The contemporary kitchen is typically brimming with stainless steel. Stainless steel refrigerators, stoves, cutlery, lighting fixtures and above all cookware are now commonplace items in kitchens from Dubai to Tokyo and everywhere in between. This should be no surprise as durable, beautiful stainless steel cookware not only adds aesthetic value to the kitchen but has a slew of practical and health-related benefits as well. Stainless steel’s primary value is that it is indeed ‘stainless’: that is, it won’t discolor when exposed to water or air (the two enemies of all metals). But just how does it accomplish that impressive feat?
Stainless steel is an alloy that contains chromium. Chromium, when exposed to the air, forms a non-toxic, oxide film which shields the surface from the effects of air and water. Should the stainless steel surface get scratched the oxide coating will move to seal the breach on its own, protecting the surface around the scratch from degradation. Because of this stainless steel can be used in practically every cooking environment to prepare every type of food, including acidic foods that can be problematic with iron or aluminum cookware. Stainless steel is also incredibly strong, making it the ideal material for the kitchen, where pots and pans are jostled about on the stove, on the counter, and in the sink.
Now that we know a little bit more about why stainless steel has become the go-to material for contemporary cookware, let’s take a quick look at what we consider the 5 best stainless cookware sets on the market today, in no particular order.
As you can see we’ve tried to be pragmatic with our choices for these stainless steel cookware reviews, meaning we’re covering a range from the budget (in the form of the Cooks Standard NC-00391 set) to the professional grade All-Clad D5 set. Our goal is to present ‘the best’ cookware sets at a variety of price points rather than simply stuffing the list with the most expensive stainless steel cookware sets available. The fact is any of the above sets will do your kitchen proud.
So now that we know which 5 cookware sets we’re highlighting, let’s take a closer look at each set, its strengths and what makes it such a remarkable value. So here they are in no particular order of preference, our 5 best stainless steel cookware sets.
CUISINART MCP-12N MULTICLAD PRO 12-PIECE SET
Cuisinart knows its way around the kitchen. There’s no doubt about that. So it should be no surprise that they’re able to produce a cookware set as impressive as the MCP-12N MultiClad. The MCP-12N displays the refined look and functional elegance all great cookware should exhibit yet steers clear of the oversimplified look so many cookware designers seem to embrace as a way of looking “modern.” The MCP-12N set has a timeless look about it that makes it a great match for just about any style of home and kitchen decor.
The handles are easy to grip, sturdy and manage to stay cool even under the most trying conditions. Each piece is a generous size to allow preparation of dishes for even the largest holiday gathering and the set as a whole exhibits impressive build quality that is sure to hold you in good stead for the foreseeable future and beyond. Chances are in fact that this set will become a family heirloom of sorts. It’s that stylish and well-constructed.
If you look at cookware as a long-term investment (and we believe you should) then the Cuisinart MCP-12N set should be high on your list of stainless steel cookware sets to consider. It won’t let you down from the moment you unbox it to the day many years on when you pass it on to the kids.
ALL-CLAD D5 10-PIECE COOKWARE SET
There’s no two ways about it; the All-Clad D5 10-piece set is serious cookware. You’re going to pay for the quality here but you won’t regret it. Handsome, durable as all get-out and made of the highest grade stainless steel, the D5 is a cookware set for those who believe in the kitchen as the place where the magic happens.
While there’s nothing terribly innovative or mind-blowing about the design of this set, you’ll notice the minute you pick up one of the pieces that they just feel different. A bit heavier perhaps than some cookware, but at the same time perfectly balanced so that the weight that accompanies that high grade stainless is never an issue.
Some of the many features you’ll enjoy about the All-Clad D5 cookware set include:
- Natural stick resistance from the D5’s starburst finished 18/10 stainless steel interior. Your culinary creations will never suffer from a metallic taste and clean-up will be a breeze.
- Absolute warp-free strength with a 5-ply construction of alternating layers of conductive aluminum and high grade stainless. Heat distribution is even throughout so you’ll never have to shuffle the pans around to find the right spot for cooking.
- The large, heat resistant handles are riveted to the cookware body eliminating the loose handle phenomenon that plagues so many other cookware sets regardless of price. Beautifully polished, flared pouring rims complete the tasteful look.
- Oven safe up to 600℉.
- Dishwasher safe and optimized for induction cooking.
- Limited lifetime warranty
DUXTOP WHOLE-CLAD TRI-PLY 9-PIECE COOKWARE SET
Duxtop is probably not the first brand name that comes to mind when you’re considering which cookware set is right for your kitchen. But maybe it should be. Duxtop cookware is attractive, effective, well-built and durable. It occupies the middle ground between high-end and discount cookware and occupies that ground convincingly.
Duxtop uses a 3 ply construction method that ensures long-lasting warp-free life for their cookware. A conductive aluminum core is sandwiched between an inner layer of stick resistant satin-finished stainless and a robust outer layer of high polished, magnetic stainless. As such, this set will work just as well on induction stovetops as on standard stoves.
