With features and prices all over the board, choosing the best stainless steel cookware is a daunting task.
Using the knowledge I’ve gained from ten-plus years in professional kitchens, I’m going to break down the best options on the market so you can make the right decision for your home.
Best Overall: Calphalon Premier Stainless Steel
Modeled after the venerable All-Clad D3, Calphalon’s Premier series is a three-layer, fully clad line that performs well above its price point.
Calphalon has been producing high-quality pots and pans since the 60s. They may be most well known for their hard-anodized aluminum products, but their stainless steel cookware competes with the best of them.
If you’re unfamiliar with stainless steel clad-ware, it’s all about how the body of the cookware is constructed.
Fully clad means there are multiple layers of metal bound together throughout the entire pot or pan.
The 3-ply design of Calphalon Premier uses a layer of stainless steel on the interior and exterior for durability, with a core layer of aluminum. The core conducts heat quickly and evenly, without adding too much weight.
Aluminum conducts heat very well, but it isn’t very durable. It warps and bends easily and is very reactive to acidic ingredients.
The multiple layers work together to minimize hot spots and spread heat evenly from the base to the edges of the cookware. This will help cook food evenly and allow you to use the entire cooking surface.
The interior layer of stainless steel is incredibly durable and resistant to corrosion. Not only does that mean you can use all the metal utensils you want, but you’re also safe to cook with virtually any ingredient.
The exterior is equally durable and very resistant to abrasions but has the added benefit of being magnetic. This makes them safe to use with all cooktops including induction.
The alternative to a fully clad design is disk cladding. Rather than multiple layers throughout the entire piece, a multi-layered baseplate is bonded to the bottom of a single-layer stainless steel pot or pan.
This option is almost always more affordable, but doesn’t offer the same level of heat distribution and can be much less durable.
When it comes to the price of Calphalon Premier pieces, they are about half as much as the All-Clad line that they are modeled after. At half the price you might think you’re getting half the performance or quality, but that’s certainly not the case.
Although a frying pan from All-Clad costs $100 and one from Calphalon costs $50, I bet that most people couldn’t tell the difference in cooking performance.
So how does Calphalon do it?
It’s no big secret, but Calphalon has been able to take what All-Clad “perfected” and move production overseas. All of their stainless steel lines are manufactured in China. All-Clad on the other hand began and still produces theirs in the US, in Pennsylvania.
Being made in China doesn’t make their pots and pans bad or poorly built by any means. It’s very well made and should easily last a lifetime.
The design of the Premier line is modern and attractive. I would even say that it looks more expensive than it actually is.
This particular line is only oven safe up to 450 F. That’s hot enough for most cooking tasks, but it’s on the lower end for fully clad cookware.
Calphalon has done an impressive job of making high-performing stainless steel cookware accessible to more people. From design to performance, this is an easy choice to recommend.
What we like
- Built like high-end options but half the price
- Durable enough to last a lifetime
What We don’t
- Lids can get grease and water stuck in the rim
- 450 F oven limit is on the low end for stainless steel
Affordable Option: Duxtop Whole-Clad Tri-Ply
Even as I write this, I can’t believe that there’s a line of fully clad stainless steel cookware at such an affordable price. On top of that, owners absolutely love it.
When it comes to cookware, Duxtop may not be a household name like Calphalon and All-Clad. They are part of a larger American company called Secura, which makes all manner of kitchen equipment and even some beauty products.
Duxtop is perhaps most well known for its portable induction cooktops, but they make great cookware too.
As the “whole clad” name implies, this is a fully clad, three-layer line of pots and pans. They use the same layout as our other picks, with a thick layer of conductive aluminum sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel.
The interior is non-reactive, food-safe, 18/10 stainless steel. The outside is magnetic 18/0 stainless for use with Induction ranges.
The aluminum core is not quite as thick as our other top choices which can lead to less even heating across the pans.
There are hollow, “stay-cool”, stainless steel handles securely riveted to the pans. However, hot handles are a common complaint by many owners.
