March 12

The Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Complete Buying Guide

By trk

Last Updated: November 17, 2021

buying guide, cookware, stainless steel

If you're looking for a stainless steel cookware set, start here.

Our cookware buying guide provides a detailed analysis of all the factors to consider before you decide. You'll learn about stainless steel, cladding, how to determine quality and heating performance, and what traits to think about to tailor a cookware set to your specific needs and style. 

You'll also find out if you really need a set, or if buying open stock pieces is a better option. We look at the pros and cons of both.

Our recommendations are based on years of research and testing, so you will have all the facts you need to know to buy wisely and find cookware you can love.

I don't want to read all this, just take me to the reviews

Our Favorite Stainless Cookware Sets at a Glance

Here are our favorite stainless steel cookware sets at a glance. You can read more details in the Reviews at the end of the article.

NOTE: All of these brands are induction compatible.

Set

Pros

Cons

Demeyere Industry 5 stainless steel cookware set

-3mm thick w/2.1mm aluminum layer

-Rivetless (welded handles)

-18/10 steel w/Silvinox® finish

-Oven safe to 500F

-Drip-free pouring

-Great pieces in set

-Excellent all-around cookware

-30 yr warranty

-Made in Belgium.

-10 pc smallest set available

-Expensive

-Heavier than All-Clad.

All-Clad 5 Piece stainless steel cookware set

-2.6mm thick w/1.7mm aluminum 

-18/10 stainless

-Oven safe to 600F

-Good heating yet lightweight

-Lifetime warranty

-Excellent all-around cookware

-Made in USA.

-Larger sets have filler pieces

-Not all pieces have drip-free pouring

-Some people hate the handles

-Expensive.

Best Imported Brand:

Cuisinart Multiclad Pro

See Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 7 Piece Set on Amazon

See Also: Cuisinart French Classic 10pc set (made in France)

Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 7 Piece stainless steel cookware set

-2.6mm thick

-Closest to All Clad tri-ply

-18/10 stainless

-Oven safe to 500F

-Stainless lids

-Drip-free lips

-Lifetime warranty

-Economically priced.

-Made in China

-Steel quality not as good as AC

-Some users complain of warping.

Best Pieces in Set:

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Piece (made in China)

See the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Piece set on Amazon (stainless lids)

See the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Piece set at Wal-Mart (glass lids)

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Piece stainless steel cookware set

-Large pieces in set

-2.6mm thick

-Close to All-Clad tri-ply

-18/10 stainless

-Oven safe to 500F

-Drip-free lips

-Amazon set has stainless lids

-Lifetime warranty

-Economically priced.

-Wal-Mart sets may have glass lids

-Skillet has has smallish flat cooking surface

-Made in China.

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How We Picked the Best Clad Stainless Steel Cookware Sets

We put hundreds of hours of research and testing went into selecting the best clad stainless steel cooking sets. 

  • The first thing we did was narrow the field down to fully clad stainless steel cookware. Stainless steel cooking sets are the most durable, versatile cookware on the market, so we eliminated other types of cookware--cast iron, nonstick, etc.--as well as disc-clad stainless cookware. While there are many high quality brands of disc-clad cookware on the market, they are not popular in the US. Much of the disc-clad stainless cookware sold here is mediocre quality, so to simplify testing, we stuck to brands with full cladding. (If you don't know the difference between "full cladding" and "disc-cladding," we explain it below.)

Among all the clad stainless steel cookware brands, we sought the best quality using these criteria:

  • Heating Performance: How well does the cookware conduct heat? How even is the heating? How responsive is the cookware to temperature changes? How long does the cookware retain heat? In clad stainless cookware, heating performance depends on the quality of the internal heating core, so we spend a fair amount of time explaining how it works.
  • Durability: Is the stainless steel of high enough quality to last a lifetime? Can they take a licking and keep on cooking? 
  • Design (ease of use as well as aesthetics): Are these pans easy to handle? Are the handles comfortable? Do the lids fit well? Can you pour without dripping? Are they a pleasure to look at and use? 
  • Best Set Pieces: We picked cookware sets that we thought had the best pieces for the best value. Piece sizes can vary even among sets of the same brand, so be sure to check the piece sizes in any set before you decide to buy.
  • Cost-per-year-of-use: You'll pay more up front for clad stainless cookware (or at least you should), but you should also consider the cost-per-year-of-use? Fore example, a $150 stainless steel skillet is a better deal than a $30 nonstick skillet because you will replace the nonstick skillet every couple of years, but you will never have to replace the stainless skillet.
  • Warranty: Does this cookware come with a warranty, and is that warranty honored by the manufacturer? 

Why Stainless Steel Cookware?

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

Stainless steel cookware is the most versatile type of cookware on the market today, making it excellent for all-around, daily use cookware.

Even if stainless isn't the perfect choice--as cast iron might be for high heat searing, for example--it's versatile enough to use for any job.

It can do anything in a pinch. Which is not the case with nonstick cookware or cast iron cookware. For example, you can't use high heat with nonstick cookware because it destroys the nonstick surface (and in the case of PTFE/Teflon, can emit toxic fumes). And bare cast iron cookware will react with acidic foods like tomato sauce, imparting a metallic taste. 

These facts make both nonstick and bare cast iron less versatile than stable, non-reactive stainless steel. 

Stainless steel cookware sets are also very durable cookware that's going to last for decades. So you can use high heat, any kind of utensils, scrape it, bang on it, drop it--and it can withstand all the abuse you throw at it. 

This all means that a stainless steel set is the best type of cookware set to buy.

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Stainless steel cookware is excellent all-around cookware for any cooking jobs, with any utensils, at any temperature. A stainless cookware set is the most versatile cookware set you can buy.

Pros and Cons of Stainless Steel Cookware

Pros
  • Versatile cookware: usable for any task.
  • Stable: won't react with food.
  • Safe: free of toxins (the aluminum is inside and won't contact food).
  • Durable: Will last for decades and stay looking like new.
  • Safe at any heat level, including high heat.
  • Most brands have a lifetime warranty.
  • One of the best cooking surfaces for browning food and creating fond.
  • Most brands are dishwasher safe (though we recommend hand-washing).
  • Quality brands heat rapidly and evenly.
Cons
  • You have to follow proper use and care procedures to avoid discoloration and pitting.
  • Not nonstick (though the right cooking method makes stainless easy to clean)
  • Heat retention is not as good as with cast iron, though it is good enough for almost every cooking task.
  • Some thinner brands will warp under extreme temp changes.
  • There is a huge quality difference among brands, so research before buying is important.
  • Some brands are expensive (but you don't have to spend a fortune to get a good quality brand).

Is Stainless Steel Cookware Nonstick?

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

No: stainless steel cookware is not nonstick. 

And if you read reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, you will find that one of the biggest complaints about stainless cookware is that "everything sticks to it."

But stainless steel pans do not stick when used correctly. If you follow a few simple rules when cooking with stainless steel, it performs almost as well as nonstick cookware, even for sticky foods like eggs.

Furthermore, in many cases, you want a little bit of sticking. You can use those brown bits left in the pan--called "fond"--to make a quick, delicious pan sauce for your proteins by adding some wine, stock, or water along with seasonings and a pat of butter to finish. This not only makes your meal tastier, it also makes the pan easier to clean. (This is one of the reasons you rarely see professional chefs use nonstick cookware except in advertisements.)