Duxtop cookware features highly polished stainless steel lids and handles with the handles riveted directly to the main body of the cookware. The handles stay cool regardless of the type of stove in use or amount of heat applied. The entire set is also dishwasher safe although repeated exposure to the dishwasher may have the effect of dulling the exterior finish.
Main features of the Duxtop Whole-Clad Tri-Ply 9-Piece cookware set include:
- All components are oven safe up to 500 degrees F.
- Fully compatible with induction stovetops with no ‘hot spots’ or other anomalies you may experience with lesser cookware.
- Rock solid construction ensures this cookware set will be around not just for years, but generations.
- Excellent overall heat distribution. Each piece heats up quickly and evenly and the efficacy of heat distribution might even allow you to cook at a lower setting and save energy.
- No hassle cleanup lends itself to hand washing, which the manufacturer encourages anyway.
MAGMA GOURMET NESTING 10-PIECE COOKWARE SET
This 10 pieces nested cookware set is in many ways the apex of the Magma line. Made of high quality 18/10 stainless this cookware set is designed for yachts and high-end camping expeditions, but perfectly suited to a gourmet kitchen as well. The entire set is crafted from marine-grade, non-magnetic stainless steel meaning it’s virtually impervious to corrosion. The bottom of each component sports 3-ply construction (stainless steel, conductive aluminum, stainless steel) and distributes heat effectively and efficiently whether you’re cooking on electric, gas or ceramic. After cleanup, the entire set reduces to a single item that stores away easily in the yacht, tent or kitchen.
Whether you’re planning a weekend on the high seas, a camping excursion to a national park or just want a high-quality set of cookware around in case you need it, the Magma Gourmet Nesting 10-Piece cookware set is a can’t miss proposition. Some of the set’s incredible features include:
- High quality 18/10 stainless steel for long life.
- Compatible with gas stoves, ceramic cookers, and electric cooktops.
- Easily hand-washable but dishwasher safe as well.
- Reduces to a single 6” by 6” profile.
- Removable handles are placed and removed easily.
COOKS STANDARD NC-00391 11-PIECE COOKWARE SET
Budget stainless steel cookware may seem like a bit of a misnomer, and the fact is that a lot of companies that try to make high-quality budget cookware from stainless steel fail, but that’s not the case with Cooks Standard.
The NC-003911 set features an impact-bonded base that works quite well, distributing heat regardless of the cooktop in use. And while you may think that the company would try to save money by using cheaper, less durable stainless in the bodies of its pots and pans, you’d be wrong, as the bodies are forged from 18/10 stainless. The only place where savings are evident in the construction is in the tempered glass (rather than stainless steel) lids. You might expect to see the handles on these “discount” pots and pans bolted to the base but again, you’d be pleasantly surprised to find you were wrong. The handles are in fact riveted permanently in place just as they are on far more expensive cookware. Some of the other features of this remarkable cookware set include:
- Stick-free cooking for easy cleanup.
- Impact bonded technology allows faster heat distribution.
- Quality 18/10 stainless steel construction for durability and long life.
- A high degree of compatibility with gas, electric, ceramic and induction cooktops.
- Tempered glass lids are break-resistant and allow easy monitoring of cooking.
- Pots and pans are dishwashers safe for easy cleaning.
- Oven safe up to 500 degrees F.
THE VALUE OF TOP-QUALITY STAINLESS STEEL COOKWARE
Low-quality cookware can result in stuck food, poor heat distribution, wasted energy and long, labor-intensive cleanups. There is also the issue of trace metals making their way into the food fouling the taste and presenting a health hazard. With coated cookware, traces of the non-stick surface can also be loosened and wind up in your food, again presenting a health issue.
The best stainless steel cookware, by contrast, provides risk-free, dependable food preparation regardless of the type of stove you use or the type of food you’re preparing. The natural non-stick surface, incredible durability and resistance to warping over time along with the timeless and easily adaptable look of stainless steel make it a perfect match for just about any kitchen and any cook.
From a purely aesthetic perspective perhaps only copper cookware provides the type of visual satisfaction and timeless appeal of stainless steel, but copper is much more susceptible to damage and requires far more maintenance than stainless steel.
High-quality stainless steel cookware sets like the ones featured on this page are not so much a purchase as they are an investment. An investment in your quality of life, in your health and in your long-term ability to enjoy yourself in the kitchen. While it may be tempting to pick up just any old set of decent looking aluminum or Teflon pots and pans, don’t underestimate the peace of mind and years of worry-free enjoyment you’ll get out of a set of quality stainless steel cookware.
SELECTING A HIGH-QUALITY SET OF STAINLESS STEEL COOKWARE
A sure giveaway that you’re dealing with a low-quality set of cookware is the means by which the handles are attached. If they’re screwed to the base in some fashion you’re dealing with cheap construction. Handles should be riveted permanently to the base of the pot or pan. Handles should also stay cool while cooking and have generous girths to promote a sturdy hold. Top rated stainless steel cookware sets will feature 18/10 stainless steel, multi-ply construction for warp free durability, generous shapes to accommodate any type of dish and stainless steel lids.
