inexpensive price. However, others find only having the conductor in the base can lead to uneven cooking and burning from “hot spots” at the sides. Due to this, they need to stir the food more often.
Sets with encapsulated bottoms come with thicker conductive material at the bottom than the sidewall of the cookware. Low-quality disc-bottom cookware does not last long and may discolor under certain conditions.
It also doesn’t distribute heat as well as its full-clad counterpart. But not all disc-bottom cookware are low-quality. It depends on the brand, with some possessing the ability to conduct heat pretty well.
Also, remember that all-clad cookware distributes heat evenly but usually takes longer to heat up. While encapsulated-bottom cookware heats up very quickly but only on the bottom. That’s why disc-bottom pots are ideal for water-based cooking, like boiling, steaming, and making sauce— things that do not have to be fully surrounded by heat.
Encapsulated-bottom cookware doesn’t excel at sauteing, roasting, stir-frying or pan-frying, but will do an adequate job. It’s full-clad cookware that can do these tasks well.
Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe to Use?
Stainless steel cookware, either fully-clad or disc-bottom, is 100% safe to use. Unlike non-stick cookware, it’s able to cook at high heat without releasing toxic fumes or leaching chemicals into your food.
Stainless steel cookware with a copper or aluminum core is non-reactive with food. There is no way that your pots and pans can dissolve toxic metals.
However, if the copper or aluminum core is exposed in a badly scratched pot, it can leach into the food. Especially when there is an acidic solution involved.
If you consume too much copper or aluminum over a short period of time, it could poison you or create other health issues. This is why you need to avoid cooking or storing food in deeply scratched stainless steel cookware.
As stated by the DRIs, small amounts of copper consumption (under 900 micrograms) contributes to the physical growth of adults. It also affects their development in other areas, such as emotional growth. However, ingestion of copper in amounts between 10 and 15 milligrams can lead to unpleasant symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and taste disorders.
While food can also dissolve aluminium, small amounts of aluminum (under 50 milligrams) are good for your health. However, a high level of aluminum in food can also cause toxicity.
How to Buy The Best Stainless Steel Cookware Set
The ideal weight and balance of cookware may depend on the personal preference and use of each person. For instance, if you are going to use a skillet for a lot of shaking, flipping or stirring, a lighter weight will help you accomplish those tasks with ease and promote even cooking. Most users seem to prefer skillets between 2 and 3.5 pounds. Since they give a balance between performance, ease, and comfort of use.
2. Glass Lid vs. Stainless Steel Lid
Glass lids that come with stainless steel pots and pans today are often made from tempered glass— which is about four times stronger than conventional glass and can be used for high-pressure cooking.
Compared with their stainless steel counterparts, they are more prone to break if dropped. They can also crack when there are sudden changes in temperature.
Ideally, you should find glass lids that have a metal border around the perimeter of the lid, which will help protect the glass if the lid happens to fall. You should avoid buying sets with glass lids that are glass up the edge, instead of having a metal border. Since they tend to break very easily when dropped and are more susceptible to temperature change.
Glass lids come with the advantage of being transparent. They give users a good view of what’s going on inside the cookware without losing essential steam and heat. (We especially like this option when boiling water for pasta or cooking rice!) They are great for simmering. Not only because you can check on the progress, but also because glass is a better insulator than stainless steel.
If there is too much of a pressure build up, most glass lids usually come with steam vents that let pressure escape. Stainless lids generally don’t have steam vents. So if there is a pressure buildup, they will wiggle and shift and bit, letting steam escape.
The majority of pots and pans available come with handles made of plastic, stainless steel, or silicone.
Plastic handles can withstand high heat, but they’re vulnerable to deteriorate over time. While it’s fine to put cookware with plastic handles into the dishwasher, you should only wash it by hand to avoid cracking and discoloration.
Both silicone and stainless steel handles are heat resistant. They can withstand a continuous operating temperature of up to 500° F without any issues. They are also safer to use and longer-lasting than the plastic counterparts.
