If you're looking for stainless steel cookware sets, start with this guide!
Stainless steel cookware, and stainless steel cookware sets, in particular, have become hugely popular.
Clad stainless steel cookware looks great in any kitchen. It's also durable, even-heating, and easy to clean (or at least, it is when you follow a few simple rules).
But how do you pick out a stainless cookware set? There are hundreds of different stainless cookware sets on the market, and they the truth is, they all look pretty much the same.
This is more than a "buy this not that" guide or a list of brands. We've provided some detailed thought about the factors you should consider and why. You'll learn a bit about stainless steel, manufacturing, how to determine if cookware will heat well, what traits to think about to tailor cookware to you, and more. Our recommendations are based on years of research and testing, but if you don't like any of them, you will have the tools to pick out your own stainless steel cookware set--and be happy with it.
Our Favorite Sets at a Glance
Here are our favorite stainless steel cookware sets at a glance. You can read more details in the Recommendations section at the end of the article.
NOTE: All of these brands are induction compatible.
-3mm thick w/2.1mm aluminum layer
-Rivetless (welded handles)
-Good pieces in set
-Excellent all-around cookware
-Made in Belgium.
-10 pc smallest set available
-Heavier than All-Clad.
-2.6mm thick w/1.7mm aluminum
-Good heating yet lightweight
-Excellent all-around cookware
-Made in USA.
-Larger sets have filler pieces
-Not all pieces have drip-free pouring
-Some people hate handles
Best Budget Bottom Clad:
-Disc-clad w/wraparound design (best disc-clad design)
-Small skillet is nonstick
-Probably 18/4 (200 Series) stainless
-Made in China.
-App. 2.6mm thick
-Closest to All Clad tri-ply
-Made in China
-Probably 18/4 (200 Series) stainless
-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)
-Large pieces in set
-App. 2.6mm thick
-Close to All-Clad tri-ply
-Amazon set has stainless lids
-Wal-Mart set may have glass lids
-Skillet has long sides/smaller cooking surface
-Made in China.
What Are the Best Uses for Stainless Steel Cookware?
Stainless steel cookware is probably the most versatile type of cookware on the market today, making it excellent for all-around, daily use cookware for nearly every task.
And the thing is, even if stainless isn't the perfect choice--as cast iron might be for deep frying, or nonstick for eggs, for example--it will still work.
It can do anything in a pinch. Which is not the case with nonstick cookware or cast iron cookware, both of which have some serious drawbacks that limit their kitchen use. For example, nonstick cookware can't be used above medium heat because high heat destroys the nonstick surface (more true for PTFE than for ceramic). And cast iron cookware reacts with acidic foods like tomato sauce, imparting a metallic taste. So with nonstick and cast iron, you have to be careful and always evaluate what you use it for.
This is not the case with stainless steel cookware. It is a stable and nonreactive cooking surface, so you can use it with any type of food, at any heat level.
Stainless cookware is also very durable cookware that's going to last for decades (at least if you buy a reputable brand). So you can beat the crap out of it--use high heat, any kind of utensils, scrape it, bang on it, drop it--and it will stand up to all the abuse you throw at it. If it's good quality (with enough heft), it won't even warp under extreme temperature changes, such as rinsing a hot pan out with tap water--but be careful here, because if it's thin, it can warp.
This is true for any cookware, though, so never put a hot pan under running water; always let it cool first.
So, to summarize, stainless steel cookware is excellent all-around cookware, versatile enough to use for any cooking jobs.
Stainless steel cookware is excellent all-around cookware, versatile enough to use for any cooking jobs, with any utensils, at any temperature.
Pros and Cons of Stainless Steel Cookware
Is Stainless Steel Cookware Nonstick?
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."
This is true--IF the cookware is used in a certain way. 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. See the section below on how to use and care for stainless steel cookware.
Some stainless steel cookware sets come with a nonstick pan (and you can buy them individually as well), but we don't recommend buying a clad stainless nonstick pan. The nonstick coating will wear out long before the stainless exterior of the pan. Therefore, we recommend buying a cast aluminum nonstick pan (or two) separately. They're a lot cheaper than good clad stainless--even those you'll get in a set--and so more in line with the few years of use you'll get before the nonstick coating wears out.
Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe?
Stainless steel cookware is one of the safest types of cookware on the market.