See the section below on how to use and care for stainless steel cookware.

Stainless steel cookware is not nonstick, but if you use the correct cooking methods (discussed below), it's easy to clean. 

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Are Stainless Steel Cookware Sets Safe?

Stainless steel cookware is one of the safest, most stable types of cookware on the market.

Stainless steel is extremely stable. It doesn't react with food. And because the heating core--the aluminum and/or copper--is inside the steel, it has no contact with food. So there is no worry about aluminum or copper toxicity, either.

It is possible that over time, very tiny amounts of chromium and nickel will transfer from the stainless steel into your food. The amounts are so small, however, that they are considered safe. Since the human body needs these minerals, they are not a concern unless nickel sensitivity is an issue.

Some people with nickel sensitivity claim that they can have a reaction from using stainless steel cookware, but the truth is that you're going to get more nickel from your food or water than you will from your cookware. 

If you do have a nickel sensitivity, you can look into nickel-free stainless steel cookware. 

If you're concerned about toxins in your cookware, stainless steel is an excellent choice. 

If you're concerned about toxins in your cookware, stainless steel is an excellent choice. It is extremely safe and non-reactive. Even if you have a sensitivity to nickel you are unlikely to have an issue with stainless steel cookware--but if you do, nickel-free stainless steel is an option.

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About Stainless Steel: A Cookware Buying Guide

This section covers basic information about stainless steel.  

There can be huge quality differences among stainless steel sets. Knowing basic facts about steel will help you understand product information and be more knowledgeable about what you're buying.

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

What Is Stainless Steel?

First, what is stainless steel? According to Wikipedia, stainless steel is "an alloy of iron with a minimum of 10.5% chromium. Stainless steel also contains varying amounts of carbon, silicon and manganese. Other elements such as nickel and molybdenum may be added to impart other useful properties such as enhanced formability and increased corrosion resistance." 

So stainless steel is not just one thing. There are dozens of different alloys of stainless steel used in probably millions of different applications from the building trades to tools to kitchen utensils.

Quality of stainless steel can vary considerably. What does "better quality" mean? This also varies, depending on the application. For cookware, it means that it is corrosion resistant, won't rust, and provides a safe, stable cooking surface.

The Types of Stainless Steel Used in Cookware 

Stainless steel comes in three main categories: 200 Series, 300 Series, and 400 Series. Within each category, there are several variations. All three types can be used in cookware manufacturing, with 300 Series the most common.

300 Series Stainless Steel: The most stable and corrosion resistant stainless steel is 300 Series stainless. The most common 300 Series steel in cookware is 304 stainless. Both 18/8 and 18/10 (terms you will encounter frequently when shopping for stainless steel cookware sets) are 304 grade stainless. The numbers refer to the chromium and nickel content (18% chromium/8% or 10% nickel). There is very little difference between 18/8 and 18/10 stainless, and both make for stable, durable, corrosion resistant cookware. (Although there are more considerations, which we get to in a minute.) 

316 stainless, also known as marine grade stainless or surgical stainless steel, is also a 300 Series stainless used in cookware. It's slightly more corrosion resistant than 304, but is intended for use in high chloride environments (like salt water--thus the name "marine"); therefore, there is little benefit of using 316 over 304 stainless in cookware applications. 

316 stainless is seen in some cookware applications, especially waterless cookware

Some cookware is made of 316Ti, which is 316 stainless steel that contains titanium. As impressive as this sounds, 316Ti is of similar quality as other 316 stainless types. As this article explains, the use of 316Ti over 316 is largely historical, having come about in different parts of the world more out of tradition than anything else. 

200 Series stainless steel contains almost no nickel--less than 0.75%--and instead uses manganese to achieve corrosion resistance. 200 Series stainless is less corrosion resistant than 300 Series, as well as cheaper. Some cookware manufacturers use 200 Series stainless steel, particularly on the low end of the market. (Bed, Bath & Beyond's house brand of stainless cookware is usually made of 200 grade stainless.)

If a manufacturer doesn't say what type of stainless they use, it could well be the cheaper, less corrosion resistant 200 Series stainless, especially if the price is low compared to other brands.

400 Series stainless steel, or ferritic stainless, is also used in cookware manufacturing to make it induction compatible. Since nearly all stainless steel cookware these days is induction compatible, the configuration is typically 304 or 316 stainless on the cooking surface, and 400 Series magnetic stainless on the exterior, as shown in this diagram from All-Clad (even though they don't call it 400 Series stainless):

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

Why isn't 400 Series used throughout the cookware? Because it does not contain nickel, it is not as corrosion resistant as 304 or 316 stainless, so it doesn't make a good cooking surface. But it's necessary for induction cooktops because it's magnet

Demeyere Atlantis (made in Belgium, pronounced de-MY-ruh) embeds their magnetic stainless between two layers of 300 Series stainless for added corrosion resistance. Demeyere call this their "TriplInduc®" technology. They claim that it makes their cookware more efficient on induction cooktops than other clad stainless cookware, which may be true, but it definitely makes the cookware more durable.

Here's a diagram from Demeyere of their TriplInduc® technology in their Proline skillet:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

For more information about all the grades of stainless steel, see this Wikipedia article.

NSF Certification

NSF-certified stainless steel must contain at least 16% chromium. All three stainless steel types--200, 300, and 400--can be NSF certified. However, of the three, 300 Series is the most corrosion resistant. 

NSF stands for National Sanitation Foundation. This is an independent organization that tests cookware and other products and certifies that they are safe for home and professional use.

You can buy cookware that is not NSF certified, but this doesn't mean it's unsafe. However, non-NSF certified cookware can not be used by professional kitchens (i.e., those that serve the public). 

Most popular brands of cookware are NSF-certified.

NSF certification probably shouldn't be a priority for you when choosing a stainless cookware set. It's a nice stamp of approval, but all good quality stainless steel cookware will be durable enough to provide decades of safe use.

Gauge of Stainless Steel Used in Cookware

"Gauge" refers to how thick the stainless steel layers are in the cookware. Most clad stainless steel has two thin layers of stainless for the cooking surface and the exterior. If given at all, these layers can be given in millimeters, in gauge, or in percentage of the cookware's total thickness. 

While millimeters and percentages are straightforward, gauge can be a little confusing: the larger the number, the thinner the gauge. Thus, 8 gauge stainless steel is thinner than 6 gauge stainless steel.

What's a good number? It actually doesn't matter all that much. Most clad stainless steel cookware has two stainless layers--the cooking surface and the exterior--that typically make up about 10% of the total pan thickness. (Here's a handy conversion chart from gauge to metric or inches). 

There are pros and cons to having a thick layer of stainless steel. The pros are that 1) it makes the cookware more warp resistant and, 2) for the exterior layer, thicker magnetic steel will provide better contact with an induction cooktop. 

The cons are that, because stainless steel has terrible heating properties, a thicker layer will 1) slow down heating, and 2) make a pan less responsive to temperature changes.

If you've had a stainless pan warp, it could be due to a too-thin layer of stainless steel.

Good quality stainless cookware will have adequate layers of stainless steel, so this shouldn't be a major factor in your buying decision. 

More important than the thickness of the stainless steel is the thickness of the heating core, which we discuss in the cladding section below. 

