The 5 Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets, According to Our Tests

We love the All-Clad D5 Stainless Brushed 5-Ply Bonded 10-Piece Cookware Set for its impressive heat distribution and durability.

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Best Stainless Steel Cookware Tout
Photo: amazon.com

One of the most popular types of cookware is stainless steel, which is known for even heat distribution, durability, ability to handle high heat, and longevity (when taken care of properly).

We set out to see if this type of cookware lived up to the type by testing out 28 different stainless steel cookware sets in our Lab. We put them through cooking tests and evaluated them based on design, durability, heating capability, and ease of cleaning. Our top pick is the supremely popular All-Clad D5 Stainless Brushed 5-Ply Bonded 10-Piece Cookware Set, which boasts even heat distribution thanks to the multiple layers of aluminum and stainless steel. It can also handle oven temperatures up to 600 degrees and, compared to other pans we tested, ended up being relatively non-stick.

Read on to see more of our top picks and learn about all the pros and cons of owning a stainless steel cookware set.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall Stainless Steel Cookware Set: All-Clad D5 Stainless Brushed 5-Ply Bonded 10-Piece Cookware Set

Stainless Cookware Set
amazon.com

Also available at Williams Sonoma, Macy's, and Bloomingdale's.

Who it's for: People who want a larger stainless steel set that can handle very high heat in the oven.

Who it isn't for: People who don't want to splurge on a stainless steel cookware set.

All-Clad is considered the gold standard of stainless steel cookware. It is frequently used and lauded by professional chefs for its quality and long lifespan, so if you decide to splurge on this set, rest assured you are getting the best of the best. And after putting it through our tests, we can confirm it lives up to the hype. Our tester found the D5 Stainless Cookware Set to be "extremely sturdy" and "really easy to clean." We were able to get a nice crust on our scallops with no sticking, and although there was some minor sticking with the eggs, cleanup was quick and easy.

This set comes with three pans and three pots of varying sizes, making it easy to whip up a variety of recipes big and small, ranging from a marinated chicken recipe for one to big batches of stew for an entire family. This cookware set is made up of five layers of metal, including three layers of stainless steel and two layers of aluminum. The aluminum is key to great performance, as it heats up quickly, is able to provide even heat distribution, and can hold onto that heat for a good amount of time. This cookware set is compatible with multiple types of cooktops, including induction, and is oven-safe for up to 600 degrees. Overall, our tester said that this set is a "solid go-to for a home or professional cook" and that "for someone wanting to invest in a quality, long-lasting stainless steel set, this one is a really safe bet."

Product Details:

  • Pieces: 8- & 10-inch fry pans, 1.5- & 3-quart sauce pans with lids, 3-quart sauté pan with lid, and 8-quart stock pot with lid
  • Compatible Cooktops: All
  • Oven-Safe: Up to 600 degrees

Best Budget Stainless Steel Cookware Set: Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Triple Ply 12-Piece Cookware Set

Stainless Cookware Set
amazon.com

Also available at Williams Sonoma, Target, Macy's, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Who it's for: People who want an affordable, large set that comes with everything you need (including a steamer).

Who it isn't for: People who want clear lids.

One of our testers called this set "a beast" thanks to its even heat distribution and the fact that food barely stuck to the cookware during our tests, which made it super easy to clean. The even heat distribution can be attributed to the layer of aluminum that is sandwiched between the two layers of stainless steel. Meanwhile, the lack of sticking was so great that one of our testers said if they added just a little bit more butter to the pan, the omelet we were cooking would have slid right out.

The set consists of 8-inch and 10-inch skillets and pots that can hold 1.5, 3, 3.5, and 8 quarts of stews, pasta, and more. The stainless steel can handle up to 550 degrees of heat in the oven and is dishwasher-safe, which isn't always the case with stainless steel cookware. Overall, our testers found this to be a "comprehensive, nice, recommendable set" that boasts plenty of positive qualities, including a construction that is "extremely sturdy" and is likely to last quite well for years to come. Testers did note that after making scallops, there was some discoloration in the pan. This isn't uncommon in stainless steel pans and can be easily remedied with the help of Bar Keeper's Friend, a super effective cleaning product that can help remove stubborn stains on cookware.

