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Stainless steel cookware is the gold standard for home cooks and restaurant chefs alike. Why? It’s durable, easy to use, heats evenly, and is non-reactive. Most can go straight from the stovetop to the broiler and can even be thrown in the dishwasher once you’re done.
That said, pans that are just stainless steel are not ideal. What you really want is for the pan to be “fully clad,” meaning that it’s crafted from different layers of metal. The general consensus is that fully clad tri-ply stainless steel is most desirable. These have an aluminum layer sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. That aluminum will distribute heat well and heat up more quickly, and the stainless steel will retain the heat.
There are also five-ply options, but those tend to take longer to heat up and the heat is less evenly distributed. You can also find “encapsulated” bases, sometimes called a “disk-bottom” where just the base is clad.
If you cook a lot at home, we recommend approaching your stainless steel cookware as an investment. It will serve you well and last just about forever. All-Clad is seen as the gold standard for most chefs, but after looking at all of the factors, our top choice is the Tramontina Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Clad 12-Piece Cookware Set.
Best Overall: Tramontina 12-Piece Tri-Ply Clad Stainless Steel Cookware Set
Maximum Temperature: 500 degrees | Induction Compatible: Yes | Pieces Included: 8-inch fry pan, 10-inch fry pan, 5-quart sauté pan with lid, 1.5-quart saucepan with lid, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 3-quart saucepan with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid
A great cookware set will not only have a good combination of pots and pans but will also have pots that can handle a variety of recipes. For a durable, easy-to-use set that checks both boxes, we love the Tramontina Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Clad 12-Piece Cookware Set.
For starters, it comes with two fry pans, though you may need to pick up a 12-inch one for larger recipes. Beyond that, the four pots, stockpot, and large sauté pan, can manage most everyday cooking. The entire set is produced with 18/10 stainless steel, an aluminum layer, and a magnetic stainless steel layer that will work on induction cooktops. All of this set's pieces will heat quickly and evenly, while the handles stay cool on the stove.
It has a lifetime warranty, is dishwasher safe, and its European styling will look gorgeous in your kitchen. It’s not safe for metal utensils, but otherwise, there are very few drawbacks to this set.
Best Budget: Goldilocks 7-Piece Cookware Set
Maximum Temperature: 600 degrees | Induction Compatible: Yes | Pieces Included: 10-inch fry pan, 1.5-quart saucepan, 3-quart saucepan, 8-quart stockpot, 3 lids
Goldilocks, formerly known as Potluck, is a fairly new brand but is quickly building a following. Why? It’s budget-friendly cookware, but thanks to its innovative business model, you don’t sacrifice on quality for the price.
This set is for those who know that they need a stockpot and that they'll want to use their pans in the oven. Everything is tri-ply stainless steel construction throughout the base and sides with handles that stay cool on the stove, and thoughtful details like that the lids fit every pan. The lids are also domed so any condensation drips back into the pot, and not on your hand. The pieces are safe for the dishwasher and come with a lifetime warranty.
Best High-End: All-Clad D3 Stainless 3-ply Bonded Cookware Set
Maximum Temperature: 600 degrees | Induction Compatible: Yes | Pieces Included: 8-inch fry pan, 10-inch fry pan, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 3-quart saucepan with lid, 3-quart sauté pan with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid
All-Clad is the gold standard for cookware. You’ll pay more, but its impeccable design and durability make it a worthy investment if you have the cash. All-Clad always covers the details that will matter for a lifetime of cooking.
Each piece in this set is made with an aluminum middle layer that's bonded to the others for quick and even heating, while the exterior layer of stainless steel allows them to be compatible with all cooktops. The capacity or size is etched on each base so you can quickly identify what you’re working with. The riveted ergonomic handles stay cool and include loops should you want to hang these for storage. Made in the U.S., all of the pieces are safe in the dishwasher and have a limited lifetime warranty.
Related: The Best Cookware Sets
Best for Beginners: Tramontina Gourmet Tri-Ply Clad 8-Piece Cookware Set
Maximum Temperature: 500 degrees | Induction Compatible: Yes | Pieces Included: 8-inch fry pan, 10-inch fry pan, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 3-quart saucepan with lid, 5-quart Dutch oven with lid
Our best beginner set is a smaller version of our best overall from Tramontina. With two pans, two pots, and a Dutch oven, this is a great set to begin exploring the world of cooking.
Much like the bigger set, each of the pieces is made of three layers with an aluminum core and an exterior magnetic stainless steel layer that works with any cooktop. The riveted stainless steel handles will stay cool to the touch, especially when you're whipping up a batch of chili in the Dutch oven. Though not having a stockpot or a 12-inch fry pan is definitely a drawback, this set is extremely reliable and will last you for years to come.
