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Buying guide for Best stainless steel cookware sets

You don’t need to get fancy when cooking or frying. When push comes to shove—or when someone gets hungry enough—it’s fairly easy to make a grilled cheese sandwich on a radiator. Or using an iron. But how appetizing is that? While a skilled cook can probably make a mouthwatering omelet in a garage sale frying pan, nothing takes the place of top-notch, high-quality, long-lasting cookware.

Late-night infomercials and home shopping channels offer a dizzying array of cookware. A key selling point for each 10-, 12-, or 14-piece set is its ability to spread heat evenly throughout the cooking surface. And then they show how these copper, ceramic, or stainless steel gems clean up with just a quick wipe from a damp cloth. In reality, many of these come-on claims are only vaguely true and are repeated only to close the sale.

Many cooks, from beginners to accomplished chefs, point to stainless steel cookware as their go-to pots, pans, and skillets—especially when stainless steel is combined with copper to add advanced heat conductivity.

stainless steel cookware
High-end stainless steel cookware is made of surgical quality material and can cook without any added liquid.

Understanding stainless steel cookware

Stainless steel actually has no steel in its construction. For cookware, stainless steel is a metallic alloy composed mostly of chromium with nickel and other metals added. It is a popular metal for cookware because it is non-reactive and resists dents, corrosion, and scratches. On its own, stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat.

Because of that, stainless steel cookware has stainless steel across the sides of its pots and pans and copper or aluminum, which are far better heat conductors, on the bottom surfaces.

Common to most stainless cookware is the term “tri-ply,” which means a piece has three layers of metal, with copper or aluminum sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. For stainless steel cookware that uses aluminum, the bottom must also have a layer of magnetic material to allow cooks to use induction cooktops.

Going by price, copper-core stainless steel pots are more expensive, but they offer the cook greater control over the cooking process. Extremely versatile, stainless steel cookware is safe for use in the oven, broiler, and stovetop, making the pieces ideal for baking, braising, searing, sauteing, and a variety of other cooking methods.

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Did you know?
As with their cast iron counterparts, many cooks like to season their stainless steel cookware before using it.

Stainless steel cookware considerations

Don’t wander into your local discount store or specialty cooking supply retailer and grab whatever cookware set is on sale. It’s wise to arm yourself with the facts on what to look for in your ideal set of pots and pans.


Buying the right set of pots and pans (not to mention lids) is an investment. Going cheap will only result in the need to replace them in a few years (at best). Decide how much you want to spend, and remember that you get what you pay for.


Stainless steel has many upsides, including a high ranking on the quality-for-price scale. The material is durable and resists warping.

Some companies make pots and pans with 3-ply stainless steel construction that offers excellent heat retention and is likely to last a lifetime and beyond. What’s more, stainless steel pieces that are crafted of multiple layers do a great job delivering even heat distribution. However, keep in mind there are other quality cookware options, including cast iron, enameled cast iron, carbon steel, clad stainless steel, and copper.

Never use metal utensils such as spatulas or tongs on any cookware with a nonstick coating.


What you cook

Stainless steel is ideal for someone who regularly sears meat and generally deglazes the pan after roasting. Soups and stews are hot and delicious when made in cookware made of stainless steel.

That said, other materials are better suited for various dishes. For cooks who frequently like to stir fry, cast iron and steel are good choices. If you love to make homemade sauces, look for a good stockpot with copper in its core for even cooking.


You may wonder if the handle of a stainless steel pot or pan can be held when the cookware is hot. Some pots and pans have “cool to the touch” handles which still should be held with a potholder to avoid kitchen injuries. Ideally, handles have an ergonomic structure that’s easy to grip. Additionally, quality cookware features tightly riveted handles for added security. Some pieces have a secondary handle to help transfer hot food from the pan to a serving dish.

Your stove

If you have a gas stove, most types of cookware will be fine to use. Issues related to uneven heat can arise on electric stovetops, in which case the pots and pans must have a smooth, flat bottom. For induction cooktops, the material comprising the pots and pans must be magnetic, so ceramics and non-magnetic stainless steel are out.

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Expert Tip
Living green? Stainless steel cookware is recyclable as long as it is in reasonably good shape.

What comes in a stainless steel cookware set?

