Every amateur and professional chef alike deserves a robust selection of cookware at their arsenal, including stainless steel pots and pans. While non-stick pans inherently come with a no stick insurance policy, understanding the benefits of a good stainless steel pan will only elevate your cooking game.
Stainless steel is designed to handle certain ingredients differently than your standard nonstick, ceramic, and cast iron pans. They’re best known for being durable, for perfectly browning ingredients (hello, maillard reaction!), and most importantly—protecting delicate and/or acidic dishes from being infiltrated by metallic flavors (more on this later). We believe that stainless steel is essential for every kitchen and a perfect registry staple, and we’re sharing our favorite sets that will provide you with years of cooking bliss.
Before we break down our favorites, however, let’s mull over the different types of pans the world has to offer.
Stainless Steel vs. Nonstick vs. Cast Iron
A single recipe can taste vastly different depending on what type of cookware you use to prepare it. While nonstick is considered easiest—and safest—to use by industry experts, there are simply some things you can’t do with a non-stick pan that you could in stainless steel or cast iron.
Let’s start with construction. Stainless steel is durable, scratch-resistant, and a bit heavier than most nonstick cookware. Stains and scorch marks are easy to remove, and stainless steel is very easy to clean. Nonstick cookware requires a gentler touch to avoid scratching, and cast iron takes a bit more care to clean and maintain, which may not be the easiest to use as a new chef.
When it comes to flavor, an important quality of stainless steel is its (usually) uncoated and non-reactive exterior. Since they’re non-reactive, you can cook delicate dishes like classic marinara sauce without introducing metallic flavors into the sauce. Unless you enjoy a signature “tinny” flavor, you’ll want to avoid cooking anything too acidic in a cast iron pan as it can transfer flavor. The ability to brown ingredients or simmer delicate sauces in stainless steel helps to maintain the flavor integrity of your ingredients – and whip up an incredible meal.
When it comes to heat stainless steel can cook over higher temperatures than nonstick, and react more quickly to temperature change than cast iron. If you’ve ever tried a recipe that calls for maneuvering a pan from stovetop to oven then you know that sensitivity of temperature change is important. Stainless steel pans deliver consistent heat over several years, and some multi-ply pans with copper layers help to improve temperature control even more.
Best Overall for Budget
This set is solidly constructed, durable, and affordable for most households. The diversity of size and type of pots and pans you’ll receive is outstanding for the cost, and will allow you to cook many different styles of cuisine.
If you’re new to stainless steel cookware this set is great for practicing your cooking (and quite easy to clean). The weight of each item is comfortable, and we’re big fans of the rounded handles that are easy to maintain a grip on. You will want to have handle-covers ready when cooking as these handles do warm up while cooking.
This set offers a pretty solid selection of pan sizes, including a steam basket, but does not include a larger stock pot. The Tramontina stainless steel sets are also offered at other popular retail stores in 10, 12, and 14 piece sets with a variety of pots and pans while maintaining a good price overall. Each set comes with a lifetime warranty, and is oven-safe to 500ºF.
Best for Small Kitchens
This cookware set starts strong, with a 5-Ply construction and a copper core. The 29, Your Way set includes 3 pieces, with options to select between their signature Saute Pan, Classic 12” Pan, Coated Pan, Classic 10” Pan, and Sauce Pot. You’ll be able to choose which pieces you absolutely need, which is crucial when planning for a small kitchen. We love the variety of pieces available without the pressure of buying a large set of cookware.
The vibe of this cookware set is modern, chic, and is a worthy host for your favorite recipes. With the copper core you won’t need to worry about hot spots, and can expect a mastery of heat distribution.
The co-founders for Material built their brand around their personal love: food. A real brand created by real food lovers, their stainless steel cookware definitely lives up to the hype!
Choosing your 3-piece set starts with the required Sauce Pot, and then allows you to pick a 1st and 2nd option from the remaining four pieces. Material pans boast a specially-designed lip to make pouring a smooth process. All pieces are oven-safe to 500ºF and dishwasher-safe, though we do recommend washing by hand for a quality shine. Material also makes their own utensils to pair with every pan – how thoughtful!
