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No matter how you slice it, growing up is hard to do: There’s more responsibilities, more decisions, and, of course, way more expenses. But one of the benefits of becoming an adult is getting to own some truly nice pots and pans (no more roommate hand-me-downs!). Offering the ultimate combination of durability and convenience with no bulkiness or extra heft, investing in quality stainless steel cookware is one of the first steps you can take. Stainless steel cookware is certainly the best for even heat distribution and high-heat searing (think pan-fried steak and seared scallops), but there’s a lot more to love about these durable sets than just their excellent performance. We know these sets aren’t for the faint of heart—or wallet—which is why we’re here to guide you through the process of finding the best stainless steel cookware set for your lifestyle.
Our top picks
- Best Stainless Steel Cookware Set: Williams Sonoma Signature Thermo-Clad Stainless-Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set
- Best Budget Stainless Steel Cookware Set: Tramontina Triply Clad Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set
- Best Splurge Stainless Steel Cookware Set: Ruffoni Opus Prima Hammered Stainless Steel 7-Piece Cookware Set
- Most Versatile Stainless Steel Cookware Set: All-Clad D5 Brushed Stainless Steel 5-Ply 10-Piece Cookware Set
- Easiest to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware Set: Le Creuset Stainless-Steel 10-Piece Set
- Best Stainless Steel Cookware Set for Small Kitchens: Hestan NanoBond Stainless Steel 5-Piece Cookware Set
- Most Stylish Stainless Steel Cookware Set: Great Jones Family Style Set
How we picked these products
To determine the best stainless steel cookware sets, we consulted our friends at the Good Housekeeping Institute, which evaluated 35 different sets. Their team of on-staff experts—which includes all types: engineers! data analysts! registered dietitians!—rigorously put everyday products to the test (and then more and more tests) in their New York City-based labs to determine which ones you can trust. For these sets, their Kitchen Tech Experts evaluated each on user-friendliness, heat distribution and retention, maneuverability, stain resistance, cleanability, and performance—they even gauged their ability to maintain a steady simmer, evenly brown steaks, and cook tomato sauce without scorching. After reviewing their findings, we’ve determined that these are the best stainless steel cookware sets you can buy in 2022.
Is stainless steel cookware the best kind of cookware?
For heat distribution and searing foods, yes. Many of these sets feature an aluminum core for even heating, which can streamline nearly every cooking process, and a stainless steel construction for optimal durability—so when you invest in a set, you can rest-assured that it will be a staple in your kitchen for the rest of your life.
Plus, you don’t have to deal with the annoying chips that occur with the wear and tear of nonstick-coated pots and pans, and don’t need to worry about the seasoning or rust issues faced with cast-iron skillets.
Wondering what the drawbacks are? There is one caveat (besides the expensive price, of course): cleanability. Though the name may suggest otherwise, stainless steel isn’t actually stainless. In fact, it’s more likely to stain because it lacks a nonstick surface. Some people like their cookware sets to look “lived in”, but if you want to keep yours looking brand new, you’ll need a little elbow grease and a quality stainless steel cleaning agent. On lazy days when you don’t feel like doing dishes, many of these sets can be thrown into the dishwasher, though that may wear on the polished design over time.
What is the best grade of stainless steel for cookware?
Not all stainless steel is created equal. There are multiple grades, with varying levels of durability and heat- and corrosion-resistance. Each type consists of a mixture of metal alloys that usually includes at least 10.5% of chromium and over 50% iron. Stainless steel is graded based on its makeup, with four types of classification:
Austenitic, which contains elevated levels of nickel, chromium, and molybdenum to offer optimal strength and ductility. This is the most common type of stainless steel used for cooking.
Ferritic, which contains more than 10.5%, but less than 30% chromium. (These options are typically magnetic, which can cause some shoppers to think the cookware isn't actually stainless steel, but in fact, they’re preferable if your priority is preventing cracks from stress corrosion and oxidation from high temperatures.)
Duplex, which is a combination of austenitic and ferritic stainless steel. This option offers the best of both worlds in terms of durability and corrosion resistance, but this is better suited for industrial and underwater use than for culinary purposes.
Martensitic, which has a similar makeup to ferritic, except it has increased levels of carbon. This is typically used for medical grade and surgical grade instruments.
Grade 304 is the most common austenitic food-grade stainless steel, which means it meets all the necessary criteria to be used in food prep, storage, and eating. (You might also see this on packaging as 18/8 and 18/10.) Unlike grade 316 stainless steel (more on this below), it doesn’t contain molybdenum—which means it doesn’t hold up quite as well over time to prolonged, repeated exposure to some ingredients like salt or acidic foods like lemon or tomato juice.
Grade 316 is another great food-grade stainless steel, but it's expensive. The added molybdenum helps prevent corrosion and pitting while also offering higher heat tolerance (hence the price markup).
Kaitlin Mahar is a California-based freelance writer covering the shopping and lifestyle beats. When she's not sharing her passion for the Oxford comma with anyone who will listen, she is a proud cat parent, avid yogi, tea enthusiast, and co-host and co-producer of the podcast "Crime Culture".
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