In this guide, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about the best stainless steel cookware, from what it’s made out of to how you can preserve as long as possible. What is the stainless steel cookware? Well stainless steel cookware is a lot of things: durable, easy to clean, and even easier to cook with – but what sets top of the line pots and pans apart from the rest?
As a former professional chef and long-time home cook, it’s easy for me to recommend the All-Clad 700508 MC2 set ($599.95) as the #1 stainless steel cookware for 2017. This is thanks in no small part to the company’s stalwart reputation for quality in production and personal kitchens alike, as well as the set’s extremely durable build quality, 3-ply bonding, and oven-safe quality that puts the set head and shoulders above the rest.
But what makes one stainless steel cookware set shine out from the rest of the crowd? Read on in our guide to find out!
Best Stainless Steel Cookware 2017
How We Choose the Best Stainless Steel Cookware
As a former line cook/sous chef/general kitchen lackey, I spent eight years running hot and cold stations at some of the best (and a few of the worst) restaurants in the Bay Area, including the Michelin-rated Plumed Horse in Saratoga, California. During my time in these high-end establishments I had the opportunity to use some of the classiest, most expensive stainless steel cookware imagineable, and as a result I know just how much punishment they can put up with in the most hectic use scenarios.
When shopping for the best stainless steel cookware, the three factors you want to keep an eye on are: the “ply” rating of the pan or pot (which is just a fancy way to refer to the thickness of the metal), the conductive material on the bottom or inside the layers of the cookware (aluminum or copper are preferred), as well as the overall durability rating (18/10 or 18/18) which will dictate how long it lasts. I have several family members who still have stainless steel cookware that was passed down to them by their parents, and although it’s not in the best shape ever, it’s still a piece of kit that’s been on top of a controlled fire for over 40 years and could easily go another 40 more with proper care.
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How the pot or pan is layered with various types of metal is referred to as ply. In general you won’t need much more than 3-play cookware for most daily tasks, though there are reasons to go with thicker ply if you can afford the added cost. More layers between the heat source and your food means a more even cook overall, and allows you to better control and contain hotspots on your pan to prevent burning for longer cook times as you might find with stews, soups, or certain braises.
The ply content of a cookware set is also where you’ll choose between either an aluminum or copper core – and while it’s hotly contested topic which is “better” – ultimately I believe it’s a matter of how you plan to use the cookware and how long you want it to last. Copper core pans are strong, but definitely won’t last a decade or longer unless you take extremely dainty care of them. Aluminum cores conduct slightly more heat, but can also warp easier over time and generally doesn’t work with induction burners, which should be a concern for only a small set of stove owners out there.
Why You Should Buy the Best Stainless Steel Cookware
The best stainless steel cookware is preferred by world-renowned chefs and upstart home cooks alike for all the reasons we’ve listed above and more. If you’re someone who prefers a heavy, durable pan to cook your morning eggs in opposed to a flimsy Teflon pan, then they could be a great investment to last you in the long term.
Stainless steel pots and pans contain no harmful chemicals in their core materials (like Teflon), so whenever you cook using them you can be sure your food and anything you server to your family will be 100% contaminant-free.
Stainless steel cookware are also highly versatile, and can go from the stovetop, directly into the oven, and back again without any extra damage to the handles or core of the pan. This in mind, we looked for stainless steel cookware that was rated for temperatures up to at least 550°, a temperature range just beyond what most home ovens can reach on their own.
#1 Pick All-Clad 700508 MC2/Editor’s Choice – Best Stainless Steel Cookware
Price: $599.95 | Features: 3-ply layering, 10-piece kit, safe up to 600°F
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: With perfect heat retention and professional kitchen quality, you won’t find anything better than the All-Clad 700508 MC2 cookware set.
Before that price point scares you off, remember that in the realm of stainless steel cookware; you most certainly get what you pay for. The All-Clad 700508 MC2 is a 10-piece, highly durable 18/10 stainless steel and heat conductive set of pots and pans that can serve almost any need you have in your kitchen, whether it’s pan-frying a single piece of fish or cooking a big pot of stock for 8 or more hours at a time.
Its brushed matte aluminum surface may not be quite as fancy looking as some of the more expensive sets you’ll find in the All-Clad lineup, but what it lacks in polish it makes up for in consistent performance that will last you a lifetime or longer.
The one drawback of the 700508 MC2 set is unfortunately that none of the included aluminum-core pots or pans will work on an induction burner. That said, if you can afford this kind of cookware it’s much more likely that you’ll be cooking on an electric range or flame station anyway, but if you find yourself the few select cases where you might want to cook on the go using induction, then this might not be the best pick for you.
#2 Pick Caphalon 10-Piece Tri-Ply Cookware Set – Best 3 Ply Stainless Steel Cookware
Price: $183.15 | Features: 3-ply layering, brushed stainless steel exterior, tempered glass lids
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Caphalon is a budget pick for the cost-conscious consumer.