Product Details:

  • Pieces: 1.5- & 3-quart saucepan with covers, 3.5-quart sauté pan with cover, 8-quart stockpot with cover, 8- & 10-inch skillets, 20-cm steamer insert with cover
  • Compatible Cooktops: Gas, electric, induction
  • Oven-Safe: Up to 550 degrees

RELATED: The 7 Best Slow Cookers for Easy, Hands-off Meals

Best Starter Stainless Steel Cookware Set: Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless Steel 7-Piece Cookware Set

Stainless Cookware Set
amazon.com

Also available at Macy's, Walmart, and Home Depot.

Who it's for: People who are just starting to cook and only need a few pots and pans in their arsenal.

Who it isn't for: People who want a cookware set that includes more than one skillet.

If you aren't ready to spend hundreds of dollars on a 10-piece-plus cookware set, getting a smaller starter set is a great alternative. The Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless Steel 7-Piece Set boasts a much more affordable price tag, all the while still offering the basics that every home cook needs. This set comes with a 10-inch skillet, a 1.5-quart saucepan, a 3-quart saucepan, and a 8-quart stockpot, with the latter three coming with lids. During testing, we found the performance of these pots and pans to be on par with more expensive alternatives. Not only did it display even heat distribution throughout cooking, but the food experienced little to no sticking, which made the cookware easier to clean. Plus, according to our tester, out of all the cookware we tested, this set experienced the least amount of discoloration after use.

One downside to this starter set is that it only contains one skillet, which may not be enough for some home cooks. Also, unlike other stainless steel cookware sets, the aluminum within the cookware does not extend up the sides of the pots and pan. This may make a difference in your cooking. Stainless steel doesn't conduct heat very well on its own, which is why aluminum is included in the cookware. When the aluminum doesn't extend up to the sides of the cookware, you are getting two different heating experiences in one. So if, for example, you are making a stew, the sides of the pot (stainless steel) won't hold heat as well as the bottom (stainless steel and aluminum). Although this wasn't the result in our testing, it's good to keep in mind before you buy.

Product Details:

  • Pieces: 1.5- and 3-quart saucepans with covers, 8-quart stockpot with cover, 10-inch skillet
  • Compatible Cooktops: Gas, electric, induction
  • Oven-Safe: 500 degrees

Easiest to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware Set: Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 8-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set

Stainless Cookware Set
amazon.com

Also available at Walmart, Wayfair, and Target.

Who it's for: People who don't want to spend too much time having to scrub food off of their stainless steel pots and pans.

Who it isn't for: People who want a large stock pot included in their set.

Stainless steel cookware can be difficult to clean because the material isn't inherently non-stick, and you can't use abrasive sponges while cleaning it. After testing out this Tramontina set, we discovered that this isn't always the case. In our testing, we were able to get a nice crust on some of our scallops with absolutely no sticking, and although there was some sticking with our frittata, our tester was able to clean the pan completely with just one wipe of soapy water, no scrubbing necessary.

This Tramontina set comes with three pots, including those that can hold 2, 3, and 5 quarts, as well as two skillets measuring 8 and 10 inches. The pans are made up of two layers of stainless steel and a layer of aluminum and are oven-safe up to 500 degrees. Our testers found that the pan certainly conducts heat well—so well, in fact, that the pan actually got too hot too quickly, almost burning the butter we put in the pan to make the frittata. This actually made the handle hot to the touch too, so if you decide to get this pan, make sure you wear oven mitts while cooking. Another thing to keep in mind is that the included lids are glass. Although stainless steel can handle high oven temperatures, glass lids have a much lower limit, so you'll need to be careful when cooking with this set.

Product Details:

  • Pieces: 8- & 10-inch fry pans, 2- & 3-quart sauce pans with lids, 5-quart Dutch oven with lid
  • Compatible Cooktops: All
  • Oven-Safe: 500 degrees

RELATED: The 8 Best Stovetop Cleaners for Removing Grease and Burnt-on Food

Best Stainless Steel Cookware Set for Even Heating: Hestan NanoBond 5-Piece Titanium Essential Cookware Set

Stainless Cookware Set
amazon.com

Also available at Williams Sonoma, Nordstrom, and Wayfair.