The lids are stainless steel, which I prefer for durability, but some people may be disappointed that you can’t monitor food with the lid on.
Duxtop is lacking when it comes to the variety of pieces available. There are only 7 different sizes available, and the largest fry pan is only 10-inches.
They have all the basics covered, but if you’re cooking for a large group or you want any especially pieces, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
The whole-clad line appears to be well made. But, since it’s only been around for about 10 years, the verdict on durability is still out.
Overall, Duxtop is a solid choice for anyone who wants to try fully-clad cookware without a big initial investment. Their pieces are all made in China, but so are Calphalon’s, and these even have a higher oven limit of 500 F.
What we like
- The most affordable fully-clad option I’ve found
- Similar features to the high-end options
What We don’t
- Thinner aluminum core layer
- Durability has yet to be proven over the long term
Best Upgrade: All-Clad D3
I have to be honest, if it wasn’t for the high price tag, this would be my Best Overall Pick. They’ve won me over through years of home and professional use, and I know I can count on their performance and durability in the most demanding situations.
D3 is All-Clad’s flagship line, and just like our other top picks, is 3-ply fully-clad stainless steel.
All-Clad is the original when it comes to fully clad cookware. They developed and began making clad cookware in Pennsylvania in the 1960s, and that’s where they continue to manufacture to this day including their newer Copper Core and D5 lines.
Up until the early 2000s, All-Clad had a patent on the design for clad-ware and was, therefore, the only option. Once their patent expired, other manufacturers started producing imitations of the cookware All-Clad had perfected.
The materials and layout of D3 cookware are similar to the Duxtop and Calphalon options. 18/10 stainless inside, 18/0 outside, and an aluminum core.
The thick aluminum core heats quickly and evenly and is very responsive to temperature changes. Such even heat distribution means all of your ingredients come out evenly caramelized and cooked to the same doneness.
The D3 lids are stainless steel so they’re durable but you cant watch your food cook with the lid on. Unfortunately, the lids do not have an oven temperature rating, and I have heard of them warping at very high heat.
That brings us to another downside of metal lids. If they do end up warping, they are much more expensive to replace than the glass variety.
I have used the lids in the oven around the 300-400 F range with no issues, but I wouldn’t recommend taking them up to 600 F, which the pans themselves are rated to.
The handles are a unique “v” shape that some dislike, but I find very comfortable. Your thumb fits nicely into the groove and it offers the best grip around when it comes to pouring ingredients out.
Aside from the higher temperature limit of All-Clad, the cooking performance is virtually the same as our Calphalon pick. The thing that keeps me coming back again and again, is their proven durability and outstanding customer service.
Calphalon makes what they call “professional-level” cookware, but it’s All-Clad that I’ve found in most of the grueling kitchens I’ve worked in.
When it comes to assessing the strength and durability of cookware, there is no better test than putting them to use in a busy restaurant.
Knowing that they perform in those demanding conditions should give you confidence that they will handle any home cooking tasks with ease.
I’ve never seen it happen myself, but if your D3 cookware fails during regular use, All-Clad’s customer service is top-notch and notorious for replacing damaged items.
Of our three top picks, All-Clad has the widest selection of sizes and shapes available. The high-prices can be a tough pill to swallow. Luckily they offer every piece individually so you can gradually build your perfect set over time.
What we like
- The original cladware that continues to prove itself year after year
- Widest selection, all available individually
What We don’t
- High price point
- Cooking performance is about the same as the lower-priced Calphalon
Other Options That Are Great But Didn’t Make The Cut
Choosing the top three stainless steel options was no easy task. There were many great options in the running, but for everyday cooking, they all had one or two downsides that our top three overcame.
Cuisinart’s tri-ply cookware has a three-layer stainless steel and aluminum build like all of our top picks. It’s a good entry-level option for cladware.
It heats quickly and is very responsive to temperature adjustments. Unfortunately, it only does a so-so job with even heat distribution, but that’s not uncommon with entry-level options.
