When it comes to the best stainless steel cookware, savvy shoppers know to bring home a set that can handle it all: high temperatures, metal utensils, all sorts of ingredients and frequent trips through the dishwasher. I took this collective criteria into account—plus at least a dozen other qualifications—when I set out to rigorously test the most popular stainless steel sets on the market. If you’re looking to invest in the best overall set, our top pick is the All-Clad D3 Stainless Steel, which exceeded our expectations when it came to durability, temperature control and value. And if you’re in search of the best budget-friendly option, we recommend Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless. It’s a highly functional set that rivaled the All-Clad in many of our cooking tests.
Stainless steel is typically among professional chefs’ preferred cooking materials. While copper and cast-iron sets might have higher heat retention, they require extra care and maintenance (they’re also often heavier). And though nonstick cookware may be lauded for having the easiest surface to use and clean, the material falls short when it comes to proper searing and browning. Stainless steel, meanwhile, offers the best combination of all possible capabilities. Its performance is simply superior—and it comes with easy maintenance and a straightforward cleaning process to boot.
The following is a list of all of the winners from our stainless steel testing process. Further below, you’ll also find our testing methodology and how each set fared during their evaluation.
- Best Overall Stainless Steel Cookware Set: All-Clad D3 3-Ply Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set
- Best Value Stainless Steel Cookware Set: Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set
- Best Hybrid 5-Clad Cookware Set: Made In 10-Piece Stainless Set
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I’m a professionally trained baker with 15 years of experience in catering, custom cake design and recipe testing. I attended the Institute of Culinary Education for pastry and hold a master’s degree in food studies from New York University. While researching the cookware sets discussed in this article, I also consulted two additional experts: Sharon Franke, a veteran of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute with more than 30 years of experience testing kitchen equipment, and Mahsa Kazemifar, a classically trained chef who attended the Culinary Institute of America. Kazemifar also has over a decade of experience working as a private chef in New York City, and has worked with both stainless steel and nonstick cookware in professional kitchens for years.
How I Tested The Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets
I began the process by determining which cookware sets to test. To do this, I read countless reviews, compared bestselling and top-rated options, and considered the range of sizes and shapes of cookware necessary for most home recipes. Those included a medium-large frying pan around ten inches, a lidded sauté pan with a three-quart capacity (or more), a smaller lidded saucepan and a large lidded stockpot. With these criteria in mind, I chose five sets to compare.
Next, I set about devising cooking challenges by which to determine the various pans’ overall value, capabilities and limitations. I decided to prepare a variety of recipes based on the unique size and shape of each pan; the preparations included pan-frying turkey burgers, searing scallops, sautéing chicken breasts, simmering marinara sauce, boiling eggs and cooking rice. I wanted to assess whether the pans were able to cook the recipes within a standard timeframe, and if the resulting dishes had the expected color, texture, temperature and flavor. I also wanted to take note of how comfortable it was to grip the handles and lids on each set; afterwards, I planned to evaluate how simple it was to clean the pans.
To start, I set out to determine how well the fry pan could brown and caramelize ingredients. I pan-fried 85% lean turkey burgers in four-ounce portions for five to six minutes per side on medium-high heat. Next, I seared scallops for two minutes per side. For the sauté pan, I also focused on proteins, cooking six-ounce thin, boneless and skinless chicken breasts for five to six minutes per side. I then used the same pan to make a lemon-butter sauce. In the stockpot, I made a large batch of marinara sauce with a base of onion, garlic and two 28-ounce cans of peeled tomatoes to test both capacity and flavor. Finally, in the smaller saucepan, I did two experiments: I made four 12-minute hard-boiled eggs to see if the pan heated and cooled correctly (I wanted it to yield eggs with solid, bright yellow yolks). I then steamed long grain white rice (with a two-to-one water-to-rice ratio) in the pan to see if the grains stuck together as mush or if they came out fluffy and separated.
