Imagine searing a thick, bone-in pork chop on your stovetop. You’re holding the handle of the pan with one hand, tilting it, and using your other hand to deftly, rapidly spoon buttery pan juices over it. You extend a finger to press the meat, testing it for bounce, for doneness, before popping the pan into your pre-heated oven to finish cooking. The standard in most professional kitchens, stainless steel pans handle these tasks this and more with ease. Yet, they are not all built equally.
Professionals in our test kitchen cooked with and cleaned 28 sets of stainless steel cookware before testing them for durability. We considered factors like heating capacity, ease of cleaning, piece count, and size before choosing the Tramontina Gourmet 12-Piece Try-Ply Clad Cookware Set as the best stainless steel set for home cooks. Read on to learn what our product testers loved about this cookware and others, and for their takes on sets that didn’t make our list.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Tramontina Gourmet 12-Piece Try-Ply Clad Cookware Set
Pros: The pans feel balanced while cooking, and sturdy handles generally stay cool. They heat up quickly with good heat distribution.
Cons: Our testers reported discoloration after removal from the oven.
This comprehensive set from Tramontina boasts ergonomic handles and feels sturdy and well-built overall. It scored the highest marks amongst our testers for design and ease of cleaning. It also “heated quickly and had good heat distribution,” as one tester says. However, testers didn’t like the way the scallops developed a lace-like crust, and the frittata stuck to the bottom of the pan. Overall, the set felt durable and well-built throughout our tests and comfortable in the hand. It was also easy to clean.
- Construction: Tri-ply aluminum core construction (18/10 stainless steel, aluminum core, magnetic stainless steel)
- Oven Safe: Up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit
- Dishwasher Safe: Yes
Best Splurge: All-Clad Brushed Stainless Cookware 5-Ply Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set
Pros: The pans feel balanced while cooking and our testers report only a little food sticking. The pans created nice, brown crusts in testing and did not warp after being subjected to ice water while hot.
Cons: Cleaning in the dishwasher is not recommended, so the set may require a bit more care (though testers emphasized how easy it is to clean). Our testers would prefer clear lids but appreciate that the lids fit multiple pans.
This sturdily constructed set with stainless steel handles does not warp and produces beautifully seared food with even cooking. Simple in appearance, it’s a solid choice for home cooks and professional cooks alike who want to invest in a quality, long-lasting stainless steel set that will give you few (if any) issues down the line. It’s also incredibly easy to clean.
- Construction: 5-ply stainless steel
- Oven Safe: Up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit
- Dishwasher Safe: Not recommended
Best Value: Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set
Pros: There’s only a little sticking when it comes to these pans. They produce an even sear, and when exposed to extreme temperatures, they do not warp.
Cons: We wish the lids were clear.
This is a well-built, solid, and comprehensive set that heats evenly and discolors only slightly. (Discoloration is easily remedied with a non-abrasive cleanser like Bar Keepers Friend). “This pan set is really a beast. It’s really solid and feels like it would last a long time. The set comes with pretty much everything you would need,” one tester says. Not to mention, another triple-ply stainless steel set from Cuisinart topped our list of the Best Non-Toxic Cookware for its ability to withstand high heat on the stove and in the oven alike.
- Construction: Tri-ply brushed stainless steel
- Oven Safe: Up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit
- Dishwasher Safe: Yes
Best Professional Grade: Hestan NanoBond Collection Stainless Steel 5-Piece Set
Pros: The pan heats evenly and its handle remains cool to the touch after cooking over a gas flame. It’s easy to clean and afterward looks good as new.
Cons: Our also testers reported some sticking when cooking eggs and some handle wiggling, in addition to its steep price.
With a hue that one tester described as “space metal” – as it’s a deeper shade than typical stainless steel – this “very aesthetically pleasing” set, to quote another, will stand out in your kitchen. “Love the little bump on the bottom of the handle that helps with balance, stability, and grip,” another tester says. On the whole, however, our testers wouldn’t recommend or buy this set because of its price point, considering that it contains five pieces and is not a complete set. “It felt very comfortable and balanced, cooked scallops evenly, with easy cleanup, but the cleanup for the frittata was not so easy,” a tester says.
- Construction: Tri-ply molecular titanium 18/10
- Oven Safe: Up to 1050 degrees Fahrenheit
- Dishwasher Safe: Yes, but over time may lose some of its “titanium brilliance”
Best for High Heat: Anolon Nouvelle Stainless Steel Cookware Pots 10-Piece Set
Pros: The pans heat remarkably evenly and our testers report no discoloration when cleaning.
Cons: It produces some sticking – more than others on this list, which would render it more difficult to clean. They also feel a bit heavy for their size, and when it comes to storage, they are not stackable.
