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- Dependable, versatile, and attractive, stainless steel cookware is very popular in the kitchen — but not all pieces are constructed equally.
- Stainless steel cookware that’s fully clad heats ingredients more uniformly and retains heat more effectively while resisting warping.
- Constructed of five alternating layers of stainless steel and aluminum, the All-Clad D5 Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set is our top pick. It lives up to its famous name with even heating, stability, durability, and a lovely silvery sheen.
Stainless steel is great for cookware construction: It’s nonreactive, durable, and easy to clean. A downside is that stainless steel conducts heat poorly. Metals like aluminum and copper deliver much better thermal conductivity. Unfortunately, these metals are softer and reactive with acidic ingredients, thus possibly leaching into foods and causing health issues. On top of that, they are high-maintenance.
Cladding offers the best of all worlds by fusing together layers of different metals to harness their strengths while compensating for their weaknesses. With clad stainless steel cookware, copper and aluminum serve as heat conductors when bonded between layers of stainless steel. And the external stainless steel layers make the cookware stronger and sturdier overall.
Fully clad stainless steel cookware is built with these layers of metals throughout each piece’s body — along the bottom and up the sidewalls to the rim. In contrast, bottom-clad ones are layered only at the base. Cooking with bottom-clad stainless steel pots and pans is perfectly fine, but their stainless-steel-only walls don’t spread and retain heat well.
Kate Williams — formerly of America’s Test Kitchen and current editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen— explained, “When you’re cooking anything that is going to need some even heat from your pot or pan’s sides, such as a thick braise or a custard, you’ll want to pull out fully-clad cookware. [Recipes to be cooked] over low heat will also turn out best cooked in such a vessel; the increased insulation from the multiple layers of metal will help […] maintain an even temperature.”
Alas, fully clad stainless steel cookware can be expensive. When researching these cookware sets, you should consider factors that affect performance and price, like the following:
- Ply or number of layers in cladding: Tri-ply cladding has three layers (such as aluminum sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel) while five-ply has five fused layers (for example, stainless steel, aluminum, copper, aluminum, stainless steel). Five-ply cladding, which conducts and retains heat better, is sturdier and more resistant to warping, but more expensive, slower to heat up, and according to the cooking pros we consulted for this guide, not necessarily crucial for better cooking. Seven-ply cladding is available in very high-end models as well.
- Metals used in cladding: Copper has slightly better heat conductivity than aluminum, but be aware that copper is more expensive.
- Thickness of sidewalls and overall weight: The thicker the walls, the better the thermal conductivity and insulation. A good test is to pick up a pot or pan and see how it feels — you want it to have a bit of heft. A heavier piece is more likely to have substantial cladding; a lightweight piece has thin cladding. Also, tap the bottom of the pot or pan: A low-quality piece emits a “clang” and a higher-quality piece produces a “thud.”
- Number and types of pieces in the set: Since fully clad stainless steel cookware isn’t cheap, you may want to stick with just the basics in order to keep costs down. But if you have the desire to invest in more pieces, you’ll have more flexibility to prepare a greater variety of recipes, either one at a time or simultaneously.
We interviewed a former prep cook and consulted culinary equipment sites that specifically focus on and test cooking equipment to explore fully clad stainless steel cookware sets.
Here are our top picks for the best fully clad stainless steel cookware sets:
- Best overall fully clad stainless steel set: All-Clad D5 Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set
- Best budget fully clad stainless steel set: Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Triple Ply Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set
- Best midrange aluminum core fully clad stainless steel set: Calphalon Signature Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set
- Best copper core fully clad stainless steel set: All-Clad Copper Core 5-Ply 10-Piece Cookware Set
- Best small fully clad stainless steel set: Made-In Cookware Starter Kit
The best overall fully clad stainless steel set
Combining beauty and function, the All-Clad D5 Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set offers fabulous thermal conductivity, even heating, and versatility in a stunning, sturdy collection.
The All-Clad brand is considered the exemplar of stainless steel cookware. It lives up to its name with the high-performing, versatile All-Clad D5 Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set. Marrying form with function, this gorgeous collection includes two frying pans (8-inch and 10-inch), two saucepans (1.5-quart and 3-quart) with lids, a 3-quart sauté pan with lid, and an 8-quart stockpot with lid.
