If you've heard of waterless cookware, then you've probably heard the following things:
- It's healthier than other cookware
- It reduces cooking time
- It's extremely high quality
- It's more expensive than other cookware, but well worth the higher cost.
You may also have heard:
- You can only buy it from a direct seller (it's not available in a retail setting)
- It's gimmicky
- It's overpriced.
Oddly enough, the truth encompasses all of these: waterless cookware can be very high quality cookware and it can be a healthy way to cook.
But it can also be gimmicky. So if you want to buy wisely, you have to be able to separate the science from the marketing hype.
In this detailed analysis, we're going to look several facets of waterless cookware so you can decide whether waterless cookware is right for you and your family. We'll also provide information on popular brands so you can understand how they differ and know what you're paying for.
Summary: Pros and Cons of Waterless Cookware
What Is Waterless Cooking?
Waterless cooking is a cooking method that uses low temperatures, very little water, and usually no added fat. Tight-fitting lids create steam from the naturally high water content of most foods, and the steam pressurizes the pot, causing food to cook at a lower temperature than it would without a lid.
The higher pressure also causes some foods to cook faster (also like using a pressure cooker).
Additionally, this method involves using smaller vessels and packing them full of food, as shown above with chicken breasts (by the time she's done filling the pan, there will be no room between the breasts). Browning food is less important than steaming with this method, and filling a pot with a lot of food creates more steam than less food in a larger pot.
The advantage of cooking with low temperatures and little to no water is that foods retain more of some nutrients. However, this is not as straightforward as it sounds (more on this in a minute).
The advantage of using no added fat is a reduction in calories, although this is not necessarily healthier, either (more on this in a minute, too).
These claims add up to two major selling points: waterless cooking is 1) healthier and 2) more convenient than other kinds of cooking (because it's faster).
Being healthier is the main selling point of waterless cookware, and convenience is the cherry on top of the sundae. But is it really healthier? In some ways, absolutely. But in other ways, not so much.
Rarely are things as simple, black-and-white as sellers would have you believe, and waterless cooking is no exception.
The hallmarks of waterless cooking are that it uses 1) low temperatures, 2) little to no water, and 3) no added fat. Advocates also believe waterless cooking is healthier than other cooking methods, but this is only partially true.
The Origins of "Waterless" Cookware
Waterless cookware goes back to the mid-1940s. There was low-water cooking before this--known as pressure cooking, which is still popular today--but the term "waterless" wasn't used until the advent of stainless steel cookware.
When the term "waterless cooking" began to gain popularity, boiling was a popular way to prepare vegetables and even meat (it's hard to imagine cooking meat by boiling, but back then, people did). Research showed that boiling could destroy nutrients in food--so what better way to tout healthy cooking than a method that used less water?
Thus, the term "waterless cooking" was coined in response to the popularity of boiling. And it was deliberately meant to denote a better cooking method.
Since people rarely boil food anymore, the term is outdated, although still a buzzword that means "healthier" to many people. It is also largely misunderstood. For example, some websites will tell you that you can use waterless cooking for foods like rice, pasta, and beans, and that it requires much less water when preparing these foods. This is absurd.
Regardless of the type of cookware you use, foods like rice, pasta and dried beans require hydration, and the cooking process does not destroy nutrients in these foods. Quite the opposite: these foods must be hydrated in order to be edible.
"Waterless" originally referred to cooking without boiling--and it is, in many ways, a healthier way to cook both meat and vegetables. (More on this in a minute.)
"Waterless" cooking came about in reaction to boiling, which was a popular way to cook food in the 1940-50s, and which leached several nutrients from food. Today, the term is largely outdated, but still has connotations of healthier cooking.
Features of Waterless Cookware
To achieve the results of waterless cooking, you have to use special waterless cookware--or at least, that's what the manufacturers of waterless cookware will tell you.
The features of waterless cookware are:
- Made of "surgical" stainless steel
- Multi-ply cladding
- Either full or disc cladding (and sometimes both)
- Uses lower temps and no added water or fat
- Healthier than other cookware
- Reduces cooking times
- Has steam-control knobs and/or "vacuum-sealing" lids
- Pieces are stackable, enabling you to cook multiple dishes on one burner
- Originally sold by the direct selling method.
We'll look at each of these in detail.
Made of "Surgical" Stainless Steel
If you read the write-up of just about any brand of waterless cookware, you will see that it's made of "surgical" stainless steel, which sounds impressive. Surgical stainless steel is supposed to be more stable and less reactive with food than other types of stainless steel--the implication being that waterless cookware is safer and healthier than other types of clad stainless cookware, and certainly healthier than non-stainless cookware.
It is not. "Surgical" is a marketing term. Almost all clad stainless cookware is made from 300 Series stainless steel, and all 300 Series stainless steel is "surgical" grade.
