Straight to the Point
The best stainless steel cookware set is the All-Clad D3 10-Piece Cookware Set. Every piece performed excellently and was easy to clean. The best starter set is the Made In Stainless Steel 6-Piece Set, which comes with a nonstick pan and no superfluous items. And the Tramontina Gourmet Stainless Steel Induction-Ready Tri-Ply Clad 10-Piece Set is the one for those on a budget.
In general, we have stayed away from recommending cookware sets. Why, you ask? Because most often, consumers get shoehorned into paying hundreds of dollars for a collection of cookware with varying levels of utility. If you only use a couple of pieces on a weekly basis, why pay for a bunch of other items you’ll break out once a year? Plus, our product reviews have shown us time and time again that while one company may produce the best stainless steel skillet, for example, a different company will make the best saucier.
With that being said, cookware sets have an appeal—especially if you’re just starting to build your kitchen or looking to replace a bunch of worn-out, old gear. So, we set out to determine if any stainless steel cookware sets were truly worth buying. After testing 18 sets, we found three we recommend.
The Winners, at a Glance
Looking for a set you’ll never have to replace? The D3 from All-Clad is the best in terms of usability and performance. It includes two fry pans (8- and 10-inch), two saucepans with lids (2- and 3-quart), one sauté pan with a lid, and one stockpot with a lid.
This set is smaller but only comes with the essentials, including a nonstick pan we liked and our favorite stainless steel skillet.
For those that want a nice stainless steel set that’s less pricey, this is the one to get. It even includes two of our recommendations for stainless steel skillets and saucepans.
- Fried Egg Test: We fried two eggs in minimal oil in a nonstick pan (if the set had one) to test the skillet’s nonstick ability.
- Brown Butter Test: We made browned butter in a saucepan from each set, evaluating how responsive the pans were and how evenly they cooked.
- Pork Chop Test: We seared boneless pork chops to test searing ability and ease of use.
- Boiled Pasta Test: To determine capacity, how quickly the stock pot reached a boil, and how well each maintained heat, we filled each set’s stock pot with 72°F water and recorded how long it took to reach 212°F. We then added salt, timing how long it took the water to return to 212°F. After cooking the pasta, we evaluated how easy it was to handle and pour from the stockpot into a colander.
At this point, we could narrow the best-performing sets down from 18 to 13. The next round of tests delved further into performance.
- Mirepoix Test: To observe sweating, browning, heat conduction, and responsiveness, we cooked a combination of onions, carrots, and celery in the stockpot (first on a low heat to soften, then a medium heat to caramelize). We finished this test by deglazing with broth to see how the fond released.
- Rice Test: We cooked rice in each saucepan, evaluating its final quality.
- Bechamel Test: To further determine heating evenness and ease of stirring (with special regard to corners), we made bechamel in each saute pan—if the set had one.
We still had some weeding out to do, so we brought the four best sets (All-Clad, Made In, Tramontina, and Le Creuset) home and used them each for a week at a time to test them in a real-world setting.
What We Learned
Certain Pieces Are Essential
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of price, materials, and construction, let’s first discuss the essential pieces that should come in a cookware set.
The first is a skillet or fry pan. A good 10-inch fry pan is one of the most essential pieces of equipment in any kitchen. We’ve already gone on at length about this item in our review of stainless steel skillets, if you want to know more.
The second is a large stockpot. While this will probably only see sporadic use in your kitchen (unless you’re a big soup fan), there is nothing else that can replace this piece. Boiling boxes of pasta, steaming a whole cauliflower, making chicken soup, sous vide–it all requires a large stockpot. You want this to be able to hold at least six quarts of liquid to be useful (though we recommend something even larger).
The third is a small saucepan, which is good for everything from heating up a jar of pasta sauce to making a fluffy batch of stovetop rice. We liked saucepans with flared lips that made it easy to pour from and that exhibited nice, even heating. All of the 2-quart saucepans that made it to the final rounds of testing had 6- or 7-inch diameters, which allowed us to stir easily in them.
Many of the sets (excluding the Made In) also included a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, which we found helpful and is a versatile sized pot we generally recommend having around.
Beyond those four pieces, most of the sets we tested had different items. This is truly going to be the decision maker when it comes to choosing a cookware set, as you want to make sure the pieces are useful for your cooking habits.