Who it's for: People who want stainless steel cookware that is dishwasher-safe.

Who it isn't for: People who are looking for a bigger cookware set at a low price.

Even heating is so important in cooking. Having a piece of cookware that evenly heats means that all of the food in your pan, regardless of the location, can cook with as much power at the exact same time. This Hestan set claims to offer 35 percent more even heat distribution than traditional aluminum-clad pans. In our testing, we found that the pans did heat evenly and didn't become "aggressively hot," which was a problem we had with some other pans that we tested.

This Hestan stainless steel set comes with significantly fewer pieces than others at this price point, with just an 11-inch skillet, 2-quart saucepan with lid, and a 3.5-quart saucepan with lid. Although this may not be enough for some, especially considering the price, there are some distinct perks that may be attractive to home cooks. Not only is this cookware dishwasher-safe, but it can also handle oven and grill temperatures up to 1,050 degrees and comes with a lifetime warranty. Our tester also noted that it didn't experience discoloration after use.

Product Details:

  • Pieces: 11-inch skillet, 2- &3.5-quart saucepans with lids
  • Compatible Cooktops: All
  • Oven-Safe: 1,050 degrees

Final Verdict

Overall, we recommend the All-Clad D5 Stainless Brushed 5-Ply Bonded 10-Piece Cookware Set for its great selection of pots and pans, multiple layers of stainless steel and aluminum, and ability to be safe in the oven up to 600 degrees. It also didn't stick during our cooking tests as much as other options, making it easier to clean after use.

Stainless Steel Cookware Testing
Real Simple / Russell Kilgore

Our Testing Process

We tested 28 stainless steel cookware sets in our Lab and rated them based on a number of factors, including design, durability, heating capability, and ease of cleaning. We measured all of this by doing two cooking tests: one where we made scallops and the other by making a frittata. For the scallop test, we measured to see if the pan offered even heat distribution by seeing if we were able to get a nice crust on all of our scallops at the exact same time, with the scallops scattered around the pan.

For the frittata, we tested the cookware's stovetop-to-oven capabilities by cooking the egg on the stovetop then transferring it into the oven. After that, we tested the strength of the pan by submerging it into an ice bath, and noted any warping or discoloration that occurred after. Once that was done, we cleaned the pan, noting how long it took to clean and how easy it was. At the end, we gathered all of this information and used it to come up with the best stainless steel cookware sets.

How to Shop for Stainless Steel Cookware Sets

Material

Contrary to what you might think, stainless steel cookware sets are not just made of stainless steel. The reason for this is that stainless steel does not conduct heat very well on its own, so a layer of aluminum or copper is typically added between two layers of stainless steel. This gives the cookware the ability to heat up quickly, hold the heat well, and distribute it over the pot or pan evenly. While shopping for stainless steel cookware sets, make sure it contains at least one layer of aluminum or copper and that that layer isn't just on the bottom, but wrapped on the sides of the pots and pans as well.

You'll also want to take note of the cookware's grade. Food grade stainless steel passes all the criteria for food preparation safety, and belongs to three categories: 200, 300, or 400 series. The most common series is 300, which can be further broken down to 18/10 or 18/8 (which is the percentage of chromium and nickel, respectively). 200 series is lower quality and therefore more affordable, but it's not corrosion-resistant and won't last as long as 300 series will.

Set Size

Stainless steel cookware sets can get expensive. Most high-quality sets cost hundreds of dollars, with many running higher than $1,000. If you are planning to spend that much money on a cookware set, make sure that you get one that has pots and pans that you will actually use. Sometimes cookware sets contain multiple pots or pans that, while offering a great value for the price, could end up sitting in your cabinets unused. Most stainless steel cookware sets come with two skillets and three pots, some of which come with lids. However, there are some that come with more pots than pans and vice versa.

It's important to understand what you use most and base your decision off of that. If you find yourself making a lot of skillet-based meals, get something with at least two skillets. If you are a pasta lover, look for a cookware set with more pots. If you typically make meals that require being cooked on the stovetop and oven, make sure you get a set that has stainless steel lids (glass lids aren't able to handle high-heat oven temperatures). If you are just beginning cooking, get a starter set. Starter sets are priced a lot lower (think: less than $200) and contain the basics you'll need to get started, which typically includes a couple pots and pans.