Stainless Steel Quality Issues in Cookware

Rusty Stainless Steel Pan

One way manufacturers cut corners is to use cheaper steel. If you've ever wondered why some brands of clad stainless steel cookware are so much less expensive than others, one reason may be because they use a lower grade of stainless steel. 

Since stainless steel contains several components, it's easy to cut corners. For example, recycled iron that's full of rust can produce a lesser grade of stainless steel than non-recycled iron, regardless of the type of steel it is. This article, while probably a bit biased against imported steel, discusses a number of possible concerns about Chinese steel. 

Some Chinese cookware makers use cheaper steel than American and European makers, so these brands can be more prone to corrosion, rusting, pitting, and discoloration. This is why if you buy an imported cookware brand, you should be sure to buy a name brand with a good reputation (e.g., Cuisinart Multiclad Pro or Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad, both of which we review in this article).

How do you know the quality of the stainless steel in cookware? Mostly by price: if a brand of cookware is much less expensive than other brands, it is probably made with a poorer grade of stainless steel. Most brands will be 18/10 or 18/8, but remember that quality can vary even among the same types of steel. Thus, price is one of the best indicators of quality.

You don't have to buy the most expensive stainless steel cookware set, but you should avoid buying extremely cheap brands. The lowest-priced set we like is Cuisinart Multiclad Pro. We haven't found a lower-priced set good enough to recommend. (There may be one out there, but we haven't found it.)

As for 316 stainless, you will probably only find this in a very high quality stainless steel cookware set. Is it necessary? We don't think so, because good 18/10 will last for decades without rusting or corroding. But if you want 316 stainless steel cookware, it's available. Many USA-made waterless brands are made with 316 stainless steel, as well as this high-quality USA-made set from Heritage Steel

About Nickel-Free Stainless Steel (and Induction Compatibility)

Most stainless steel cookware sets today have 300 Series steel on the cooking surface and 400 grade, or nickel-free steel (18/0), on the exterior. The 400 grade, also called "magnetic stainless," is for induction compatibility. 

If cookware is advertised as "nickel-free," it is made completely from 400 Series stainless, i.e., contains no 300 grade stainless steel. Since nickel is one of the primary anti-corrosion components, nickel-free stainless is not as resistant to rusting and corrosion as other grades. It is also typically less expensive than cookware made with 300 Series steel, because it is less expensive steel.

So unless you have a nickel sensitivity, we recommend that you avoid "nickel-free" stainless steel cookware. It won't last as long or be as durable as any stainless cookware set made with 300 Series steel.

Most stainless steel cookware has a 300 Series cooking surface, but the quality can vary among brands--and some brands do not use 300 Series stainless at all. 

Buy a known or recommended cookware brand to avoid issues with inferior stainless steel. (You don't have to spend a fortune to get this. All of our recommendations are made of good quality steel.)

About Cladding: A Cookware Buying Guide

This section explains cladding in cookware to help you understand what makes cladding good (or not so good).

Cladding Basics

"Cladding" is the bonding together of layers of different metals. For cookware, the most common type of cladding is tri-ply:

  • 304/316 stainless cooking surface for durability and stability
  • Aluminum internal layer (the "heating core") for fast, even heating
  • Magnetic stainless (e.g., 400 Series) on the exterior for induction compatibility. 

This diagram from All-Clad shows the tri-ply configuration:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

Cladding is the whole reason that stainless steel is usable in cookware. Stainless steel has extremely poor heating properties, so by itself, does not make good cookware. However, when bonded to a thick enough heating core, you get the best of both worlds: the great heating properties of aluminum and/or copper, and the durability and stability of stainless steel. 

When investigating cladding, there are two things to consider:

  • Full cladding or disc cladding
  • Thickness of heating core.

Full Cladding Vs. Disc Cladding

Though we are only reviewing fully clad stainless steel cookware sets in this article, we want to explain the difference so you know what to look for.

Some stainless steel cookware has cladding all the way up the sides--this is full cladding--and some stainless cookware just has a disc on the bottom of the cookware--called bottom-clad or disc-clad

As you may guess, fully clad cookware generally costs more and performs better. Disc clad cookware is cheaper to make and usually doesn't perform as well. Cheap disc-clad cookware has a ring of "heat discontinuity" where the cladding stops, causing an abrupt change in temperature: on gas cooktops, the non-cladded sides get very hot, while on electric and induction cooktops, the sides don't get hot enough. 

Most people prefer full cladding, not only because it performs better, but also because it feels more balanced than disc-clad cookware, which has most of its weight concentrated in the bottom of the pan. 

You can spot disc-clad cookware by the seam around the bottom of the pot where the disc is welded on:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

You may also see descriptions like "impact-bonded," "fused," or "welded" in the description of disc-clad cookware.

Not all disc-clad cookware is poor quality (or cheap). Demeyere Atlantis straight-sided pieces are bottom clad, but notice the difference in the cladding from the image above: 

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

The Demeyere cladding covers the entire bottom and extends slightly up the sides; it's also much thicker. For disc cladding to perform as well as full cladding, it has to be significantly thicker. This Demeyere sauté pan has a 2mm copper core--that's very close to high end copper cookware. This is reflected in the price, too.

NOTE: If you want to learn more about Demeyere cookware, check out our article All-Clad Vs. Demeyere: Which Is Better?

You can distinguish fully clad cookware from bottom clad cookware by the seam: fully clad cookware has no seam, while bottom clad cookware does. In general, we recommend fully clad cookware over bottom clad if you can afford it, however, there are good brands of bottom-clad cookware. 

About the Heating Core

Here, we really start to get into what makes clad stainless steel cookware good or not so good. While manufacturers can skimp on stainless steel quality, where they'll really skimp is the heating core. 

This is another reason why heavier stainless cookware is almost always better quality. It has a thicker heating core, and thicker means more even and all around better heating: no hot/cold spots, no scorching: just nice, steady heat to cook your food rapidly and evenly.

You can actually use lower heat settings with cookware that has a thick heating core, too.

What Is the Heating Core?

The heating core of stainless steel cookware is what's in between the layers of stainless steel. It can be one layer of aluminum, several layers of aluminum, or a combination of aluminum and copper.

The quality of the heating core makes or breaks the quality of the cookware as a whole.

Most clad stainless steel cookware makers provide a diagram of their cookware. It will look something like this for fully clad cookware (also see the All-Clad tri-ply diagram above):

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

The Demeyere Industry 5 shown here has 5 layers, with three aluminum layers that comprise the heating core. 

All-Clad Copper Core has a heating core made of copper and aluminum:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

How Thick Should the Heating Core Be?

What makes the heating core good or bad is primarily how thick it is.  

A too-thin heating core is what causes scorching, sticking and uneven heating, regardless of the number of plies. This is why you want cookware with a bit of heft to it: if it's too thin and light, it's going to scorch and not hold heat well. It is also not as durable (more prone to warping).

Aren't more plies better? Makers love to talk about the number of plies in their clad stainless cookware sets, but this is far less important than the total thickness of the heating core. People assume that more plies means thicker, heavier, higher quality cookware, but this is not always true. For example, 5-ply All-Clad D5 is exactly the same thickness as All-Clad D3--but its internal layer of stainless steel means less aluminum in the heating core.