Caphalon is another in a long line of high-end stainless steel cookware makers that started by supplying professional kitchens with their much-needed pots and pans, and then transitioned that pedigree for quality into a set that home chefs everywhere could enjoy.
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At only a little less than $190, the Caphalon 10-piece set of cookware comes with a 10-inch omelette pan, a 5-quart Dutch oven pot, a 3-quart saute pan, a 2.5-quart sauce pan, and a 1.5-quart sauce pan to fill all your home cooking needs.
That’s a whole heck of a lot of kit for less than a third of the cost of what you’d pay for the All-Clad, which is why it was easy for us to name this set as the best 3-ply stainless steel cookware you’ll find making the rounds today.
#3 Pick Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro – Best Stainless Steel Cookware Set
Price: $190.00 | Features: 3-ply layerying, 12-piece set, safe up to 550°F
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: For beginners or amateur stainless steel chefs, the Cuisinart offers consistent heat distribution every time.
For your money and ours, the 12-piece Cuisinart Multiclad Pro stainless steel cookware set is easily the best value on this list. At $190 is may seem on the surface like a more expensive pick than the Caphalon, but in addition to what you get in that set you’ll also find a steamer insert as well as another open skillet that fits small-to-medium meals for two people at a time.
We like the flexibility the Cuisinart offers as well as the addition of its aluminum core “Heat Surround” technology, which gently tapers heat around the edges of the pan for better hotspot prevention and a more even cooking surface overall.
If you’re in the market for your very first set of stainless steel cookware but aren’t totally confident in your skills using it just yet, the Cuisinart offers a foolproof solution that will cook your food to perfection every single time.
Most Important Features of the Best Stainless Steel Cookware
- When talking about stainless steel, there are different durability ratings which dictate how hard (i.e.- durable) the metal actually is.
- All the cookware on this list, as well as most stainless steel pots and pans sold today, come in either one of two ratings: 18/10 or 18/18.
- The first number signifies the chromium content, while the second represents the nickel content. No matter which style you go with however, most experts agree that there’s no discernible difference in how either type of pan performs, and in general this designation will only affect the impact a cookware set has on your pocketbook and a very minor addition to corrosion resistance over time.
- On average, stainless steel cookware is heavier than standard aluminum or Teflon pans, but lighter than cast iron.
- When you shop for a set of pots or pans, you want something that you can easily hold in one hand without your arm getting tired, as this style of cooking will give you the most control over the outcome of your food.
- A heavier profile is also better if you have an electric range, as the weighted surface will induct heat more quickly from the element, resulting in a faster cook time overall.
- When you read a description that refers to the “ply” number of a stainless steel pan or pot, what it’s actually referring to is simply the number of layers of metal that separate your food from the fire below.
- 3-ply is far and away the most common type of stainless steel pots and pans, though some higher-end models have begun to push into 5-ply and 7-ply to give their cookware more weight and a more durable feel throughout.
- Part of the ply system, or the metal layers, sometimes includes adding a ring of copper to the bottom of the pan or a ring of aluminum inside so the stainless steel (which is not normally magnetically inductive) will work on an induction burner.
- Induction burners are a fringe product that most kitchens don’t have or need, but in case your place came pre-installed with induction-only burners you’ll want to make sure the cookware set you plan to buy has induction-ready technology in it first.
Mistakes or Things to Avoid
Expect some sticky situations: If you’re wondering how to clean stainless steel cookware, it’s not as self-explanatory as you might think. Unlike Teflon-coated or well-seasoned cast iron pans, food can stick fairly easily to stainless steel cookware vs. nonstick cookware since it doesn’t have any surface oil/materials to easily prevent it in high-heat situations. This can mean a lot more scrubbing during cleanup, so if you’re someone who prefers the ease of a non-stick surface, you should probably go with one of the aforementioned pan styles instead.
Wait for cookware to cool before cleaning: Whether you’re a first time stainless steel cookware owner or have worked with them all your life, it’s always a good idea to let your pots and pans cool completely before trying to clean them. Unlike cast iron, stainless steel pans are still susceptible to warping if they go from extreme hot to cold in seconds, which over time can negate the benefits of using them over other pan types entirely.
What Else You Should Think About
No best stainless steel cookware set would be complete without a few additional kitchen accessories to round things out, now would it?
If you’re feeling to lazy to fire up the stove or oven but still want something to eat on the fly, you might be better off going with one of our picks for the Best Stainless Steel Microwave instead (because more stainless steel is always a good thing, right?). Also, if you’re a first time owner of stainless steel cookware and want a few more cleaning tips aside from what we’ve already provided here – or you’re just a visual learner – check out this guide that breaks down everything you need to know about proper care in greater detail.
Of course, instead of slaving over a stainless steel stock pot all day there’s also the option to go with the Best Slow Cooker instead, which is a set-it-and-forget-it option that even the most accomplished chefs in the world can agree are nice for a big meal that doesn’t take up an even bigger portion of your day!