Stainless steel is extremely stable. It doesn't react with food. And because the heating layer--the aluminum--is inside the steel, it has no contact with food. So there is no worry about aluminum, 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 generally considered safe. 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're concerned about toxins in your cookware, stainless steel is an excellent choice.
Overall Cookware Quality
Here, we look at all the factors that make clad stainless steel cookware good quality.
Stainless Steel: The Basics
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.
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.
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 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, 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.
By the way, 316 stainless is also sometimes called "surgical" stainless steel--a marketing term you may see in cookware sales, especially waterless cookware. It's nice stainless steel, but it's basically just a grade of 300 Series steel.
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. If a manufacturer doesn't say what type of stainless they use, it could well be the cheaper, less corrosion resistant 200 Series stainless. For example, we suspect that Cuisinart cookware (review below or see our full review here) is 200 Series stainless; this is how they can price their cookware as low as they do. And even though 200 Series is less corrosion resistant, the difference is small, and Cuisinart Multiclad Pro is still very nice cookware for the price, especially if you're on a tight budget.
400 Series stainless steel, or ferritic stainless, is also used in cookware manufcturing 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):
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 magnetic, so it's the only option for the exterior.
Some very high end cookware, like Demeyere Atlantis (made in Belgium, pronounced de-MY-ruh) and Heritage Steel (made in the US), embeds the 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 certainly makes the cookware more durable.
Here's a diagram from Demeyere of their TriplInduc® technology in their Proline skillet (it just means there's 3 layers of stainless):
It's an elegant design, found only on top quality cookware. Demeyere claims their TriplInduc® design makes their cookware more efficient on induction cookware, but that's a difficult metric to verify. (Our hypothesis is that if it's better at all, it's because Demeyere cookware has extremely flat bottoms that make good contact with the burner.)
For more information about all the grades of stainless steel, see this Wikipedia article.
NSF stands for National Sanitation Foundation. This is an independent organization that tests cookware and other products and certifies that they are safe for both home and professional use. You can buy cookware that is not NSF certified, but this doesn't necessarily 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-certified stainless steel must contain at least 16% chromium. All three stainless steel types--200, 300, and 400--can be NSF certified. However, we now know that of the three, 300 Series is the most corrosion resistant.
NSF certification probably shouldn't be a priority for you in choosing cookware. It's a nice stamp of approval, but all stainless steel cookware is going to provide durability, a non-reactive cooking surface, and years of use (but yes; some more than others).
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 a stainless layer about 0.8mm thick, or about 20 gauge (see here for a handy conversion chart from gauge to metric or inches). Cheaper cookware can be 0.6mm, or 24 gauge.
You may not be able to determine the gauge of the stainless steel before buying, and that's okay. While thicker stainless steel will be more durable and less prone to warping and denting, most cookware has adequate layers of stainless steel. But as a rule, more expensive stainless steel cookware is likely to be a thicker gauge, just as it is likely to be a higher grade.
Much more important than the thickness of the stainless steel is the thickness of the heating layer(s), which we discuss in detail below.
Stainless Steel Quality Issues in Cookware
Most stainless steel cookware sets are going to have 304 or 316 grade stainless on the cooking surface, both of which are good quality. Surprisingly, though, quality of 304 and 316 stainless can vary quite a bit among brands, and one way manufacturers cut corners is to use cheaper, poorer quality 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.
In general, Chinese cookware makers use cheaper stainless steel than American and European makers, so Chinese brands can be more prone to corrosion, rusting, pitting, and discoloration. This is mostly seen, though, in off brands made in Chinese-run factories. If a product is made in China but in an American-run factory (like All-Clad), the quality is going to be on a par with American made products (but at a lower price).
If you're on a tight budget, a Chinese brand of clad stainless steel cookware can be a good choice--IF you choose the right brand. (See our recommendations below.)
Note also that some manufacturers don't use 300 Series stainless steel at all--they use magnetic (400 Series) stainless or even 200 Series, which is the least corrosion resistant type of stainless.
How do you know the quality of the stainless steel in cookware? First, by price: if a brand of cookware is much less expensive than other brands, it probably has a lesser grade of stainless steel.
Also, look for "304," "18/8," or "18/10". If it doesn't say, the stainless may not be 300 Series. (18/0 is nickel-free cookware, and may also be called "magnetic stainless." Most clad stainless cookware has 18/0 on the exterior for induction compatibility.