The extra layer of steel in D5 makes D5 more warp resistant and slows heating, which some people may prefer. But our cookware research and testing has shown that what you really want in a heating core is a thick layer of aluminum and/or copper for best heating performance.

How thick is thick enough? All-Clad tri-ply (D3) is the gold standard for clad stainless steel cookware. It has a total thickness of 2.6mm with an aluminum layer of 1.7mm. 

You really don't want to go below 1.7mm of aluminum, and the good news is that you shouldn't have to. The best All-Clad knockoffs (recommended here) provide the same configuration in their cookware; the stainless steel may be somewhat poorer quality, but they are still durable, long-lasting cookware sets (both with a lifetime warranty).

Is even thicker cookware better? Actually, yes, it is. The thicker the aluminum (and/or copper) layer(s), the more even the heating is going to be, and the longer the pan will hang onto heat.

Thicker pans are also more durable and less prone to warping.

The problem is that cookware much thicker than All-Clad D3 starts to get heavy, and a lot of people don't want heavy cookware. Demeyere Atlantis, for example, is absolutely stellar cookware, but a lot of people find it too heavy. 

We test all the cookware we recommend, and in all cases, our tests have corroborated our recommendations about the heating core. Trust is: this is the most important aspect of buying a stainless steel cookware set.

The number of plies is less important than the thickness of the heating core. Since not all brands supply this info, you may have to rely on 3rd party reviewers (like us) to learn about it. 

The heating core is the difference between good quality and poor quality stainless steel cookware sets. The ideal heating core should be aluminum at least 1.7mm thick, with a total wall thickness of 2.5mm or more. Thicker is better, but if you don't like overly heavy cookware, All-Clad D3--or the best Chinese knockoffs, which we recommend below--is the best compromise between weight and maneuverability. 

Where Is the Cookware Made? 

The vast majority of cookware on the market today is made in China, including stainless steel cookware sets.

 This isn't always obvious:

  • Just because a brand has a recognized name (like "Cuisinart" or "Viking" or "Calphalon") doesn't mean it's an American-made product. If you want cookware made in the US (or at least not in China), be sure to read the fine print.
  • Note also that some brands have misleading marketing literature that implies the cookware is made somewhere other than China. For example, the maker might say the cookware has "German engineering" or "Italian craftsmanship." These phrases do not necessarily mean the cookware is made in either of those countries.

Where cookware is made can be important for reasons already mentioned such as stainless steel quality. Customer service is also often lacking in brands made overseas.

We've already mentioned in this cookware buying guide that there are a few Chinese imports that are good quality. We recommend that you don't stray from our recommendations (below). There may be other good Chinese brands out there, but we recommend the ones we've tested and know to be good quality.

If you want American-made cookware, read our article Cookware Made in the USA: A Complete Guide.

Most cookware today is made in China, even many well-known "American" brands. 

There are a few brands of Chinese-made stainless steel cookware that we like, but we recommend not straying from our suggestions. Quality can be all over the board, and hard to predict.

Warranty

A good quality clad stainless cookware set will have a long warranty: anywhere from 30 years to a lifetime.

You don't have to buy an American made brand to get this warranty, either. The Chinese brands we like also have lifetime warranties.

What you want to avoid is stainless steel cookware that has a short warranty period. There are brands sold on Amazon that have warranties as short as one year. Some have two year warranties. Some have 5- or 6-year warranties. 

All of these are too short--much too short for a stainless steel product.

We recommend you avoid brands that don't have at least a 30 year warranty. 

The good news is that even if you're on a budget you can still get good quality cookware with a limited lifetime warranty from a company with a reputation for good customer service. See our recommendations below for a list of brands that offer good warranties. 

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Personal Considerations

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

Personal considerations are the things that will make you love or hate a cookware set. These factors may vary, but we think the most important ones to include in a cookware buying guide for stainless steel cookware sets include: 

  • Set size 
  • Pieces in the set 
  • Piece sizes in the set
  • Overall build quality and ergonomic considerations such as weight, handles, and ease of cleaning
  • Aesthetic considerations
  • Induction compatibility
  • Budget. 

We'll look at all of these here.

Set Size: How Many Pieces Do You Need?

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

Our overall advice is to buy a smaller set instead of a bigger set. 

For example, if you buy a 5- or 7-piece set with the most basic pieces--say, a 10-inch skillet, a 3-quart sauté pan, a 3-quart sauce pan, and a Dutch oven or stock pot, plus 3 lids--you are certain to not get stuck with pieces you won't use. Then you can augment your set with individual pieces that you know you need and will use.

Consider the opposite scenario: you get excited about a big set because it has some neat pieces; maybe a steamer or pasta insert for the stock pot. And you really want it. But if you buy it, you're also likely to be saddled with "filler pieces" that are often added to round out a set. These can include pieces like two sauce pans very close in size, such as a 1-quart and a 1.5-quart. You probably won't use both of them very often, and they're also both small.

Thus, you are better off buying a small, basic set with pieces you know you'll use and adding pieces as you know you'll need them.

There is one large set that we really like--the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 piece set from China (not Brazil!). We find that all the pieces are usable, including two large skillets, two versatile sauce pans, and a huge stock pot and sauté pan. 

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

As a final piece of advice, don't expect any cookware set to fulfill all your needs. For example, cookware sets rarely come with a roasting pan, a piece nearly everyone needs:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

You'll probably also want a nonstick or cast iron skillet at some point (especially the cast iron). And even if you find a stainless steel set with a nonstick skillet, we suggest foregoing it. You're better off buying a less expensive cast aluminum nonstick skillet. Not only are they cheaper, they have better heating properties (because, more aluminum), and you won't feel as bad tossing the pan when the nonstick coating wears out in a few years. 

Or even better, get a seasoned cast iron skillet, which is dirt cheap and will last as long as your stainless cookware.

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

The main point here is that even if you find a set full of perfect pieces, you will still have to add more eventually.

This is good news! It means you can get exactly what you want.  

If you buy too large a set, you may feel guilty about wanting more pieces and put off getting them. But if you buy a small starter set, you can plan to add to it.

For more information, see our article 5 Must-Have Pieces Every Cook Needs (Plus a Few Nice Extras).

In general, we recommend buying a small, basic set--5 to 7 pieces at most--and augmenting with individual purchases as needed. Big sets tend to have filler pieces--that is, small pieces that are too close in size to be very useful or versatile (though there is one 12 piece set we like and recommend below). 

You will always have to augment because no set has everything. 

Piece Sizes (Are They Big Enough?) 

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

The next thing to look at--and equally important--is the size of the pieces in the set.

Most sets have small pieces. By small, we mean skillets 10-inches or less, sauce pans 2 quarts or less, Dutch ovens smaller than 5 quarts, and stock pots smaller than 6 quarts. 

A 3-qt. sauté pan is roughly equivalent to a 10-inch skillet, so if the set has a 10-inch skillet and a 3-quart sauté pan, these are similarly sized pieces. 

And while a 10-inch skillet is considered standard, a 12-inch is more useful and more versatile for most people.

Why do set pieces tend to be small? Probably because smaller pieces are cheaper to make, so manufacturers can stuff a set with tiny pieces, and if buyers aren't paying attention, they might think they're getting a fantastic deal, when they're really getting just an okay deal, or maybe even a not-so-great deal. (Because you really don't need 2, or worse, 3 small sauce pans.) 