The pieces’ warp-resistant bodies are made of five-ply cladding, alternating layers of stainless steel and aluminum. In addition to durability, the five-ply construction provides efficient and even heating, a boon for any cook who wants save time and energy. According to The Spruce Eats, “All-Clad’s pans heated quickly; faster than we expected and faster than our usual nonstick cookware. They also heated evenly with zero hot spots and retained heat a long time after cooking. In fact, they heat so well, low to medium heat on our gas range was sufficient to cook most things, resulting in enhanced energy efficiency.”
This cookware is compatible with all stove tops, including induction, and oven safe up to 500 degrees. Each piece has a rolled, flared lip that is great for pouring directly from the pan.
The All-Clad D5 Brushed Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set features large handles solidly riveted to the pieces. For many users, these stable handles stay conveniently cool during cooking. Conversely, some Amazon reviewers noted that the handles did get hot on the stovetop.
The brushed finish on non-lid pieces is fingerprint-resistant and water-spot resistant. Some Amazon users complained that this cookware isn’t stick-resistant, but many others disagreed and stated that food doesn’t stick when this cookware is preheated and used properly. Although this set is advertised as dishwasher safe, hand washing is recommended. Maintenance drew mixed reviews, and the set was dubbed either “hard” or “easy” to clean.
Pros: Sturdy five-ply construction, excellent heating performance, lovely appearance, limited lifetime warranty, made in the US
Cons: Heavy, a bit pricey, handles can get hot
The best budget fully clad stainless steel set
For newcomers to fully clad stainless steel pots and pans, the Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Triple Ply Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Setis a quality collection that’s affordable and highly rated.
When most people hear the name “Cuisinart,” they think of great kitchen appliances, not necessarily cookware. But our research found that this brand does indeed make high-quality cookware — even Consumer Reports gave a shoutout to Cuisinart cookware. For newbies who want to try fully clad stainless steel cookware without spending a lot of money, the Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set may be just right for their needs and wallet.
The Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set includes a 1.5-quart covered saucepan, a 3-quart covered saucepan, a 3.5-quart covered sauté pan with helper handle, an 8-quart covered stockpot, an 8-inch skillet, a 10-inch skillet, and a steamer insert with cover, which fits the 3-quart saucepan. This large set offers versatility in use and excellent thermal conductivity at an affordable price.
Each cooking piece is constructed of a layer of aluminum sandwiched between two stainless steel layers. This triple-ply cladding provides stability, even distribution of heat in the base and along the sides from bottom to rim, and overall commendable performance. According to The Spruce Eats, “these pans heat quickly and retain heat well, so you can put a lid on a pot and its contents will stay warm while you set the table or finish cooking side dishes. We love how well these pans brown food and didn’t notice any hot spots, even when the pan wasn’t perfectly centered on the burner.” The cookware is compatible with all cooktops, including induction, and oven safe up to 550 degrees.
The solid stainless steel handles are riveted on and durable, although one Amazon user reported saucepan handle rivets popping off after nine years. Some people found that the handles stay cool while others noted that they do get hot. The flat lids form a good seal while covering pans and pots to keep in moisture during cooking.
Many Amazon users moving away from nonstick cookware liked the Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Triple Ply Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set. When preheated and used properly, food does not stick. Cleaning up burned-on food takes some soaking and elbow grease, but most people found this set easy to clean. Another bonus is that it’s dishwasher safe; many, but not all, owners said the cookware came out of the dishwasher shiny and/or without any “ill effects.”
The Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Triple Ply Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set won many superlatives in the stainless steel cookware category, including “Best Overall” by The Spruce Eats and “Best All-Around” by AllCookware Find. Cook Eat Taste included it among their top five picks.
Pros: Very affordable (especially for such a large set), great heating performance, steamer included, lifetime warranty
Cons: Heavy, handles can get hot
The best midrange aluminum core fully clad stainless steel set
If you want the performance of five-ply cladding without paying top dollar for a high-end set, try the Calphalon Signature Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set.
The sleek Calphalon Signature Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set is great for people who want five-ply cladding stainless steel cookware but are reluctant — or just unable — to splurge on a high-end brand. Primarily known for its nonstick cookware, Calphalon was recognized by Consumer Reports for its stainless steel cookware. And users switching from nonstick cookware tried and liked the Calphalon Signature Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set.
