Best Stainless Steel Buyers Guide [+Nickel-Free Options]

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What’s the best stainless steel cookware? There are quite a few choices and things to ponder, like cost and quality. Generally, you’ll want good quality items at an affordable price. There are a few other variables to weigh up, which I cover in this stainless steel buyers guide.

best stainless steel including nickel free stainless steel

What is stainless steel? Stainless steel is an alloy of several metals with about 10½ % or more chromium. The chromium inhibits rust and corrosion. Nickel adds the shine and polished-look, for aesthetics and ease of clean up.

Benefits of stainless steel

What are the benefits of stainless steel cookware? The benefits of stainless steel cookware are that you can safely use them on high heat settings (both oven and stove top), they resist chipping, and are a healthy option especially the nickel-free types.

  • You can use them safely in oven temperatures up to 800 ºF for certain premium quality brands.
  • Stainless steel cookware resists chipping, scratches, dents, and dings and is suitable for all cooktops (including induction if it has a magnetic grade stainless steel base). But if you are ever done with these, you can recycle them.
  • You can use them for browning of meats and vegetables and making sauces and gravies.

One of the downsides I talk about is discoloration of stainless steel and what to do about it. The good thing is that it doesn’t affect the cookware’s performance.

What to look for in stainless steel cookware

How to choose stainless steel cookware? For what to look for when buying stainless steel cookware, consider these factors:

  • Weight
  • Construction
  • Quality (food-grade stainless steel)
  • Versatility
  • Number and assortment of pieces
  • Price
  • Nickel free or not option

I also cover stainless steel vs nonstick vs copper vs aluminum.

Weight

Lightweight cookware is easier to handle but at the same time you want a heavy base for even heat distribution. Stainless steel is a lighter material for pans than cast iron.

Versatility

It’s the versatility of stainless steel cookware that makes them part of the kitchen arsenal.

Cooking styles covered: sauteing frying browning searing and slow simmer of taste tempting sauces.

Food grade stainless steel

Look for high quality stainless steel cookware if you want the healthiest cookware material in this range. If you’re looking to buy stainless steel, it’s got to be food grade quality.

The grade is sometimes stamped on the bottom of the pan. It’s written as fractions, e.g., 18/8 and 18/10. The first number (18) indicates the chromium (Cr) amount and the other is the nickel (Ni) portion.

List of food grade stainless steel cookware markings: showing culinary needs in quality

list of food grade stainless steel cookware markings
Markings for food grade stainless steel cookware including nickel free stainless steel cookware

The food grade quality alloy of 18/10 or 18/8, equals the 304 SAE/AISI whereas high grade food and surgical stainless steel cookware is 316. This 316 stainless steel cookware uses 18/10 grade but with a small amount of molybdenum added.

Beware of the 14/4 or 14/1 grade as it is not as corrosion-resistant as 18/8 or 18/10. It has manganese substituting for nickel.

The 400 series stainless steel cookware are in the induction compatible range.

Is 18 10 stainless steel good or bad? The ratio 18/10, like 18/8, is a 304 food-grade stainless steel and provides the best stainless steel pots and pans to buy for durability. Apart from chromium and nickel, other elements of the 304 stainless steel are carbon, manganese, silicon, phosphorus, sulfur, and nitrogen, according to Unified Alloys.

18/0 stainless steel is 430 grade, meaning it has no or very little nickel (say around 1%). Unlike the 304, this stainless steel is magnetic, which makes it suitable for induction cookers, and why you’ll find this in the base layer of modern designs.

Construction & core

Handles: Most stainless steel sets have riveted handles, which are better than spot welded types. While handles of stainless steel can get hot, they’re perfect for a very hot oven, whereas Bakelite handles aren’t. Designs that involve long and hollow handles, like that seen below, disperse the heat over a larger surface area and as a result, the handle is cooler to touch as its end – as you move away from where it joins to the pot.

HOMI CHEF Mirror Polished NICKEL FREE Stainless Steel 1.75 QT(Quart) Sauce Pan with Glass Lid (No Toxic Non Stick Coating, Whole-Clad 3-Ply) 10112

Rims: A flared lip on the pots is useful for pouring without drips.

Lids: Decide on what lid you want. Glass lids are good because you can view the food as it cooks. They also look elegant. Just remember that stainless steel lids are better for high heat oven use.