Best Overall Stainless Steel Cookware Set
The Best Stainless Set For All Kinds Of Cooking
All-Clad D3 Tri-Ply Stainless-Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set
What You Get: 8- and 10-inch fry pans, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 3-quart sauté pan with lid, 3-quart soup pot with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid | Material: 3-ply clad stainless steel | Cleaning: Dishwasher-safe, hand-wash recommended | Oven Safety: Up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit
Since its founding in the early 1970s, All-Clad has widely been considered the gold standard for stainless steel cookware. What’s more, the line’s D3 Stainless Nonstick came out on top when I tested the best nonstick cookware sets currently on the market. Needless to say, I was particularly excited to test this set—and as expected, the D3 performed exceptionally well.
As a 3-ply set, the All-Clad line is constructed from three different layers of bonded metal: stainless steel on the bottom, an aluminum core and, finally, another layer of stainless steel. It’s precisely because of this construction that the pans withstand and retain high heat so well. When I seared the turkey burgers, chicken and scallops, each protein emerged with acrisp, caramel-colored, just-right crust, and the interiors were incredibly moist—neithertough nor dry. The eggs and rice, cooked in the saucepans, came out perfectly as well: The rice was fluffy and the yolks were a bright yellow and evenly cooked throughout. The marinara, too, impressed me; thanks to a deeply developed fond (the caramelized bits that stick to the bottom of the pan after browning), the red sauce came out with a rich, deep flavor. And for all of the recipes, I never had to alter a dish’s estimated cooking time or temperature to achieve the results I wanted; the pans heated evenly and consistently.
I also appreciated the set’s riveted, ergonomic handles. As promised by the manufacturer, they stayed cool to the touch despite the high cooking temperatures, eliminating the need for potholders altogether. And when it came time to clean, I was even more impressed. The set is marketed as being dishwasher-safe, but the brand still recommends washing the pans by hand to ensure they last for as many years as possible (note that this is mainly an effort to avoid against aesthetic damage, like dulling or scratching). During testing, I took that caution to heart and eschewed the dishwasher. After a 15-minute soak in warm, soapy water, the pots and pans only required a quick scrub to release the remaining bits of food. (I will share that outside of the testing process, I happen to have owned this set for six years, and I typically do run the cookware through the dishwasher. Even after such a long time, none of the pans have dulled or suffered superficial damage of any kind.)
As you might expect, this set’s level of excellence doesn’t come cheap: Its usual cost is around $700. That said, while some may balk at the price tag, I truly think of this set as an investment. Between its superior cooking capabilities and the fact that it can last for decades, I believe that it is worth the money and then some. Remember that a good stainless steel set only needs to be replaced if the surface stops getting clean regardless of how much you scrub, or if one of the pans bends, rusts or breaks. You could be looking at a years-or decades-long relationship with your cookware set.
- Chefs and home cooks counting on superior performance
- Buyers looking for a multi-year investment
- Those who require a versatile size range for their cooking needs
- You’re trying to save money
Best Value Stainless Steel Cookware Set
An Excellent, Can’t-Go-Wrong Starter Set
Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set
What You Get: 8- and 10-inch fry pans, 1.5- and 3-quart saucepans with lids, 3.5-quart sauté pan with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid | Material: 3-ply clad stainless steel | Cleaning: Dishwasher safe | Oven Safety: Up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit
If you’re not looking to splurge on a more expensive set but still want something sophisticated enough to give you great results, the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic is your best bet. Across my many tests, the pots and pans gave a noteworthy performance, especially considering that the set retails for less than $200—a far cry from the All-Clad’s $700. Despite the lower price, the sizes and shapes of each pan were also comparable to the other sets I tested (save for the stock pot, which is narrower than both the Made In and All-Clad models and offers less surface area for batch cooking).
