All-Clad produces some of the most useful and durable stainless steel cookware on the market. While they make a wide range of products, their D3, D5, and Copper Core stainless steel lines are what they have built their reputation on.
Over the last 11 years, I’ve used countless All-Clad products in professional kitchens and at home. They aren’t the cheapest option, to be sure, but it is the first brand I reach for when it comes to stainless steel cookware.
In this article, I’ll share what you can expect from All-Clad’s D3 and D5 cookware, what makes each line unique, and which one works best for various common cooking tasks and styles.
All-Clad D3 is the company’s most affordable line of tri-ply clad stainless steel cookware. When I say most affordable, it is still more expensive than much of the competition. There are only a few individual pieces that you can buy for less than $100.
What you get for the high price is cookware with three layers of metal clad (bonded) together. Stainless steel inside and out, with a thick aluminum core that extends from the base all the way to the rim.
Stainless steel offers low-maintenance, durability, and is safe to use with all ingredients. The aluminum core adds conductivity, allowing the pan to adjust to temperature changes quickly and evenly.
The D3 line has been tried and proven in the most demanding home and professional kitchens around the world. While there is a high initial cost, this cookware will last a lifetime if you treat it right
What we like
- Responsive to temperature changes
- Least expensive clad option from All-Clad
- Lifetime durability
- Lightest weight clad option offered
What We don’t
- High price point
- Handwashing is recommended
The D5 line is a beefed up version of the D3 cookware. As you may have guessed, D5 pots and pans feature five bonded layers rather than three.
The core of the D5 line contains two layers of aluminum with a stainless steel layer in the center. The cooking surface and exterior are the same stainless steel from the D3 line. That’s a total of three layers of stainless steel and two layers of aluminum.
The additional layers and layout are designed for improved heat distribution. As heat travels from layer to layer it is spread from center to edge more evenly. While D5 may heat more evenly, it also takes longer to heat up and is slower to react to temperature changes.
Along with the additional layers and benefits come additional costs. D5 is the second most expensive offering from All-Clad, behind only the five layer copper core line.
What we like
- Excellent heat distribution eliminates hot spots
- Top of the line durability and craftsmanship
- Long, sturdy stainless steel handles
- Flared rims for easy pouring
What We don’t
- One of the heaviest options from All-Clad
- Slower reaction to temperature change (compared to D3)
All-Clad D3 vs. D5: A Head-To-Head Comparison
It’s obvious that D5 cookware has more layers than D3, but are more necessarily better? It depends.
D5’s five layer design heats exceptionally evenly and the possibility of hot spots are reduced. As heat travels through all five layers, that heat is evenly spread through the entire pan.
The additional layers also mean that it takes longer to heat up and cool down. During cooking tasks, if you want to quickly change from high to low heat, it’s going to take a bit longer to adjust.
The five layer design also adds additional weight to the pots and pans. D3 cookware isn’t light by any means, but when looking at the same sizes across lines, the D5 option can be over a full pound heavier.
The three layers found in D3 cookware are perfect everyday pans that don’t require much thinking ahead during use. They react very well to temperature changes and still distribute heat very evenly.
Our Pick: All-Clad D3
The three layer design heats efficiently and evenly and is easy to maneuver around a stove top or in the oven. It’s a great fit for everyday cooking.
D5 may be a better choice for braising, stewing or other tasks that require a long cook time. In those situations, the additional layers can offer qualities similar to a Dutch oven.
Both lines share the same high-quality stainless steel cooking surface and exterior. This creates durable cookware that is compatible with any cooking surface including induction.
The core layers are what differentiate these two lines. If you look at the edge of the pots or pans you can clearly see the three or five layers.
D3 has one thick layer of aluminum sandwiched between stainless steel. Aluminum is the second best conductor of heat used in cookware (copper is number one). The downside of aluminum is that it is not very durable and it reacts to acidic ingredients.
By bonding stainless steel around aluminum, All-Clad simply and effectively takes advantage of both materials.
The thick single layer of aluminum quickly transfers heat to the stainless steel cooking surface. When heat is decreased, the pan temperature will also decrease relatively fast.
D5’s additional layers are stainless steel bound between two layers of aluminum. Each aluminum layer is not as thick as the single layer found in D3, but together they are more substantial.
The big difference here is the extra stainless layer in the center. All of the layers put together help this cookware distribute heat more evenly. This can be great for long cook times but it has a downside as well.
The heat-up time is slightly slower and also slower to react to temperature changes. If a pot or pan is accidentally overheated, it can take significantly longer to come back to the desired temperature.
This scenario can be a hassle when preheating an empty pan, but will only slow down your meal by a couple of minutes. But when you’re in the throws of cooking that extra built up heat can easily lead to an overcooked protein, burnt rice, or an over-reduced sauce.
Our Pick: All-Clad D3
This comes down to the fact that the additional layers can be overkill for most cooking tasks. The slower heat response of D5 tends to be more trouble than it’s worth. If D3 wasn’t designed and built so well this may be a different outcome. But even with just one layer of aluminum, it heats very evenly and responds to changes before it may be too late.
