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

What is stainless steel? Stainless steel is an alloy of various metals but contains about 10½ % or more chromium. The chromium is what inhibits rust and corrosion. Nickel is added for the shine and polished finished, which is great for aesthetics and ease of clean up.

What are the benefits of stainless steel cookware? The benefits of stainless steel cookware include its robustness and suitability for high heat settings allowing use in an array of cooking methods that include oven and stove top use for browning of meats and vegetables as well as making sauces and gravies.

  • 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.

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

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.

List of stainless steel grades for cookware

I mentioned in my article on the healthiest cookware material: that if you’re looking to buy stainless steel, check for food grade stainless steel pans. The grade is usually stamped on the bottom of the pan as fractions, e.g., 18/8 and 18/10, the typical type on the US market and the least likely to leach metals of concern into your food. 

The first number (18) indicates the chromium (Cr) amount and the other the nickel (Ni) portion.

List of stainless steel grades for cookware: showing culinary needs or food grade stainless steel…

list of stainless steel grades for cookware

The food grade quality alloy of 18/10 or 18/8, is the 304 SAE/AISI type. The 316 is seen in the high grade surgical stainless steel cookware. 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.

high grade stainless steel pan
A high quality food grade stainless steel pan in the Premium 5-ply stainless range
of Made In Cookware. To find out more, click image.

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 in Made In pots and pans, 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.

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

Lids: Decide on what lid you want. Just remember that stainless steel lids are better for oven use, as compared to glass ones.

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.

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

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.

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.

Then there are the 5-ply and even 7-ply in the multiclad designs. 

About these multiclad type:

The 5-ply is typically three layers of inner metal, typically aluminum and/or copper, with stainless steel cladding, while the 7-ply is five layers of inner metal. The extra inner core layers are for conducting heat fast and distributing it evenly and should be designed for advantageous heat conduction. A higher ply does not always mean higher quality cookware as the thickness of the layers has a role to play in the heat distribution.

When looking to buy a stainless steel pan see whether it has core layers of aluminum or copper.

Why does the stainless steel pan have copper at the bottom? Some of the best stainless steel pans have copper bases 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 apart from that, 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? For many, this means 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*

10 pc stainless steel cookware
  • 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.

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


Best stainless steel cookware reviews

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.

BEST Quality starter kit: The Made In Company

Stainless Steel Starter Kit

Things to know about this 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

stainless steel Calphalon premier cookware

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 

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

Cuisinart Multiclad Pro cookware set
  • 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

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

USA Made: All-Clad Stainless Steel Pots

Things to know:

  • 3ply 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
  • 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!


Where to buy stainless steel cookware

Online from the company itself or you can buy at Amazon…follow the links above for the latest prices.

FAQ

Is stainless steel safe to cook with?

Stainless steel is considered safe to cook with where it is of high quality and resists leaching of metal residues and other contaminants into food – the most concern being chromium and nickel. Using nonabrasive utensils on the product will ensure the cooking surface stays intact.

I go into this more in my guide to choosing stainless steel vs nonstick cookware.

While chromium is an essential nutrient, the amount we need is low (recommended daily intake of 35 and 25 μg / day for men and women respectively). Nickel is not needed by the body.

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.

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.

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

What should you not cook in stainless steel

You should avoid storing acidic food in stainless steel especially if it’s poor quality stainless steel (eg. 14/4 or 14/1) and you should avoid using it for cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus in it.

What is the highest quality stainless steel

The highest quality stainless steel for cookware is Nickel free stainless steel grade for cookware is 21/0.

When should you replace stainless steel pans

You would need to replace stainless steel pans when the handles crack or break away.

Does stainless steel leak any chemicals whilst cooking food in saucepans

According to a 2013 study, stainless steel of low-quality (low chromium to nickel ratio) tends to react with highly acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, vinegar, and lemons, and whilst cooking these foods there is the risk of unwanted chemicals, particularly nickel, leaching into the foods being cooked in the saucepan.

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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