Anolon’s pots and pans performed very well in our cooking and cleaning tests, and testers remarked on the set as a whole for being comprehensive and reliable. “Sturdy and on the heavier side, but not uncomfortable,” one says. The testers were not fans of the domed lid, however, which “feels like it would take up too much space,” as one says. “Not good for stacking or storage, these could take up too much room.”
- Construction: Five-ply with copper core
- Oven Safe: Up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit
- Dishwasher Safe: Yes
Best Starter Set: Calphalon Classic Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set
Pros: This set is easy to clean, and glass lids let you keep tabs on your cooking.
Cons: The walls of these pieces feel a bit thin and they can only endure heat up to 450 degrees, unlike the others on this list, which can withstand temperatures of around 500 degrees.
In our tests, Calphalon’s stainless steel pans produced an excellent sear on proteins and made fluffy frittatas that don’t stick. The pots in this set come with pour spouts and measuring marks for convenience, while surprisingly functional glass lids have straining capabilities. “This set stuck in testers’ minds as one of the best for its price. Lovely, even cooking, glass lids, extremely easy cleanup, and felt really comfortable and balanced,” a tester says.
- Construction: Stainless steel
- Oven Safe: Up to 450 degrees
- Dishwasher Safe: Yes
Cookware sets typically include all the pieces needed to accomplish 90 percent of stovetop tasks. There is admittedly a slight learning curve to cooking with stainless steel cookware, and beginners may also want to consider carbon steel pans, as many have nonstick properties and are easy to clean. The Tramontina Gourmet 12-Piece Try-Ply Clad Cookware Set stood out for including ergonomic pans that felt sturdy and well built, thus earning the title of Best Overall. For everything you need at an excellent price point, including a handy steamer insert, the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set stood out as the best choice for value.
Factors to Consider
The price of a cookware set can determine your choice, though it doesn’t always correlate with quality. Sets can range from inexpensive to investments. If you are on a budget, buy the best set you can afford. Variations on the more affordable end will have more to do with features like heavier or more durable pots, thick bottoms to help with heat conductivity, or better lids. Once you hit the upper third of the price scale, increases in pricing often correlate with luxury brand recognition or additional specialty pieces to the standard set. A good set of stainless steel cookware, properly maintained, can last a lifetime of constant use. It is generally worthwhile to make an initial investment rather than purchasing cheap versions that will likely need to be replaced.
Lids count as pieces, so an 11-piece set is not eleven pots and pans. Any basic set to get you started should include a stockpot, a large saucepan, a small saucepan, a skillet, and the proper sizes of lids to cover all or most of them. You may not need more, especially if you do not cook a lot or do not cook for a crowd. Think about the pieces included in a set you are considering, and ask yourself if they are all pieces you will use regularly. Sometimes, it is more cost-effective to buy a basic set and then fill it in with some individually purchased pieces tailored to your cooking.
The best stainless cookware will have a thick bottom, often sandwiched with layers of copper or other materials that are good conductors of heat. This helps keep the heat even and consistent during cooking and helps to prevent hot spots or areas that are prone to burning. If the pans are a single thickness on the sides and bottom, you will encounter issues with food sticking and burning.
Pots and pans are some of the bulkiest items in your kitchen, and large sets of cookware can become overwhelming, especially in small apartments or an older home with limited cabinet space. If storage is an issue, look for cookware that is designed to stack or nest neatly inside itself, with consistent sizes so that lids can be shared between multiple pieces, as well as sets with removable handles.
Our testers evaluated 28 sets of stainless steel cookware based on factors like heating capability, durability, and ease of cleaning. Their tests included searing scallops on the stove and baking frittatas in the oven, noting handle heat, sticking, and cleaning. To test cookware for durability, they plunged hot pans into ice water to look for warping and signs of distress. In addition to the quality of the cookware, testers also rated sets based on the pieces included in each as well the pots and pans would equip home cooks for several tasks.
What Didn’t Make the List
Le Creuset Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware Set 10-Piece Set
This set performed generally well, producing beautifully seared scallops in tests. Cleaning it did require some elbow grease. Ultimately, we didn’t include this set because it was not comprehensive (more skillet sizes would be appreciated) and the price point was steep for a smaller set.
Made In Starter Stainless Steel Cookware Set
Our testers remarked on the bend in the handle of the pan in this sturdy set, which helped the pan feel “really balanced and easy to hold.” However, the set did not feel comprehensive and was notably difficult to clean after searing scallops.
Great Jones Family Style
This attractive set includes a gorgeous Dutch oven, and it cooked items evenly and well. It didn’t make the list since it’s a small set – you’d need to purchase a few more pieces – and it was not fingerprint proof.
Sardel Full Set
This is a 12-piece set with well-fitted lids for each of its pots and pans. There was moderate discoloration on the pans after removing them from the oven as well as wiggling of the handle, which shouldn’t happen at this price point. Otherwise, the pans had a high-quality feel and were easy to clean.
