We tested them all. Here's what we thought.

By Melanie Fincher with product testing by Rachel Johnson
June 24, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
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Rachel Johnson
Rachel Johnson

Every home cook needs to invest in a good stainless steel cookware set at least once in their life. And that's what's so great about stainless steel cookware, one quality set will last through a lifetime of use. Stainless steel is versatile, easy to maintain, budget-friendly, and truly unbreakable.

That's why we decided to test some of the best stainless steel cookware sets on the market so you can choose the best set for your needs — whether you're a beginner cook looking to invest in your first set, or a lifelong cook looking to treat yourself to some upgraded pots and pans.

After a series of rigorous testing by experienced Allrecipes Product Tester Rachel Johnson, we've determined the 6 best stainless steel cookware sets for every type of home cook.

Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets at a Glance

What to Consider When Buying Stainless Steel Cookware

Weight

When it comes to stainless steel, the heavier the pot or pan, the better (to a degree, you want to be able to handle it easily, of course). Especially if you're an avid cook that plans to put the pans through lots of use. Heavier stainless steel will be more durable.

The heaviest stainless steel is 18/10, which means the stainless steel is made with 18 percent chromium and 10 percent nickel, both of which protect the steel from rust and help give it its signature shine.

Core or Cladding

Contrary to popular belief, stainless steel is actually a poor conductor of heat. In order to get the durability of stainless steel with the conduction ability of other metals, you'll want to make sure you get stainless steel cookware with an aluminum or copper core, or one with cladding. Cladding (also known as ply) means there has been a complete layer of metal added along the base and sides. Cookware with cladding is going to be more expensive than cookware with solely a metal core.

The ability of a pan to spread heat is going to come down to the thickness of the core, with thicker cores being better at conducting heat. However, a copper core doesn't require as thick of a base to create even distribution, which is why copper-core pots and pans often have thinner bases than aluminum-core cookware.

Versatility

It's important to consider your level of necessity when choosing a set of cookware. Some cookware sets come with 14+ pieces, which may be necessary for an avid cook. But if you think you can settle for something more basic, you can save a lot of money opting for a smaller set with a few basic pieces that can be used for a variety of kitchen tasks.

Price

Not only do stainless steel cookware sets range in size, but they can range in price from less than $100 to close to $1,000. While it's important to invest in a quality set, the good thing about stainless steel is you don’t have to break the bank to get one.

How We Tested Each Cookware Set

Rachel Johnson, our seasoned product tester, rounded up the top stainless steel cookware sets from a variety of popular brands including Cuisinart, All-Clad, T-fal, and more. Rachel tested the stainless steel cookware three ways: 1) by timing how long the pots took to bring water to a boil 2) by using a frying pan to fry an egg and 3) by using a frying pan to make a Bourbon Pepper Pan Sauce. Each set was rated on the following metrics:

  • Overall Feel: Does this set feel well-made and sturdy? What kind of kitchen would this set be best suited for?
  • Variety: Is there a use for each item or do some pots/pans appear redundant? How many lids does this set come with? Any bonus items?
  • Efficiency of Materials: How quickly and evenly does the pan heat and cook food?
  • Cleanup: Is it dishwasher safe? What kind of cleaning products can be used?

The testing is complete. Keep reading for Rachel's thoughts on the top stainless steel cookware sets on the market. If you find one that you think is a fit for you, simply click the link below the photo to purchase!

Best Overall: Calphalon Premier Stainless Steel 11-Piece Set

This 11-piece set from Calphalon includes two frying pans, two saucepans, a saute pan, a stockpot, and five lids. Rachel found that the ergonomically-designed handles provided both style and function, making the pans easy to to tilt when basting a steak or making a pan sauce.

Calphalon's stainless steel cookware boasts an aluminum core coated in three layers of stainless steel for maximum heat retention. All pieces are dishwasher safe, and this pan got serious bonus points for its easy cleanup: "This pan essentially cleaned itself — barely any food residue remained on the surface," says Rachel. Overall, this pan performed brilliantly for all of Rachel's tests, and the stylish design, durable build, and easy-to-clean surface put this set a step above the rest.

"While this set is quite hefty in price, it does offer quite numerous pot and pan sizes applicable to completely fulfill any kitchen needs," says Rachel. "These pieces will surely stand the test of time and prove to be a wise investment in the experienced cook's kitchen."

Amazon

Buy It: Calphalon Premier Stainless Steel 11-Piece Set, $525; Amazon

Runner Up: All-Clad d5 Stainless Steel 5-Piece Set

If you're looking to level-up your cookware without purchasing a 20-piece set, this 5-piece set from All-Clad provides all the cookware essentials you need without cluttering your cabinets with excess: a fry pan, a covered saucepan, and a covered saute pan.