A Note On Cooking With Stainless Steel
Many owners are disappointed after spending hundreds of dollars and expecting nonstick performance. If you’ve never cooked with stainless steel before, there can be a bit of a learning curve.
Stainless steel offers excellent cooking properties once you know how to use it. We’ll dive deeper into cooking on stainless steel in the future, but here are some basic guidelines to get you started.
Gradually preheat your cookware up to a medium heat. Add your cooking oil of choice, and wait for it to shimmer. Add your ingredients without overcrowding the pan. Now comes the hard part; be patient, and don’t move the food around too soon. If done correctly, your food will release from the pan when it’s ready
Those steps are certainly over simplified and different ingredients do require different techniques. But avoid the urge to crank the heat, let the pan work its magic, and you will be in good shape.
All-Clad has built its reputation and loyal customer base on durability. Their stainless steel cookware is notoriously used and abused in the most demanding kitchens around the world.
Both lines use high quality stainless steel for its hardwearing nature. It would be difficult to cause real damage during normal use. Any type of utensil is fine to use. Metal can potentially leave fine scratch marks, but nothing that will affect performance.
The riveted handles are very sturdy and famous for never becoming loose. If they did ever develop a wobble, that is something that would likely be covered by the company’s limited lifetime warranty.
The warranty specifically covers defects in materials, construction, or workmanship. But I have found several owners who sent in old and very well used cookware for various reasons, and All-Clad sent brand new replacements in return.
Even with products that are built very well, you should never expose empty cookware to high heat for extended periods of time. And you should always allow your cookware to gradually cool before plunging into water.
Our Pick: Tie
It’s rare to find anyone complaining about the lack of durability offered by either line. With the additional layering in D5 you do get a bit more heft, but I wouldn’t say that translates to increased durability when compared to D3. With regular and appropriate use, both of these options should last a lifetime and then some.
Both lines are oven and broiler safe up to 600 F. That’s hot enough for most cooking tasks, but it’s important to note that the temperature rating is specific to the pots and pans only, not for the lids.
The lids themselves are made from stainless steel but are much thinner than the actual pots and pans. There is no specific temperature rating for the lids, but at high heat they can become warped and permanently misshapen.
Our Pick: Tie
Both options have the same oven safe rating of 600 F. Keep in mind that the stainless steel lids do not have a specific temperature rating and can be damaged with oven use.
Because the exterior materials on D3 and D5 cookware are the same, we won’t be comparing the two. Either option can be cared for in the same manner.
Stainless steel is very durable and doesn’t require much maintenance. But a little bit of knowhow will serve you and your cookware well, and will ensure optimal performance and appearance.
There is no special coating on this cookware that you need to look out for. Water, soap, and a non abrasive sponge or brush are all you need for everyday cleaning. If something is particularly stuck on, a good soak in soapy water will usually do the trick.
Scorched cookware on the other hand requires a bit more effort, but it isn’t the end of the world or your All-Clad cookware.
Scorching occurs when a pot or pan is heated too high, for too long, and without enough (or any) liquid or oil. The result is a burnt and blackened pan that may seem impossible to clean.
If you haven’t noticed, there is an underlying theme of durability when it comes to All-Clad’s stainless steel. Even scorched pans that seem permanently damaged can be resurrected with a little effort.
Search the web and you’ll find any number of methods to resolve the issue, but here’s what has worked for me.
Add equal amounts of distilled vinegar and water to your affected cookware. Enough to cover the burnt area by about an inch. Heat this mixture on the stove and allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes.
Now you should be able to use a hard plastic scraper or even metal spatula to remove most burnt on material. Give a good rinse and your cookware should look better but probably still has some black marks.
At this point you can use All-Clad’s proprietary stainless steel cleaner and polish, which works great, but I’ve had equally good results with Bar Keepers Friend. Sprinkle your choice of cleaner on to the affected area along with a little water to create a paste.
Using a sponge or cloth, rub the paste in circles over the blackened area. Use a good amount of force here then rinse with water. You may need to repeat this step several times depending on how severe your scorched area is. After a few rounds you should have your cookware back in action in no time.
Scorching can happen to the best of us, but the easiest way to avoid it in the first place is to cook over low to medium heat. Boiling water is a common task that requires high heat, but most other situations will benefit from a lower setting than you may think.
During regular use you may also notice some dulling or see a rainbow effect on the cooking surface. Neither of those will affect cooking performance. Both can easily be resolved with a quick scrub with distilled vinegar or a powdered cleaner like Bar Keepers Friend.
Both lines are technically dishwasher safe but that can quickly dull your stainless steel. Also, with extended dishwasher use, harsh detergents can cause pitting and damage to the exposed aluminum rim.
With any cookware, it is also important to thoroughly clean the exterior. Any oil or other residue that is left on the outside can become cooked or baked on. This causes unsightly brown or black marks that become increasingly difficult to remove over time.
All-Clad’s stainless steel is some of the best cookware you can buy, but it’s certainly not cheap. If you cook regularly and consider the lifelong useability, it can quickly become worth the investment.
The D3 10-piece set is often found for around $1000 but can fluctuate a couple hundred dollars in either direction. The similar D5 set can be as much as $500 more, but also fluctuates and can sometimes be found for a very similar price.