Misen Stainless Steel 12-Piece Set
This set scored high marks for being able to withstand high heat and being easy to clean. It comes with almost more pieces than one might need, and it maintained a very even heat through the cooking process. Yet, handles conducted and maintained heat longer than others on this list and an entire pan changed color to almost a copper hue.
Cuisinart French Classic Tri-Ply Stainless-Steel 10-Piece Set
There was a very noticeable hot spot on a pan that could easily overcook food. Plunging the pan into ice water after being heated, the handle did wiggle, though overall there was no warping.
Calphalon Premier Stainless Steel Pots and Pans 11-Piece
These pans felt comfortable in the hand and had a nice weight to them, but they exhibited uneven heating while cooking as well as some discoloring after heating, which is not ideal for a set of this price point. Our testers also experienced some difficulty cleaning after searing some foods.
Food52 Essential Cookware Set
This impressively comprehensive set has everything you need to outfit a kitchen. There were some minor issues our testers took with how the pans performed: the heat was uneven during cooking processes and the handles were uncomfortable to maneuver.
Williams Sonoma Signature Thermo-Clad Stainless-Steel 10-Piece
This set contains generously sized pots and pans, ideal for a larger household or even a restaurant. We didn’t include this set in our list because of the degree to which food stuck when searing scallops and flipping an omelet.
Pro Panel Q+A
Q: Can you use metal utensils on stainless steel cookware?
A: The restaurant chef’s answer to this question is yes, as metal tongs are typically used on the line. In a restaurant kitchen, you tend to expect your pans to go through significant wear and tear. Metal utensils can scratch stainless steel cookware, so if you’re looking to best preserve your stainless steel pans and avoid wear and tear, opt for wooden or silicone utensils at home.
Q: Can you use stainless steel cookware on induction cooktops?
A: Sometimes. Not all stainless steel pans will work on induction, only the ones that are made with magnetized iron or steel. It’s easy to test if they are! Just stick a magnet to the bottom of the pot or pan. If it sticks, you’re good to go. Stainless steel can be made with different metal compositions. Induction cooktops work by creating an electromagnetic field between their copper coils and the surface of your cookware. This magnetic field generates heat. If your cookware has a high nickel content, the nickel will block the magnetic field.
I frequently cook on induction for off-site catered events. I can’t trust that pans provided at venues will work, so I always tote around the same Le Creuset Dutch Oven and Heritage Steel fry pans – their five-ply construction and heavy bottoms ensure evenly cooked foods, which I find especially important over induction burners, as they heat up very quickly. Cast iron will also work over induction.
Q: Is stainless steel cookware nonstick?
A: Yes and no. Food Consultant Jill Haas says it is all in the technique. “It can be relatively nonstick if used properly. Pans need to be preheated before adding food, and food can’t be moved around until the food’s surface has either undergone the Maillard reaction (browned) or proteins have coagulated. I feel this might be difficult for a novice or inexperienced cook. Thus, the need for non-stick cookware.” A long-held belief is that for best results, heat the pan first, then add your fat, then your food. Looking for options that require less sticking? Peruse our picks for The 5 Best Nonstick Pans, According to Our Tests.
Q: Is stainless steel cookware safe?
A: “Stainless steel is the safest cookware available,” says Shannon Sherwood, Senior Events Specialist at Michael’s Catering in Chicago and a former cookware retailer. “There is no additional layer or coating, so there is nothing to chip, crack, hurt, or otherwise remove.” Stainless steel does not absorb anything, does not react with anything, and is generally the most versatile cookware on the market. “Stainless steel is the surface of choice when it comes to food because it is non-porous. It is easy to clean and sanitize,” says Public Health Officer Justin Herndon.
Q: How do you clean and care for stainless steel cookware?
A: As a large catering kitchen can go through as many pots and pans for one event as a small restaurant might in a week, Sherwood knows how to wash pots and pans effectively: “Non-abrasive sponge with Dawn for basic cleaning. For stuck-on food in stainless, use Bar Keepers Friend. There is nothing better,” she says. Haas agrees: “Bar Keepers Friend is the best and is also good for scratched plates and ‘milky’ glassware.”
Want the trick to keeping your stainless shiny? Buff the exterior of your pans in the direction of the steel with a small amount of olive oil and a soft cloth. They will shine like new! We also recommend Weiman’s Stainless Steel Cleaner, which is equally effective on stainless steel appliances.
Kiki Aranita is a food writer, chef, recipe developer, and sauce entrepreneur who owned and operated a food truck, restaurant, and catering business in Philadelphia before closing food service operations due to the pandemic. She has cooked over many different heat sources, from induction to commercial gas ranges to open fire (and purchased many types of pots and pans over the years to accommodate each surface). She regularly tests kitchen products for Food and Wine and has also done so for USA Today.