The Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets
Given the popularity of our Stainless Steel Water Bottle: Smackdown and our recent commitment to covering green home issues, I wanted to write about a surprising and scary issue in the home: nonstick pans – so this post is about the best stainless steel cookware.
I used to be an avid lover of nonstick pans. I adore eggs and nonstick coated cookware made my kitchen pans incredibly easy to clean. But, nonstick coatings are unbelievably bad for you and the environment. How bad? So bad that the fumes can kill birds. (Check out this article and the references in it if you want to learn the specifics. For instance, according to the article, “although an accurate national accounting of deaths is not available, in a single year [a]Chicago veterinarian documented 296 bird deaths in 105 cases involving non-stick cookware.)
The problem with nonstick pans is something called polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE. The most well known brand is Teflon®.
Now, I’m not one to be an alarmist, but I take my personal health very seriously. At first, when Kimberly tried to convince me to throw out our nonstick Teflon pans I insisted that they were fine. But I did a lot of research and eventually realized that nonstick is terrible. The fact that the fumes can kill birds makes me think that nonstick may be even worse for you than BPA (the bad stuff in plastics and the reason to use stainless steel water bottles).
So, when we decided to purchase a new cookware set we researched different types of cookware. Most professional chefs use copper or stainless steel cookware sets. If they use these materials, why not us too?
But, our first stainless steel cookware set (a $50 department store special) quickly broke. The handles came loose and food didn’t cook easily. The worst part about them was that the pans heated unevenly and were difficult to clean.
Luckily, for a wedding present we received an extremely nice stainless steel cookware set – All-Clad. They pans have held up exceptionally well. But more on that later.
Stainless Steel Cookware Set Comparison
To conduct our Stainless Steel Cookware comparison we have several different contenders. We’ll discuss each one and the importance of their features
Contenders: Basic Stainless Steel Cookware Set, Cuisinart Stainless Steel Cookware Set, KitchenAid Stainless Steel Cookware Set, Celphalon stainless steel cookware set, All-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware Set.
Stainless Steel Cookware Set Features
You are probably asking yourself – isn’t all cookware created the same? What’s the difference between these different brands of pans?
Here are the critical differences in the pans’ features:
1) Overall Construction – How sturdy are the pans? Do they hold up well? You want to buy pans that last.
2) Number of Layers – How many layers are there? And what type of metal are they? Generally you want 3 layers as this creates a more even distribution of heat which means the food cooks evenly.
3) Type of Lid – What type of lid is it – glass or stainless steel? (I prefer stainless steel as it’s unlikely to break if I accidentally drop it. Other people prefer glass.)
4) Made in USA – Is the pan made in the US or in China (or elsewhere)? Many people have concerns about metal contaminants of non- American made products.
5) Induction – If you have an induction stove (you’ll know if you do) you need a pan that will allow for induction.
The reality is that the more you pay the better pan you will get.
How the Stainless Steel Cookware Stacks Up
The Intro Set (aka the Cheap Stuff)
The Excelsteel 7 piece Stainless Steel Cookware set with glass lids is a good intro kit. It’s only $45 and would be great for a college student or someone just starting out. It doesn’t have some of the features that the more expensive pans have, but if you’re looking for a good cheap stainless steel cookware set – this is it.
The Middle of the Road
A middle of the road stainless steel cookware set that is good, but not excellent is the Kitchenaid 10-piece set, which costs about $160 on Amazon. However, these are not entirely stainless as they have silicone grips.
The 10 piece Cuisinart Classic Stainless Steel Cookware set is less than $140 on Amazon. It has 350 plus reviews and given that you get more pots and pans than Kitchenaid for the price, this is probably the best of the middle of the line. It comes with stainless steel pan covers plus: 8- and 10-inch skillets; 1-1/2- and 3-quart covered saucepans, 3-1/2-quart sauté pan; and 8-quart covered stockpot.
Top of the Line
The following sets are the really high end stainless steel pans. All of the following sets are tri-layered which means they will be sturdier and last longer. I am providing more information about them because while they are more expensive, they will last longer. Because they’ll last longer they are more sustainable and better for the environment.
We were lucky enough to get our All-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware for a wedding present.
We’ve had the set for two years and it works amazingly well. We have had no problems with the pans — save some discoloration that is common to all stainless steel.
A 9 piece sets is pricey at $599. While the most expensive of stainless steel cookware, All-Clad really does last a lifetime and in doing so reduces waste. (My aunt and uncle have had their same All-Clad set since they got married 30 years ago.)
All-Clad is made in the USA — mostly. It seems that their lids as well as some appliances are made in China (and subject to thorough inspections and testing). Their pots and pans are made from US supplied metal manufactures and bonded together at the Pennsylvania manufacturing facility.
Cuisinart MultiClad Pro
The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro 7 piece set is a little under $200. But given that there is only 1 fry pan in the set you’ll likely want to buy a separate skillet.
Overall the Cuisinart gets better reviews than the Calphalon; but people who also owned All-Clad were mixed on whether or not they would buy the Cuisinart again. Many said they noticed no difference. A few people mentioned the pans felt lighter. And they are made in China. So if the price is more important to you and you are ok with a Chinese manufactured pan you will want to buy the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro.
Reviewers of the Calphalon seem to love it.There are some complaints about customer service, the handles getting hot, and the fact that this cookware is made in China. But overall people really like it. A difference between this and All-Clad (other than the cost) – is that All-Clad tops are Stainless steel and Calphalon are glass. A 13-piece set costs about $389 on Amazon.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware
Cleaning stainless steel pots and pans is a little more difficult than cleaning nonstick pans. But, in two years since we’ve owned our All-Clad we haven’t had too many problems. We recently learned about a product called “Bar Keeper’s Friend” (found at any retailer like Target or your local market.) While not a green product, it is free of phosphates and does wonders for cleaning stubborn stainless steel stains. We use it maybe once a month on our most frequently used pans to keep them sparkling. (Well, stainless steel does get discolored and stained. But it doesn’t affect the use of the pans at all).
How to Make Stainless Steel Cookware Not Stick
I’ll be honest — ensuring that food doesn’t stick to stainless steel plans is an art. It takes patience. But, here’s the trick — make sure that the pan is hot x 2. First, get the pan hot. Second, get the oil/butter hot. This doesn’t mean to turn the heat on high (for boiling water — sure, but not for sauces, eggs, etc). Turn the heat on medium to medium low and let the pan get hot throughout. Then add a little oil. Let the oil heat until it’s almost smoking. If you tilt the pan the oil will spread and run like water. Only once the pan is hot should you add the food you are cooking to it.
What about “Green” nonstick cookware?
You can buy nonstick cookware that is supposedly fine for you and doesn’t contain the same chemicals as the bird-killing nonstick pans do. But honestly, I don’t fully trust these products. I will stick to stainless steel becaues I know it’s safe.
Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets
I would buy the All-Clad cookware again in a heartbeat. For made in America cookware that has a long track record and proven reputation you just can’t beat it. However, given the high price of it, my second choice would be Cusinart multiclad.
Contest: Win a $50 Amazon.com Gift Certificate
To help you with your cookware purchase we’re giving away a $50 gift certificate to one commenter. What features do you look for in cookware? Do you currently use nonstick pans? Leave a comment to win! In two weeks we will use a random number generator to choose a winner of the best stainless steel cookware.