A few of the sets came with a 3- or 3-1/2-quart braiser or saute pan. The former had two smaller side handles and the latter one long handle and one helper handle. We find both of these pans nice to have around for shallow frying, sautéing, and braising.
Some of the sets—like the Tramontina and the All-Clad—included an 8-inch fry pan, which we particularly like for eggs. The Le Creuset set came with a colander insert for the stock pot instead of a small fry pan and, ultimately, we prefer a separate colander.
Look For Tri-Ply Stainless
While all of the sets we tested were made with stainless steel, not all stainless steel is the same. Some stainless steel pans are made with a disk on the bottom that conducts heat, while others are fully clad. We recommend the latter, as this type has all the durability and longevity of stainless steel combined with a reactive and even core. Most of the sets that made our final cut were made of tri-ply stainless steel, which means they had a layer of aluminum sandwiched between two sheets of solid stainless steel. The Made In set takes it even further and boasts a five-ply construction. While this sounds fancy (five must be better than three, right?), we didn’t find that this translated to a vastly superior cooking experience. Don’t get us wrong, the pans still yielded great results, but not that much better than tri-ply. If you find a set made with five-ply that suits your needs and is worth the price, go for it. But if you have your eye on a great tri-ply set, rest assured you won’t be sacrificing quality.
Bundling Can Save You A Bundle
One of the main reasons anyone should even consider a cookware set over just assembling your own a la carte is the discount. Take the All-Clad D3, for example. When we separately added every item from the set to our cart on the manufacturer’s website, the total came to $859.94, compared with $600 for the set. That’s some significant savings.
Stepping aside from any brand loyalty, if you bought our favorite stainless steel skillet (Made In), saucepan (All Clad), nonstick pan (Tramontina), and stock pot (Cuisinart) from each respective company, the total would set you back $431.77. That’s less than the Made In set we’re recommending that comes with the same four pieces, but more than the Tramontina. At the end of the day, a quality stainless steel cookware set can offer a substantial discount if you’re ready to invest in an array of cookware from the same brand.
The Criteria: What to Look for in a Stainless Steel Cookware Set
As we discussed above, a good stainless steel cookware set should contain a 10-inch skillet, stockpot, and saucepan. After that, the other pieces come down to personal preference and cooking habits.
Once you’ve established what you need in the set, you should look for a set made with tri-ply stainless steel construction. This means that the pan contains an aluminum core coated in layers of stainless steel on the outside, which makes for even heating and solid heat retention. Across the board, the handles should be also comfortable to grasp. Price is a factor, too, and we found that the average price for a cookware set hovers around $600. Any less, and you’re getting a bargain. Any more, and the set ought to have some reason for the added cost.
What we liked: If you’re going to ditch all your old, mismatched, dinged-up pans, you may as well invest in a set you’ll never have to replace. All-Clad’s D3 set is a gleaming collection of top-notch stainless steel coupled with comfortable, ergonomic, and well-balanced construction.
The stainless steel skillet was beaten by Made In in our skillet review only in terms of price (side-by-side, this pan is only $10 more than Made In’s), and one of our testers is still using a 15-year-old skillet at home that looks almost identical to the brand-new one we tested. All-Clad’s 3-quart saucepan was also one of our winners in our saucepan review.
What we didn’t like: Of course, the price can be a turn-off. The manufacturer lists the base price at $1405, which would put it far beyond the realm of what we would consider worth buying. However, this set is usually priced at a far more affordable $600.
Price at time of publish: $600.
- Number of pieces: 10
- What’s included: 8- and 10-inch fry pans, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 3-quart sauté pan with lid, 3-quart saucepan with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid
- Materials: Tri-ply stainless steel with aluminum core
- Dishwasher-safe: Yes
- Induction compatible: Yes
What we liked: For those who are just starting out and want to invest in something that will last (or those unsure of jumping right into ordering a huge set), the 6-piece set from Made In comes with the essential pieces for a decent price. The stainless steel skillet took the top spot in our review for its beautiful searing and comfortable grip. All of the pots have flared rims to prevent spillage while pouring, and our testers found that the pans were lightweight and easy to maneuver.
When we tested the sets in a real-world setting to see how often each piece got used in a week, we found we really liked the 10-inch nonstick skillet—a helpful addition other sets lacked.
What we didn’t like: We didn’t find that the 5-ply cladding performed much better than other brands’ tri-ply, though you end up paying for it anyway. For just $100 more, you could have the All-Clad set that comes with two more pots. During the boiled pasta test, the Made In stockpot took the longest to heat up, at just over 45 minutes, likely due to the 5-ply cladding. That’s a long time to wait.