When it came to cooking rice and eggs, the Cuisinart set rivaled the All-Clad. The eggs werejust as yellow-yolked; the rice was just as fluffy. The marinara, too, came out thick, savory and flavorful. I did, however, run into some hiccups with the proteins. The Cuisinart pans tend to be more conductive than those offered by All-Clad, and that quality is certainly a good thing when it comes to, say, boiling. But it does mean that techniques like searing, sautéing and simmering foods require more careful oversight. While searing the turkey burgers, for instance, the pans heated up much more quickly than I expected, resulting in too-dark crusts. Once I realized that was an issue, I was mindful of the temperature in other tests, turning down the heat slightly to prevent burning. My other gripe, however minor, was that I found the smaller pots’ handles to be somewhat uncomfortable to grip due to their relatively short lengths and narrow widths. Longer handles would also have been better for keeping the heat farther away from my hands while cooking. Still, that size isn’t all bad: With those smaller handles and ever-so-slightly more narrow pot widths (especially noticeable with the stockpot), this set is ultimately easier to store than the others I tested, making it a great choice for those with less-roomy cupboards. Cleaning the pots and pans, too, was a total cinch.
Overall, I was impressed by the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Set. I believe this is an excellent starter set for beginner cooks and anyone who wants quality, do-it-all cookware for a very reasonable price.
- Beginner home cooks looking to upgrade to stainless steel
- Bargain hunters searching for great deal
- Those with smaller kitchens
- You’re after the even heat distribution and ergonomic qualities offered by All-Clad
Best Hybrid 5-Clad Cookware Set
A Beautifully Designed Set With A Valuable Bonus
Made In 10-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set
What You Get: 10-inch nonstick coated fry pan, 10-inch regular fry pan, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 4-quart saucepan with lid, 3.5-quart sauté pan with lid, 8-quart stock pot with lid | Material: 5-ply stainless steel | Cleaning: Hand-wash recommended | Oven Safety: Up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit
The other picks on this list feature a 3-ply clad construction, but Made In’s set has five layers of alternating stainless steel and aluminum, making for a rockstar cooking surface with optimal heat distribution and conductivity. It’s true that for standard, everyday cooking, you likely wouldn’t notice the difference, but expert-level chefs who cook at consistently high heats certainly will—and my cooking tests proved as much. The sears on all of my proteins came out just as perfectly as they did on the All-Clad: I found myself looking at caramelized crusts and tender, juicy interiors once again. The true star of the set, though, was the 8-quart stockpot, which proved to be the perfect size for a big batch of marinara. With its wider bottom and shorter sides, it provided ample surface space to develop fond and deglaze, resulting in an incredibly rich sauce.That said, I noticed a peculiar issue as I was cooking rice: Though the grains separated well and released from the pot with no issue, as I squeezed lemon juice over the rice for flavor, I noticed that it dulled the pot’s interior somewhat. It didn’t affect the pot’s functionality, but even after scrubbing the stainless steel with Bar Keepers Friend, it remained slightly discolored. Still, that discoloration doesn’t appear to have compromised one bit of its workhorse capabilities.
The design of the cookware is worth noting as well—it’s beautiful. The pans are well-balanced and ergonomic, with hollow handles that arch sharply away from the pan bases and make the vessels easy to control. Additionally, the pot and lid handles are noticeably larger and wider than the other brands, offering a comfortable grip even with a potholder.Note, however, that these features are noticeably larger and wider than other brands; this could be problematic for someone lacking storage space.
Made In’s set also comes with a valuable bonus: a nonstick fry pan. (Yes, even the professionals who wax poetic about stainless steel will acknowledge the importance of a good nonstick pan; it’s all but essential for cooking sticky, delicate foods like scrambled eggs and flaky fish.) Combining this “extra” pan with the five-ply construction and decidedly handsome design, this set should be a solid consideration for most buyers.
