Buying Guide: Stainless-Steel Cookware

Stainless-steel cookware is an essential tool for any kitchens as working like a workhorse from everyday cuisines to sous chefs’ dishes. However, unlike other traditional cookware materials, stainless-steel itself is poor heat performance, good pots and pans need to utilize conductive materials, mostly aluminum or copper, to boost the productivity.

This type of cookware is the most basis of your kitchen since it’s extremely durable, requires minimal maintenance, looks shiny, suits for most cooking methods from stovetops to broilers, doesn’t react to acidic foods and leach harmful chemicals, and offers wide price ranges than everyone can afford.

What Pots and Pans Should I Buy?

Well, most experts might suggest you buy pieces that you need, as the ideal option. This is good for amateur cooks or people who aren’t cook much frequent or has small kitchen that having a good 10-inch skillet and 2 sizes of saucepans is ample for daily tasks. However, this cost much more expensive than buying a whole set, which you might get some unwanted pieces. To compromise between value and usability, we suggest picking a set that fills with practical pieces.

According to culinary experts, America’s Test Kitchen[1], Serious Eats[2] and Epicurious[3], a practical set of 10- to 12-piece cookware should have:
  • 1.5- to 2-quart covered saucepan for melting butter or sugar for dressing deserts, making sauces, or cooking small batches of rice.
  • 3- to 4-quart covered saucepan for preparing side dishes, heating soup, cooking small and medium batches of dried beans and grains, cooking pasta, or hacking as a double-boiler.
  • A large stockpot can serve double-duty from cooking pasta, lobster, or corn on the cob, to making serious batches for sauces, stocks, soups and stews. 6.5 to 8 quarts are satisfied for daily basis, however, some chefs like Rochelle Bilow from Bon Appetite[4] prefer 12- to 18-quart size that can hold a chicken carcass or two.
  • 3- to 4-quart covered sauté pan is an optional piece as you can get away with a large covered skillet. However, this piece is surprisingly very useful for small amount of poaching fish, sauté vegetable, pan-frying, and quicker reducing sauces. Some chefs may prefer a 3-quart saucier pan as having round edges, which make easier for whisking and combining ingredients without sticking in the corners.
  • 10-inch skillet is perfect for single serves of breakfast threat. If possible, go for nonstick as it’s easier dealing with delicate foods, such as omelets and crepe cakes.
  • 12-inch of traditional skillet (prefer covered) as a fry pan for frying and searing meats or sauté vegetable. The 12- to 14-inch skillet can accommodate two large steaks for main dishes.

Also, most chefs recommended adding some of these useful pieces for completing specific jobs and save more bucks:
  • A 6- to 7-quart enameled Dutch oven for braising, deep-frying or even baking.
  • 10- to 14-inch cast-iron skillet, a workhorse for recipes that start on the stovetop and need to be finished in the oven, like steaks or pan bakes.
  • 10-inch nonstick skillet for easier handling with fishes or eggs.
  • 14-inch wok for indoor smoking, braising, and steaming, deep-frying. If you’re a fan of Asian foods, don’t miss it.

Anyway, don’t be fool by number of pieces. Bigger sets don’t way mean better. Remember, manufacturers count anything in the set, includes lids, spatulas, spoons, or unwanted fillers.

Heat Conductivity

Not only stainless-steel cookware, heat conductivity and performance plays the biggest role for every pot and pan. Since stainless-steel is poor in heat performance, it needs conductive materials (mostly aluminum and copper) to boost efficiency of absorbing and spreading temperature. The more conductive in the construction, the more effectiveness.

Fully-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware
It’s made by wrapping conductive material layer(s) that runs inside the pot from the bottom to the rims with stainless-steel layers. Commonly, the more layers, the more performance, and durability.
  • The best choice.
  • Notice: Fully-Clad, or -Ply. 5-ply means 5 layers of metal.
  • Superior performance, evenly heat.
  • Easy to clean.
  • More expensive.

Encapsulated Base
Encapsulated Base Stainless Steel Cookware
It has the conductive material only a disc bottom of the base, not run to the rims. This cookware has acceptable performance in affordable price and less weight, which is mostly recommended for beginners.
  • The bargain choice.
  • Sometimes called Bottom-Disc base.
  • Acceptable performance. More hot spots.
  • Less expensive.
  • Less weight.

Cost to Pay

A set of 10- to 12-piece stainless-steel cookware costs wide range from $50 to $2,000, depends on construction and conductivity materials. The fully-clad with more layers of conductive material costs more expensive than encapsulated disc one. However, buying good cookware is a good investment than a splurge as it can last for decades and enhance your cooking experiences.

Still, if you’re amateurs or budget-tight person, picking a thick encapsulated aluminum base with fine quality of stainless-steel craft is a wise choice.

Know Before Buying:

Aside from efficiency of heat controlling, these are things to check before picking good pots and pans.
  • Cooking Habit. Of all, your cooking style tells what your best cookware looks like. Before buying one, concerns about these questions: How much you be cooking? What cuisines do you cook most---bakes, soups, deep fries or braises? If you’re living-with-easy-dishes or microwavable food people, ‘like-a-chef’ 5-ply sets may not necessary. Ask yourself these questions to prevent overbuy pieces that waste your money and cabinet pace.

  • Thick Construction. Typically, higher-priced, fully clad pots and pans are built reliably study as having more layers of metal. However, some cheap encapsulate base sets can be found thin construction and small aluminum disc that not spread in entire base. These easily make uneven cooks, food burns and dented walls. Moreover, as having less nickel ratio, cheap cookware gets badly discoloration and hard to cleanup.

  • Ergonomic Design. Ideally, the good handles should be made of metal riveted metal that withstand at least 500°F degree for handling the most cooking techniques and longer durability. More importantly, they should feel comfortable to grip and feel cool enough when cooking, and not to close to the pot for preventing burns. The bigger than 4-quart pots and 10.25-inch pans should have two sides of helping handles to firmly grab when heavy foods inside.

    We prefer the round-shaped and smooth edges rims as it makes no-fussy pouring and safe from cutting your fingers. Also, it should have practical shape. Some skillets, such as Viking Contemporary, have too open and sloped sides, which make things easy to fly out of the pans.

  • Weight. Good cookware should have built hefty construction and good weight in hands. When picking up, it shouldn’t feel like pull overly to one side, and firmly sit on the burner without warping or sliding around.

  • Cooktop Compatibility. For a smoothed-top electric cooktop, flat-bottomed cookware is necessary. More importantly, if you use an induction stove, you’ll need ones that are made of magnetic 18/10 stainless-steel in the bottom.

  • Lids. Commonly, metal lids are preferable as endure high heat and won’t risk breaking. Still, many home cooks like glass lids because they can monitor foods without opening the lids. Besides, some glass lids come with strainers for easier drain water out of the pot, like Calphalon Classic. Anyway, check if the lids fit snugly, without too much steam to escape.

  1. Cookware Sets, America’s Test Kitchen.
  2. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Equipment: The 7 Most Essential Pots and Pans, Serious Eats, 2016.
  3. Your First Kitchen, Epicurious.
  4. Rochelle Bilow, These Are Pots and Pans You Really Need, Bon Appetit, Aug 11, 2015.

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