This goes back to the discussion above about filler pieces--those small and/or very close in size pieces that are used to make a set bigger without adding a lot of value. 

You may be okay with an 8-inch/10-inch skillet and a 1.5 quart/2 quart sauce pan. Maybe you mostly cook for just yourself or two people. In this case, smallish pieces are probably fine for you.

But you shouldn't pay for pieces that are so close in size that they limit the versatility of the set. 

You can always use a large pan for a small job, but you can't do the reverse. 

The upshot: Bigger pieces are simply more versatile.

So when you're shopping for cookware sets, pay attention to the piece sizes. You probably won't find a set with a lot of big pieces (other than the Tramontina set we recommend). Just be sure not to buy a set with a lot of filler pieces. It may look impressive, but these sets really aren't that versatile.

Always look at the pieces sizes in a set before buying. While it's rare to find overly large pieces (e.g., 12-inch skillet), you shouldn't buy a set that has too many small pieces (e.g., "filler pieces"). They aren't as versatile and are cheaper to make. 

Overall Design and Ergonomic Considerations

Overall design includes many of the things we've already discussed, as well as ergonomic considerations. This diagram shows basic overall design considerations:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

While it can be hard to predict, even from handling in the store, whether a stainless steel cookware set will work for you in the long term, there are a few factors that can help you decide.

Pan Design

Pan design should fit with you you like to use the pan. We think frying pans should have a good amount of flat cooking surface and sauce pans should be on the wide, shallow side. Dutch ovens should be at least 5 quarts and stock pots should be at least 6 quarts.

Curved rims for drip-free pouring are nice, but are not a deal breaker, as most pans will pour without too mcuh dripping even without a pouring lip.

Other important factors include weight, handles, lids, and ease of cleaning.

Weight

We have already talked about weight as an indicator of quality cookware--but if cookware is too heavy, you'll find yourself reaching for (or wishing for) different pans. 

Some clad stainless steel cookware is extremely heavy, such as Demeyere Atlantis, which we've already mentioned. 

However, most stainless cookware is a good compromise between weight and performance. All-Clad D3 and Copper Core, as well as a couple of Chinese All-Clad knockoffs, provide great heating without being overly heavy.

And if you're willing to go with something a little bit heavier, Demeyere Industry 5 is a great option (we review it below). It's got thicker walls and a higher aluminum content than All-Clad D3, but it's only slightly heavier. 

Handles

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

Handles are another big factor in usability, and preferences can vary wildly. 

For example, the traditional All-Clad D3 handles are largely hated throughout the cooking world. People find them uncomfortable, saying they cut into their hands. 

However, these handles are designed this way for a reason. The "U" shape allows you to use your thumb to stabilize a pan with one hand, and it works really well once you get the hang of it. You can also use your forearm to stabilize a pan, and the handle will sit snugly against it. (You can do this with any handle, of course, but the U shaped All-Clad handle doesn't budge easily.)

But if you really hate those handles, there are other good options out there. Cuisinart Multiclad Pro handles are flattish with swells on each side to help with grip. This design also works well to stabilize a full pot:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad handles are hollow and sort of oval-shaped, with a flare towards the top meant to fit the shape of your hand. It's probably the prettiest handle out there:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

And much as we love Demeyere cookware, it has our least favorite handles, as they offer little in the way of grip and are a little too short for how heavy the cookware is:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

As you can see, there are a lot of different handle designs. Unless you have issues, though--injuries or arthritis, for example--you'll get used to whichever handles your cookware has. Yes, some handle designs are definitely better than others, but they all do their job. (And if you do have an injury or arthritis, we recommend the All-Clad handles for the best all-around grip.)

Handles should also, ideally, be made of stainless steel. Plastic and resin handles might be easier to grip, but they simply do not hold up to years of kitchen use. This is why top quality brands have stainless steel handles.

Helper handles: Remember that larger and heavier pieces should have a helper handle for easy maneuvering. This is essential, especially for anyone who has trouble moving heavy pots around:

Helper Handle

Most pieces in a set aren't going to be large enough to need a helper handle. However, when you augment your set with a 12-inch skillet, a 5-quart sauté pan, or a cast iron skillet, be sure the piece has a helper handle. We guarantee you'll appreciate it when you're moving a big pot full of chili, poaching liquid, chicken breasts, or...you get the idea.

Lids

Stainless steel cookware should have snugly fitting lids. We prefer stainless lids because they are more durable. They are generally also an indicator of higher quality cookware (glass lids are cheaper to make). 

However, some people prefer glass lids. This is fine, if the rest of the cookware is good quality. For example, Tramontin Tri-Ply Clad is moving to glass lids on some of its sets. If you're a fan of glass lids, this would be an excellent set to buy.

Ease of Cleaning

"Stickiness" is a big complaint among users of stainless steel cookware sets, especially if they come from a nonstick background. However, there are ways around "stickiness" and even times that you want food to stick to the pan, such as to make a pan sauce.

We talk more about how to use and care for stainless steel cookware sets below. Here, we'll just say that ease of cleaning should be a small factor in choosing cookware, if you know how to use your stainless cookware.

Having said that, Demeyere cookware has a couple of cool features that make cleaning easier. One is welded handles, which have no rivets on the cooking surface to collect gunk: 

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

The other feature is that Demeyere stainless cookware is treated with a proprietary process called Silvinox® that makes the cookware a little easier to clean than other clad stainless cookware. According to the Demeyere website, Silvinox® "...makes the stainless steel easy to clean, and provides a higher resistance to fingerprints, harsh detergents or strong acidic foods."

So if ease of cleaning is a priority to you, Demeyere is the brand to go with.

If Demeyere cookware isn't in your budget, fear not. Stainless steel cookware may have a reputation for being sticky, but a lot of that is about how you use it. Proper use can go a long ways towards keeping your stainless cookware easy to clean. For some basic tips, see the Use and Care section below.

Overall Aesthetics

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

You may think aesthetics--is my cookware pretty?--is a silly thing to talk about, but remember: We eat with our eyes first. And that includes how we prep and cook our food.

Not only that, but the kitchen has become the status symbol room in modern houses, and nobody wants "ugly" cookware in view.

While tastes differ, most people find stainless steel cookware sets attractive. They have a simple-yet-elegant, modern, minimalist vibe that really does look great in any kitchen. 

Aesthetics that you love can go a long way toward making your time in the kitchen more enjoyable. So don't dismiss the looks of the cookware you buy. 

We are not suggesting you choose looks over functionality. The good news is that stainless cookware is supremely functional. So all things being equal, get the set that you find to be prettiest. 

Personal considerations include all the things that are most important to you personally. This includes ergonomic issues like pan weight and handle design, ease of cleaning, and aesthetics. 

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Induction Compatibility

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

This is only a concern if you have an induction cooktop. But even if you don't, you may someday want to consider buying a portable induction cooktop. They're very handy if you ever need an extra burner (or a portable burner). They're safer and easier to use than a portable gas hob, and perform better than an electric hot plate.

They also make excellent full-sized cooktops. If you're in the market, you should learn more about induction (especially if you don't have the option for a gas cooktop). Induction is fast, efficient, and a breeze to clean.

For more info, check out our induction topics.

Most stainless steel cookware sets today are induction compatible. In fact, we don't know of any that aren't. However, if you need to make sure, you can check with the manufacturer, check the questions section on Amazon (and ask if the answer isn't there), or use a magnet to test the cookware: if a magnet sticks, the cookware will work with an induction cooktop--the stronger, the better.

