Find the Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets
If you already have discovered that stainless steel cookware is versatile and is a great overall choice for your main cookware needs, then congratulations! Since most of us do not have our own cooking shows or spend all of our time in the kitchen, this article is meant to give some brief background and guidance when searching for features that can be found in the best stainless steel cookware sets.
While every type of cookware has some nice points, many chefs rely chiefly on a good set of stainless steel cookware because it provides an unbeatable combination for health, consistency, durability, and convenience. They are one of the safest (except ceramic cookware is safer for those who have a rare stainless or nickel allergy), contain no aluminum surfaces, can last a lifetime without chipping, corroding or vaporizing, and can be well maintained without difficulty. But with all the stainless steel pots and pans available, how can a consumer decide which ones to buy?
Emeril by All-Clad E884SC Chef’s Stainless Steel Cookware Set, 12-Piece
Stainless Steel Alloys-Is There Any Difference?
The outside finish of stainless steel cookware is very similar in appearance. However, there are differences in the alloys and construction that are well worth noting before any buying decisions can be narrowed down. Firstly, if you are planning to or already using the latest, greatest technology of induction cooking rather than only gas or standard radiant electric, you will need to ensure that the base is magnetic. This is because, in a few cases, stainless steel can include alloys such as nickel that are not magnetic. Fortunately, most stainless steel sets will now be clearly labeled as induction-ready. Even if there is no label, by passing a common magnet under the base of the pan, you can easily ensure that the magnets sticks. If so, there is little or no nickel alloy there and it is suitable for induction cooking.
The other main alloy mixed with the iron is called chromium. All stainless steel is iron-based but it must contain chromium to provide the stainless properties. In contrast, cast iron is prone to rust (unless properly seasoned) because it contains no chromium. The minimum in stainless steel is 11% chromium but 18% is quite common. On the bottom of many manufacturers’ pots and pans, you will often see a small “18/10” or “18/8”, representing that the material is 18% chromium and 10% or 8% nickel, respectively. The bottom will also usually be labeled in the “300” series classification of either “304” for stainless or, more rarely, even “316” for marine grade/medical grade stainless. “400” grade stainless is for mixing bowls or very inexpensive light cooking pots and can contain almost no nickel (0.75% is common). They are not for daily cooking and will often corrode. Remember that nickel is not magnetic and any part of a pot that is not magnetic contains nickel (hence will not work with induction either).
As to the difference between the popular 304 and 316 grade of stainless, the Marine Grade 316 will function the same for heating but is apt to hold up better to corrosive ingredients like very acidic lemon-based or vinegar-based sauces. When such sauces are made, especially with 304 grade stainless steel, it is recommended not to store such sauces for long in the stainless steel but transfer them out and wash the pans with dishwashing detergent soon after cooking.
Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set
How Well Does Stainless Steel Conduct Heat?
Before analyzing whether stainless steel itself is a “good” or “bad” heat conductor, some further history of cookware will help define its evolution. As noted above, the dominating feature of stainless steel cookware is its versatility; it’s excellent for all types of cooking–frying, sautéing, steaming, braising, simmering, and boiling. A rare exception is that most chefs keep an iron pot or skillet for certain sauces, due to the cast iron’s unbeatable heat retention—well known for keeping your parents’ or grandparents’ favorite soup or chili hot. Cast iron also can be used at very high heat for searing. Stainless steel cookware is now also commonly used for searing—which is one reason why it often contains a layer of aluminum or copper in the base for better heat conduction. As most people have experienced, iron skillets often have a center hot spot, making it tricky for avoiding burning. Stainless steel manufacturers created a solution long ago to avoid this negative property of cast iron skillet hot spots. Stainless steel cookware is designed to conduct better by manufacturing it with a layer of another material in the base of the pan.
This is because stainless steel, by itself, actually is a relatively poor heat conductor. Manufacturers add an aluminum layer that is sandwiched into the bottom of each cookware piece. For example, spun-disk (made by spinning on a lathe) stainless steel cookware has a layer of aluminum (or copper) in the base
Calphalon Classic Stainless Steel Cookware Set, 10-Piece
in order to increase conduction. This can often be evidenced by a seam that is visible along the base. Since the days of the Beatles or at least color television, this layer of aluminum or copper for better conduction in the base has dramatically helped stainless steel to become the cookware of choice. And this cookware can last a long time—more than a decade. However, some separation between the layers has been known to occur after many years of use.
Stainless Steel Cookware Design for Longer Wear
Manufacturers later began offering, at higher price points, “clad” or “tri-clad” cookware. These are so named because they contain a layer of aluminum or even copper (the highest heat conductor) that is completely sandwiched and encapsulated between steel layers. This type of pan is designed to last decades while providing quick but even heating. While both clad and spun-disk pans technically produce the quick, even heating you are looking for in the best stainless steel cookware sets, the medium to better quality tri-clad type of cookware sets of 10 to 12 pieces will run about $250 and up; the simpler spun-disk style with the seams on the base can be purchased for half that amount. Of course, the sky can be the limit and gourmet chefs, hobbyists and entertainers may opt for designer or heirloom quality sets. The very best stainless steel 5-ply cookware sets can cost several times higher.
Handles and lids can vary in material and shape. Lower cost models may have a simple straight plastic or steel handle and metal lids. At middle price points, you will often find comfortable silicone, slip-resistant, heat-resistant handles and glass lids. Glass lids are nice for visibility but chefs prefer steel for durability. Some claim that a bulbous base and sloping edge to the pot can not only provide style but can aid in easy pouring and help to avoid spills. A possible tradeoff may be that scraping them out is more of a challenge.
Hanckels J.A. Reflection,18/10 Stainless Steel Cookware Set, 12-Piece
Finally, remember when it was a no-no to put your pots and pans in the dishwasher? These days, look for labels that mention whether cookware is dishwasher-safe. Fortunately, many of the best stainless steel cookware sets now have a dishwasher-safe rating. For deep stains or burns that will occur on the bottom of the exterior over time, you will need a non-abrasive sponge or scourpad and non-abrasive cleaners such as Bar Keeper’s Friend or similar cleaning product. With a little elbow grease, your cookware can look like new again.
All-Clad 600822 SS Copper Core 5-Ply Bonded Cookware Set, 10-Piece
As noted above, stainless steel cookware has now been designed to last more than a decade, even modestly price sets. They can last many decades beyond for the middle and upper priced models. Thus, typical warranties run from 5 to 10 years for spun-disk models and limited lifetime warranties for the fully encapsulated versions. Ownership of the best quality stainless steel cookware can be based on as little as a one in a lifetime purchase. Regardless of your brand preferences, by choosing the best stainless steel cookware in your price range, you can now look forward to many years of enjoyable, trouble-free cooking!