As for 316 grade, you will probably only find this in very good quality stainless steel cookware.
About Nickel-free Stainless Steel: Note also that if cookware is advertised as "nickel-free," it is made from 400 Series stainless and contains no 304 or 316 steel (also written as 18/0). Since nickel is one of the primary anti-corrosion components, nickel-free stainless is not as resistant to rusting and corrosion as other grades. So unless you have a nickel sensitivity, we recommend that you avoid "nickel-free" stainless steel cookware.
While most stainless steel cookware has a 300 Series cooking surface, the quality can very among brands--and some brands do not use 300 Series stainless at all.
Try to buy a known or recommended brand to avoid issues with inferior stainless steel. (Hint: You don't have to spend a fortune to get this. Check out our recommendations below.)
"Cladding" is the bonding together of layers of different metals. For cookware, the most common type of cladding is fully clad tri-ply: 304/316 stainless cooking surface, aluminum in the center for even heating, and magnetic stainless (e.g., 400 Series) on the exterior for induction compatibility. Here's this diagram from All-Clad again showing the tri-ply configuration:
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 layer of heat spreading aluminum and/or copper, 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/bottom cladding?
- Thickness of Plies?
Full cladding vs. disc/bottom cladding. 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, the sides don't get hot enough.
You can compensate for this discontinuity by more stirring, so it's not the end of the world. (People grow accustomed to whatever cookware they have--one reason why it's hard to know from user reviews whether cookware is actually good or if buyers have just adapted to using it.)
However, 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 was welded on:
You may also see words like "impact-bonded," "fused," or "welded" in the description of bottom-clad cookware.
Not all bottom-clad cookware is poor quality (or cheap). Demeyere Atlantis straight-sided pieces are bottom clad, but notice the difference in the cladding:
The Demeyere cladding covers the entire bottom and extends slightly up the sides; it's also much thicker; for bottom 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 what high end copper cookware has (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?
Thickness of Plies: Stainless steel cookware can have as few as three plies up to seven or more. As we said, the most common configuration is tri-ply, with stainless on the exterior and the cooking surface, with a heating layer of aluminum sandwiched in between.
Some cookware, like All-Clad D5, has alternating layers of stainless steel and aluminum. Since stainless steel has terrible heating properties, it doesn't make a lot of sense to have internal layers of it, so we generally don't recommend this cookware.
All of this is to say, more plies doesn't necessarily mean better cookware. You need to do more research than just learning the number of plies stainless cookware has.
In short, the number of plies is less important than that the overall thickness of the cookware: the total thickness should be at least 2.5mm. Thinner than that, and the internal heating layer is probably too thin to heat evenly, so you'll have hot and cold spots, scorching, and other frustrating issues. Too-thin cookware is also more prone to warping.
What's thick enough? We look to All-Clad tri-ply here, as it's the standard by which all other clad stainless cookware is measured. All-Clad tri-ply has a total wall thickness of 2.6mm. For comparison, Calphalon Tri-Ply Stainless has a total wall thickness of 2.1mm--half a millimeter thinner than All-Clad D3.
When we're talking millimeters, that is a considerable difference! And it means that the Calphalon Tri-Ply has a thinner aluminum layer, and thus is not going to heat as evenly as the All-Clad, as well as be more prone to warping. (Calphalon Tri-Ply cookware has glass lids, too, which is also an indication of a lower quality brand.)
We don't mean to pick on Calphalon. But it's a good example of how major brands of cookware can differ greatly, and why you have to do your research. There are other affordable brands that are much closer in configuration to All-Clad (see our recommendations below for more info on this).
Cookware brands often show a diagram of their cookware configuration, but they rarely tell you how thick the layers are. This is the most important information--especially for the heating layer!
We discuss this in more detail below where we talk about the heating layer--again, probably the most important aspect of the cookware.
You should look at 2 things in stainless cookware cladding: 1) the type of cladding--full or bottom only?--and 2) the thickness of the plies.
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.
The number of plies is less important than the actual thickness of the cookware. Since not all brands supply this information, you may have to rely on 3rd party reviewers (like us) to learn about the cookware's construction.
Cladding Quality Issues
If not done properly, cladding can separate, creating bubbles between the heating layer(s) and the stainless steel. If this happens, the cookware is useless.