All-Clad, Tramontina, Demeyere, Heritage Steel, Cuisinart, Made In, and the vast majority of other clad stainless cookware manufacturers use "surgical" grade stainless steel; they just don't call it that.
If you doubt this, this site says that 300 Series stainless is used in both the food and beverage industry and medical applications (as well as a number of other applications).
Thus, "surgical" stainless steel is not a unique feature of waterless cookware. It's just a buzz word that simply means corrosion-resistant stainless steel.
Having said that, we should add that while all 300 Series stainless steel is "surgical" grade, there are many different types of it. For example, some contain titanium. Yet as impressive as titanium sounds, it's simply another way to make steel corrosion-proof, and isn't necessarily better than forms of 300 stainless steel that don't have it.
About Nickel: The stainless steel in most (probably all) waterless cookware contains nickel unless specifically stating otherwise. Nickel is a hallmark of stainless steel because it's what makes the steel resistant to corrosion. If you have a nickel sensitivity, most brands of waterless cookware aren't going to be any better than other types of stainless cookware--meaning that unless they clearly state that they don't contain nickel, you're just as likely to have nickel sensitivity issues with waterless cookware as you are with any other stainless cookware.
"Surgical" simply means corrosion-resistant stainless steel, and it is not a unique feature of waterless cookware. Al clad stainless cookware is made from corrosion-resistant stainless steel, even if not called "surgical."
Multi Ply Cladding
Waterless cookware is always some configuration of clad stainless cookware, but these configurations differ among brands. Some is tri-ply (stainless-aluminum-stainless), while some have up to 9 plies that can include 300 Series stainless, aluminum alloy, pure aluminum, ferritic (i.e., magnetic) stainless steel, carbon steel, cast iron, and more.
The most important layers are:
- "surgical" stainless, for a stable cooking surface
- magnetic stainless, carbon steel, or cast iron for induction compatibility
- aluminum, for rapid and even heat transfer.
Additional layers and materials may sound impressive, but these three are all you really need for durable, evenly heating cookware (and if you don't have induction, then you don't need the magnetic layer, although most waterless cookware has a magnetic layer for induction compatibility).
Since everything you need can be achieved with three layers, it's debatable whether more plies adds to the performance of the cookware. For example, a layer of cast iron or carbon steel may cause cookware to hang onto heat longer, but it also heats less evenly than aluminum, so it's not necessarily an improvement.
And an internal layer of "surgical" stainless serves no purpose at all as far as we can tell: the value of surgical stainless is that it's a stable cooking surface that won't react with food. Since stainless steel has terrible heating properties, putting it on the inside, where it isn't needed, is probably more of a detriment than an advantage.
The upshot: More plies do not necessarily equal better performance, and are largely just marketing hype.
More important than the number of plies is the configuration of the plies, particularly the heating layer(s): A thicker layer of aluminum will result in faster, more even heating than a thinner layer--and this is largely what you pay for when you buy high quality clad stainless cookware. (Check out any of our articles about clad stainless cookware to learn more about this.)
Thicker layers also result in more durable cookware that's less prone to warping.
Unfortunately, we had no luck finding specific information on the heating cores for any brand of waterless cookware. Since waterless cookware is marketed primarily as a healthier choice, the heating properties probably aren't a major selling point for most people. However, in our opinion, they should be, as they should be for all cookware.
Since this information is lacking for most brands of clad stainless cookware--not just waterless brands--we don't consider it a black mark against waterless cookware. (Though it is very hard to make an informed buying decision without this information.)
You can test the cookware, which is what we did in some cases (we weren't able to purchase every brand). You can also estimate simply by how heavy the cookware how well it will perform. You want your cookware to have a good heft--in general, you should buy the heaviest cookware you can comfortably handle.
The main point here is not to get dazzled by ridiculous numbers of plies--and to remember that only three layers are needed for durable, great-performing cookware.
The most important layers of waterless cookware are the same as for all clad stainless cookware: stainless steel for safe cooking, aluminum for fast and even heating, and a magnetic layer for induction compatibility. Everything else is largely marketing hype. (More plies are not necessarily better.)
If you can't find information on the heating core, go by weight: heavier pots are going to have a thicker heating core--this mean more even heating, less scorching and fewer hot/cold spots, and more resistance to warping.
Full or Disc Cladding
Some waterless cookware has full cladding (that is, all the way up the sides), as this diagram from American-made Belkraft cookware shows:
Other brands are clad only on the bottom, like this Chinese-made Vapo-Seal cookware:
(You may have to look closely at the diagram, but if you do, you'll see that the layering is only on the bottom of the pot.)
Another way to tell if cookware is disc-clad (instead of fully clad) is if it has a "seam" on the bottom of the pot where the cladding is fused to the pan. You can see the seam on this pan from the World's Finest set:
Yet another way to tell is by price: Disc-clad cookware is almost always going to be less expensive than fully clad cookware.