Several other brands try to emulate All-Clad products and have significantly lower prices. Calphalon in particular has had great success creating high quality cookware that directly competes with All-Clad. A similar set from the brand can easily cost less than half the price.
The big difference between All-Clad and the lower cost competition is that they continue to manufacture in the US, while most other brands have outsourced to China. While the Chinese versions can be great options, the quality of material, durability, and craftsmanship often can’t compete.
There can be some price savings in buying a set from All-Clad, but most of the pieces are also available individually. If it’s not in your budget to go all in on a set, selecting one or two pieces that you know will get a lot of use is an excellent way to go.
Our Pick: All-Clad D3
Unless you find D5 cookware for the same price, I don’t think there is enough added value to be worth the added cost.
Both lines from All-Clad have very similar and functional designs. There are a couple of key differences that could help decide which is best for you.
The long, angled stainless steel handles are a feature that allow you to easily identify All-Clad cookware. They have a deep groove that runs the length of the handle that gives a very sturdy grip especially when pouring from a pot or pan.
At the end of each handle is a loop for hanging, and opposite that is a helper grip on the larger sized pieces. The D5 handles have an additional knob at the base close to the pan. This can give added leverage but is also where the handles can start getting hot.
The D5 series features rolled lips on the entire line. This allows for convenient, drip free pouring. Some pieces in the D3 line have the same rolled rims, but others are completely straight sided. Those straight sided pieces tend to spill when pouring.
The D5 lids are slightly thicker (but still not oven safe), but everything else is quite similar across both lines.
Within each series are a few specialty lines that we will quickly outline below.
All-Clad D3 Stainless Steel
This is the standard tri-ply line that we have been focused on and is available in the widest range of sizes.
All-Clad D3 Compact
This is a line designed to neatly stack for easy storage in smaller spaces. The materials used are the same, but there are only six sizes available. The other difference is that they feature curved handles in place of the angled straight variety.
All-Clad D3 Armor
The Armor series is designed for better food release and is only available in fry and saute pan sizes. This line features the same materials and handles as D3 stainless but there are small raised bumps across the cooking surface.
I have never used this line myself, but it seems that many owners are impressed with the increased food release properties. Most disappointment comes from owners who expect a nonstick pan, which this certainly is not.
All-Clad D5 Brushed and Polished
This is the D5 line that we have been looking at, but it is available in two different finishes: Brushed or Polished. The materials, interior, and performance are the same between the two options
The brushed stainless steel has a matte finish that helps to hide fingerprints and scratches. The polished version on the other hand has a shiny exterior that is very attractive but also shows more wear and tear.
Our Pick: All-Clad D5
A flared lip for easy pouring is a small but very useful feature. The fact that it comes standard on the entire D5 line is a big plus.
Both of these sets are very similar and include a selection of pieces that are likely to get a lot of use.
The 8-inch fry pan is good for cooking a couple of eggs or other individual portions, but is too small when cooking for more than one. The 10-inch size has you covered when you’re cooking for two or three.
A 3-quart saute pan is an overlooked piece that offers great versatility. With the lid off it can perform similar to a 12-inch fry pan, and can hold more volume with the slightly taller sides.
The small, medium, and large pots are all useful sizes, and are different enough for a wider range of uses. It is important to note that the 2 and 3-quart sauce pans in the D3 set have straight sides in place of the rolled rims on the rest of the pieces.
Our Pick: All-Clad D5
With equally useful sizes and flared edges on every piece, the D5 set has a small advantage. I appreciate the slightly larger 2-quart sauce pan in the D3 set, but the lack of rolled rims are greatly missed.
All-Clad, without a doubt, makes some of the most durable and well-made stainless steel cookware on the market. The cost of an entire set is quite expensive and can be prohibitive to many, but for people like me, the 10″ D3 Frying Pan is one of the most essential pieces in my home kitchen.
In a lot of situations it makes more sense to choose individual pieces that you know will get a lot of use. For example, I know I don’t need an 8-quart, 5-layer clad stockpot if I’m just using it to cook pasta. And if I need a large heavy pot to braise in, I’m going to turn to a trusty Dutch oven anyway. But, splurging on a clad fry pan with great versatility might be worth it.
- You cook frequently because the lighter weight and faster heat up times are better for daily use.
- You’re trying All-Clad for the first time because it is more intuitive to use.
- Your priority is temperature control over heat distribution.
- You want spill free rims on every piece.
- The brushed matte aesthetic is a “must have” for you. It’s only available with this line.
- You do a lot of low-and-slow cooking or braising. For these functions the additional clad layers will really shine.
The All-Clad Copper Core line is another popular choice that utilizes copper for increased heat conduction. While the exposed copper is very attractive, the performance benefits may not be worth the additional cost. Copper Core is All-Clad’s most expensive collection.
If budget is a top priority for you, there are more affordable options that still offer good performance. Many of All-Clad’s competitors are producing lower cost cookware from large Chinese factories. While those options may not have the same level of design and durability, they can still be very useful. You can see our full roundup of best stainless steel cookware to find other competitive cost options.