The right combination of pots and pans for you directly relates to what you plan to cook. If you rarely pan fry, maybe your best bet is an open cookware set where you can pick and choose the right tools for your trade. Because most cooks perform a variety of kitchen tasks, an array of pots and pans that provide the freedom to experiment is a good option.

A standard 10-piece set usually includes 8-inch and 10-inch skillets (with lids) that are versatile enough to make everything from omelets to crepes suzette. The set will have 2- and 3-quart sauce pans and a 3-quart saute pan (also with lids) that can handle a wide range of meat, poultry, and fish dishes. A large 8-quart stockpot (with lid) rounds out the set. The stockpot can be used not only for soups and soup stocks but also for boiling potatoes and cooking pasta.

A 12-piece set usually includes a steamer insert with a lid. This allows a cook to steam vegetables as well as reheat leftovers. It may also include a Dutch oven for preparing casseroles, stews, and even whole chickens.

Although not a common item, a wok with a lid is available in some sets. What’s more, the lids that come with quality stainless steel sets are tight-fitting and well-made.

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Did you know?
The numbers 18/0, 18/8 and 18/10 indicate the amount of chromium versus nickel in stainless steel cookware.

Caring for your stainless steel cookware

For the most part, cleaning stainless steel pots and pans is an easy task. A sink full of soapy water and a gentle brush or cloth will handle most grease and grime. Many stainless steel pans are now dishwasher safe.

If you are used to nonstick cookware, stainless steel pots and pans come with a learning curve. To avoid food sticking to your uncoated stainless steel pots and pans, add a little oil before cooking. This will eliminate most stuck-on gunk that could be hard to clean up.

If you live in an area with hard water, your pots and pans might see some white buildup. These are calcium spots. To get rid of the deposits, boil one part vinegar and three parts water, let it cool, and then clean your cookware with that solution.

If, after normal cleaning, there are dried bits of food stuck to your stainless steel cookware, add water and dishwasher detergent and boil. After cooling, use a silicone spatula to get rid of those stubborn bits.

When your cookware develops water spots, one way to eliminate them is to put some baking soda on a damp cloth or sponge and gently scrub.

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For your safety
Stainless steel cookware imported from outside the U.S. may be made under different manufacturing guidelines, so it’s smart to check on those local safety regulations.

How much do stainless steel cookware sets cost?

Under $50

Ideal for those getting started, there are a number of cookware choices in this bargain-priced category. Most contain 10 pieces and are three-ply with an aluminum core between two layers of stainless steel. As opposed to more expensive sets, the three-ply coating won’t cover the entire surface of the pots and pans. Also, in many cases, the handles are not securely riveted into the body of the pot or pan in this price range.

$50 to $100

As we go up in price, quality also rises. Here you will find well-known brand names and the quality found in more expensive sets. The primary difference between these sets and high-end sets is the number of pots and pans you get for the money. Rather than 10 or 12 pieces, in this price range, you will likely get five or seven pieces.

$100 to $250

There are choices galore in this upper echelon price bracket. Nearly every set is ready for induction cooking (magnetic material), and some include a number of inserts like a double boiler, bringing the total up to 17 pieces.

More than $250

For serious cooks with unlimited budgets, these sets are often found in commercial kitchens. Not only are these sets made of high-end stainless steel, but they are also dishwasher safe and safe to use under a broiler. Many of these sets have measuring scales on the side of the pot or pan to assist with complex recipes.

stainless steel cookware
Dispelling a common myth, the National Institutes of Health has said that aluminum cookware is not a cause of Alzheimer’s disease.


Q. Is Teflon coating safe?

A. There are few health risks associated with using Teflon coated pans. Repeatedly inhaling the fumes from Teflon can cause mild flu-like symptoms. The issue arises when there is a scratch in the Teflon, and high heat releases the toxins from the scratch. Teflon pans need to be checked to make sure they are free of scratches.

Q. What is the difference between coating and cladding?

A. Coating is the layer of material that sits on the bottom of your pot or pan, whereas cladding is the bonding of the materials along the sides of your cookware.

Q. I’d like a stainless steel cookware set with handles that are cool to the touch. What should I look for?

A. Consider a set with handles made of silicone or wood. These generally can be held while the pot or pan is on the stove. Also, some of the best cookware sets have “cool to the touch” handles, meaning they are constructed in a way that does not transfer heat from the pan to the handle.


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