Stainless Steel Cookware Testing
Real Simple / Russell Kilgore

More Stainless Steel Cookware Sets to Consider

Anolon Nouvelle Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set: Although we really liked the even heat distribution and the overall look of these pans, which include copper, our food stuck to the pan pretty tightly and cleaning took longer than we'd like.

Made In 6-Piece Starter Set: This set did quite well during our ice test, leading us to believe that it is super sturdy and will last a long time. It also cooked our items quite well, but we had major problems with sticking food.

Questions You Might Ask

Is stainless steel cookware non-stick?

No. This is one of the biggest drawbacks of owning stainless steel cookware. Adding oil to your pan will help food stick to the pan or pot less, but it won't even come close to the experience you'll get with non-stick cookware. As such, expect to dedicate extra time after each use to scrub off stuck-on food and the stains they leave behind. Plus, considering most stainless steel pans require the use of non-abrasive sponges, it could take longer than you'd like to properly remove stuck-on food or stains. This can certainly become an inconvenience overtime, especially if you've used non-stick cookware in the past. Before you buy, really assess if this kind of cleaning routine is something you'd be ok with doing frequently.

Stainless Steel Cookware Testing
Real Simple / Russell Kilgore

What is the difference between stainless steel, cast iron, and non-stick cookware?

There are big differences between each material that are super important to know before you splurge on a cookware set. Non-stick cookware is pretty self-explanatory, as it's finished with a non-stick coating that prevents your food from sticking to the pans or pots. This kind of cookware is convenient for people who want cookware that is super easy to clean. It should be noted, however, that it's not recommended you use high heat or put the cookware in the dishwasher, as this will damage the coating overtime. You also can't use metal utensils with the cookware (this will scratch and thus ruin the non-stick coating).

Cast iron cookware is renowned for its long lifespan, even heat distribution, and excellent searing abilities. However, cast iron cookware is very heavy, takes some time to heat up, and cannot be put in the dishwasher. In fact, you can't even use soap to clean cast iron cookware. You clean it with just water, and for food stains, a mixture of coarse salt and water. Then you need to season it with oil. The coating that it builds up overtime from use and oil is what will give it non-stick properties.

Like cast iron cookware, stainless steel cookware that has an aluminum interior (most do) is durable and great at conducting heat. It is lighter in weight than cast iron but does not have non-stick properties. Because of this, this type of cookware can be hard to clean, especially since you shouldn't use abrasive sponges to get stains out. Some are dishwasher-safe but should be hand washed to prevent thermal shock.

How do I ensure my stainless steel cookware lasts a long time?

Stainless steel cookware can last many years if cared for properly. The most important thing to do is to clean it correctly. Although some stainless steel pans say they are dishwasher-safe, it's always best to wash your pan by hand. The high-heat water, long washing cycles, and detergent can do more harm than good to your pans. It's also important to use non-abrasive sponges, as abrasive ones can scratch the beautiful surface of your pans, which you won't be able to fix. For stubborn stuck-on food or stains, use Bar Keeper's Friend. Another thing to do is wait until your stainless steel cookware has cooled down before you wash it by hand. This helps prevent thermal shock, which can result in your pan warping.

Take Our Word for It

This article was written by Rachel Center, a product reviews home writer for Real Simple. To compile this list, we tested 28 stainless steel cookware sets and evaluated each model on its design, durability, heating capability, and ease of cleaning.

What Is Real Simple Selects?

Next to each product on this list, you may have noticed a Real Simple Selects seal of approval. Any product appearing alongside that seal has been vetted by our team—put through tests and graded on its performance to earn a spot on our list. Although we buy most of the products we test, sometimes we do get samples from companies if purchasing a product ourselves isn't an option. If that's the case, we test the product just like we test anything we buy, but we also disclose that we received it for free to be as transparent with you as possible.

Love our recommendations? Check out more products that have earned the Real Simple Selects, from humidifiers to cordless vacuums.

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