Stainless steel is like the Ferrari of cookware. It is shiny, expensive, and has a reputation for being high-maintenance.
And as with a luxury vehicle, you need to do thorough research before buying and seriously consider whether investing in high-end cookware makes sense for you.
It is one thing to try out a single piece of cookware, but what if you need a whole set? There are many choices available when searching for the best stainless steel cookware.
All these spectacular looking sets on the market look pretty much the same!
So what is the difference between one set of shiny pots and pans and another? A lot, it turns out.
Choosing the best set of stainless steel cookware requires knowledge about this type of metal, awareness about what you plan to use it for, and a willingness to invest a little more money than for other types of pans.
Luckily, we cover all of these things in this article to prepare you for your upcoming purchase. So, get excited! It’s about to get tasty in your kitchen!
Quick-view: Our Top 5 Picks
|1.||Cuisinart TPS-10||23.1 x 13.7 x 9.3 inches||
|2.||All-Clad D3 Tri-Ply||22.8 x 13 x 19 inches||
|3.||Demeyere 5-Plus||24 x 21 x 18.5 inches||
|4.||Magma A10-360L-IND||11 x 11 x 8 inches||
|5.||Chef’s Star Premium||26.7 x 15.5 x 12.5 inches||
Stainless Steel Cookware Types
Few people realize that stainless steel is not a single metal, but an alloy of several different metals. The variations in proportions of these metals are what differentiate one “type” of stainless steel from another.
Chromium must comprise a minimum of 10.5% of a product for it to be labeled as “stainless.” The other main metals used are iron, nickel, and carbon.
Apart from those, manufacturers add any of several different elements, including manganese, silicon, titanium, and molybdenum to the mix to improve their products and characterize their brands.
But only certain types of stainless steel are used to produce cookware. The coverings of your shiny new fridge or double oven are not going to be the same type of stainless steel as the equipment you cook with.
This is because your cookware needs to be able to withstand the daily rigors of ovens, stove burners, and kitchen abuse in general that larger kitchen appliances generally don’t. In order to do that, your pots and pans have been labeled with “grades.”
The two most common labels are 18/8 and 18/10. These codes represent the percentage of chromium and nickel, respectively, and fall into the Grade 304 category. Grade 304 is by far the most common grade of stainless steel cookware.
Grade 316 (also known as “surgical” or “marine” stainless steel) is another commonly used type. It is more expensive because it contains either molybdenum or titanium in its ingredients for improved corrosion resistance.
If you are confused or still wondering what a “grade” actually is, don’t worry. The most important thing that you need to look for is the 18/8 or 18/10 codes stamped on your potential purchase.
Anything else is likely to be subpar or unique and therefore expensive. You can always Google any unknown codes to find out what they mean. We prefer to stick to those tried-and-true alloy combinations for stainless steel cookware products. They have always served us well.
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Factors to Consider
Cost is an obvious and important consideration because quality stainless steel products are not cheap.
You can save a certain amount of money upfront by buying a cheaper product, but it is likely that those pieces won’t be as durable as more expensive ones.
And if you end up having to spend additional money to buy replacement pieces after several years, have you really saved money in the end?
We believe that, if you have the funds, it makes more sense to invest in a more expensive quality set of cookware that will last you the rest of your life.
Weight is something that many people don’t think about when purchasing cookware. You should only buy items that you can easily maneuver around a kitchen.
Stainless steel can be heavy on its own, but be aware that the weight of these pieces will significantly increase when that pot is full of water or that saute pan has a meal for four people inside it.
Stainless steel alone is not a good conductor of heat, so it needs to be combined with another, more conductive metal. The two best and most popular options are aluminum and copper.
Copper is higher maintenance than aluminum and also tends to be more expensive, so most mid-range companies choose to use aluminum. Unless you are planning to use your cookware daily in a professional setting, copper is probably not worth the extra trouble.
This might seem like a minor consideration compared to all of the above factors, but don’t be fooled.
Well-designed and constructed handles can mean the difference between using your pans daily and hiding them away only for emergencies..
First, let’s discuss design. All handles are not created equal. Their length and composition will determine how hot they get during use.
Their shape can either make grabbing them a breeze or the most painful 20 seconds of your day. Always try to select products with ergonomic handles for comfort.
Then, there is their construction. The two most common ways for handles to be attached to cookware is through rivets or welding.
Both have good and bad aspects to them but, in general, rivets are less popular because they tend to come loose and can be hard to clean adequately.
Products with rivets do tend to be more economical, though, so you will have to decide if welding is something that you are willing to pay for.
One of the most important reasons to choose stainless steel over other types of cookware is its safety.
Quality stainless steel is non-reactive, meaning that it won’t leach metals or toxins into your food. Since most stainless steel includes a small amount of nickel, those with specific sensitivities should choose nickel-free options.
There is no single “safest” option for every single person on this planet, but stainless steel comes close.
And for those who lament the fact that it is not 100% non-stick, remember that the same coating that makes your food so conveniently slide off your pans is also highly toxic.
Stainless steel is an incredibly resilient type of cookware. If you follow care and usage instructions properly, these pieces can last for decades.
In some cases, depending on the quality of the alloy and how it has been used, pans can discolor, but this rarely affects their functionality.