- Cooks who want both stainless steel and nonstick options
- Those who appreciate ergonomic, wide handles
- People tackling batch cooking
- You lack storage space (as noted, handles on both the pans and lids are noticeably larger and wider than other brands)
Other Stainless Steel Cookware Sets I Tested
In total, I considered six stainless steel cookware sets and ultimately tested five cookware—the All-Clad, Cuisinart and Made In models above, plus two additional sets, which did not make the final list. The full list is as follows:
All-Clad D5 10 Piece Cookware Set: The D5 is the 5-ply version of the All-Clad set that won my “best overall” ranking. It did perform well—in fact, it proved to be just as phenomenal of an investment as the winning 3-ply set—but I ultimately eliminated it because it cost a whopping $200 more than the already expensive 3-ply.
Farberware Classic Traditions Stainless Steel Cookware Set: I was eager to try this affordable set. Unfortunately, it did not perform well in my tests—and because it was offered at a similar price to the Cuisinart at the time of this article’s publication, I felt that it should be cut. Its construction isn’t 3-ply, meaning that it doesn’t heat as evenly, and the pan’s handles didn’t feel sturdy enough to me.
Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 10-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set With Glass Lids: I also considered testing this 10-piece set from Tramontina, but ultimately decided against it as it’s not as widely available.
How To Pick The Best Stainless Steel Cookware Set
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when shopping for a new cookware set—after all, it’s a big investment. To make matters more complicated, the stainless steel market is saturated with options, most of which bear similar descriptions (and most even look the same at first glance). To help you decide what to consider while shopping for stainless steel, I tapped the expertise of 30-year veteran kitchen equipment tester Sharon Franke and professional chef Mahsa Kazemifer.
“Stainless steel” isn’t just a catch-all umbrella category; there are many different constructions, or “claddings,” offered. Cladding refers to the process by which layers of stainless steel sandwich an aluminum core and are bonded together with pressure. This construction combines the sturdiness of stainless steel with the thermal conductivity of aluminum, resulting in superior cooking and optimal temperature control. Most commonly, you’ll find either 3-ply (stainless, aluminum, stainless) or 5-ply (alternating layers of stainless and aluminum—five in total). While 5-ply is considered the gold standard as it provides more heat conductivity and therefore offers added protection against hot spots, a high-quality 3-ply can handle the heat just as well in most applications.
In general, stainless steel cookware is lighter than cast iron, but heavier than traditional nonstick cookware. And that weightiness is not for nothing. In cooking, you want a little heft for pans to feel sturdy. “There's a balance between too light and just right, where the bottom is constructed with enough support for heat distribution, but also can easily be maneuvered with one hand,” says Kazemifer. If you don’t have the upper body strength to handle a heavier pan or simply lack hand and wrist mobility, look for a set with sturdy, wide helper handles. Ergonomically speaking, they’re a better choice for most users.
Pan Shapes And Sizes
When choosing a set, it’s important to consider what foods you cook most frequently and how many people you’re typically feeding. “I think 8-, 10- and 12-inch skillets [or fry and sauté pans] are essentials,” explains Franke. She recommends a “medium size for burgers, sautéed onions and chicken breasts for two people, whereas a larger size is great for one-dish meals and frittatas.” For saucepans, both experts suggest a 2- or 3-quart pot for rice and for smaller recipes, and a larger pot (like a stockpot or Dutch oven) for soups, stews and batch cooking. As far as lid material, at the end of the day, choosing metal or glass really doesn't affect the overall functionality of the set. Where it does matter is in convenience and personal preference: Some people find glass helpful, as they’re able to take a peek inside and see what's happening in the pan or pot.
It goes without saying, but in general, the more pieces in the set, the more space you’ll need to store them all. If you batch cook or have a few more mouths to feed, a standard set may be worth the cabinet investment. That said, if you’re seriously short on space, you may have to make compromises. For example, the Made In set highlighted in this article needs extra space, as the pots feature large handles; in comparison, the Cuisinart’s handles are small, which makes the set much more compact.
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