While stainless steel handles may give a nicer aesthetic to the look of your modern kitchen design, compared with their peers, they can become discolored over time. For the best possible results, avoid cleaning sets with stainless steel handles in a dishwasher.
Ideally, you should buy sets with rivet handles that provide a comfortable grip. By this way, you can easily move your saucepans from the stovetop to the oven with one hand. The handles should also stay cool to the touch for optimal portability and safety, even when there’s boiling liquid inside the pans.
We like the idea that some cookware’s handle features a hanging storage hole for space-saving organization and beautiful display. Saucepans and stock pots with side handles that include a gap on each side also allow for easy lifting and pouring.
Reviews of the Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets in 2021
- Tramontina 80116/249DS – Best to Buy Cookware Set
- T-fal C836SD – Best Encapsulated-Bottom Stainless Steel Cookware Set
- Calphalon Premier – Best Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware Set
- Cook N Home – Best Budget Stainless Steel Cookware Set
Here’s our picks for the Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets:
1. Tramontina 80116/249DS – Best to Buy in 2021
This set comes with everything you need for daily cooking, including a 5-quart covered deep sauté pan, three covered saucepans (1.5-quart, 2-quart, and 3-quart), two frying pans (8-inch and 10-inch), and an 8-quart covered stockpot.
- Drip-free pouring
- Highly polished cooking surface
- Compatible with all stovetops
- See-through glass lid
- Tri-ply construction
- Not nonstick
All are dishwasher-safe and oven-safe to 500°F. You can use these pans under the broiler, too. Tramontina offers a lifetime limited warranty against defects in workmanship or material.
The Tramontina pans are constructed with three layers of metal— an aluminum center core with a stainless steel interior and a brushed stainless exterior. The core of pure aluminum is an incredible conductor of heat. And the stainless steel interior helps to ensure even cooking.
This mirror-polished interior is non-reactive with food. It distributes heat evenly and efficiently without changing the natural flavor of the food. Thanks to the brushed stainless exterior, the cookware is compatible with all heat sources, including glass top and induction stoves.
Aside from the tight-fitting stainless steel lids that help reduce splatter and keep the heat in, each piece in this set comes with tapered rims for mess-free pouring and a unique handle design for a more comfortable grip.
The Tramontina cookware is metal utensils safe. However, the sharp edges of knives and whisks can leave small scratch marks on the cookware’s surface. For the best long-term performance, the use of plastic, silicone or wooden utensils is particularly recommended.
Your cookware is also dishwasher safe. However, if placed in the dishwasher in contact with substances having strong food color, there is a chance that the cookware’s handle will end up with brown or white stains.
To preserve the shining finish of your pans, it’d be better to wash it by hand. If your pans have become discolored, you can restore their luminous finish by using special cleaners for stainless steel cookware or adding lemon juice/vinegar to your regular cleaning solution.
The Tramontina cookware isn’t nonstick. But if properly used, food should be released easily. On the bright side, all types of multipurpose cleaner can be used, if food is burned on.
This cookware set is ideal for preparing delicate sauces and for sautéing or searing sensitive foods. If you want to buy something that is able to cook at high heat and give a great sear on your steak, chicken thighs, or piece of fresh salmon, go for the Cuisinart pots and pans.
2. T-fal C836SD – Best Encapsulated-Bottom Stainless Steel Cookware Set
T-fal Ultimate Stainless Steel is a disc-bottom cookware set that features the multi-layer construction base to provide exceptional tasting food, years of great cooking performance, and easy dishwasher safe cleanup.
- Sturdy handles
- Vented glass lids
- Suitable for all cooktops
- The exteriors can discolored and become dull
- Not non-stick
The cookware’s heavy gauge multi layer base has a thick, extremely heat-responsive aluminum core sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel.
It also features a copper disc on the bottom. All elements work together for even heat distribution and the quickest heat-up time.As a nice bonus, there are measuring marks inside each pan that help with measurements for precision cooking.
The T-fal Ultimate Stainless Steel cookware is oven-safe up to 500°F and can be used under the broiler. It’s also suitable for use on all types of rangetops, including induction. And because the stainless steel interior won’t react with acidic food, it allows your food to retain natural flavors and nutritional value.