In general, brands made and sold in the US have full cladding, while the brands made or sold overseas are disc-clad.
Some American-made brands have tri-ply cladding on the sides and also a disc for extra heating performance.
If you compare disc-clad to fully clad waterless cookware, you'll notice that it lacks the claim that it "cooks from all sides." This is true: the heating properties are only on the bottom of the pan. Depending on the design of the disc, this can result in an area of abrupt heat discontinuity. Food still cooks, but it may require more stirring to cook as evenly as it will in fully clad cookware.
This diagram from Belkraft illustrates the difference:
Since waterless cooking requires leaving the lid on to steam food, we consider disc cladding a fairly big drawback; heating "from all sides" is important. Thus, for the waterless cooking method, you will get better results from fully clad cookware. You can use disc-clad waterless cookware, but it isn't optimal. (This is not true for all disc-clad cookware, but it is true for all the waterless brands we researched and tested for this article.)
By the way, most high quality brands of non-waterless, clad stainless cookware are fully clad, including All-Clad, Heritage Steel, Demeyere Industry 5, Tramontina, Cuisinart, Made In, Misen, and more.
Waterless cookware can be fully clad or disc-clad. Be sure you know what you're buying! We generally prefer fully clad cookware, but for waterless cooking, it's probably even more important: the low heat settings required work better when the entire pot hangs onto heat, not just the bottom.
Uses Low Temps and No Added Water or Fat for Cooking
These traits are at the core of waterless cooking, and the reason why it is perceived as healthier than other cooking methods. And while it's true that these are all traits of waterless cooking, it is not always true that these methods are healthier, or that you can only achieve them with special cookware.
Let's look at each one.
Low temperatures: Yes, high temperatures can destroy some--not all--nutrients in foods. So using low temps will retain more nutrients. But you don't need special cookware to cook with low temperatures. You can use any cookware, as long as your cooktop is set to a low temperature. To cook with low temperatures, you don't even need a lid.
Little or no added water: As we already mentioned, the added water claim came about in reaction to the once popular method of boiling, which leaches nutrients from food. And since most foods contain a large amount of water, it is unnecessary to add more to cook them. So this can be a healthy way to prepare food.
But as with using low temps, you can also use little or no added water with any cookware you currently own. The only caveat is that you must use a lid so the pot can produce steam and a slightly pressurized environment. So once again: special cookware is not required to use no added water (except for a lid).
No added fat: Fat is no longer the demon it was perceived to be when waterless cookware was first introduced and throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Nutrition science today has a much more complex and nuanced understanding about the role of fat in the diet. The truth is that the human body requires fat to survive.
Furthermore, some nutrients are only fat soluble, so if there's no fat in your food, your body can't absorb them. According to this article, you need fat in order to absorb several types of nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as beta carotene and lycopene.
So this claim is actually wrong. You can and should use healthy fat when cooking, no matter what type of cookware you're using. If you don't, many of the nutrients in your food will pass through your body unabsorbed.
What constitutes healthy fat? There's a still a fair amount of controversy about this, but this article from Harvard provides a decent discussion about it. Our basic advice--which you should definitely do more research on to come to your own conclusions--is to avoid trans-fats like the plague, don't worry too much about saturated (i.e., animal) fats, and try to use non-seed oils for cooking (olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil are all excellent).
Don't be afraid of the fat!
It's true that it's healthier to use low temps and less water than boiling, but you can do this with any lidded cookware--you do not need waterless cookware to cook this way. As for fat, your body needs fat to absorb certain nutrients, so low-fat cooking--with healthy fats--is preferable to no-fat cooking.
Healthier than Other Cookware
For the reasons laid out above, waterless cookware is marketed as healthier than other cookware. But as we said, you can use do waterless cooking with any pan that has a lid.
Thus, waterless cookware is only as healthy as the cook who uses it--the same as any other kind of cookware.
Some of the health claims made by waterless cookware manufacturers are implausible, to say the least. Increased energy? Longer life? These are pretty ridiculous, as no link between certain types of cookware and longer life has ever been established.
Yes, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cook, but these are choices we make, and have little to do with which cookware we use.
Some brands of waterless cookware are very high quality. But the way much of it is marketed is fundamentally dishonest. In fact, these outlandish health claims are one of the primary things that make waterless cookware gimmicky.
When a manufacturer makes claims without basis in science or reality, it's meant to prey on people's fears and insecurities--and in some cases, to charge more than the product is actually worth. If you can convince someone that cookware will help them live longer, they will shell out almost any amount of money to have it.
We find it off-putting, to say the least.
The health claims made by waterless cookware manufacturers are, to us, the most off-putting feature of this cookware. No cookware can help you live longer! You can cook healthily with any cookware--you do not need special cookware to choose a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Reduces Cooking Time
Yes, the waterless method can reduce cooking time. This is due to the steam created inside the lidded vessel: higher pressure can cause food to cook faster. See Boyle's Law in Wikipedia for an explanation of this: it's a basic principle of physics.