It does not happen often, but if you read reviews, you will see that it does happen occasionally. Just as with using inferior stainless steel, some factories also use cladding methods that are less reliable than others. If clad stainless cookware is inexpensive and/or from an unrecognized brand, you're more likely to have cladding issues than you will with reputable brands. This is especially true for Chinese-made cookware.
Cladding issues are also more likely to occur in cheaper clad stainless cookware with an internal layer of copper. Copper doesn't bond to stainless as well as aluminum (which is probably why All-Clad Copper Core has aluminum layers between the copper and the stainless steel layers).
Overall Build Quality
How is the overall construction of the cookware? Is it heavy or light? How are the handles attached? What are the lids made of? What is the shape of the pans? Looking at these basic structural aspects will help you distinguish good quality cookware sets from not-so-good quality sets.
You can pick up a piece of cookware and tell right away by how heavy it is whether it's of decent quality (or not). So "heft" is one indication of good build quality. Heavier cookware not only has a better build quality, it's going to be more durable, less likely to warp, and it's going to spread heat more evenly than thinner, lighter weight cookware. (The thicker the heating layer, the more even the heating is going to be--see the section on heating layers below for more information.)
However, this can go too far: some cookware is so well made it's too heavy for a lot of people. Demeyere Atlantis, for example, is almost as heavy as cast iron. While its heating properties are spectacular, it's too heavy for some people.
Thus, the weight of cookware is a trade-off for many people. A brand like All-Clad D3 (or its good quality knockoffs) is an excellent trade-off: it's lightweight enough to maneuver easily, yet still provides fast, even heating.
Here we're not talking talking about ergonomic issues (see below for that discussion), but rather, how well the cookware is made. Durability is a hallmark of most stainless steel cookware sets, but some are definitely more durable than others.
Handles should be riveted or welded, not screwed on. (This is true for all types of cookware, by the way, not just stainless.) Rivets are considered more durable, but welded handles are great because there are no rivets on the cooking surface to collect gunk and have to clean around.
While most cookware has handles that are riveted on, Demeyere is one brand that makes rivetless cookware (and with a 30 year warranty, you don't have to worry about the welding coming loose):
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.
Larger pans--i.e., 3-qt and larger sauce pans and 12-inch or larger skillets/sauté pans--should also have helper handles to make them easier to handle when full of food (or liquid):
Surprisingly, not all makers put helper handles on their larger pieces. This can be true even for high-end cookware. So if you have any issues at all working with heavy or bulky cookware, make sure you buy a brand with helper handles.
Lids can be stainless or glass, with stainless being the more durable option. Stainless cookware sets with stainless lids tend to be more expensive and better quality, while economy sets--with a few notable exceptions, which we discuss in our recommendations below--typically have glass lids.
You may prefer glass lids, and that's fine, but in general, stainless lids are the mark of a higher quality set. They're more durable, lighter weight, easier to store, and can endure higher oven temps.
While pan shape isn't an indication of build quality, it's an important consideration nevertheless.
Skillets: Ideally, you want a skillet with steep sides and a lot of flat cooking surface, like this Cuisinart Multiclad Pro skillet:
Compare this to the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad skillet, which has more sloped sides and consequently, less flat cooking surface:
Can you see the difference? It may not seem huge to you, but it can mean the difference between, say, being able to fit three chicken breasts in a pan rather than just two--so it matters, especially if it's a 10-inch skillet and not a 12-inch one. (We love the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad skillet--it's one of the best stainless steel cookware deals out there. We just wish the skillet had a bit more flat cooking surface.)
Sauté Pans: Alternatively, you can use a sauté pan instead of a skillet. The straight sides give you more flat cooking surface in roughly the same size pan. (A 3 qt sauté pan is about the same size as a 10-inch skillet, while a 5 qt sauté pan is about the same size as a 12-inch skillet.) However, it's harder to get a turner inside those straight sides to flip food over:
Sauté pans also come with lids, while skillets rarely do (although if you buy a set, the lid from your 3 qt. sauté pan, Dutch oven, or stock pot will probably also fit your skillet).
For more on the differences between skillets and sauté pans, see our article Should I Buy a Skillet or a Sauté Pan? The Differences Explained.