Related: The Best Dinnerware Sets
Best for the Small Kitchen: Calphalon Premier Space-Saving Stainless Steel Cookware Set
Maximum Temperature: 450 degrees | Induction Compatible: Yes | Pieces Included: 4-quart chef's pan with lid, 5-quart sauteuse with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid
Perhaps you’re reading these sets thinking they sound great, but when you look at your kitchen, you just don’t know where you’d store it. If you don’t have much room, the Calphalon Premier Space-Saving Stainless Steel Supper Club Set is the way to go.
Designed to nest in any order, with lids made of flat tempered glass to save room, this will take up about 30 percent less room than comparable sets, without sacrificing quality. Each is still made with 3-layer construction for fast, even heating, and you can even use metal utensils without ruining the surface. A potential con is that the lids don’t have handles on top, which could be tricky to adjust to. But, for those who have teeny kitchens, it’s likely worth it.
Related: The Best Carbon Steel Pans
Best for One-Stop Shopping: Made In Cookware The Sous Chef
Maximum Temperature: 500, 800, 1200 degrees | Induction Compatible: Yes, except for carbon steel pan | Pieces Included: 10-inch nonstick fry pan, 10-inch stainless clad fry pan, 12-inch carbon steel fry pan, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 4-quart saucepan with lid, 3.5-quart sauté pan with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid
Made In is another direct-to-consumer brand that has quickly built a following among the press, professionals, and consumers alike. Its kitchenware is used in Michelin-starred restaurants like Chicago's Alinea and Le Bernardin in New York City. In other words, Made In is the real deal; it’s reliable, well-made, and will make your cooking life far simpler with its ease of use.
Our favorite set to stock your kitchen is the Sous Chef set. This set is mostly 5-ply stainless steel with a carbon steel and a nonstick fry pan. Those two additions are what make this set worth it. Carbon steel is similar to cast iron in that it can handle extremely high temperatures (this one is safe to 1200 degrees), which makes it excellent for searing meat, but you'll have to regularly season it. That's why Made In includes a 2-ounce jar of seasoning wax. The nonstick pan, which is safe to 800 degrees, is PFOA-free and extra resistant to degrading.
Made In does recommended hand-washing its pots and pans, and everything is backed with a lifetime warranty.
Related: The Best Nonstick Cookware
It might be a splurge, but All-Clad's D3 Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set (view at Amazon) might be the last set of cookware you'll ever need. Made In's The Sous Chef set (view at Made In Cookware) is another worthy investment and favorite of the Simply Recipes team.
What to Look for a Stainless Steel Cookware Set
The sets we included were generally 8 to 12 pieces (don’t forget that includes lids!), but you can find smaller ones. It’s important here to think about how often you cook and how many you’re cooking for. For a big family of food lovers, you may want the sets with more pieces and variety. For a couple who tends to order delivery more than you cook, you could likely get away with a smaller set or even individual pieces.
Stainless steel is durable and holds heat well. But, the best stainless steel pans have some aluminum sandwiched in between those layers to help distribute heat and get hot more quickly. Look for the words “tri-ply.”
Most blemishes on stainless steel cookware are just that—they may make it a little less lovely to gaze upon, but they’re not going to impact performance.
That said, there are precautions you can take so your pots and pans stay gleaming. Always dry your pan as soon as you’re done using it. Add salt to your water once it’s boiling, not before, to avoid pockmarks in your pan. Food will be more likely to stick if it’s cold, so if you can, leave it out at room temperature so it doesn’t stick to your pan. Wait until your pan is hot to add oil and wait until the oil is hot to add the food you’re hoping to cook.
Just about any discoloration that occurs can be cleaned with a bit of Bar Keepers Friend, a powerful, non-corrosive cleaner.
Is stainless steel cookware coated at all?
No. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. However, it is often made with layers of metal alloys to assist in even heat conduction and durability, explains chef Joe Asto, whose name you may recognize from such shows as "Top Chef" and "Chopped." Those alloys include nickel and chromium, the former of which increases its strength and the latter of which is essential to rust and corrosion resistance. However, none of these provide nonstick properties, which is why you need to ensure "there’s enough fat in the pan," when cooking in stainless steel, advises Asto.
What’s the difference between stainless steel and aluminum cookware?
"Aluminum is much lighter and conducts heat better. However, it is reactive to food where stainless is not," says Suzanne Vizethann, chef/owner of Atlanta’s Buttermilk Kitchen. This key difference means that acids and alkaline ingredients can cause metallic flavors in your food.
Stainless steel is also much stronger, as compared to the more malleable and softer aluminum. For that reason, Asto prefers not to use this material. "It can easily burn food, scorch, warp, and conduct heat unevenly," he says, which is a poor pay-off for the minimal benefits of a lower price tag and lighter weight.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Christine Clark is a writer, cheese educator, and home cook. When she’s not writing about food, she’s generally cooking it. She aspires to own an All-Clad set.
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