It's also the same principle as pressure cooking--and why the Instant Pot has become such a sensation: who wouldn't want to cook tender, juicy pot roast or ribs in just half an hour?
So once again, the claim is true, but it is not exclusive to waterless cookware. In fact, any cookware with a lid will work as long as you don't peek--and an Instant Pot or stovetop pressure cooker will reduce cooking times even more (because, more pressure).
Pressure is created inside a pot when the lid is left on, and this can reduce cooking time. But you can do this in any lidded pot; it doesn't have to be waterless. If you want to reduce cooking time even more, look into pressure cookers.
Steam Control Knobs and "Vacuum-Sealing" Lids
Steam control knobs are unique to waterless cookware. They are also another aspect that makes waterless cookware (in our opinion) gimmicky.
The steam control knobs allow you to control the amount of steam that escapes from the pot. They also alert you to when it's time to turn the temperature down by whistling.
They are also completely unnecessary. Any lid can create steam inside any pot, and you can control the amount of steam that escapes simply by cracking the lid as you see fit.
In fact, not all waterless cookware has adjustable steam vents. Many brands simply tell you to turn the heat down when you can smell the food or you can see that the pan is releasing steam (like any other cookware).
"Vacuum-sealing" is simply a fancy way of saying that leaving the lid on--no peeking!--creates higher pressure inside the pot--again, something you can achieve with any well-fitting lid.
The only reason the steam control knobs may be of value is the whistling. This could appeal to novice or inattentive cooks because it alerts you when time to turn down the heat.
However, keep in mind that these steam controls make the cookware both more fragile and harder to care for. The overwhelming complaint by waterless cookware reviewers, even those who love their waterless cookware, is that the steam knobs (as well as the plastic handles) loosened and fell off, or that parts of them broke off. And in some cases, they weren't able to get replacements from the manufacturer (particularly true for brands made overseas).
Some brands have removable handles so you can put pots in the dishwasher, but if they don't, you have to wash the lids by hand.
Plastic knobs and handles also make the cookware less oven safe.
So while the convenience of having a whistling lid is intriguing, we much prefer more durable lids with stainless handles and no moving parts.
Adjustable steam vents are gimmicky and unnecessary, and brands that DON'T have them are more durable (fewer parts to break).
If you decide to buy waterless cookware, buy a brand without plastic steam vents or handles (e.g., 360), or one with a reputation for replacing parts promptly (e.g., an American made brand). The knobs and handles are the weakest parts of this cookware, and you will probably need to replace some of them throughout the cookware's lifetime.
Being stackable is unique to waterless cookware.
This means that you can cook several dishes on one burner by stacking pots on top of each other.
Why do this? To save energy by using one burner instead of two, three, or four.
As far as we know, this is only possible with waterless cookware.
However, if you have a steamer basket, it's possible to steam foods while boiling other foods no matter what cookware you own. For example, you can use boiling pasta water to steam a basket of broccoli.
But other than that, stackability seems unique to waterless cookware.
Stackability is unique to waterless cookware, as far as we know. Not all brands have this feature, so if you want it, be sure to buy a brand that has it (such as Lifetime).
Originally Sold By the Direct Selling Method
Direct selling basically means non-retail selling. That is, a representative sets up a booth at a fair or other public event or comes to your home or workplace to do a demonstration of their product.
While direct selling isn't necessarily dishonest, it can be. There are aspects of it that can make consumers easier marks than they would be if buying in a retail (or an online) setting. These include:
- High pressure sales tactics (i.e., playing on emotions, creating a sense of urgency, and not allowing time to consider the purchase: "this price is only available today!")
- Lack of ability to compare to other products, especially pricing, as some of these brands are much more expensive than other types of clad stainless cookware
- Excuses about why the product isn't sold in retail stores (or online) that don't really hold up (because the seller is relying on the first two bullet points to sell the product).
This 5-minute video describes high-pressure sales tactics, and we think it fits exactly how some waterless cookware brands are marketed:
For example: What could be a more emotional appeal than "living longer"?
Most of the original, made in USA, waterless cookware brands were sold by direct selling methods. One company says on their website that this was because there were no retail outlets available after World War II when they began selling.
This is preposterous. (The economy was booming after World War II.) The more likely reason they use direct selling was because the prices were so.much.higher than that of cookware sold in retail stores that they didn't want people comparing prices: Who's going to pay $2000 for a set of cookware when a perfectly good set of All-Clad stainless--an extremely high quality brand--costs a fraction of that?
They also need to do the demonstrations in order to get people excited (emotional appeal!) about the product. This is how they get buyers to justify the ridiculously high cost of the cookware.
Direct selling isn't exactly a scam: most of the waterless cookware sold this way is top-notch, high quality cookware. But if you're paying $2000 or more for a set of clad stainless cookware, you're probably paying too much.