Most clad stainless steel cookware today is induction compatible. If you want to make sure, ask the manufacturer, check the questions section on Amazon (and ask if the answer isn't there), or test with a magnet: if a magnet sticks to the bottom, it's induction compatible.

All of our recommendations in this article are induction compatible.

Budget

Of course, budget is an important consideration for everyone. While clad stainless steel cookware is not cheap, there are good quality sets at many budget levels. 

You won't need to go over your budget to find a stainless cookware set you will love. 

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Pros and Cons of Buying Cookware in a Set

Do you really need a whole set? Here are the pros and cons of buying sets.

Pros:

  1. Pieces will be cheaper than if you bought them all separately.
  2. You will have a matching set.
  3. If you need a lot of pieces, this is the fastest and most economical way to get them.

Cons:

  1. You may not use or like every piece in the set.
  2. The skillets and/or saucepans are often small (read those diameters carefully!) so you will need to buy additional ones in bigger sizes (and they are going to be more expensive).
  3. No matter how big the set, you're not going to get everything you need (e.g., roasting pan, sheet pan, large skillet).

Overall, a set is a good way to get started because you're going to save a lot of money over buying pieces separately. But no matter which set you buy, you will almost certainly have to augment your collection (such as with a roasting pan and sheet pans as discussed above).

Our recommendation is to buy a small set-no more than 10 pieces--unless you know you'll use all the pieces in the set. The one exception we make is for the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 piece set we recommend here. Because all the pieces are a great size, you will probably use all of them.

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Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: Buying Hints

Here's a list of do's and don'ts when choosing a stainless cookware set.

Do
  • Be sure, if possible, the set has a layer of aluminum at least 1.7mm thick or copper 0.9mm thick. Anything less than this will not heat evenly and will be more prone to warping.
  • Be sure the set is made of 300 Series (304 or 316) stainless steel, or is priced low enough that you don't mind that it isn't.
  • Buy a smaller set over a bigger set, then augment with more pieces as you know you need them. You are unlikely to use every piece in a large set, but you will use pieces you buy individually.
  • Make sure the piece sizes in the set are what you want. Some sets have too-small pieces that you won't use (another reason to go with a smaller set). 
  • Make sure the set you buy is attractive to you, not too heavy, and the pieces are easy to maneuver and use.
Don't
  • Don't buy a set with a nonstick skillet. You're better off buying a cast aluminum nonstick skillet separately. You'll pay less for it, and you won't feel as bad when you have to replace it in a few years when the nonstick coating wears off. (Or better yet, go with clad stainless or carbon steel for decades of use.)
  • Don't accidentally buy a set with bottom cladding. Write-ups can be sketchy about this, so if a set is priced too good to be true, it may have bottom cladding. You can tell by looking for the seam, a giveaway of disc-cladding.
  • Don't buy nickel-free stainless steel cookware unless you have a nickel sensitivity. Nickel adds to stainless steel's corrosion resistance, so nickel-free cookware is going to rust and corrode faster. 
  • Don't buy stainless cookware if you don't know the quality of the stainless steel.
  • Don't buy stainless cookware if you don't know the properties (thickness) of the heating layer. HINT: If stainless steel cookware is too lightweight, it's going to have poor heating properties. 
  • Don't buy cookware that's too heavy for you to comfortably use. Even if it has stellar heating properties, you won't enjoy using it.
  • Don't buy a set with pieces that aren't cookware, like mixing bowls, utensils, and knives. These are usually filler pieces and probably aren't going to be good quality. (There may be exceptions, but better safe than sorry.) 
  • Don't spend over your budget. While quality can go up as prices do, there are plenty of great affordable choices for clad stainless steel cookware sets. 

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Clad Stainless Cookware: Use and Care

How to Use Stainless Steel Cookware

  1. Turn heat on first. For the least sticking, do not go above medium heat, or turn down before adding oil or food.
    Exception: If you are searing meat, use high heat. The pan will be harder to clean but you will get excellent searing results and a nice fond to make a pan sauce.
  2. When the pan is hot, add cooking oil (if using). You don't need a lot of it; just a thin layer to coat the pan is enough. Swirl oil around to coat entire pan.
  3. Add food after oil has warmed to just below the smoking point. 
  4. Let food cook for a few minutes (or more) without moving it. When the food develops a crust, it will release from the pan naturally, with very little sticking.
  5. If desired, make a pan sauce: After removing food, deglaze the pan with water, stock, or alcohol (wine or beer). Scrape pan with spoon or turner to release all those flavors stuck to the pan, and reduce to a syrupy consistency. Add a tablespoon or three of butter, stir to dissolve, and pour over your meal for a stellar finish. (This will also make the pan easier to clean.)

Alternatively, you can use the Leidenfrost method, which allows you to cook on stainless steel without using oil or butter--with no sticking. It involves heating the pan to exactly the right temperature. This video shows how to do it.

We're not huge fans of using the Leidenfrost method. Many nutrients are fat soluble and require oil for your body to absorb them, so we don't consider oil or butter unhealthy. But if you do, check out the video. It's pretty amazing, and will ruin you for nonstick cookware.

How to Care for Stainless Steel Cookware

NOTE: Even if cookware is dishwasher safe--as most stainless cookware is--we still recommend washing by hand. The harsh abrasives in dishwasher detergent can dull the stainless finish, and hand washing or soaking is better at getting off cooked-on messes.

One of the really great things about stainless steel cookware is that if the cookware gets a stuck-on mess, you can apply as much elbow grease as you want to it with no worries about harming the cookware. This includes abrasive cleaners like steel wool and scrubby pads. 

For stuck-on oil spatters on the exterior--which you are sure to get if you use your skillet at high heat (such as for searing a steak)--use Barkeeper's Friend and an abrasive scrubby, steel wool, or an SOS pad. It will be back to looking shiny new in no time.

  1. Clean thoroughly before first use. A bit of vinegar will remove all traces of manufacturing oils and others fluids.
  2. Allow cookware to cool to room temperature before washing. Putting a hot pan under running water could cause warping.
  3. Use soapy water and a sponge--abrasive sponges are okay--to clean the pan. Rinse and dry thoroughly after use (drying after use will help prevent rusting).
  4. If you have white deposits (usually from salt) or other staining (rainbow streaks, oil splatters), use Barkeeper's Friend or a little bit of white vinegar to clean the cookware.
  5. If you have a stuck-on mess, use Barkeeper's Friend or another cleanser and a sponge, and scrub until clean.
  6. Alternatively, let the pan soak in warm, soapy water before cleaning. But not for too long, as it can cause pitting.
  7. Do not store food in your clad stainless cookware. This can degrade the cookware, especially if the food is acidic.

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What About Buying Cookware Online? Is It Smart?

Our cookware buying guide wouldn't be complete without a section about buying online.

We are an online review site, so we think buying online is smart. In fact, we have an article about how to buy products online and get the very deals

While you may always want to try a cookware set in person before buying, this is not a guarantee that you'll get what you want; a few minutes of holding pans in a store isn't always a good predictor of what daily use will be like.