This set contains two omelette pans (8-inch and 10-inch), two saucepans with lids (2-quart and 3-quart), a 3-quart sauté pan with lid, and an 8-quart stockpot with lid. Its various pieces accommodate diverse dishes, from eggs, steaks, and pasta to stews, soups, and more — all benefiting from five-ply cladding composed of three inner layers of aluminum fused between two outer layers of stainless steel for stability and durability.
All but a few users noted that they could cook the above-listed recipes and more without any sticking. With thick sidewalls, these pieces heat up quickly and evenly. Many users were delighted that this set has glass covers that allow them to monitor their cooking without having to open the lid.
Although made out of glass, these covers are tempered and oven safe, as are the rest of the pieces. The long handles stay cool on the stove, but of course get hot in the oven. The Calphalon Signature Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set is compatible with all stove tops, including induction, and broiler safe.
Although this set is dishwasher safe, hand washing is recommended. And thanks to the pieces’ relatively stick-free cooking performance, users commented that this set is easy to clean.
The Calphalon Signature Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set was rated “Outstanding” and given 4.5 of 5 stars by the editor of The Kitchen Advisor.
Pros: Five-ply cladding at a decent price, solid quality and performance, glass lids for checking on cooking, full lifetime warranty
The best copper core fully clad stainless steel set
Reap benefits of three metals with the stunning All-Clad Copper Core 10-Piece Set. This set offers the superb thermal conductivity of copper and aluminum combined with the strength and stability of stainless steel.
The All-Clad Copper Core 10-Piece Set is eye-catching with its thin tell-tale band of copper contrasting the otherwise shiny stainless steel exterior. This copper accent hints at what lies beneath the surface of each piece of this lovely set containing two fry pans (8-inch and 10-inch), two covered sauce pans (2-quart and 3-quart), a 3-quart covered sauté pan, and an 8-quart covered stockpot.
This cookware is constructed of five-ply cladding: a copper core sandwiched between two layers of aluminum that are encased within two layers of stainless steel, which serve as the internal cooking surface and the external surface exposed to the heating element and air. The copper core and aluminum layers warm up and distribute heat quickly and evenly through the bottom and sidewalls; the stainless steel layers shield the copper and aluminum in order to prevent reactions with foods and subsequent leaching as well as warping.
Chef’s Resource described the All-Clad Copper Core 10-Piece Set as “extremely high performance; it doesn’t get much better.” This set is compatible with all cooktops, including induction, and oven and broiler safe. Some users feel that the riveted handles offer stability to the heavy pieces and stay cool while others reported that they get hot, aren’t comfortable to grip, and are too long for easy storage. The rolled rims or flared edges make pouring easy.
The main conflict among users seems to be about this set’s ease of cleaning. Many found cleaning the All-Clad Copper Core 10-Piece Set easy, but some found keeping the copper band shiny a tedious nuisance. As Kitchen Sanity noted, the exposed copper bands tarnish with time and require extra attention. This set is dishwasher safe, but the copper line still needs polishing afterwards.
So maintenance — not performance — appears to be the tipping point on whether or not people think this set is worth its high price. Chef’s Resource conceded that it’s a “long-term investment” and rated it 4.1 of 5 stars. Cookware Lab believes it is a great value despite its expense because of performance and long-lasting durability.
Pros: Excellent heat conductivity and responsiveness, superlative copper-aluminum-stainless steel combination, limited lifetime warranty, made in the US
Cons: Heavy, expensive, exposed copper makes cleaning difficult
The best small fully clad stainless steel set
Introduce yourself or a friend to high-quality five-ply cladded stainless steel cookware without paying a middle man — try the Made-In Cookware Starter Kit.
Launched in 2017, Made-in Cookware is a bit of a new kid on the block among established stainless steel cookware manufacturers. Garnering strongly positive reviews for bringing professional-quality cooking tools to home kitchens, this up-and-coming direct-to-consumer brand has been turning heads.