The long, sturdy handle is permanently secured with stainless steel rivets to ensure a safe grasp. It can get extremely hot if cooked on high heat for a long period of time.
So you may need to use a dry towel or oven glove when holding hot pans. With a little hole at the tip of each handle, you can hang your pots and pans on the wall for easier access (or if your cabinet space is limited.)
The tempered glass lids trap in heat and moisture to promote the fastest possible cooking time, so more nutrients and flavor are retained. There is a small steam vent in each lid, which helps maintain visibility and prevents the liquid from boiling too high and leaving hard-to-remove stains on your cooktop.
The T-fal Ultimate Stainless Steel cookware set comes with everything you need for daily cooking, including three covered saucepans with lids (1-quart, 2-quart, and 3-quart), two open skillets (8-inch and 10.5-inch), a 12-inch frying pan with lid, a 5-quart covered Dutch oven with lid, and a stainless steel steamer insert.
Be aware that the copper color design on the bottom of the cookware can discolor after a short while. The high heat of a normal dishwasher cleaning cycle might ruin it sooner than you’d expect. So if you want to maintain this beautiful surface as long as possible, you should wash the pots by hand.
The T-fal Ultimate Stainless Steel cookware set is dishwasher-safe. But keep in mind that the hard enamel, brushed aluminum and stainless steel exterior finishes can discolor and become dull due to the abrasive nature of dishwasher detergents.
Though discoloration is a natural occurrence which may not impair the performance of your pans, it will darken the look of your cookware. While this cookware set comes with a lifetime warranty, this warranty does not cover staining, discoloration or scratching of the stainless steel exterior.
Comprehensive and versatile, T-fal Ultimate disc-bottom cookware is good at cooking, sauteing, frying, baking, grilling, braising, broiling, and searing. Since the stainless steel cooking surface isn’t non-stick, however, it’s advisable to add a thin coating of cooking oil into a hot pan for easy food release.
3. Calphalon Premier – Best Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware Set
The cookware comes in 3-piece, 5-piece, 6-piece, 8-piece, 10-piece, and 15-piece sets. While the 10-piece set includes everything for your average household needs, if you cook for a crowd, the 15-piece set with a large 12-inch frying pan should be a more appropriate option. For singles, couples, or small families, the 3-piece, 5-piece, 6-piece, and 8-piece sets are ideal choices.
- Stacks and nests in any order, saving 30% more space
- Flat tempered glass covers
- Non-slip grip handle
- The lids don’t have steam vents
The 10-piece set includes three fry pans (8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch), two saucepans with lids (2.5-quart and 3.5-quart), two sauté pans with lids (3-quart and 5-quart), a 4.5-quart soup pot with lid, and an 8-quart stockpot with lid.
You can use Calphalon stainless steel cookware on most stovetops (gas, glass, induction, and electric), in the oven (up to 450°F), or with various types of kitchen utensil (metal, wood, nylon, plastic and silicone).
These tri-ply pots and pans heat up quickly and provide even heat distribution. The pure aluminum core helps distribute heat across the entire base and wall sides of the cookware evenly. And the stainless steel interior ensures durability and hassle-free cleaning.
Because pans with the same diameters can stack and nest neatly in any order, they can save up to 30% more storage space, compared with non-stacking sets. This will give you a little more room in your cupboard.
There are notches in the handles and lids that aid in ensuring the pans securely stay in place when stacked, so that they won’t lean or tilt. Thanks to this feature, it’s possible to remove a pot from the bottom of the stack without scratching the one above it.
The stainless steel handle has a non-slip grip for better handling and safety. It stays cool to the touch while cooking at medium temperature and has a little hole for easy storage. With an appropriate length, the handle is quite comfortable to hold— which aids in preventing hand fatigue when held for a long period of time.
Calphalon offers a lifetime limited warranty against defects in workmanship or material for this cookware set.
The cookware comes with tempered glass lids that are interchangeable with pans of the same diameter and can be stacked on top of one another. The lids fit tightly into the pan to seal in flavors and moisture.