But even if you do want to go to a kitchen store to try pans out before you buy, here's a tip: after going to the kitchen store, go home and buy the cookware online. When you sign up for the store's promotional e-mails, you'll get at least a 15% percent discount automatically, plus free shipping. It's a win-win for you.

Amazon is also a great place to buy, especially if you have Amazon Prime and free shipping (though most products ship free now even without Prime). The reviews can be really helpful, especially if you know how to scan through them and get the most out of them: for more information, see our article Can You Trust Amazon Reviews? It's full of great information that will help you be a smarter buyer.

Another advantage of buying online is all the options. You may fall in love with a set you find in a review article and not be able to find it in any kitchen store. But there are endless buying options on the Internet. 

Also, even if you usually buy on Amazon, you should consider buying from a kitchen store. Why? First, the prices are about the same, if not identical, everywhere on the Internet, so don't worry about overpaying (you can compare prices through our links to see what we mean.) Next, a lot of kitchen stores (like Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table) will throw in an extra piece with the purchase of a premium set, often a roasting pan, which is an excellent incentive to buy from them. Don't be afraid to ask for this deal if it's not offered outright on the website. Call or email them--they'll usually be happy to throw in a little extra to get your purchase.

We included as many considerations as possible to help you make the right decision, and so you don't feel like you have to try the cookware in person to make a final decision. If you do, we totally understand, but remember that buying online is smart: you'll almost certainly get a better deal, and the convenience of having the cookware set shipped to your door is hard to beat. (If we've missed anything important, please let us know in the comments below!)

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Review for Best Brand Overall: Demeyere Industry

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

See Demeyere Industry 5/5 Plus on Amazon 

See Demeyere Industry5 w/Thermo Lids at Sur la Table 

Pros: Superb quality, excellent heating, welded handles (no rivets), Silvinox® treated for easier cleaning, made in Belgium.

Cons: Heavier than All-Clad, 10 pc is the smallest set available (though good pieces in set).

Who Should Buy this Cookware: If you want top quality and don't mind fairly heavy cookware, this is the set for you.

Pieces in set:

9.5-in. skillet/11-in. skillet

1.5 qt. sauce pan w/lid

3 qt. sauce pan w/lid

3 qt. sauté pan w.lid.

8 qt. stock pot w/lid.

Demeyere makes probably the highest quality stainless steel cookware in the world. While most stainless cookware competes with All-Clad by being "almost as good, but for less" Demeyere took another strategy and made cookware that's better, and costs more.

While All-Clad offers 2.6mm thick cookware with 1.7mm of aluminum, Demeyere Industry 5 offers 3mm thick pans with 2.1mm of aluminum. This is 25% more aluminum than in All-Clad, resulting in better performance: more even heating and more heat retention.

Industry 5 cookware has a 5-ply construction with 3 inner layers of aluminum, is oven safe to 500F, is dishwasher safe and induction compatible. Being of heavy construction, it is also extremely warp resistant. The rivetless cooking surface is a joy to use, and the Silvinox® treatment makes this cookware easy to care for and resistant to dulling and staining like most other stainless steel cookware.

The piece sizes are really nice, including the 11-inch skillet; in this set, you probably don't want to go any larger if weight is at all an issue for you. Note the great shape of this skillet, too (lots of flat cooking surface):

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

The 3 quart sauce pan is also a good size, as is the 8 quart stock pot. The set has no Dutch oven, which we actually love because enameled cast iron is the better material for a Dutch oven (see our enameled cast iron Dutch oven review for more information).

Demeyere has changed the name of their Industry 5 cookware a few times, most likely trying to find the best way to compete with All-Clad's behemoth market share. Thus, "Industry 5," "5 Plus," and plain "Industry" are all the same cookware, with minor differences in the handle design. Don't worry too much about the name; it's the same top quality cookware.

The Industry5 at Sur la Table has insulated lids for the same price (about $1000).

The one issue with Industry is that it is a little bit heavier than All-Clad D3. The All-Clad D3 12-inch skillet weighs just under 3 pounds, while the Demeyere 11-inch skillet weighs about 4 pounds. If you want lighter cookware, All-Clad is the better choice. 

Demeyere is owned by Zwilling, and Zwilling Sensation is almost the same cookware for about $300 less. However, the Sensation cookware has rivets, and it doesn't have the Silvinox® treated stainless steel. But if you want to save a few bucks, the Sensation offers the same basic construction, so it has excellent heating performance.

For more detailed information about Demeyere cookware, see our article All-Clad Vs. Demeyere: Which Is Better?

BUY THE demeyere industry 5/5 plus 10 PIECE SET ON AMAZON:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

see demeyere industry 5 with thermo lids 10 piece set at sur la table:

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Review for Best American Brand: All-Clad D3 (5- or 7-Piece Set)

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

See All-Clad D3 7 Piece Set on Amazon (about $550)

See All-Clad D3 5 Piece Set on Amazon (about $360)

See All-Clad D3 Compact 7 Piece Set on Amazon (about $500)

Pros: Top quality, fast and even heating, stainless lids, lifetime warranty, made in USA.

Cons: Expensive, some people hate the handles, not as heavy as Demeyere.

Who Should Buy this Cookware: Anyone who wants top quality cookware without the heavier weight of Demeyere; anyone who wants to buy an American-made product.

Pieces in Set:

10-in. skillet or 10.5-in. skillet in compact set

3 qt. sauce pan w/lid

3 qt. sauté pan w/lid

8 qt. stock pot w/lid (7 piece only).

Note: The compact 5 pc. set has a 5 qt. stock pot (smaller), plus a 4.5 qt. sear and roast pan in the 7 pc. set.

All-Clad Compact 7 Piece stainles steel cookware set

All-Clad is the indisputable leader of top quality clad stainless steel cookware in the US, and their D3 tri-ply is their most popular line. And for good reason: the tri-ply is one of All-Clad's more affordable lines while offering great performance and lightweight pans that are easy to maneuver. Some quality cookware is heavy, but All-Clad D3 is the perfect compromise of weight and heating performance for most people.

All-Clad D3 has 2.6mm walls with 1.7mm of aluminum. Note that this is about as thin as you want to go if you are at all concerned about even heating and/or warping. It is oven safe to 600F, dishwasher safe and induction compatible. It has a lifetime warranty and, of course, is made in the USA (although the lids are now made overseas). 

The D3 Compact cookware is a bit squatter in design for easier storage, with pieces that nest well. Note that the stock pot is considerably smaller in this set: 5 qt. vs. 8 qt. in regular D3. The skillet, at 10.5 inches, is slightly larger, probably to accommodate nesting.

The 5- or 7-piece set are great options for starting your cookware collection. All the pieces are very usable, with no filler pieces to round out the set. When you augment, you'll probably want a bigger skillet, a roasting pan, and a cast iron Dutch oven.

About the handles: Some people really dislike All-Clad handles, but we think they are extremely functional. Yes, they can cut into your hand (or arm), but this helps to stabilize heavy pots and pans, and we think it's the best design out there--even better than the Demeyere handles, which are a lot harder to stabilize because they're too smooth.

All-Clad has introduced the new D3 Everyday line, which is the same cookware with updated handles. For those of you who hate the A/C handles, this is big news. This line is only available from the All-Clad website, and the only set available is 10 pieces. But it's a little less expensive than D3, so it may be worth looking at.