There was a common complaint among owners that the handles get very hot during regular stovetop use. The main reason this product didn’t make our top 3 was its price point. They are significantly more expensive than our most affordable pick but without any noticeable performance benefits.
Our best overall pick beat out the Tramontina Tri-Ply by a nose. The price is similar, and durability and cooking performance are excellent. The pieces can easily handle heavy use and should last for decades, at least.
From a purely aesthetic view, I much prefer the look of Calphalon Premier. But, that’s very subjective and not the reason Tramontina wasn’t one of my top picks. That decision has more to do with the way the handles overheat and recurring discoloration issues experienced by other owners.
Stainless steel discoloration is very common and doesn’t affect performance. But, I found a significantly higher number of cases with this cookware line. It’s an easy fix, but having to do it over and over can become a hassle.
Made In is a new name in the cookware industry, but they are quickly building a strong fan base. Their pots and pans are built for home and professional use and are used in some very well-known restaurants.
The fully clad cookware is made with five layers of material instead of the three that our top picks feature.
The interior and exterior are stainless steel, but they use three layers of aluminum instead of one. In daily use, there isn’t a noticeable difference in cooking performance compared to our All-Clad and Calphalon picks.
Their stainless steel is rated for oven use to 800 F. While the heat rating is very impressive, it’s also far beyond what is practical for most home cooks.
This was in the running for our Best Upgrade Option, but they don’t have nearly as many sizes as All-Clad. Some individual pieces are more affordable, but the sets are about the same price. On top of that, the sets include nonstick and carbon steel pans which should bring the price down.
Buyers Guide: Picking The Best Stainless Steel Cookware
Greatest benefits of stainless steel cooking.
In my opinion, stainless steel is the best cookware material you can buy. If I could choose only one cookware material for the rest of my life, that would be it. I’ll get into more detail shortly, but here are the main reasons it’s my go-to.
Stainless steel is the most versatile and lowest maintenance cookware around. Once you know how to use it, stainless steel can do everything nonstick, cast iron or carbons steel can do.
Each of those options can be useful in the kitchen, and I own all of them. But, they also all need special care to use and maintain.
On top of being so versatile, if you choose a high-quality option it will easily last you a lifetime.
Common drawbacks of stainless steel cooking.
The biggest drawback to using stainless steel is that it’s not as user-friendly as some other options like nonstick. It takes some practice and knowledge before you are proficient.
Not only is it more difficult to use, but it’s usually more expensive than other materials. Many first-time owners think that choosing the most expensive option means their food will always look perfect and never stick.
That leads to big-time disappointment and is where most negative comments come from.
You’ll be better set-up for success if you understand that it’s going to take some trial and error. Sure you’ll probably get food stuck and burnt to your pans (I know I did), but if you don’t give up, and persevere, I promise it’s worth it.
Types of stainless steel construction and core materials.
Stainless steel on its own is very durable and non-reactive but does not conduct heat very well. For that reason, manufacturers commonly use highly conductive aluminum to solve the problem.
Aluminum, on the other hand, is very conductive but not very durable. Not only can it be easily bent and warped, but it reacts with acidic ingredients.
Using the two together takes advantage of both materials and their benefits.
Fully Clad vs. Disc Clad
There are two common construction methods for stainless steel cookware: fully clad, or disc clad.
The fully clad option has multiple layers of metal throughout the entire pan, from the base to the edges. The cooking surface and exterior are stainless steel. Sandwiched between that is a layer (or several) of conductive metal.
Copper and Steel Layers
Aluminum is the most common material for the internal core layers. But you can also find copper, and sometimes an additional stainless steel layer in the center.
Copper is even more conductive than aluminum but it’s significantly more expensive. Adding a layer of stainless steel to the core slows down the heat but can help it spread more evenly.
Disc cladding uses similarly layered materials, but in a plate that is bonded to the base of the pot or pan. The result is good heat distribution, but only to the base and not up the sides.