And an appeal to emotion is not an ethical way to sell any product.
Today, direct selling of waterless cookware isn't as popular as it once was, though many of the brands made in North America still use it (and if you try to order a product off of their website, you'll get a popup window with a toll-free number to call--no prices given until you agree to watch a demonstration).
Or, other versions of direct selling are used, such as the late night infomercial: Pretty much every high-priced brand of waterless cookware has an infomercial (or three) you can watch to get excited about the cookware.
Direct selling is a gimmicky aspect of waterless cookware--and even some brands that aren't sold this way still market much the same way, using the same buzz words to differentiate themselves from regular clad stainless cookware. For example, "surgical stainless steel," "healthier," "safer," etc.
Direct selling can prey on people's emotions and not give them a fair way to evaluate a product. Even though you can buy waterless cookware other ways now (e.g., Amazon), some products still use the gimmicky techniques and buzz words of direct selling.
Is Waterless Cooking Really Healthier than Other Cooking Methods?
Though we already discussed this, we'll summarize here.
Is waterless cooking really healthier than other cooking methods?
Yes and no.
The yes: Cooking at low temperatures with small amounts of moisture will result in fewer lost nutrients. Many nutrients are heat-sensitive, so this is a no-brainer. Too much browning from high heat can also create unhealthy compounds that we should avoid when possible: another reason low-heat cooking is healthier.
The no: While fat-free cooking sounds good in principle, it isn't always the case. Many nutrients are fat-soluble, and your body can't absorb these nutrients without some amount of fat. Also, your body needs healthy fats to survive. In the mid-20th century, low-fat cooking and dieting was huge. But with today's more sophisticated understanding of nutrition, we know that low fat is not always the best choice.
When it comes to nutrition, nothing is simple. And while cooking with low heat is in most cases healthier, as is steaming versus boiling, the truth is that you don't need special cookware to do that.
The point is that it's a cooking method. And the method has little to do with the type of cookware you use.
What Makes Waterless Cookware "Gimmicky"?
According to the Collins Dictionary: "If you describe something as gimmicky, you think it has features which are not necessary or useful, and whose only purpose is to attract attention or publicity." In many ways, this definition fits the concept of waterless cookware.
We already discussed much of this above, where we talked about the features of waterless cookware. Here's a summary of the gimmicky aspects of waterless cookware:
- Use of meaningless buzz words ("surgical stainless steel," "vacumatic cooking")
- Claims of having unique features that in reality you can get from any lidded cookware
- Adjustable steam valves or "vacuum" cooking, both of which are unnecessary to use a low water and/or low fat cooking method (all you need is a lid)
- Claims that the cookware is healthier than other cookware and will help you live longer (it's the method, not the cookware)
- High pressure direct selling techniques (not all brands, just some)
- Appealing to people's emotions ("this cookware is healthier," "this cookware will help you live longer").
Once again, many brands of waterless cookware are high quality, and we have nothing against the waterless cooking method itself. But you can get high quality clad stainless cookware brands without the marketing hype, almost certainly for less money. And, you can cook the low water and low fat way with any lidded cookware.
Features ONLY Waterless Cookware Has
The two features you can only get in waterless cookware are:
- steam control vents.
If you're sold on stackability or really want steam vents that whistle when it's time to turn the heat down, then you need to buy waterless cookware with steam control knobs. If not, you can find other good quality clad stainless cookware that will perform just as well, if not better--and in many cases, at a lower price.
Disadvantages of Waterless Cookware
What are the disadvantages of waterless cookware?
We'll set aside the gimmicky buzz words and high pressure sales techniques for a moment and just look at the functionality of the cookware.
- The steam valves and handles are plastic, and can break, needing replacement. They are not as durable as stainless handles, especially if they have moving parts (not all waterless cookware does).
- Brands with steam vents are not dishwasher safe because of the fragility of the moving parts.
- Waterless cookware is not as oven safe as stainless cookware with stainless lids and handles; some may not be oven safe at all.
- There are no skillets in most waterless cookware sets because skillets aren't conducive to waterless cooking. You can use the straight-sided sauté pan, but if you want to do any old-fashioned frying, you'll need to augment your waterless set with a skillet of a different brand. (An exception is 360 Cookware, which is made in the US and is our pick for best waterless cookware.)
- Some brands of waterless cookware are outrageously overpriced. Yes, it's high quality cookware, but you can get equal quality in a set of All-Clad or Demeyere for a fraction of the price.
- In the interest of forming a tight seal, the designs can have a lot of nooks and crannies, especially where the lid meets the pan. This makes waterless cookware harder to clean, with lots of areas for gunk to collect that are hard to scrub.
What About the People Who Swear By this Cookware?
You will find many people who love their waterless cookware passionately, have had it for decades, and say it's as great and shiny as the day they bought it.
