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How to Shop for Stainless Steel Cookware Like a Professional

A buyer’s guide to selecting the perfect Stainless Clad Cookware for you and your kitchen.

By Rachel Baron
Nov 9, 2023
stainless cookware
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If you asked us to build a kitchen setup from scratch, we can say for certain that stainless steel would be at the top of our list. Wonderfully versatile, long-lasting, and relatively low-maintenance, a great piece of stainless steel cookware is well worth the investment. But with the sheer number of stainless steel products—and huge range of prices—on offer, how do you choose?

Allow us to be your stainless steel guides. As producers of Award-Winning Stainless Clad Cookware, we know what makes for quality construction. From the types of metals used, to why a fully-clad pan is the best choice, here’s how to shop for your new stainless steel cookware.

What are the Benefits of Stainless Steel Cookware?

A stack of stainless steel frying pans with metal handles.

At its very best, stainless steel cookware is a joy to cook with—not only is it a great conductor of heat, but it’s highly durable and long-lasting as well.

Durability and Longevity

Not all stainless steel is created equal. Stainless steel cookware made from 18/10 Stainless Steel—the highest grade—is particularly strong and durable, due to the higher percentage of chromium mixed in.

Non-Reactive Surface

Stainless steel—especially high-grade stainless steel—is a non-reactive material, meaning that it’s more resistant to corrosion and rust than other types of metals.

This also means that your cookware won’t react with acidic ingredients like tomatoes or wine, which can produce metallic flavors in cast iron, carbon steel, or other reactive cookware materials.

Easy Maintenance

Cleaning stainless steel is fairly straightforward. Unlike materials like carbon steel or unfinished cast iron, you won’t need to worry about stripping the seasoning or scratching the coating (though you can scratch the finish). And you can pretty much always restore it to its original shiny finish, no matter how grimy or burnt-looking it is.

Excellent Heat Distribution and Retention

While stainless steel is not a great conductor of heat on its own, stainless steel that’s “cladded,” or layered with more conductive metals like aluminum, conducts heat extremely well. This cladding also helps with heat retention and distribution, so your pan won’t develop hot spots or cook your food unevenly.

Key Stainless Steel Features to Consider

stainless clad frying pan sizes

Here are a few key indicators of quality that can help you when shopping for stainless steel cookware.

Material Quality and Grade

As we touched on earlier, stainless steel comes in a range of different grades. The highest, 18/10, indicates a higher ratio of chromium to nickel, which not only makes for a more durable pan, but one that’s oven-safe as well—a huge reason why stainless is so commonly found in restaurant kitchens. Stainless steel also comes in other grades, such as 18/8.

Most high-quality stainless cookware is also induction-compatible. Make sure to look for the phrase “induction-compatible” on the packaging, or for the induction symbol, which looks like a coil of wire.

Cookware Ply

You’ll typically see stainless pots and pans described as “3-Ply” or “5-Ply.” The “ply” of a pan means that the steel has been layered with more conductive metals like aluminum—for example, our Stainless Clad pans are cladded with pure aluminum, aluminum alloy, and 18/10 stainless steel. The number associated with ply indicates how many layers have been cladded together—in our case, it’s 5.

For the most part, 5-ply makes for a more durable piece of cookware that’s both more resistant to warping and dents and does a better job of distributing heat.

Handles and Lids

A stainless steel pot or pan should have a sturdy, comfortable handle, as well as a “helper handle” for larger sauciers and saute pans. Because stainless cookware often sits on the stove for extended periods, handles and lids can get dangerously hot—that’s why we added a Stay Cool Handle™ to our Stainless Clad Frying Pan for an extra layer of safety. 

How to Choose the Best Stainless Steel Cookware

A variety of stainless steel and non-stick cookware neatly arranged on a modern kitchen stovetop and shelf against a white subway tile backsplash.

Now you know what goes into a quality piece of stainless cookware, here’s how to shore up all that information with your budget and cooking needs.

Consider Your Cooking Style and Needs

Stainless steel is compatible with a wide range of cooking methods: use it to sear, stir-fry, braise, or even grill. For that reason, you don’t have to be a seasoned cook to justify buying one—plus, a great piece of stainless cookware can help level up your home cooking game.

That being said, you should absolutely invest in stainless steel if you do a lot of searing or other high heat cooking, which is where stainless steel excels.

Quality Indicators

A high-quality stainless steel pan should always have these basic traits.

  • Made from high-grade stainless steel, ideally 18/10, which indicates a stronger, more durable material.
  • Clad with metals like aluminum for better heat conduction and distribution (ideally 5-Ply).
  • Oven-safe and induction-compatible.

Budget Considerations

Stainless steel cookware tends toward the pricier side compared to other materials—especially for high-quality options. For a stainless clad frying pan or pot that’ll last you decades (if not a lifetime), you can expect to pay upwards of $100, and at least $200 for something like a stock pot.

If budget is a big concern, you can get a decent-quality stainless steel frying pan for about $50. You may not get quite the same level of polish, performance, or permanence, but you’ll still get to enjoy the great heat retention and durability of stainless steel.

Stainless Steel Maintenance and Care Tips

Maintaining stainless steel cookware isn’t nearly as tricky as you might think, especially if this is your first time cooking with this material. Here’s everything you need to know about proper care, cleaning, and storage to keep your stainless steel in tip-top shape.

How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware

One of the great things about stainless steel cookware is that it’s fairly easy to keep clean. While more prone to sticking than materials like non stick or carbon steel, stainless steel pots and pans don’t have a coating or layers of seasoning to worry about—so you can get a little more rough with them (though you probably won’t need to for everyday messes).

Here’s our guide to cleaning stainless steel cookware, depending on the degree of mess. You can also read up on how to prevent (and fix) the common rainbow stains cosmetic issue—aka heat tint.

How to Store Stainless Steel Cookware

Since stainless steel is both rust- and corrosion-resistant, you don’t have to worry as much about storage. Just make sure to place a dish towel, trivet, or cloth napkin between your pans if you plan on stacking on them, in order to prevent scratches. After each wash, make sure to dry your pan thoroughly with a microfiber cloth to prevent water spots.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Even something as durable as stainless steel has its pitfalls. While these tend to be mainly aesthetic issues, such as stains, scratches, and heat tint, they’re also easy to avoid.

First off: Try to avoid abrasive cleaning products (such as bleach-based cleaners), steel wool, and harsh brushes when cleaning your pot or pan, as these can scratch the finish.

Second, always make sure to hand wash your pan. Even if your pan is labeled as dishwasher-safe, the harsh detergents can cause scratches and discoloration, as well as damage the aluminum layers in your pan—particularly if those layers are slightly exposed, like in our Stainless Clad cookware.

Thirdly, always make sure to salt your pan after heating it: Adding salt to a cold pan, or to water before it’s boiling, can lead to tiny divots in your pan known as pitting. While these don’t affect your pan’s performance, they can’t be removed. Read up on how to avoid pitting in our dedicated guide.

Ready to Shop?

A good stainless steel pan will never let you down. And because we’ve seen everything this durable, versatile cookware can do—from searing a perfect steak to simmering chicken stock—we want to make sure you’re buying the right one.

Each piece of our Stainless Clad cookware is built from professional-grade materials, making for a restaurant-level cooking experience every time.