All-Clad lacks a few of the great features of Demeyere cookware, which is why we don't rate it best overall. But even so, it's truly fabulous cookware that will last forever and is well worth the initial investment. You can read more about All-Clad cookware in our article The Ultimate All-Clad Review.

BUY THE All-Clad 5 or 7 PIECE SET ON AMAZON:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

buy the d3 compact set on amazon:

Review for Best Imported Brand: Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 7 Piece Set

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

See Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 7 Piece Set on Amazon (about $170)

See Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 12 Piece Set on Amazon (about $250) 

See Cuisinart French Classic 10 piece set on Amazon
(about $400)

Pros: Great heating properties, 18/10 stainless, stainless lids, well made, close knockoff of All-Clad D3, good basic pieces.

Cons: Made in China, average sized pieces in sets.

Who Should Buy this Cookware: Anyone on a budget who wants good quality fully clad cookware.

Pieces in Set:

10-in. skillet

1.5 qt sauce pan w/lid

3 qt sauce pan w/lid

8 qt stock pot w/lid (lid will fit skillet).

Multiclad Pro is probably Cuisinart's most popular line of cookware. It's a straight up All-Clad D3 knockoff, and it's almost a perfect copy of All-Clad's design. With those credentials, this cookware offers performance very close to All-Clad for a fraction of the cost.

Though you will get use out of the 1.5 qt. sauce pan, we would prefer a second, larger skillet or a sauté pan. While everybody's cooking habits are different, a second skillet or sauté pan is probably more useful for most people than a second sauce pan--especially a small sauce pan. But once again, at this price, we don't really have anything to complain about. (Note: You can buy a Multiclad Pro 12-inch skillet for about $75; about half the cost of this entire set.)

The rest of the pieces are nice, though. The skillet is beautifully shaped, with almost straight sides and a lot of flat cooking surface. The 8 qt. stock pot is an excellent size. And we actually like that there's no Dutch oven because you're much better off with an enameled cast iron one, which is much better for braising than stainless steel.

If you want a larger set, the 12-piece Multiclad Pro set is one of the best sellers on this site. It includes a smaller skillet, a 3.5 quart sauté pan, and a steamer insert, which you will get a ton of use from. This set goes for about $250, making it a fantastic deal.

Multiclad Pro cookware is oven and broiler safe to 500F (including lids), dishwasher safe and induction compatible. The handles have a flat design that makes them easy to grip, and the cookware comes with a limited lifetime warranty. We love that this affordably-priced set has stainless lids.

Another nearly identical option is the Cuisinart French Classic stainless steel cookware set: 

Cuisinart French Classic 10 Piece stainless steel cookware set

This set has the same build quality as the Multiclad Pro with a different aesthetic. It's made in France, so also more expensive, but at about $400 for the 10-piece set, it's still a good deal.

The 10 piece is the smallest set, with an 8 qt stock pot, 8-in/10-in. skillets, 2 qt/3 qt sauce pan, and a 4.5 qt Dutch oven. These are average peices, but this is pretty cookware, so it might turn your head:

BUY THE Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 7 piece SET ON AMAZON:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide
https://amzn.to/2TTbgjE

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Review for Set with Best Pieces: Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Piece Set (Made in China)

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

See the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Piece set on Amazon (about $340)

See the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Piece set at Wal-Mart (about $260 w/glass lids)

Pros: 18/10 stainless, All-Clad D3 knockoff w/great heating, largest pieces of any set we recommend (12 pc. set only).

Cons: Made in China, Wal-Mart set has glass lids (but costs less). 

Who Should Buy this Cookware: Anyone on a budget who wants fully clad cookware, needs a lot of pieces, and wants larger pieces (12" skillet, 5 qt sauté pan, etc.).

Even if you're not on a budget, this cookware competes pretty much head-to-head with All-Clad D3; some testers even found it  slightly better in heat retention. 

Pieces in Set:

10-in. and 12-in. skillets

1.5-qt and 3-qt sauce pans w/lids

5-qt or 6-qt deep sauté pan w/lid

5qt Dutch oven w/lid,

-8-qt or 12-qt stock pot w/lid.

see our full tramontina tri-ply clad review here

There's also a 13 piece set with a steamer insert and a 14 piece set with a pasta insert and an 8-inch frying pan (these pieces may change, so make sure you check before buying).

Tramontina 14 Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set

Many people think Cuisinart Multiclad Pro is closest to All-Clad D3, Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad is probably closer. The construction is nearly identical, with 2.6mm thick walls and performance very, very close to All-Clad D3. Tramontina is more expensive than MC Pro, but it has a higher end look. And it's still a fraction of what you'll pay for All-Clad. 

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad is made in China and Brazil, and it's the Chinese 12 piece set that has the best pieces. You will pay more for the Brazilian sets, and you'll get smaller pieces that are otherwise identical in quality to the Chinese sets. Thus, we recommend the Chinese set.

The set is about $100 cheaper at Wal-Mart, but unfortunately, those sets have glass lids. This is a fairly new development, so you may still find one at Wal-Mart prices with stainless lids, but we expect these will eventually go away for good. (Probably on Amazon, too.) 

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad is oven safe up to 500F (350F for the glass lids), dishwasher safe, and induction compatible. The cookware is finished to a mirror polish and looks much more expensive than it actually is. It comes with a lifetime warranty.

While you can go with a smaller set, it's only the 12-piece or larger that has the fabulous pieces, including a 10 inch and a 12 inch skillet, a deep sauté pan (which is one of the most versatile pieces you can possibly own), and either an 8 quart or 12 quart stock pot, depending on the set you buy. You also get a Dutch oven, so you can put off getting the enameled cast iron one for as long as you want to. The sauce pans are standard sizes at 1.5 quart and 3 quart, but both are useful sizes. 

The one thing we don't like about this set is the shape of the skillet, which has steeply sloped sides and thus a smallish flat cooking surface:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

It's not terrible, and it's far from a deal breaker. And since you get the big 12-inch skillet in this set, it's less of an issue than it would be if you got two smaller skillets.

Other than that, we really love this cookware. But remember: you have to buy the 12 piece or larger Chinese-made set to get the great pieces! If you want a pasta insert get the 13 piece set (Wal-Mart only), and if you want an 8-inch skillet as well, get the 14 piece set. You really can't go wrong with any of them. If you want stainless lids, you'll have to buy from Amazon and pay about $100 more--but still a truly fabulous deal.

If you want to read more about Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad cookware, see our article Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad: A Comprehensive Review.

Buy the Tramontina Tri-ply clad 12 Piece Set on Amazon:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

Buy the Tramontina tri-ply clad 12 Piece Set at Wal-Mart:

Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

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Final Thoughts on The Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets

It can be tricky to get the right set of stainless steel cookware. High prices are no guarantee you'll be happy with a set, and low prices don't always mean poor quality. If you educate yourself, you should be able to find exactly the right set for you that will last for decades. 

Here are the high points:

  • If you want the best quality and cooking performance, go with Demeyere Industry 5.
  • If you want a lighter set or an American made set that is still of top notch quality, go with All-Clad D3.
  • If you want a small, good quality budget set, go with Cuisinart Multiclad Pro.
  • If you want a large set with big pieces or a great deal on a big set, go with Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad.

We hope this cookware buying guide for clad stainless steel cookware sets helped you find the perfect cookware set.

Thanks for reading!

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Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: A Detailed Buying Guide

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