NUMBER OF LAYERS
Cookware designers realized long ago that stainless steel by itself is not a great conductor of heat. Their answer to this problem was to create multi-ply stainless cookware that features either 3 or 5 layers of alternating stainless and conductive aluminum. This allows for much greater and more even heat distribution; so much so that you may be able to cook on a lower heat than with other types of cookware and actually save energy in the process (this implies of course that the cookware can actually pay for itself in energy savings over time).
THE IMPORTANCE OF “18/10” TO GOOD STAINLESS STEEL COOKWARE
There is no practical point in going into detail about the different grades of stainless steel. People can and have written entire books on the subject. However, you probably noticed above that the term “18/10 stainless” is used quite often in these stainless steel cookware reviews so an explanation is certainly in order.
There are several different grades of stainless steel used in the fabrication of cookware today ranging from lower grade 18/0 to what is typically the highest grade, 18/10. The “18” in those number chains refers to the percentage of chromium in the stainless steel alloy and the “0” or “10” refers to the percentage of nickel.
- Chromium is important because it helps the steel repel moisture and thereby avoid corrosion. It also creates the “stainless” aspect of stainless steel as it generates a natural non-toxic film that prevents foods from staining the surface of the cookware. The percentage of chromium is fairly consistent across most stainless steel cookware
- Nickel, on the other hand, ensures the much sought after the highly reflective surface of stainless steel. It also plays an important role in the formability of the stainless steel alloy as well as creating cookware that exhibits incredible strength at high temperatures and greater all-around toughness. The higher the nickel content (“10” rather than “0” for example), the higher the overall quality of the stainless steel.
When searching for the highest quality stainless steel cookware then, you’ll want to always keep your eyes open for 18/10 stainless. Some manufacturers will attempt to put one over on customers by ignoring the chromium/nickel percentages or by stating (incorrectly) that their 18/0 or 18/8 is the highest quality stainless. Don’t buy it. Literally.
CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE OF STAIN
LESS STEEL COOKWARE
Lower quality stainless steel will be more difficult to clean than high-quality stainless. There are many reasons for that, including the amount of chromium in the alloy mix. As a rule, however, there are some general maintenance steps you should take with all your stainless steel cookware and we’ll outline some of them below.
- Regularly scheduled maintenance: Remember that the top stainless steel cookware is an investment, not just a purchase. And like any investment, it should be properly cared for. You wouldn’t skip regular maintenance checks on your expensive car and you should get in the habit of conducting regular maintenance on your stainless cookware. It doesn’t matter the grade of the stainless steel involved. Take regular care of it to ensure a long practical lifespan.
- Clean thoroughly after each use: Don’t put off till tomorrow what you should do today and that goes doubly for cleaning your stainless steel cookware. Though stainless steel means stainless steel, the term comes with a caveat: that being that it’s stainless as long as you take proper care of it. If somehow food got stuck to the surface and when you finished cooking you simply set the pot or pan aside for several hours it’s likely you’ll have a stain that you’ll need to address later. If, on the other hand, you take the pan and immediately fill it with warm soapy water and then let it sit for several hours chances are you won’t have to do backflips trying to remove a stain later on.
- Season your cookware: You can avoid most stuck food incidents by seasoning your pans with a bit of oil before you use them the first time. Simply heat the pan until hot, remove it from the heat and pour a tablespoon of oil onto the surface. Return it to the heat and keep it there until the fat burns off. The remaining oil will bond with the stainless creating an enhanced stick-free surface.
- Dry your pans by hand rather than letting them air dry: Drying your pots and pans by hand will prevent water spots from forming. Water spots aren’t actually created by water but by the chemicals in the water. Drying your stainless steel cookware thoroughly by hand after every cleaning will prevent water spots.
- “Dishwasher safe” doesn’t mean you should use the dishwasher: Several makers of stainless cookware tout the fact that their product is dishwasher safe. Even though that may be technically true, it doesn’t mean it’s practically recommended. Repeated exposure to the extreme environment of the dishwasher can dull the high gloss finish and undermine the long-term viability of your stainless steel cookware. Wash by hand whenever possible.
- Don’t forget to polish your cookware: Aesthetics are one big reason for choosing high-quality stainless cookware so you shouldn’t simply ignore the way your new pots and pans look. Make sure you take the time to polish them now and again.
Stainless steel cookware has opened up new culinary possibilities and provided greater convenience for cooks everywhere. Easy to use, easy to clean, easy to maintain and durable as it is beautiful, the best stainless steel cookware represents true progress in the best sense of that word and is, without a doubt, the gold (or should we say ‘stainless steel’) standard for kitchen cookware in the 21st century.
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