This is nice to know, particularly since they probably paid a lot for it.
Once again: We aren't saying that waterless cookware is poor quality or that it won't hold up. Most of the brands made in North America are extremely high quality. We are huge fans of clad stainless cookware in general. It can take a ton of abuse, it's fairly easy to care for, and it provides a stable cooking surface that's safe and non-reactive.
We also like the waterless cooking method, for the most part; while the waterless videos and infomercials don't tell the whole story, waterless and lower fat is, overall, a healthy way to cook. (But not no fat--that has been discredited by modern nutrition science.)
So of course there are people who love the Saladmaster or Health Craft set they bought back in 1965. What's not to love?
It's just that there are other brands of clad stainless cookware that are just as good, and for considerably less money. All-Clad, for example, which also comes with a lifetime warranty, is made in the USA, and has stainless lids and handles that are going to outlast the plastic ones on the waterless pieces. All without dubious health claims and emotional, high pressure sales tactics.
How Does Waterless Cookware Compare to All-Clad?
We discussed this already, too, in a number of places, but to summarize:
- The quality of the stainless steel used in All-Clad is as good or better than that used in waterless cookware (depending on the brand--those made in the US are as good as All-Clad).
- All-Clad has all stainless lids and handles, so no worries about breakage as with the waterless cookware pieces.
- All-Clad is oven safe up to 500F; waterless cookware is typically safe only to 300F because of the plastic handles, or not oven safe at all. (If you want cookware with any type of plastic or bakelite handles to last, you shouldn't put them in the oven ever, even if the manufacturer says you can.)
- You can use the waterless cooking method with All-Clad cookware or any cookware that has lids. You don't need special cookware to cook this way.
- You can use the low-fat or no-fat cooking method with All-Clad as well.
- All-Clad's lid and handle design has fewer nooks and crannies, so it's easier to clean.
- The exact configuration of All-Clad is a thickness of 2.6mm with an aluminum layer 1.7mm thick; few brands of waterless cookware provide this information. This doesn't necessarily mean waterless cookware is lower quality, it just makes it harder to do an apples-to-apples comparison.
- All-Clad cookware is not stackable except for the double boiler and steamer insert. The steamer insert is an extremely easy way to cook with a low-water method (i.e., it's more forgiving than cooking over direct heat).
- All-Clad is fully clad cookware. Some brands of waterless cookware--particularly those made overseas--are disc clad, which we do not recommend for waterless cooking.
These comparisons apply to other brands of fully-clad stainless steel cookware, including Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad, Cuisinart Multiclad Pro, Demeyere, Williams-Sonoma Thermo Clad, and more. Though the exact configurations among brands will differ, you can use all of them for the waterless cooking method.
This is also true for other types of cookware--aluminum, nonstick, enameled cast iron, ceramic, etc. As long as it has a lid, you can use the waterless and low fat cooking methods.
How to Cook Without Water or Fat
Here's how to cook without added water or fat:
- Grab any cookware in your kitchen that has a lid.
- Follow the instructions given in any infomercial or video about waterless or fat-free cooking. Alternatively, just use a small amount of water for veggies or pre-heat a dry pan for searing meat.
- If listening for a whistle is involved, just keep your eye on the pot and turn the heat down (or off) when the lid starts dancing or shaking. (Don't peek!)
The Covered Sauté Method: What Waterless Cooking Really Is
If you still think you need special cookware to cook with the waterless method, this should change your mind: The method touted by waterless cookware makers has a generic name that goes way back to cookbooks written in the 19th century and possibly earlier: it's called the covered sauté method.
Outside of waterless cooking, you don't hear a lot about it anymore, and a Google search turned up frustratingly few links. But it's discussed in the second volume of Modernist Cuisine as a standard technique used to produce perfectly crisp-tender vegetables--and if you use butter, a delicious sauce to serve them with.
This method describes adding a small amount of moisture, or letting the vegetables produce their own, plus a small amount if fat, if desired, to add flavor and a small amount of sauce--all done in a tightly covered pan over low to medium heat.
So you see, this cooking method existed before waterless cookware was invented. This means you don't anything other than a pan with a lid to get "waterless" results.
American-Made Waterless Cookware (Reviews and Links to Brands)
All the original brands of waterless cookware, e.g., Saladmaster and Health Craft, were originally made in the USA.
Today, there are two major players in the American waterless cookware market. One is Regal Ware in West Bend, Wisconsin. They make several brands of cookware, including several popular lines of waterless cookware.
The other is New Era Cookware located in Clarksville, Tennessee. They also make several lines of cookware, both waterless and other types.
While there's no doubt that American made waterless cookware is very high quality, buying details about most brands are shrouded in secrecy. For example, it's not easy to find pricing information unless you agree to have a person give you a demonstration. The reason for this is probably that the cookware is very, very expensive, but that's just a guess on our part. Overall, it's another frustrating aspect of the direct selling method.