Price at time of publish: $499.
- Number of pieces: 6
- What’s included: 10-inch nonstick fry pan, 10-inch stainless steel fry pan, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid
- Materials: 5-ply construction; PFOA-free nonstick coating
- Dishwasher-safe: Stainless steel? Yes. Nonstick? No.
- Induction compatible: Yes
What we liked: Bottom line, the most attractive thing about this set is the price. None of the pieces in the set performed better than our other winners, but they were able to hold their own. The skillet did fairly well in a head-to-head test against All-Clad’s. It seared a pork chop perfectly golden brown, and our testers described all the pieces as “incredibly easy to clean.” During a review of saucepans, the 3-quart saucepan was one of our winners—performing as well as pots that cost way more.
What we didn’t like: Some of this set’s pans felt unbalanced. One of our testers described it as “awkward and clunky.” There was a significant amount of spillage when pouring out of the saucepans.
Although the manufacturer states the cookware is safe up to 500°F, they explicitly order you to use the pan over low to medium heat only, or risk voiding the warranty. This would explain some of the staining we saw during testing, but a good-quality stainless steel skillet should be durable enough to withstand high heat for searing purposes.
Price at time of publish: $340.
- Number of pieces: 10
- What’s included: 8-inch fry pan, 10-inch fry pan, 3-quart braiser, 1.5-quart saucepan, 3-quart saucepan, 6-quart stockpot
- Materials: Tri-ply clad 18/10 stainless steel with aluminum core
- Dishwasher-safe: Yes
- Induction compatible: Yes
- Le Creuset Tri-Ply 10-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set: The winners beat this set, but only by a little. We think another size skillet or a nonstick pan would be more valuable than the colander—but the set’s still a great option. Plus, we really love Le Creuset’s stainless steel skillet.
- All-Clad D5 Brushed 5-Ply Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set: This set is also great, but pricier than our All-Clad D3 recommendation.
- Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Triple Ply 12-Piece Set: We found some of the pieces in this set felt unbalanced, though we do like its price point.
- Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set: This set was prone to discoloration and we found the handles to be too thin.
- Cuisinart Classic Multiclad Stainless 11-Piece Cookware Set: The handles on this set were bulky and the 3.5-quart saute pan in particular was too heavy.
- Cuisinart Custom-Clad 5-Ply Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set: For the quality, we think this set is too expensive. Also, it took forever for water to reach a rolling boil in the stockpot.
- Anolon Nouvelle Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set: For the price, this set is fine—though we found its pieces to generally be too heavy.
- Calphalon Classic 10-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set: For a starter set, this is an alright, sub-$200 option. We still prefer the Tramontina, but it is $140 more.
- Calphalon Premier 11-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set: We found the stockpot in this set to be too narrow.
- Viking Contemporary 3-Ply 10-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set: We didn’t love the flared walls on these pieces and its skillet cooked unevenly.
- Goldilocks Plus 8-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set: This set also featured a skillet that seared sub-par.
- Martha by Martha Stewart Stainless Steel Tri-Ply 10-Piece Cookware Set: We found these pieces to be, overall, poorly designed—including handles that got super hot.
- OXO Tri-Ply Stainless Mira Series 10-Piece Set: This set featured a skillet with high sides, steep walls, and too small of a cooking surface. Otherwise, though, we thought it was fine.
- Misen 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set: We think this set is too expensive—priced higher than even our favorite from All-Clad.
- Hestan ProBond Collection Professional Clad 10-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set: Again, this is another set whose high price isn’t justified by notable performance differences.
What’s the best cookware set?
We found that the best cookware set to be the All-Clad D3 10-Piece Cookware Set. For a more affordable option with a slight compromise on design, go with the Tramontina Gourmet Stainless Steel Induction-Ready Tri-Ply Clad 10-Piece Set.
Is a cookware set worth it?
If you are building your kitchen from nothing or looking to do a major overhaul, a good set can be worth it. Often, the pieces stack together and have interchangeable lids. And sets usually come with a discount over ordering each piece individually.
Should I buy a nonstick cookware set?
When we tested nonstick pans, we found that the best options were cheaper, as nonstick coatings invariably wear out over time. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is designed to last decades. If you want to invest in a set, go with stainless steel and supplement it with some cheaper nonstick pans.