Sauce pans: For easiest use and cleaning, sauce pans should be wide and relatively shallow rather than tall and deep. This All-Clad tri-ply sauce pan has a nice shape:
While this Cuisinart Multiclad Pro sauce pan is taller and narrower:
Again, the difference isn't all that huge--but you can take to the bank that wider, shallower pans are easier to use and easier to clean.
Grooved lip: Another consideration is the lip--if it has a groove, it's going to drip less when pouring than if it doesn't. So for this reason, you may actually prefer the Multiclad Pro sauce pan over the All-Clad one. (Some lines of All-Clad have grooved lips, but their tri-ply does not.)
On the other hand, a grooved lip can be a little harder to clean because it can be a place that traps food particles and other cooking gunk. Thus, grooved lips, or not, should hardly be a deal breaker if you otherwise like the cookware.
The Heating Core
Here, we start to get into what makes cookware really good or...really not 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.
What Is the Heating Core?
The heating core of stainless steel cookware is what's in between the external layers of stainless. It can be one layer of aluminum, several layers of aluminum, or a combination of aluminum and copper. The quality of the heating core can make or break 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 bottom-clad cookware:
And like this for fully clad cookware (also see the All-Clad tri-ply diagram above):
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:
All of these diagrams show the internal heating configuration of the cookware. Because stainless steel has terrible heating properties and is used on the exterior for its durability, this heating core is what gives stainless steel cookware its heating properties. A good heating core will provide fast, even heating. A bad heating core will cause hot and cold spots, scorching and sticking, and if it's really thin, pans can be more prone to warp.
When you buy stainless steel cookware, you are largely paying for the heating core.
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. This is why you want cookware with a bit of heft to it: if it's too thin and light weight, it's going to be a pain to use (and also more prone to warping).
How thick is thick enough? Well, as we already mentioned, All-Clad tri-ply (D3) is the gold standard for clad stainless steel cookware, and it has a total thickness of 2.6mm with an aluminum layer that's 1.7mm.
You really don't want to go below 2.5mm, and the good news is that you shouldn't have to. There are a couple of Chinese knock-offs that provide almost identical configurations to All-Clad D3--so whatever your budget, you can get excellent heating properties in your clad stainless cookware.
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 the 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.
Of course, there are other measures than thickness to determine whether cookware is good quality or not. Namely, how it cooks. Does it heat evenly? Is it fast? Is it a pleasure to use? Does it work well with a wide variety of foods?
We test all the cookware we recommend, and in all cases, our tests have corroborated our recommendations about heating layers. So if you can't test cookware before you buy it, knowing its configuration can go a long way toward understanding how well it will perform.
The heating core determines how well cookware performs, and is largely what you're paying for in clad stainless steel cookware.
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. This isn't always obvious:
- Just because a brand has a recognized name (like "Cuisinart" or "Viking" or "KitchenAid") 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. For example, stainless steel used in Chinese factories can be inferior to stainless steel used in the US or Western Europe, as can quality standards in manufacturing. Customer service is also often lacking in brands made overseas.
In general, cookware made in the US or Western Europe is better quality than cookware made in China. If you can afford American or European made cookware, you will get better quality, and quite often a better warranty and better customer service.
If you're on a budget, there are a few Chinese imports that are worth buying. However, 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're familiar with and know to be good quality.
A good brand of clad stainless steel cookware 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 limited 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.
Personal considerations that we think are important when buying stainless steel cookware sets are set size, the pieces in the set, the piece sizes in the set, ergonomic considerations, aesthetic considerations, induction compatibility, and budget.
Set Size: How Many Pieces Do You Need?
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 an 8-inch skillet, or two smallish sauce pans very close in size, say a 1-quart and a 1.5-quart. These aren't very versatile pieces, and you probably won't use them very often--though you would kill for a 3-quart!
Sure, you'll have uses for an 8-inch skillet: omelets, for example. But the truth is, you'll probably prefer a nonstick skillet for those, which is yet another piece you'll have to buy separately. You'll also use an 8-inch skillet for sautéeing small batches of onions, garlic, peppers, etc.--say, for making guacamole. But it's far better to use a larger skillet for small jobs than to have a small skillet that you can't use for larger jobs.
Ditto sauce pans.
Thus, you are better off buying a small, basic set with pieces you know you'll use, then purchasing additional pieces as you know you need them.