Disc cladding is less expensive, but also less durable. It also limits heat distribution to the bottom of the cookware and not up the sides.
How heavy is stainless steel cookware?
When it comes to weight, stainless steel falls between lightweight aluminum and heavy cast iron.
The weight of each piece will change depending on if it is disc-clad or fully-clad and what the different layers are.
In my experience think that the weight of 3-ply cladware is easy to maneuver and perfectly suited for daily use.
I have a couple of pieces of All-Clad D5 which has two layers of aluminum and an additional layer of stainless steel in the center. When it comes to most cooking tasks, I almost always reach for my D3 just because it’s lighter and easier to move around.
Here’s an example weight comparison for our top picks:
|10” Fry Pan||Calphalon Premier||Duxtop||All-Clad D3|
|Weight||2lb 10oz||2lb 8oz||2lb 2oz|
Is stainless steel good for high-heat cooking?
Going from stovetop to oven is something I use stainless steel for all the time. Knowing that my cookware can handle the temperatures I use frequently is an important factor.
Most fully clad options have oven limits around 500 F. That’s hot enough for most cooking tasks that you’ll come across. Not to mention it’s the highest a lot of home ovens can go.
If you’ll be using a pan for lengthy broiling jobs all the time or using them in a pizza oven, then definitely keep an eye on your cookware’s temperature limits.
|Brand||Calphalon Premier||Duxtop||All-Clad D3|
|Oven Limit||450 F||500 F||600 F|
What cooking applications is stainless steel good for?
I can’t think of a single recipe that couldn’t be made using only stainless steel cookware. You can saute, fry, sear, bake, poach, braise, and any other technique you can think of all in the same cookware.
You don’t have to worry about stainless steel reacting with certain ingredients which makes your entire garden and pantry free game.
Most options can be used on any cooking surface including induction, and should always be able to go from stovetop to oven.
As I’ve mentioned before, it does take a little practice to master, but once you do the possibilities are endless.
Does stainless steel require a lot of maintenance?
Stainless steel is very low maintenance. You don’t have to season it, you can use metal utensils, and washing it just takes soapy water and a sponge.
Most stainless steel cookware is rated to be dishwasher safe, but I would recommend handwashing as much as possible. This will help you avoid discoloration and make sure there’s no food stuck in the handle attachments and rivets.
Even if you always hand wash, you’ll likely experience minor discoloration now and then. But don’t worry, the solution is as simple as splashing on a bit of distilled vinegar and wiping clean.
For the more severe stains and scorches, we have a great guide to cleaning stainless steel.
Is stainless steel safe to cook with?
Stainless steel is considered one of the safest options for your kitchen and recently won our top pick for the safest cookware material.
Most stainless pots and pans have nickel and chromium in their makeup. During long cooking times with acidic ingredients, small amounts of those materials can leach into food. The amounts are considered to be safe, but consider speaking with an expert if you have a severe allergy to either one.
Is stainless steel durable?
I’ve been cooking in professional kitchens since 2010. Every restaurant I’ve ever been in use at least some stainless steel cookware. That speaks volumes about the durability of the material.
Even with very heavy use, a good set will easily last a lifetime. This is especially true if you’re dealing with the fully clad variety. The layers are permanently bonded together, and they add enough strength that it would be very difficult to bend or warp.
Because there is no coating or nonstick layer on stainless steel cookware, you’re also safe to use metal utensils. When you’re cooking, it’s nice not having to worry about what spoon or spatula is allowed so you can just focus on cooking.
How expensive is stainless steel?
This can be one of the biggest barriers to good stainless steel cookware. It’s almost always more expensive than the aluminum alternative. But, you should also remember that it will almost always outlast the aluminum option as well.
Dropping a thousand dollars or more on a set of All-Clad just isn’t in the cards for most people, at least I know it’s not for me. Luckily they do offer every piece individually so you can choose the exact pieces you want, and buy them when you can.