Since the lids are flat and don’t have steam vents, they can get extremely hot and then burn your fingers. To avoid steam burn, you should remove the lid carefully by using its long stick handle. Make sure you remember to hold the handle with a dry cloth.
If you’re after high-quality pans that come in a wide range of sizes and can stack neatly for easy storage, the Calphalon cookware set is worth your consideration. Still, there have been complaints of its lids working unstable when they get too hot. Taking proper precautions to prevent personal injury is highly recommended.
4. Cook N Home – Best Budget Stainless Steel Cookware Set
This cookware set has 12 pieces that come with a limited lifetime warranty, and includes a 1.5-quart sauté pan with lid, three saucepot casserole pans with lids (1.5-quart, 2-quart, and 3-quart), a 5.5-quart stockpot with lid, and a 10-inch saute frying pan with lid.
- Tempered glass lids with steam
- Induction compatible
- Ergonomic handles
- The lids rattle while the inside liquid is boiling
- Hollow handles may store trapped water
Each piece comes with many notable features that you’d expect in a decent cooking tool, including: tempered lids with steam vents, ergonomic handles, and the compatibility with induction ranges.
If you’re a casual home cook, or just someone who doesn’t want to break the bank but still wants a reliable pan for cooking the most flavorful cuts of meat and veggies, we highly recommend this set.
But if you are looking for a higher quality cookware set and have more money to spend, sets of fully-clad stainless steel might work better and provide you with more years of satisfied use.
The Cook N Home pots and pans are constructed of high-quality metals for a lifetime of outstanding performance. They feature a thick core of aluminum covered on the cooking surface by a thin stainless steel layer that extends over a heat-distributing disk on the base to provide maximum heat conductivity and precise temperature control.
The tempered glass lids have a steam vent to prevent boiling liquids from rising quickly and splattering everywhere. That said, the lids leave much to be desired. When water reaches a boil, the lid will rattle and make some shaking noises. This sound like the whistle of a tea kettle.
Some users claimed that they didn’t feel annoyed with this lid-rattling issue. Because it works as an alarm sound alerting them that the water is boiling. While others were anxious that when the lid starts to do this, they will end up splashing water all over the stovetop. All the lids are dishwasher safe and oven-safe to 350°F.
There are also complaints about the encapsulated bottom of the fry pans which can form a bubble within a few years of use, making them incapable of sitting flat on the stove top. This will then affect the performance of the pans.
As we said, this practical cookware set offers a great combination of price, versatility, and performance. But it’s not durable enough to stand the test of time. Indeed, you get what you pay for.
Be advised that the long, hollow handle can cause trapped water (from cleaning and cooking) to become stagnant. If you’re unaware of the stagnant water, you may find it pouring down the sides of the pan. So make sure to allow your pans to dry thoroughly prior to using or storing.
It’s also important to note that because this set conducts heat so well it can mean food will burn more easily if not watched over (sometimes even on lower settings on gas burners.)
If you find this to be the case you can always look into getting a flame-tamer. This is an inexpensive disc placed between the burner and heating grids to help avoid flare-ups and calm heat distribution, and is available in most hardware stores.
The Cook N Home is one of the most impressive cookware sets we’ve seen in its price range. Though it may not be as durable as the Cuisinart MCP-12N, it is less than half the price, offering you an inexpensive way to fill your home with great aromas and happiness.
Top-rated Stainless Steel Cookware Sets Comparison Chart
|Model||Oven Safe||Induction Safe||Dishwasher safe||Construction||Warranty|
|Cook N Home||500°F||✓||✓||Encapsulated-Bottom||Lifetime|
A good cookware set should conduct heat quickly and distribute it evenly. It should preferably have a comfortable weight so that you don’t strain your wrist lifting it repeatedly. Stainless steel cookware comes with so many benefits. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get high-quality pans. There’s a stainless steel set for almost every one, from a professional chef to a broke college student. We hope you’ve found something to meet your needs in our picks of the best stainless steel cookware sets, to help take care of all your culinary needs.