If you buy a small set and augment as you go, you get the best of both worlds: you save money on the essential pieces, and then you buy exactly what you need, as you know you need it.
There is one large set that we really like--the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 piece set from China (not Brazil!)--and that's because it is full of usable pieces, including two large skillets, two versatile sauce pans, and a huge stock pot.
But many large sets, including those from top makers like All-Clad, have too many too-small pieces--and you pay too much for them.
Also, if you think about it, how many pieces of cookware do you really need? You're unlikely to ever use more than four pieces at a time (and even that is probably unlikely for most people). So as exciting as a 10-piece cookware set might sound, you probably don't need that much cookware. And if you do, you probably need pieces other than the 10-piece set has, because...
As a final piece of advice, don't expect any cookware set to fulfill all your needs. For example, no set comes with a roasting pan or other bakeware; if you ever host for Thanksgiving, a roasting pan is a must.
You'll probably also want a nonstick or cast iron skillet at some point, as they are infinitely useful (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.
The main point here is that even if you find a set full of perfect pieces, you will still have to augment it eventually.
This is good news; it means you can get exactly what you want, even if not right away.
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, without feeling guilty--and without having a cupboard full of pots and pans that you don't use.
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?)
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 very similar 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? For the simple reason that 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 even 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 just fine for you.
But the truth is, you shouldn't pay for pieces that are so close in size that they limit the versatility of the set.
Remember, you can always use a large pan for a small job, but you can't do the reverse.
Also, it's hard to cook long pasta in a sauce pan smaller than 3 quarts.
The upshot: Bigger pieces are simply more versatile.
So when you're shopping for cookware sets, be sure to pay attention to the piece sizes. You probably won't find a set with a lot of big pieces (you'll have to augment with those in the future). 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.
(Another reason to go with a smallish set.)
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, 4 quart sauce pan), you shouldn't buy a set that has too many too-small pieces (e.g., "filler pieces"). They aren't very versatile, while bigger pieces are.
Ergonomic Considerations (Usability)
While it can be hard to predict, even from handling in the store, whether cookware will work for you in the long term, there are a few factors that can help you decide.
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. All-Clad D7 is another brand (now discontinued, but still available at many online locations).
However, most stainless cookware is a good compromise between heft 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 but not quite in the cast iron-ish ballpark, 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 nowhere close to Atlantis.
If you go much lighter than All-Clad D3 or its knockoffs recommended below, you end up with poorly performing cookware. It may have hot and cold spots, scorch, and even warp under the right conditions (and warped cookware is useless).
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, those handles are designed that 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 down each side. This design also works well to stabilize a full pot:
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:
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:
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.)
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:
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.
Ease of Cleaning
Stainless steel cookware is not the easiest cookware to take care of, but you can buy clad cookware that has some great features that make it easier to clean than other brands.
Namely, welded handles, which have no rivets on the cooking surface to collect gunk, like those found on Demeyere cookware:
Demeyere stainless cookware is also treated with a proprietary process called Silvinox® that makes the cookware a little easier to wash 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.
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 greatly, most stainless steel cookware is attractive. It has a simple-yet-elegant, modern, utilitarian vibe that really does go with any kitchen.
We suspect its great looks are one of the reasons it has become so popular.
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.
Note that 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.
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.
The good news is that the vast majority of clad stainless cookware today is induction compatible. In fact, we don't know of any that isn'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.
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.
Clad Stainless Cookware Sets: Buying Hints
Here's a list of do's and don'ts to help you buy.
- Be sure the set has full cladding or good quality bottom cladding.
- Be sure, if possible, the set has a layer of aluminum at least 1.5mm 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), 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 buy a set with a nonstick skillet. You're better off buying a cast aluminum 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.
- 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.
- 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 (and there are lightweight options that perform really well).
- 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.
Clad Stainless Cookware: Use and Care
How to Use Stainless Steel Cookware
- Turn heat on pan first. For best results (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.
- When pan is hot, add cooking oil (if using). You don't need a lot of it; just a then layer to coat the pan is enough. Swirl oil around to coat entire pan.
- Add food after oil has warmed almost to the smoking point.
- 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.
- 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.
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 is usually 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.
- Clean thoroughly before first use. A bit of vinegar will remove all traces of manufacturing oils and others fluids.
- Allow cookware to cool to room temperature before washing. Putting a hot pan under running water could cause warping.