If you’re just getting started, definitely consider Duxtop. Even as our budget pick, it has features similar to the high-end options, all at prices close to the aluminum alternatives. And, I can almost guarantee it will outlast those by a long shot.
What stainless steel pieces should I have?
You can find stainless steel cookware in every size and shape imaginable, but it’s certainly not always necessary. Since it is more expensive, it makes sense to choose pieces that take advantage of all the best benefits.
Choose stainless steel for pieces that get used a lot and really take a beating. For me, that’s skillets and saucepans. Those are what I use the most, for the widest range of recipes, and I want to be able to use metal spoons and whisks with them.
For large stock pots, fully clad stainless steel often doesn’t make as much of a difference. Several core benefits of the material simply aren’t necessary. For example, when making soup or stock there is little need to use metal utensils. And the dish won’t be ruined in the absence of perfectly even heat distribution. A less expensive disc-clad or hard-anodized pot will do just fine.
Stainless Steel vs. Carbon Steel & Blue Steel
Carbon and blue steel are awesome when it comes to fry pans, although they take ongoing maintenance for the best performance. Stainless steel can do just about everything carbon steel can, with virtually no maintenance.
If you’ve read our list of the best carbon steel pans then you know I have a soft spot for them, and use them often. With proper care, they can develop exceptional nonstick properties. By using carbon steel, I have been able to virtually eliminate traditional nonstick pans from my kitchen entirely
As versatile as carbon steel is, it comes with ongoing maintenance and care. Carbon steel and blue steel are virtually the same when it comes to cooking. They both are raw materials and they will rust when not properly cared for.
These materials must be kept seasoned and there are special steps required when cleaning. On top of the ongoing care needed, carbon steel is almost exclusively used for fry and saute pans.
That means finding all the various pots and pans you want isn’t always possible. But, for a good fry pan, I highly recommend adding one to your collection.
Stainless Steel vs. Cast Iron
Cast iron is another durable, hard-wearing, kitchen workhorse. It’s very heavy and has arguably the best heat distribution and retention you can find. Add to that it’s low price-point and it’s hard to go wrong.
But, it does have its downsides. Cast iron is made from raw-iron so it will rust if neglected. Initial seasoning and ongoing care are necessary to keep it in good working order.
Cast iron’s weight adds to its durability and excellent cooking performance. But that can also make it more difficult to maneuver around the kitchen and on the stove. Try tossing a stir fry in a 10 or 12-inch cast iron skillet and you’ll quickly switch to a stainless, carbon, or nonstick pan.
It’s another piece I will always keep in my kitchen tool-kit, but only for specific uses.
Stainless Steel vs. Nonstick
Nonstick cookware is easy to use straight out of the box and cleaning it is easier than any other material. If that was the end of the story, I would say disregard everything in this article and go buy nonstick. But, that’s not the case and there are some real drawbacks to consider.
The biggest downfall of nonstick cookware is durability. It just doesn’t have it.
Nonstick coatings have come a long way in terms of safety and durability, but it’s nowhere near the same level as stainless steel.
We’ve done countless hours of research finding the finest nonstick options, and even the best ones out there are likely to last between only three and five years.
Nonstick pots and pans are generally built atop an aluminum base, which is light-weight and offers great heat conductivity. But again, not exceptionally durable.
All-Clad makes D3 stainless steel fry pans with a nonstick coating. While the cooking performance is pretty good, that’s an expensive choice for a pan that will need to be replaced in a matter of years.
When it comes to ease of use alone, nonstick is king. There’s no learning curve like with stainless steel, so it can be a great option for specific tasks, new cooks, or when you’re in a hurry.
If you’re trying stainless steel for the first time it probably doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars right off the bat. Luckily, all of our top picks sell most of their pieces individually, so buy a frying pan and try it out for a few weeks.
But I still stubbornly continue to buy All-Clad because it has never let me down. Not at home or in a busy restaurant.
Whatever you choose, stick with it and you’ll be rewarded in the long run. And be sure to check out our cooking and cleaning guide to help you on your stainless steel journey.