Stainless steel cookware is used almost exclusively in kitchens around the world for a few very good reasons. It’s sturdy, effective, easy-to-clean, and relatively light-weight (among other benefits). Likewise, pans of other types of materials are not used widely for their many drawbacks. But stainless steel does have a few drawbacks of its own, and knowing which sets possess these short-comings and which don’t is pivotal in choosing the right stainless-steel cookware set for you.
The average stainless-steel pan (being multi-ply, or a sheet of stainless steel on a copper base) is not non-stick, but becomes virtually “non-stick” the minute it’s sprayed with oil or coated in butter. You can happily put anything you want into these stainless-steel pans and experience the same non-stick results as you would with Teflon, but without the added health risks.
The biggest drawback to normal stainless steel is its lack of heat distribution. Cast iron cookware is an exceptional conductor of heat and distributes heat evenly across itself entirely: by comparison, no other material works in this same way, and unfortunately that includes stainless steel. However, this short-coming can be addressed fairly easily by adding an additional element: a very heat-conductive material to the center of the pan (a practice which more and more manufacturers have taken advantage of). The best materials for heat conduction are copper and aluminum: as you shop for stainless steel cookware, you’ll notice more and more cookware that also contains copper and aluminum and fewer and fewer sets that are actually 100% stainless-steel. You might see:
- 3-ply pans with stainless-steel on the inside and outside, and a single layer of heat-conductive material in the center.
- 5-ply pans that layered with stainless steel, three layers of conductive material, and then another layer of stainless steel. These are more expensive than 3-ply, but far more effective.
- Single-ply with a heavy conductive base. This means there is a copper or aluminum base with a stainless-steel interior and sides. Manufacturing of these products is cheaper so the pans are cheaper, but since stainless steel doesn’t conduct heat as well, the sides of the pan are cooler than the bottom, leaving hot spots.
Overall, the best stainless-steel cookware is going to be 5-ply. Among 5-ply options on the market today, All-Clad Cookware is our preferred choice. Here’s why:
Our Number One Pick:
All-Clad Brushed 18/10 Stainless Steel 5-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe Cookware Set
All-Clad is the gold standard among chefs, and rightly deserves its name and title. With copper at its core surrounded by aluminum, surrounded by stainless steel with copper melted into the stainless steel, this is the height of 5-ply, superior heat conduction. All-Clad offers chefs a stay-cool handle and an elegant design, and the products are known to last. Lightweight, easy-to-clean: these are the products we recommend for the chef desiring authentic and excellent stainless steel. And there are very few drawbacks. All-Clad is high-quality stainless steel, so though hot spots may happen over time, they’re going to be incredibly rare and only occur if you’re cooking with really, really high heat. And while the price point for All-Clad products is a touch high, with the quality that you’re getting, we feel it’s worth the buy.
Viking Professional 5-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware Set, 10 Piece
This is 5-ply cookware that is used in kitchens worldwide. Viking products are made from stainless steel and aluminum. They’re designed with both elegance and ergonomics in mind, and the pans include stay-cool grips so that you don’t have to wear oven mitts while working with the products (though when cooking with high temperatures, it’s probably always better to be safe than sorry). Viking stainless steel sets are not inexpensive, but the quality is excellent. They’re incredibly sturdy, easy-to-clean, and very nice-looking pots and pans that will last. Drawbacks to the product are few: not all of the pans come with lids, to the chagrin of a few reviewers. And some have reported issues with cleaning the product after cooking with very high heat. It is for these reasons (and these reasons only), that this product is a runner-up to the All-Clad. It is otherwise a very sturdy stainless-steel set.
Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set
Cuisinart is a household name, and for the most part their products deliver on quality and on efficacy. The Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece is technically only a 3-ply set of cookware, but contains a very thick aluminum core that should conduct heat with essentially the same efficacy as 5-ply. Pans also come with a cool-grip handle so that oven mitts are not required (although again, probably recommended). You get serious bang for your buck here: the price point of this 12-piece set is incredibly low, and the quality is still very good. These pots and pans are a little thinner than the Viking and All-Clad sets, so don’t expect them to last for quite as long. And hot spots are a bit more likely with the Cuisinart products than with Viking or All-Clad. But for lightweight, easy-to-clean stainless steel that’s affordable, this Cuisinart set is a fine option.
100 Percent Stainless Steel Cookware
So why not 100% stainless steel? Well, if you truly desire 100 percent stainless steel cookware, it’s probably still on the market somewhere. But big names like Cuisinart, Viking, and All-Clad will not be selling it. Even though aluminum and copper can (over a very long period of time) leach into your food if used in very bad quality pans, it’s not something that’s going to happen with these high-quality sets. Ultimately, the need for conducting heat effectively has overridden any concern of cooking with aluminum or copper. And anyways, the aluminum and copper cores in these multi-ply sets are hidden beneath layers of stainless steel. So you get the benefits of better heat conduction, AND you don’t have to worry about safety concerns when using any of these stainless steel, multi-ply products.