Here are some of some of the most popular lines of American-made waterless cookware.
*360 Stainless Steel Cookware with Vapor Seal
Fully clad, lifetime warranty. Made in USA.
This might be the only American brand sold on Amazon and not sold by representatives. It's also a bit of a hybrid: not all the way "waterless" because of the stainless handles (but a great example of why you can use the waterless method with any covered pans!) and because it comes with a skillet. Many waterless cookware sets only have sauté-type pans. (If you're not sure what the difference is, check out our article Should I Buy a Skillet or a Sauté Pan?)
The stainless handles make it more durable and easier to clean than brands with plastic vents and handles. It is also oven safe to 500F.
This is beautiful, top quality clad stainless cookware. They even provide some specifications: at 0.11-in. thick, it's roughly the same as All-Clad tri-ply. It's made in West Bend, Wisconsin, presumably by the same makers of so many other Regal Ware brands (see below).
For comparison, prices are higher than for All-Clad tri-ply.
If you want waterless cookware, 360 is our top recommendation.
American Waterless Cookware
Made in Tennessee by the New Era cookware company, fully clad w/5 or 7 plies depending on the line, 50 year warranty. 316Ti stainless steel, bakelite handles and steam vents. Stackable. We like that you can order replacement handles right off the main page of the web site (because you're almost certainly going to need them).
Vacumatic steam control vents that whistle when it's time to turn down the heat.
The company claims their "vacumatic" lids use a different cooking method than other waterless cookware brands because the food cooks at a lower temperature. However, it's still cooking food by pressurizing/steaming, so the main difference is in the marketing jargon.
If you want waterless cookware, this is good quality and you'll get good customer service--but it's not cheap.
Belkraft is also made in Tennessee by the New Era cookware company. It's vacumatic, waterless cookware, 7-ply fully clad, and stackable.
In other words, it's almost identical to the American Waterless Cookware above.
Regal Ware Waterless Cookware (Several Brands)
Regal Ware, located in West Bend, Wisconsin, makes several brands of waterless cookware, including Classica, Saladmaster, Health Craft, and Lifetime. They also make 360 cookware (above), Kitchen Craft and other retail brands.
The waterless cookware varies slightly among the brands, but it is all quite similar.
Here's the Classica small set (5-ply, whistling vents, removable handles so you can put pans in dishwasher):
Classica is a newer line, started in 1991. It's got all the bells and whistles of waterless cookware and is top-quality cookware. No prices listed, and available only by direct selling.
Here's Kitchen Craft/Lustre Craft (7-ply, fully clad):
Kitchen Craft is super high quality cookware. Every part of it is made in the USA. The set shown here has a suggested retail price of $2495. High! That is unlikely to be the final selling price, but you have to register on their website to find out the real price.
The selling point of Kitchen Craft/Lustre Craft is the "Gourmet Cooker," which is essentially a slow cooker. The price listed on the website for this piece alone is $555. (That better be a pretty darn good slow cooker!)
Here's Health Craft (316Ti, 9-ply), stackable:
Health Craft is also super high quality cookware, all made in the USA. Its newest Ultra Tech line is 9-ply 316Ti. While there's a lot of overlap with Regal Ware's other waterless cookware lines (including the Saladmaster original rotary vegetable cutter), Health Craft also sells a complete line of other "healthy lifestyle" products, including air purification systems, water purification systems, induction cooktops, and sanitizing machines.
Saladmaster: 316Ti stainless, tri-ply with vapo-seal technology, limited lifetime warranty. Pieces have removable handles so you can put this cookware in the dishwasher. One of the original waterless cookware brands, bought by Regal Ware in 1979. Very expensive.
This cookware is called "Saladmaster" because the original product made by Saladmaster was this rotary cutter:
Today, many brands of Regal Ware waterless cookware also market some form of this rotary cutter. It comes with several blades and you can use to grate cheese as well as dice, grate, peel, and slice vegetables.
It's really just a manual food processor, but a lot of people love it. It's included in some of the cookware sets, or you can buy it separately for around $260.
As you can see, all the Regal Ware cookware is similar. It has some different gimmicks, like the electric cookware that's part of the Kitchen Craft set, and different cladding configurations. But it's all made in the same American factory. It's all high quality cookware with a lifetime guarantee. It's all induction compatible.
If you want prices for most of these, you have to talk to a representative. Since we didn't do that, we can't really make any recommendations on any of these lines. We suspect they're all very similar.
Waterless Cookware Made Overseas (Reviews and Links to Brands)
The biggest difference between American made waterless cookware and imported cookware (usually made in China or Korea) is that the vast majority of imported waterless cookware is disc-clad only. Every brand we found was disc-clad.
For this reason, we don't recommend any of this cookware. If you're on a tight budget, we prefer a brand of fully clad imported cookware like Cuisinart Multiclad Pro or Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad. (Remember, you can still use the waterless/low fat cooking method in any covered pot.)