Less intimidating and more affordable than multi-piece fully clad stainless steel cookware collections, the Made-In Cookware Starter Kit includes just the essentials: a 10-inch frying pan, a 2-quart saucepan with lid, and a 5-quart stockpot with lid. Although this set may not be practical for a large household, it suits singles, couples, small families, and people with minimal storage space. This starter kit is also perfect for those who want to try fully clad stainless steel pots and pans without being overwhelmed by many pieces to clean and store.
The thick, five-layer cladding of each pan and stockpot yields excellent performance in quick and even heating. Kitchen Witches tested one of the frying pans and was impressed: “I even fried an egg — something I can’t do with my old stainless frying pan! The pans heat up quickly and cook beautifully. The handles stayed cool to the touch.” After three months with this set, Primal Gourmet noted, “They showed no signs of scorching, which signals a good thickness at the base.” The only downside was slight scratching on the interior from metal tongs.
All pieces are compatible with different stove-tops, including induction, and safe for use under the broiler and in the oven up to 800 degrees. The handles are attached with steel rivets. Cleanup is quite easy, even with burned-on hash brown potatoes, which did take a little elbow grease. The Made-In Cookware Starter Kit is dishwasher safe but handwashing is recommended.
Pros: Great for newbies, singles, couples, and small families; excellent performance; affordable price; limited lifetime warranty; made in the US
Cons: No lid for frying pan, only three pans (set too small for some households)
Tips for Using, Caring for, and Cleaning Stainless Steel Cookware
Tips for Using Stainless Steel Cookware:
- Unless you’re boiling water, don’t use high heat. Stick with a medium-high flame on a gas stove, or level 6 or lower on an electric burner. Otherwise you’ll get heat tint, that unattractive, blotchy, rainbow stain.
- Don’t add salt to water before it boils in order to avoid leaving white marks or pitting at the bottom. The chloride in undissolved salt attacks the stainless steel’s “layer of chromium oxide, leaving pockmarks where it removes the oxide.” And you can’t get rid of the pitting unless you grind out the pits.
- The most common complaint people have about cooking with stainless steel is sticking food. In order to prevent sticking, follow these steps described by a former cook (using chicken breast as an example):
- Over medium fire, heat the pan dry without oil.
- In the meantime, bring the chicken close to room temperature. Don’t take it right out of the freezer or refrigerator and toss it into the pan.
- Hold your hand over the pan, and when you feel the air is hot, sprinkle the surface with a couple drops of water. If the pan is hot enough and ready for cooking, you should see the droplets bead up and skate across the bottom.
- It’s go time! Pour cooking oil into the pan and swirl it around. The oil might smoke a little, but don’t worry.
- Place the chicken breast in the pan and then leave it alone, giving it time to brown. As one former cook noted, the chicken breast must release on its own, not because you are forcing it up. There will always be a little sticking, but this method prevents major sticking.
Tips for Care and Cleaning:
- Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser & Polish in powder or liquid form is highly recommended as the go-to cleaner for pretty much anything: food stains, burned-on food, heat tint, water spots, tarnish, and more.
- For a homemade, eco-friendly way to clean and shine your stainless steel cookware, make a paste of baking soda and water and gently scrub the cookware with a towel or toothbrush. Or simply wet the cookware’s surface and sprinkle on some baking soda and wipe with towel. After using the paste or sprinkled baking soda, rinse the cookware and dry it.
- To remove calcium deposits left by hard tap water, add ⅓ cup water and ⅓ cup white vinegar to the pan, heat the mixture for a few minutes, then remove from heat, pour out the liquid, wash the pot, and wipe it dry.
- For burned-on food, here are two methods:
- The Cookware Advisor recommends adding enough water to cover the bottom of the pot and then adding a generous amount of baking soda. After about a half-hour or longer for stubborn foods, use a plastic scrubber to gently remove the burned-on food.
- The Spruce suggests covering the area with warm, soapy water and letting it soak for an hour. Afterward, place pan on burner and boil for 10 to minutes. Once cooled, a nylon scouring pad can be used to scrub the pan. If after rinsing, there is still burned-on food, repeat the process.
- Don’t use metal scouring pads or abrasive cleaners in order to avoid scratching the stainless steel’s surface (unless you aren’t too concerned about aesthetics).
- Don’t use chlorine bleach or ammonia-based cleaners.
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