Cladding involves a core of aluminum or copper as the base between layers of stainless steel. Cladding is the stainless steel that encases the base and acts as the sides of the pot or pan. The layers are referred to as ply. Think of it as a sandwich where the bread is the stainless steel layers and the filling the core of heat-conducting metal. Stainless steel is not a very good conductor of heat on its own.

Tri ply vs stainless steel 5-ply / 7-ply:

What is tri ply stainless steel? Tri ply (AKA three ply or triple ply) is basically two layers of stainless sandwiching the core metal layer, which is typically aluminum.

Stainless steel induction compatible pan construction with 3 layers. Magnetic stainless steel exterior base, heat conductive metal core (aluminum), Food grade stainless steel interior for cooking surface

What is the difference between regular stainless steel cookware and triply cookware? Regular stainless steel cookware does not have the inner core of conductive type metal. Thus, the cookware won’t conduct heat as well, can tend to buckle and so does not work as well for fast and even distribution of heat for nicely cooked food.

About the 5 and 7 ply multiclad type:

The 5-ply is typically three layers of inner aluminum, iron (ferritic) and/or copper, cladded with stainless steel, while the 7-ply is five layers of inner metal (aluminum, iron, copper, stainless steel or a combination of these) cladded with stainless steel.

Heritage Steel 4 Quart Sauté Pan with Lid - Titanium Strengthened 316Ti Stainless Steel with 7-Ply Construction - Induction-Ready and Dishwasher-Safe, Made in USA

The function of the extra inner core layers is to conduct and distribute the heat. A higher ply does not necessarily mean higher quality cookware as the thickness of the layers can affect the heat distribution.

When looking to buy a stainless steel pan see if it has a copper layer.

Copper layer

Why does the stainless steel pan have copper at the bottom? Some of the best stainless steel pans have a copper layer at the base because copper is an excellent conductor of heat (more so than aluminum) and so provides faster even distribution of heat for even cooking.

Number of pieces & extras

How many pieces do you need? Will you be cooking for a crowd? How much storage space do you have? Are the accessories the type you need?

These are the things to think about when looking to buy a new set of pots and pans.

Nickel free stainless steel cookware

Is there such a thing — nickel free stainless steel pans? Stainless steel induction cookware will have bases that are nickel-free (18/0 in most cases) as it is magnetic, a necessity to work on induction cooktops.

But also… designs with nickel free SS interior are becoming increasing popular, considered by some to be the safest stainless steel cookware, based reducing harm from nickel, which is associated with health risks (though deemed safe levels come from cookware – see my FAQ section below). Nickel free SS is considered a healthy option.

What is the best stainless steel cookware for harm-free cooking? Safe stainless steel cookware sets include nickel-free pots and pans made of 18/0 and 21/0 stainless steel. The zero indicates no or extremely little amounts of nickel.

Brand options available at Amazon that are nickel free: Homi Chef.

Homi chef reviews – *Nickel Free*

  • 5mm thick 3-Ply (one layer of aluminum core sandwiched between two stainless steel layers)
  • Exterior copper band on the bottom adds elegant touch
  • Food grade NICKEL FREE
  • Riveted handle
  • Flared rims
  • Tempered glass lids
  • Induction compatible

This Homi Chef cookware contains 18/0 on the outside, while on the interior in contact with the food is 21/0 grade stainless steel. These are nickel-free food grade quality AISI 430 & JYH21CT stainless steel types.

Where is Homi Chef made? Homi Chef cookware is made in China by Xinhui Ri Xing Stainless Steel Products.

The 21/0 rating of stainless steel used in this set is a new Japanese type, an ‘exotic blend” containing 21% Cr, 0% Ni, 0.3% Ti, 0.008% C, 0.01% Nitrogen, and 0.43% copper. The nickel free 18/0 type is in the base and is what makes this stainless steel cookware induction compatible.

HOMI CHEF Mirror Polished NICKEL FREE Stainless Steel 1.75 QT(Quart) Sauce Pan with Glass Lid (No Toxic Non Stick Coating, Whole-Clad 3-Ply) 10112

See the latest price for the HOMICHEF at AmazonCheck it out!


Some best stainless steel cookware brands

Which brand of stainless steel cookware is best? If you are looking for nickel free stainless steel, then I recommend that you check out the brand/s mentioned above, e.g., HomiChef.

The following gives perspectives on sets from popular brands using food-grade stainless (18/10), which is considered safe given a 2017 study found the levels of chromium and nickel released from this type of stainless steel are below known allergy-triggering thresholds and this was based on an hour cooking of acidic food.

The Made In Company

Things to know about this stainless steel cladded cookware:

  • 5ply with 3 layers of aluminum in core
  • Food grade 18/10 SS
  • Riveted handles
  • Long hollow handles stay cool to touch
  • Stainless steel lid
  • Claimed oven safe to 800ºF
  • Induction compatible

Pros of Made-In stainless steel

What’s good about Made-In Cookware, as told by chefs who use it:

What's good about made-in cookware as told y chefs

What home cooks are saying about Made In…

review of made in cookware

Where made: Stainless steel pots and pans of Made In Cookware are crafted in the United States and Italy. You can find out more in my more detailed article on Made In Cookware and its features.


Calphalon premier stainless steel

How this one rates in a nutshell:

  • 3 ply
  • Oven safe to 450ºF (lower than Made-In)
  • Stainless steel lid
  • Riveted handles
  • Heavy-gauge aluminum core
  • Induction compatible

What to know: “We no longer designate cookware as being 18/10 due to the variance in production runs, and the need to make adjustments for induction cooking” – Calphalon Customer Service.

Where made? Calphalon stainless steel cookware is manufactured overseas in China.

See the latest price at AmazonCheck it out!


T-fal performa 

About this T-Fal Performa

  • 3ply
  • Aluminum core
  • Techno release interior
  • Food grade 18/10 SS
  • Induction compatible base
  • Riveted handles
  • Glass lids
  • Oven safe to 400ºF
  • Flared lip

About the brand: The brand is French – Tefal, which is marketed as T-Fal in the US – and established and operated in Rumilly, France since 1956. The cookware is made in China.

See the latest price at Amazon see details!


Cuisinart multiclad pro

  • 3ply with aluminum core
  • Stainless steel lids
  • Oven safe to 550ºF
  • Tapered rims
  • Riveted handles
  • Induction compatible
  • Food Grade 300 series 18/10 SS

About the brand: The cookware is made in china.

Price: Also available at Amazon — See it now!


Anolon nouvelle copper core set

Things to know about these amazing looking stainless steel pots and pans:

  • 5ply
  • Core base: One copper layer sandwiched between two aluminum layers
  • 18/10 SS
  • Mirror polished look
  • S/steel deep seated lids
  • Long riveted handles
  • Induction compatible
  • Oven safe to 500ºF

The stand out here is the copper core.

About the brand: Mayer Manufacturing owns Anolon, which manufactures the cookware Meyer-affiliated factories within Southeast Asia, mainly Thailand and China.

Price: Available at Amazon — Check it out!


Best USA Made: All-Clad stainless steel pots

Things to know:

  • 5ply with aluminum core
  • Food grade 18/10 SS
  • Made in the USA
  • Stainless steel lids
  • Riveted handles
  • Oven safe to 600ºF
  • Induction compatible

Where made? As I highlighted above, what a lot of people will appreciate, is that the makers state that this cookware is made in the USA (with handles imported from China).

Rachael ray create delicious stainless steel (best modern look)

  • 3ply with aluminum core
  • Food grade 18/10 SS
  • Glass lids
  • Oven safe to 400ºF
  • Riveted handles with colored silicone cover
  • Induction compatible
  • Etched measurement markings

See the latest price at Amazon see details!


FAQ

Last word on nickel free cookware

Nickel free cookware is the safest stainless steel cookware option if you are concerned about your intake of nickel or have a sensitivity towards it.

Nickel and to a less extent chromium are considered a frequent cause of allergic contact dermatitis. Both metals present many diverse potential sources.

J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Oct 2; 61(39): 9495–9501.

Nickel is not needed by the body. The other element in stainless steel cookware, chromium, is. It’s an essential nutrient, although the amount we need is low (recommended daily intake of 35 and 25 μg / day for men and women respectively).

A 2017 study found that for the 18/10 stainless steel: “the amounts [of chromium and nickel] released were below known allergy-triggering thresholds”, based on one hour of cooking acidic food in this type of steel.

Info sources

  1. Cookware Manufacturers Association, FDA Coating Compliance InformationCMA Standards Manual, Pages 28-32. Access date June 30, 2019.
  2. Kamerud KL, Hobbie KA, Anderson KA. Stainless steel leaches nickel and chromium into foods during cooking. J Agric Food Chem. 2013;61(39):9495–9501. doi:10.1021/jf402400v
  3. 2013 study: Stainless steel leaches Cr & Ni into food 
  4. 2017 Study: 18/10 Stainless Steel

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