- Stainless steel is a blend of iron, carbon, and chromium, which is what makes the metal “stain less.”
- When it comes to cookware, stainless steel is the most popular because it works with all ingredients and cooking methods.
- The best food service stainless steel has a grade of 18/8 or 18/10, which indicates the ideal chromium to nickel ratio for superior corrosion resistance.
There are many things a home cook requires of their kitchen cookware. It must be durable, versatile, low maintenance, and available at a good price.
Stainless steel cookware ticks all these boxes. Aside from being the most common material (there’s a stainless steel pan in most every household), it’s also the cookware to reach for when making the majority of your dishes.
Stainless steel is an alloy of iron, carbon, and at least 10.5% chromium, which is the element that makes it resistant to rust and corrosion, and essentially makes it “stain less.” (Nickel is also often added to increase the steel’s strength and weldability.)
But stainless steel cookware doesn't just wear well. It's also long-lasting, easy to clean, and safe to use with all ingredients and most cooking surfaces (gas, electric, stovetops, and ovens). And when layered with aluminum or copper, stainless steel cookware conducts heat amazingly well.
When it comes to good cooking — perfectly seared steaks, slow-braised pork chops, or crunchy veggie stir-fries — stainless steel is the material that can do it all.
Buying Stainless Steel Cookware
The reasons to cook with stainless steel are many — and the options to buy are even more. The shelves of most home and kitchen departments are filled with stainless steel cookware.
The difficulty with buying this particular material, however, is that most of it looks the same. Yes, one bottom may be curvier or another handle may be slimmer, but the shiny luster of classic stainless steel is deceptively universal.
To help refine your search, opt for stainless steel that is “clad” or “multi-ply.” This means it’s made from multiple layers of metal — usually stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core — that create superior heat conduction and an overall solid construction.
Another defining factor is the grade of stainless steel, which categorizes the metal according to its composition. According to the WebstaurantStore, which supplies stainless steel cookware to many professional kitchens, the two accepted stainless steel grading systems in foodservice are SAE grades and flatware grades.
SAE uses whole numbers, with type 304 and type 316 being the most popular grades. The Flatware system, on the other hand, uses ratios to represent the percentages of chromium and nickel in the steel. The most common ratios include 18/0, 18/8, and 18/10, where the first number is chromium and the second number is nickel. So, for example, 18/0 will include 18% chromium and 0% nickel.
Which grades are better? It all depends on your intended purpose. The best cookware choice is usually 18/8 and 18/10, as these provide the best corrosion resistance with a high-polish finish. 18/0 is a good middle option — it’s not as corrosion resistant but is magnetic for induction cooktops, and it’s more affordable and good for heavier usage. 18/0 is what you’d most likely see in high-traffic fast food and casual restaurants.
The Best Stainless Steel Cookware
Even if you know you want to buy stainless steel, it’s still a bit overwhelming to navigate all the options out there. Make things easy on yourself and read about some of the best cookware sets down below, categorized by the number of pieces you’re looking to buy.
Misen Starter Cookware Set (3-piece)
Sometimes — actually most times — all you need are a few trusty pots and pans. And Misen’s concise 3-piece set has all of them. Thoughtfully streamlined to cover all your essential cooking needs, the Starter Cookware Set offers a 10-inch skillet, a 3-quart sauté, and a 3-quart saucier with a lid to accommodate your cooking needs.
Unlike other sets, three pieces actually means three cookware pieces — the lids aren't included in the count. And at $250 for the entire set, this places each piece at well below $100 each for amazing value for money.
Every pan is made with a sturdy 5-ply construction (with a base of 18/0 stainless steel for magnetism, which makes these pans compatible with induction stovetops, and an 18/10 surface stainless steel for durability and rust-resistance) — creating the perfect heated surface for almost any cooking methods. Plus, the entire 3-piece cookware set has ergonomic, stay-cool handles, and is dishwasher safe and suitable for all methods of cooking from stovetop to oven.
Tramontina Domus Tri-Ply Base Stainless Steel Cookware Set (8-piece)
The first thing you’ll notice about this cookware set is its notably curvier shape, sloped stainless steel handles, and shiny mirror-polished finish. Beneath its pretty exterior, the Brazil-based Tramontina Domus line uses 18/10 stainless steel and an aluminum core across the entire collection. This particular set includes an 8-inch fry pan, a 10-inch fry pan, a 2-quart saucepan (with lid), a 3-quart saucepan (with lid), and a 5-quart Dutch oven (with lid).
All-Clad Stainless Steel 5-Ply Bonded Cookware Set (10-piece)
This comprehensive cookware set is intended for full family kitchens. The stainless steel collection is All-Clad’s most popular one (besting its other 16 collections) with a 5-ply clad construction of 18/10 stainless steel and aluminum.
This 10-piece set contains an 8-inch fry pan, a 10-inch fry pan, a 1.5-quart sauce pan (with lid), a 3-quart saucepan (with lid), a 3-quart saute pan (with lid), and an 8-quart stockpot (with lid). If you’re ever confused as to which particular one you grabbed off the shelf, you can flip the pan over to find its capacity etched on the bottom.
Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel Cookware Set (12-piece)
Cuisinart offers a wide range of products — from ice cream scoopers to weighing scales — which makes it even more amazing that the brand can create great cookware. Its The design of Multiclad Pro’s collection includes tapered rims, tight-fitting seals, and stay cool grip handles.
The entire 12-piece cookware set comes with a 1.5-quart saucepan (with lid), a 3-quart saucepan (with lid), an 8-inch skillet, a 10-inch skillet, a 3.5-quart saute pan (with lid), an 8-quart stockpot (with lid), and a steamer insert (with lid) — providing everything a home cook needs, along with a few extras.
T-fal Stainless Steel With Copper Bottom Cookware Set (13-piece)
Copper is generally the more expensive choice when it comes to clad cookware. But T-fal manages to makes a professional copper set that’s still affordable. A copper bottom ensures even heat distribution without hot spots, while the interior surface provides measuring marks for gauging ingredient.
The set offers an 8-inch fry pan, a 10.5-inch fry pan, a 12-inch fry pan (with lid), a 1-quart saucepan (with lid), a 2-quart saucepan (with lid), a 3-quart saucepan (with lid), a 5-quart stew pot (with lid), and a steamer insert.
Williams-Sonoma Professional Stainless Steel Cookware Set (14-piece)
This is cookware for “everyday cooking and entertaining,” which is how it’s described on the company website. Williams-Sonoma’s cookware is designed with clear tempered-glass lids, with pieces that fare well in both high heat and low heat cooking, perfect for sauteing, simmering, boiling and braising.
The 14 pieces actually consist of more than just stainless steel — in addition to an 8-inch fry pan, a 10-inch fry pan, a 1.5-quart saucepan (with lid), a 3-quart saucepan (with lid), a 3-quart saute pan (with lid), and a 6-quart stockpot (with lid), you also get a 10-inch nonstick frying pan (with lid) and a 12-inch nonstick frying pan (with lid).
Cooking by Number
High quality stainless steel is always good to have in the kitchen. The pieces can be used from morning (for a savory shakshuka) to evening (to make a creamy tomato risotto or a shrimp saute). They’re extremely versatile, hard-wearing, and best of all — at least for home cooks — easy to clean. Plus, with so many pieces to choose from, you’re sure to find a stainless steel set that’s perfect for you.