- 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).
- 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.
- If you have a stuck-on mess, use Barkeeper's Friend or another cleanser and a sponge, and scrub until clean.
- Alternatively, let the pan soak in warm, soapy water before cleaning. But not for too long, as it can cause pitting.
- Do not store food in your clad stainless cookware. This can degrade the cookware, especially if the food is acidic.
What About Buying Cookware Online? Is It Smart?
Well, we are an online review site, so we think buying online is very smart. In fact, we have an article about how to buy products online and get the very best 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!)
Recommendation for Best Brand Overall: Demeyere Industry 5
See Demeyere Industry5 w/Thermo Lids at Sur la Table (about $1000)
Pros: Super high 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 cookware in the world. While most 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):
The 3 quart sauce pan is also a good size, as is the 8 quart stock pot. Unfortunately, the set has no Dutch oven and the stock pot is a bit too tall to use for roasting or braising, so you'll be missing that piece--and it's an important piece if you like to cook that way. (The good news here is that it's hard to beat an enameled cast iron Dutch oven because of its unsurpassed heat retention, so you won't be stuck with a stainless steel one you find yourself rarely reaching for. Demeyere is good like that (they really think things through). And if you can afford Industry 5 cookware, you can probably afford a nice Dutch oven, too.)
Demeyere has changed the name of their Industry 5 cookware a few times, as well as their American marketing strategy, probably because All-Clad is far and away the leader here of high quality clad stainless steel cookware, and Demeyere hasn't found a great way to compete yet. This is why we have Industry 5 as well as 5 Plus. Don't worry too much about the name; it's the same top quality cookware. Sur la Table even has a version--for the same price--with double-walled lids for insulation.
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 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 NOW:
see demeyere industry 5 with thermo lids 10 piece set at sur la table now:
Recommendation for Best American Brand: All-Clad D3 (5- or 7-Piece Set)
See All-Clad D3 7 Piece Set on Amazon (about $450)
See All-Clad D3 5 Piece Set on Amazon (about $400)
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 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 performance for most people.
All-Clad D3 has 2.6mm walls with 1.7mm of aluminum. Since it's also lightweight, 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 small (maybe nonstick) skillet, and a nice cast iron Dutch oven--and you'll be set!
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 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 NOW:
buy the d3 compact set on amazon now:
Recommendation for Best Budget Bottom Clad Set: Cuisinart Professional Series 11 Piece Set
See Cuisinart Professional 11 Piece Set on Amazon (about $140)
Pros: Wrap-around design provides good heating for affordable bottom-clad cookware.
Cons: Bottom clad only, glass lids, 2 similar sized sauce pans in set, nonstick skillet in set, possibly not 304 stainless.
Who Should Buy this Cookware: Anyone on a tight budget. If you can't afford fully clad cookware, this is one of the best bottom-clad options out there.
Pieces in Set:
8-in. and 10-in. skillets
2 qt sauce pan w/lid
3 qt pour sauce pan w/strainer lid
3 qt sauté pan w/lid (and helper handle!)
8 qt stock pot w/lid
Steamer insert (18cm).
Cuisinart makes some of the best Chinese imported stainless steel cookware sets. Their Professional Series is less well known than their Chef's Classic, which is also a bottom clad set, but the Pro Series cookware is better by leaps and bounds.
What you need to know about bottom clad cookware is that the main reason makers do this is because it's cheap. But the difference between the Chef's Classic and the Professional Series is like the difference between a lightning bug and lightning. So, for a small amount more money, you can get really great performing, yet very affordable, cookware.
Here's the Chef's Classic bottom configuration:
Here's the Demeyere Atlantis configuration--the Professional Series is closer to this in design (Cuisinart Professional Series is aluminum, though, not copper and silver):
The difference? The wraparound design of the cladding. (We would have preferred to show a Pro Series cladding diagram, but Cuisinart doesn't provide one, and we were too lazy to make our own--sorry.) This design, where the bottom cladding is extra thick and covers the entire bottom of the pan, provides heating performance almost as good as fully clad cookware--no extra stirring required because there is little to no heat discontinuity where the cladding ends, as there is on cookware that smaller discs.
The Professional Series cladding is also much thicker (like the super high end Demeyere Atlantis cookware). The massive slab of aluminum is also thick enough to provide great heat retention, which makes this cookware great for searing.