One of the first things you might notice in the products below is that there are two very similar sets: a 17 piece and a 28 piece. The two sets are nearly identical, although some sizes differ and some of the accessories differ (however, note that a "heat resistant pan rest" and a "Phenolic trivet" are the same thing).
We suspect this is because these are OEM products--that is, all made in the same factory but with different logos for different sellers. It's a common practice, especially overseas.
BNF 28 Pc Waterless Cookware Set
This is a 28 piece set of cookware--and miscellaneous accessories--for under $140. Bottom-clad only with Thermo-control knobs. Made in China.
The set includes: 1.6qt Saucepan with Cover, 1.6qt Casserole with Cover, 2.2qt Casserole with Cover, 3.1qt Casserole with Cover, Step-Steamer with Side Handles, 6qt Casserole with Cover, 10-7/8-in. Frypan with Cover, Large Mixing Bowl with Airtight Plastic Cover, Medium Mixing Bowl with Airtight Plastic Cover, Grater with Removable Handle, Grater Ring Adapter, Deep Fry Basket with Removable Handle, Suction Cup Knob for Mixing Bowls when used as a Dome Cover, Heat-Resistant Pan Rest, and 4pc Measuring Spoons.
Chef's Secret 28 Pc Waterless Cookware Set
This is a 28 piece set of cookware--and miscellaneous accessories--for just under $180. Made in China, bottom clad, T304 stainless steel with steam control knobs.
The set includes: 1.5qt saucepan with cover, 1.5qt stockpot with cover, 2qt stockpot with cover, 3qt stockpot with cover, 6qt stockpot with cover, and a 10-1/2-in. frypan with cover and helper handle, 9-3/8-in. mixing bowl, 11-in. mixing bowl with polypropylene covers, 8-3/4-in. steamer basket, 7-7/8-in. deep fry basket with handle, pan-top grater with handle and adapter ring, suction knob, Phenolic trivet, and 4pc measuring spoon set.
EBBC 17 Pc Waterless Cookware Set
Bottom-clad, T304 stainless construction with steam-controlled knobs. Made in China. About $200. Induction compatible.
Set includes: Includes an 11 3/8-in. skillet with helper handle and egg rack, 7.5 quart roaster with cover, 3.2 quart double boiler, 2.5 quart saucepan with cover, 1.7 quart saucepan with cover and a high dome cover for the skillet or roaster, steamer, and more.
Maxam 17 Pc Waterless Cookware Set
Bottom clad, 7-ply, T304 stainless steel construction, steam-control knobs. Made in South Korea. About $245. Stackable.
Maxam gets better reviews on Amazon than some of the other brands, however, the biggest complaint is that the steam control knobs fall off and into your food--often with the first 30 days of use.
If you want an inexpensive set, Maxam is probably the way to go, but we don't recommend it. Our recommendation is that you'd be better off buying Cuisinart Multiclad Pro, Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad, or saving up for a higher quality set.
Set includes: 7.5 qt roaster & cover, 11 3/8-in. skillet, 5 egg cups & utility rack, high dome cover for skillet or roaster, 3.2 qt saucepan & cover, 2.5 qt saucepan & cover, 1.7 qt saucepan & cover, double boiler unit.
World's Finest Steam Controlled 7-Ply 17 Pc Cookware Set
Bottom clad, 7-ply T304 stainless steel, steam control knobs. Made in South Korea. About $325. Stackable.
Set includes: 11.375-in. skillet, 7.5 quart roaster with cover, 3.2 quart saucepan with cover, 2.5 quart saucepan with cover, 1.7 quart saucepan with cover and a high dome cover that fits atop the skillet or roaster.
Since this set appears to be identical (or very close) to the Maxam set (above), we recommend going with Maxam for the lower price--or better yet, saving up for a fully clad set.
Waterless cookware gained popularity in the mid-20th century as a healthier alternative to 1) aluminum cookware and 2) the common practice of boiling food, which can destroy nutrients. It was originally sold by the direct selling method, and used a lot of gimmicky techniques and largely meaningless buzzwords to command a premium price for what was essentially good quality, clad stainless cookware. Some of these techniques are still used by some makers today.
The waterless cooking method can be healthier than other cooking methods, but you can use the method with any lidded cookware. You don't need to pay more for special cookware to use the low water, low fat, low temperature cooking method.
If you do decide to buy waterless cookware, the American-made brands are much higher quality, with full cladding, so we recommend those. 360 is our favorite brand, and also the most affordable. The overseas brands we found were disc-clad, which is not ideal for the waterless method.
You can buy a set of "regular" clad stainless cookware that's just as high quality for much less than many waterless brands. It's important to do your research so you don't overpay.
Thanks for reading!
Help other people buy wisely, too! Please share this article: