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Things to Consider Before Buying Stainless Steel Cookware [+ Why Buy Nickel-Free]

,   |   Updated

What’s the best stainless steel cookware? So many 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 guide to choosing the best stainless steel cookware for you.

best stainless steel cookware picks including nickel free stainless steel

What is stainless steel? Stainless steel is an alloy of several metals with about 13% or more chromium and 0 to 10% nickel. The chromium inhibits rust and corrosion. Nickel is added for shine and polish, for aesthetics and ease of clean up.

Benefits of stainless steel

What are the benefits of stainless steel cookware? There are multi benefits of stainless steel cookware, which include rust and chip resistance, high heat use, durability, and compared to some others, a healthy choice in cookware.

They are easy to maintain.

Lightweight

Stainless steel is a lighter material for pans than cast iron.

As an example: My 10″ 3ply stainless steel frying pan weighs in at just under 3 lb. Compare this to my smaller 8.5″ cast iron skillet, which weighs a good 4 lb.

Versatile

It’s both the versatility and durability of stainless steel cookware that makes them a part of many folk’s kitchen arsenal. Whether it’s sautéing, frying, browning, searing, or slow simmer of delicious sauces, stainless steel will serve you well.

Super durable

They are tough in that they will last you a lifetime with care. 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).

I recommend using non-metal utensils to ensure the cooking surface stays intact and to avoid marking the finish. See my guide to choosing stainless steel vs nonstick cookware.

Heat resistance

Some premium quality brands are safe to use in oven temperatures up to 800 ºF.

Recyclable

And, if you are ever done with these, you can recycle them.

Also read:

What to look for in stainless steel cookware

How to choose stainless steel cookware? When buying stainless steel cookware, I would look for the following:

  • Is it oven safe? To what temperature?
  • Is it dishwasher safe or not?
  • Is it multi-ply? What is the ply construction of walls and base
  • Quality (food-grade stainless steel)
  • Assortment of pieces — do the pieces suit your cooking needs
  • Price — is it within your budget (think long term advantages also)
  • Nickel free or not (are you concerned about nickel sensitivities)

I wrote an overview of stainless steel vs other cookware that you might like to read. I’ve also compared stainless steel to using pure ceramic in the kitchen to help you choose the right cookware for you.

Oven safe temperatures

Stainless steel can handle high heat. Are stainless steel pans safe in a fast oven? What will determine the oven-safe upper limit of temperature of the cookware as a whole: the lids and handles in terms of the material of their design.

I wrote about this in my article on whether that pot can go in the oven. Look for pots and pans with stainless steel handles if you want the opportunity to use it with high heat oven settings.

Dishwasher safe or not

For convenience, most of us want a dishwasher safe option when it comes to cleanup of cookware.

Is stainless steel cookware safe in the dishwasher? Not all stainless steel cookware sets are dishwasher safe. It varies from brand to brand, so it’s worth checking this feature out and consider how important it is to you.

Dishwashing can discolor stainless steel, though this can be temporary, as I explain in my article, which includes what to do to fix it.

Food-grade stainless steel — yes!

Look for high quality stainless steel cookware if you want the healthiest cookware material in this range. If you’re looking to buy a stainless steel set, 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) percentage and the other is the nickel (Ni).

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

316 vs 304 cookware: The food grade quality alloy of 18/10 or 18/8, equals the 304 SAE/AISI (AISI:American Iron and Steel Institute), whereas high grade food and surgical stainless steel cookware is 316. The 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 correspond to 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 is the best stainless steel pots and pans to buy for durability.

Apart from chromium and nickel, other elements of the 304 stainless steel (18/8 or 18/10), albeit in minuscule proportions, are carbon, manganese, silicon, phosphorus, sulfur, and nitrogen, according to Unified Alloys.

Other alloy composition in 304 stainless steel:

ElementProportion
CarbonC≤ 0.00080
ManganeseMn≤ 0.02000
SiliconeSi≤ 0.01000
PhosporusP≤ 0.00045
SulfurS≤ 0.00030
NitrogenN 0.00110
Elements in AISI 304 stainless steel other than the main alloys of iron (66.74–71.24%), chromium (17.5–19.5%), and nickel (8–10.5%).

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 metal and so won’t conduct heat as well, can tend to buckle and not the best 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 in base of stainless steel

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.

Assortment: 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. Some consider them the safest stainless steel cookware.

Being free from nickel, they don’t pose the health risk associated with nickel sensitivities (though deemed safe levels in cookware – see my FAQ section below).

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. Which many consider the safest stainless steel cookware for nickel sensitivities.

Nickel free or 18 0 stainless steel cookware is considered a healthy option. Brand options available at Amazon that are nickel free: Homi Chef.

Homi chef reviews – *Nickel Free* – 18 0 stainless steel cookware

Nickel free stainless steel cookware with copper bottom…

  • 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
  • Considered safe stainless steel cookware

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!


Best stainless steel cookware brands list

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 stainless steel cookware brands list below:

  • Made In
  • Calphalon
  • T-fal performa
  • Cuisinart multiclad pro
  • Anolon nouvelle copper core
  • All Clad (USA made)
  • Rachael Ray

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.

Made In Cookware

Stainless steel pan by Made In10pc Stainless Steel Best Seller Set
5-ply clad
Made in US and Italy
Induction compatible
Stay cool handles
Oven Safe Temperature: 800ºF
Image courtesy of Made In

Calphalon Premier stainless steel

Calphalon 11-Piece Pots and Pans Set, Stainless Steel Kitchen Cookware with Stay-Cool Handles, Dishwasher Safe, Silver
Calpholon 11 piece

Available at Amazon

How this one rates in a nutshell:

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

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 

T-fal Pro E760SC Performa Stainless Steel Dishwasher Oven Safe Cookware Set, 12-Piece, Silver, 0
T-fal Performa 12 piece

Available at Amazon

About this T-Fal Performa

  • 3ply
  • Aluminum core
  • Techno release interior to aid release of food
  • Food grade 18/10 SS
  • Induction compatible base
  • Riveted handles
  • Glass lids
  • Oven safe to 400 ºF (lower than Made-In)
  • Not dishwasher safe
  • 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

Cuisinart MCP-12N MultiClad Pro Triple Ply 12-Piece Cookware Set, PC, Silver
Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 12 piece

Available at Amazon

  • 3ply with aluminum core
  • Stainless steel lids
  • Oven safe to 550 ºF
  • 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

Anolon Nouvelle Stainless Steel Cookware Pots and Pans Set, 10 Piece
Anolon Nouvelle Stainless Steel Cookware with copper bottom

Available from Amazon

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

If you are looking for the best stainless steel cookware made in USA, check out All-Clad…

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)

Rachael Ray Create Delicious Stainless Steel Cookware Set, 10-Piece Pots and Pans Set, Stainless Steel with Light Blue Handles
Rachael Ray Create Delicious 10-Piece

Available at Amazon

  • 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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