Easy to Clean
Yes, you read that correctly. While it is easy to find many complaints about food sticking to these products, if used correctly, stainless steel cookware can be non-stick and a breeze to clean.
When food gets stuck, you may need to soak your pan for a while, but well-made items will return to their original state with a little patience and elbow grease.
How to choose a set with the right pieces
People’s first question is often, “Which pieces should I buy?” That largely depends on what kind of cooking you plan to do.
Even the most basic cooks will use a good stainless steel frying pan frequently, so it is important to have at least one around 10”-12” in size.
Second in importance are your saucepans. Notice our use of the plural here? This is because, unless you exclusively eat meat and bread, you are going to want to boil things occasionally.
Saucepans are useful for making soups, sauces, pasta, boiling eggs, and even reheating leftovers. Ideally, you should have a small one for sauces and individual dishes and a larger one that allows you to cook for multiple people.
Saute pans come next. Despite looking very similar to the frying pan, this piece has a lot more versatility.
Saute pans are deeper with straight sides and usually come with a tight-fitting lid. This design enables you to fry, simmer, and even cook one-pot dishes.
That May Be All You Need…
Those are your essentials to ensure a functional kitchen. If you are looking to keep things simple and/or affordable, you can get away with a three-piece set of one frying pan, one saucepan, and one saute pan.
Sets that include lids will raise the number of pieces to five or six.
Perhaps You Want More…
If you are a more advanced cook (or just want more shiny decorations to hang in your fancy kitchen), we suggest you add additional sizes of each of the above items, plus a few more specialized pieces.
And it goes without saying that you choosing stainless steel utensils to accompany and “match in” with your cookware should be a strong consideration.
Stockpots take up a lot of space but can be extremely useful when cooking for large crowds – think Thanksgiving dinner – or if you like to make things like bone broth or corn on the cob.
Then there is the wok. We consider woks to be an essential tool for any kitchen. You can make so many delicious, quick meals simply by cutting up some veggies and protein and tossing them in a wok for a few minutes with some flavorings.
Just make sure that you invest in a large enough one. There is nothing worse than accidentally tossing your intended dinner onto the floor because the wok was too small for all of the ingredients.
Dutch ovens are another great option if you are a fan of cooking things like stews or slow-cooked meats, such as pot roasts.
It Comes Down to Choice
If you add up these additional items, you are looking at cooking sets of anywhere from 13 to 17 pieces. Again, so much depends on what you plan to cook and for how many.
How to Clean
Many people complain that their stainless steel pans are difficult to clean. While this may indeed be true in some instances, we believe that most of the time, customers are not well-informed on how to properly clean their items.
There are several ways to successfully remove that food that you accidentally burned onto the bottom of your pan last night.
Here’s an awesome way to clean a pan with burned on food:
In addition, customers swear by one particular product: Bar Keepers Friend Powdered Cleanser to make their cookware shine like new.
How to season
Properly preparing your pans to receive the food that they will cook is a critical first step to success with stainless steel items.
This can be intimidating for novices, but it’s not actually that hard. If you devote a small amount of time to adequately seasoning your pan with the best oil, you will have so much easier of a time when cooking with stainless steel.
This video gives you a good walk-through on seasoning your stainless steel cookware:
And don’t forget; seasoning is not a one-time-only activity! For best results, re-season your pans regularly. The frequency will depend on how much you use them.
Best Stainless Steel Cookware Brands
Honestly, all of the stainless steel cookware brands that we have listed here have a positive reputation. These guys really produce good products that do their jobs well.
Farberware and Cuisinart are the most well-known cookware brands to the general public because they offer a wide range of cost-effective products outside of stainless steel.
All-Clad, T-Fal, Tramontina, and Demeyere are all high-end manufacturers who have a recognized specialization in stainless steel products and associated brands. They are more expensive, but their pieces have a reputation for lasting years, if not decades.
The remaining stainless steel cookware brands on this list are not as well-known, but they have produced items sufficiently well-received by the public and professional cookware reviewers to make it onto our list.
Invest More and Save Later
If you are a nervous first-time customer willing to spend some money (but not a lot), we advise you to go with Farberware or Cuisinart brands. People looking for a serious commitment will probably be happier with one of the more expensive, specialized brands.
Only if you are on a very tight budget or if you have a specialized need (such as travel-ready items) do we suggest one of the lesser-known brands.
But again, each set on this review has met our expectations, so you should be safe with whichever stainless steel brands choice you make!
Q: Is it better to buy a set or each piece individually?
A: In general, cookware sets are more affordable than purchasing each piece individually. But, if you cook infrequently or are on a tight budget, purchasing piece by piece might make more sense for you. In this way, you can ensure that you only buy what you use the most.
Q: What is the difference between “plys” and “cladding”?
A: The best way to understand the difference between these two terms is to think of them like this: layers vs. bonding.
In other words, the number of “plys” simply refers to how many different layers of metal the pan is comprised of.
“Cladding,” on the other hand, tells you the different layers of metal used to construct the item are fused together. It can also mean that another material was added to the bottom of the pan to enhance heat transfer.
Selecting the best stainless steel cookware set is a serious investment for most people and can be confusing and even intimidating. We have given you a lot of information in this article.
We hope that you can use our industry knowledge and product insights to find a product that will grace your kitchen and elevate your cooking for many years to come.