The classic brand All-Clad deserves a spot in the cookware hall-of-fame as a timeless brand, right next to Staub and Lodge. With All-Clad you can always expect quality build and performance, and they’re continuously listed as a top cookware brand for a reason. This set in particular offers a great range of sizes for pots and pans with two layers of steel wrapped around an aluminum core.
The design and look is classic, definitely what you would see in a professional kitchen. The heat conduction is even and fast and is great for any amateur chef looking to upgrade their kitchen.
This set is pricier than others that offer 10-pieces that are tri-ply, so it is an investment. Since the All-Clad brand has been around and has many fans there are hundreds of resources available for info on care, cooking, and recipes. We are a little bummed that this set does not offer a 12” skillet. The set does offer a lifetime warranty and is oven-safe to 600ºF.
Best for Style and Presentation
If we’re being honest – and we’re always honest when it comes to the kitchen – this set caught our attention immediately. We love the electric potential that comes from new brands, and Great Jones has proven to be an excellent addition to the cookware community. Great care was taken by its creators to ensure that the set performed as great as it looks.
Each piece is rivet-less, a rare treat that makes cleaning a breeze. While the size options are limited, each piece was made to be multifunctional, including acting as serveware. Our personal favorite piece is the Saucy, with curved sides and a pouring spout that allow for a smooth finish when cooking.
Need to recycle any old cookware? Great Jones keeps eco-friendliness at the fore by offering a searchable index on where to recycle cookware.
According to Great Jones, the cookware is durable, optimized for steady handling, and oven-safe to 500ºF. The Family Style set includes 2 pots with lids, 2 skillets, and a dutch oven (available in 7 colors). We’ve heard that the pieces are on the heavier-side but this lends itself to the overall durability. This brand is newer but has quickly built a passionate fanbase.
Easiest-to-Use (great for beginners!)
This impressively large and affordable set has classic looks and great performance. With a tri-ply body and aluminum core this stainless steel cookware will be able to manage any dish you’ll need it for. Backed by a lifetime warranty this Cuisinart® set is a great option for those new to stainless steel cookware.
Inspired by French kitchens, this cookware set combines elegance with durability for the modern kitchen. Heat distribution is even and holds up after cooking many dishes over many years. This set is also induction-compatible, and is relatively easy to clean.
This set is large and in-charge, and will require some space in your kitchen to store effectively. Unlike many stainless steel sets this one has glass lids for its pots and pans. A generous 8 Qt. stockpot is included, along with a multi-steamer insert. This set is not dishwasher safe and should be hand washed only. Several pieces include measurement markings inside to assist with your cooking.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware
Let’s say you’ve just wrapped up cooking a delicious meal for friends. The meal came out perfectly, your friends were satisfied, and they’ve left your home envious of your culinary skills. Now it’s time to get down to washing dishes, and you’ll want to keep your cookware gleaming throughout its lifetime.
You may find that your stainless steel cookware has a few bits of burnt food, even after seasoning the pan. With the right supplies and proper technique you’ll be able to rid your cookware of any scorch marks.
Before we dive in: we highly recommend washing your stainless steel cookware by hand. You’ll be able to ensure that every nook and crevice is spotless.
For everyday cleanup start by scraping out excess oil and food bits using a spatula, or a long handled dish brush. This step is easier done when the pan is hot (especially if you’ll be deglazing the pan by adding some hot water). Before submerging your pan in water make sure the pan is completely cooled off.
Once the food bits are broken up grab a scouring pad, some dish soap, and maybe an extra sponge. Scrub the entirety of the pan (yes, the bottom and handle as well), using a circular motion. Rinse and wipe clean with a towel.
For tougher stains we recommend using the cheap and easily accessible baking soda method. Its non-toxic abrasive properties make it perfect for ridding your stainless steel of stains and layers of burnt food. Simply create a slurry of baking soda and water in your pan. Be generous with the baking soda, in this case it’s more-the-merrier. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes and then start scrubbing. For truly heinous stains, you can let the slurry sit in the pan overnight.
There are few things more satisfying than a perfect sear, fry, sauce, or sauté in a near perfect pan. In fact, you can see Material Kitchen’s pans in action in our latest and greatest recipe: perfect chicken parmesan. Treat yourself to the joy of awesome stainless steel cookware, and add your favorite to your Blueprint registry. Bon appétit!