The downside of this cookware is that the smallest set is the 11 piece, and the 2 quart sauce pan included is a bit of a filler piece (though a nice size if you like to heat canned soups or make small batches of sauces). While you will get some use out of this small sauce pan, a third, 12-inch skillet would have been a much more usable piece. (At this price, though, there's really nothing to complain about.)
NOTE: You can buy the 12-inch Professional Series skillet for about $40, and it's a nice looking pan:
We also don't like the glass lids, but again, at this price, it's unrealistic to expect stainless.
The steamer insert, however, is a great piece that you will no doubt get much use out of. While it's not a lot to buy separately, it's one of those things you might not get around to, or know how great it actually is if you haven't used one. (Also, Cuisinart doesn't seem to sell one for the Pro Series line, and we couldn't find another Cuisinart steamer that fit the Pro Series pan, nor could we find a generic one. If you want to steam and don't have the steamer, you may have to go with something like this.)
Cuisinart doesn't say what grade of stainless steel they use, so the Cuisinart Professional Series cookware is probably 18/4--a 200 Series stainless steel that is more prone to corrosion than the 18/8 or 18/10 used by most other makers. The thing is, Cuisinart cookware is so amazingly affordable, the have to cut corners somewhere. And even so, their cookware is good quality. So, unless you are regularly exposing the cookware to salt water baths for extended periods, the 18/4 stainless will hold up just fine under regular use.
The Professional Series cookware is oven safe to 500F or 350F with lids and induction compatible. The wide-grip, hollow handles feel great in the hand, and all the pieces have drip-free pouring rims.
All in all, a nice starter set for the young cook who needs everything. It should hold up for many years, though probably not as well as a set made of 18/10 stainless.
For more information about Cuisinart's complete clad stainless cookware lines, see our review on Cuisinart Clad Stainless Cookware.
BUY THE Cuisinart Professional series 11 PIECE SET ON AMAZON NOW:
Recommendation for Best Imported Brand: Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 7 Piece Set
See Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 7 Piece Set on Amazon (about $245)
See Cuisinart French Classic 10 piece set on Amazon (about $470)
Pros: Great heating properties, stainless lids, well made, close knockoff of All-Clad D3, good basic pieces.
Cons: Made in China, probably not 304 stainless (more likely 200 Series stainless).
Who Should Buy this Cookware: Anyone on a budget who wants good quality fully clad cookware.
Pieces in Set:
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 performance for a fraction of the price.
Though you will get use out of the 1.5 qt. sauce pan, it's a bit of a filler piece, and 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 $70; about half the cost of this entire set.)
The rest of the pieces are very 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.
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 set. This set has the same build quality as the Multiclad Pro, but it's a little bit prettier and it's made in France, so also more expensive. The smallest set is 10 pieces, with a couple of really nice pieces like an 8 qt stock pot, but the rest of the pieces are average--8-in/10-in. skillets, 2 qt/3 qt sauce pan, and a smallish 4.5 qt Dutch oven. However, this is very, very pretty cookware, so it might turn your head:
If you are on a tight budget, Cuisinart Multiclad Pro is one of the best options around. Remember that Cuisinart probably uses 200 Series stainless steel, which is not as durable or long lasting as the 18/8 or 18/10 used by most other manufacturers. Even so, if you're careful not to let the cookware soak in salt water for long periods, it should provide decades of use.
BUY THE Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 7 piece SET ON AMAZON NOW:
Recommendation for Best Pieces in Set: Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 12 Piece Set made in China
Pros: 18/10 stainless, All-Clad D3 knockoff w/great heating, largest pieces of any set we recommend.
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 and 3qt sauce pans w/lids
5- or 6-qt deep sauté pan w/lid
5qt Dutch oven w/lid,
-8- or 12-qt stock pot w/lid.
While most 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. Also, Tramontina is 18/10 stainless steel, while Cuisinart MC Pro is a lesser grade. Tramontina is more expensive than MC Pro, but that's to be expected with the higher grade of stainless. 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 now 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:
It's not terrible, and it's far from a deal breaker. And since you get the big bad 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 12 Piece Set on Amazon now:
Buy the Tramontina 12 Piece Set at Wal-Mart now:
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 you can love for decades.
We hope this buying guide for clad stainless steel cookware sets helped you find the perfect cookware set.
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