As usual, All-Clad is unmatched when it comes to quality. These pans have uniform, thick walls for even heat conduction. They have a thick, aluminum core, with a seamless stainless steel coated exterior. Although this set is dishwasher safe, All-Clad recommends using a "fine powder cleanser" to best preserve the material. The only cons to this set that Rachel found were the long handles were somewhat cumbersome, and did become warm to the touch when working with high heat.

"The All-Clad name carries significant weight in the cookware world. While this set is definitely the most expensive per-piece, it will impress guests and demonstrate that you are a serious cook that values quality," says Rachel.

Amazon

Buy It: All-Clad d5 Stainless Steel 5-Piece Set, $500; Williams-Sonoma

Best Budget Buy: T-fal Performa 14pc Stainless Steel Cookware Set

T-fal is known for providing high-quality cookware for small budgets, and this set is no exception. Not only does it include a covered Dutch oven, two covered saucepans, a frying pan, and a saute pan, but it also features a slotted spoon, a slotted turner, and measuring spoons. This makes a great set for a beginner cook or someone looking to replace their entire cookware collection.

Out of all the pots Rachel tested, this stock pot/Dutch oven was the quickest to come to a boil. The saute pan worked great for frying a single egg, and the high sides of the frying pan caught spitting oil when searing steak. However, this set felt much lighter than the others tested, causing Rachel to doubt the long-term durability of these pots and pans. The frying pan was left with a noticeable mark after being scorched with oil, that Rachel found nearly impossible to scrub.

"For the budget cook, this cookware set cannot be matched," says Rachel. "This set will perform well, but will likely not hold up over time After a year or so of regular use, this set will show noticeable wear and tear."

Target

Buy It: T-fal Performa 14pc Stainless Steel Cookware Set, $80; Target

Most Versatile: Cuisinart Forever Stainless Collection 11-Piece Set

When it comes to cookware sets, Cuisinart leads the pack. These mirror-polished stainless steel pots and pans with bonded aluminum bases prove that, once again, Cuisinart lives up to its reputation.

Although the pieces were somewhat light in weight, Rachel still found that they felt well-made and thoughtfully designed. At half the cost of competitor sets, this set contains two covered saucepans (one has a straining cover), one covered stock pot, two nonstick skillets, and a steamer insert. During testing, the cookware came to temperature very fast, and produced a nice even sear across the meat. Although the saucepan did gain some patina after searing meat, it mostly rubbed off with a little elbow grease on Rachel's part.

This was the only set to feature a steamer insert, two nonstick pans, and a straining cover, making this an extremely versatile set for a first kitchen.

"Overall, this collection features a multitude of pots and pans leaving the customer without a desire to add more standard pieces to their kitchen," says Rachel. "This set comes with a reputable name and a lifetime warranty. It is reasonably priced for the amount of pieces in each set."

Amazon

Buy It: Cuisinart Forever Stainless Collection 11-Piece Set, $250; Kohl's

Best for Beginners: Made In The Starter Kit

While this set is somewhat limited and on the higher end of the price range, it's perfect for anyone new to premium cookware, or those with limited cabinet space.

The set includes a stainless steel frying pan, a blue carbon steel nonstick frying pan, a sauce pan, a stock pot, and a can of carbon steel seasoning wax. Rachel put it this way: "the heft of each piece points to the quality." Like many Made In products, the frying pans are made in the U.S. The stock pots and saucepans are made in Italy.

During testing, the stainless steel frying pan created a nice, even crust on the steak. Rachel does recommend taking care when working with liquids in the frying pan, since the pan's large surface and shallow sides make it easy to spill. While this set is dishwasher safe, hand washing is advised.

"For a relative newcomer, Made In impressed with quality materials and thoughtful design," says Rachel. "While this set may not be appropriate for the beginner cook in terms of limited number of pieces and high price point, it would be a great 'level up' to those looking to gain more skill in the kitchen."

Made In

Buy It: Made In The Starter Kit, $359; Made In

Best Copper-Core Set: Anolon Nouvelle Stainless 11-Piece Cookware Set

We've already established that copper is an excellent conductor, and it doesn't hurt that it provides a stylish touch to any kitchen. This premium set from Anolon features a multi-layer metal base with a copper core and polished stainless steel construction.

Included in the set are two covered saucepans, one covered stock pot, two French skillets (one covered) and one covered saute pan. Rachel says, "The two smaller saucepans seem a bit redundant — they aren't that much different in size and anything you can make in the smaller pan could be made in the medium pan."

During testing, there was some patchy browning on the steak, however the pan sauce came out beautifully. The large frying pan could fit up to four eggs at a time, and they easily slipped out of the pan without issue.

On the downside, Rachel did notice some wear and oil marks following use. She also found that the pans were quite heavy, and could be difficult for some to use. Overall, this is a stunning set that will add the elegance of copper to any kitchen without having to spend too much.

Amazon

Buy It: Anolon Nouvelle Stainless 11-Piece Cookware Set, $400; Amazon

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