Stainless steel is one of the most frequently used materials in kitchens all around the world. Knowing your cookware is essential, especially if you spend time cooking daily. Learn how to manage temperature, how often you should keep things moving in a pan to prevent burns, and you’ll be okay.
Why should you cook with stainless steel?
Ever thought why chefs cook with stainless steel? Granted, that shiny, mirror-like look sure makes an impact, but there’s more than just good looks.
- Durable. High-quality stainless steel cookware pots and pans will last for many years to come, making it the perfect choice for those less experienced in the kitchen department.
- Safe and non-toxic. What you see is what you get! No toxic fumes, no leaching, no metallic taste. Stainless steel is non-reactive, meaning you can safely cook acidic foods without worrying about metals transferring into the dish.
- Aluminum or copper core. Stainless steel is a somewhat poor heat conductor; you will find stainless steel cookware sold with a copper or aluminum layer. Make sure to double-check this with the manufacturer or on the product’s page since it’s not always easy to spot.
- Great for everything. Browning, sauteing, stir-frying, boiling, baking is the choice if you want a multi-purpose cookware set, even more so if space is an issue.
- Compatible with high-temperature cooking. Stainless steel works great when the heat is at max, with no warping or hot spots.
- Easy to use and to maintain. You can use whatever utensils you have nearby, though metal ones might leave minor scratches. Short on time? Just pop it in the dishwasher, no need to scrub it by hand.
- Classic design. No flashy colors here, just a timeless look that will find its place in any kitchen, regarding its current decor. Stainless steel is an investment that will benefit you for years and years.
How to choose a stainless steel set?
As with any cookware, doing your research is essential. Avoid buying pots and pans just because they look trendy, or they seem like a good deal. The fine print is critical here; a cheap stainless steel pan without an aluminum or copper core won’t do you any good, so make sure you know what you’re buying.
I’m not saying you should shop like a professional chef, but you should think like one. Look for brands with years of high-quality manufacturing cookware and make a decision based on your budget. As with almost anything else, you will inevitably bump into poorly made pieces that aren’t even worth $10.
Stainless steel grade
Don’t be fooled, not all stainless steel is the same, and the price tag will reflect just that. If you check the bottom of a stainless steel pan, you will notice a grade stamped on it, stating just how much chromium and nickel were used. It’s crucial to check this as it will indicate its durability and resistance to corrosion and rust.
IMPORTANT: The added chromium and nickel improve cooking and durability features, but it also raises concerns for those who are allergic to nickel.
- 300 Series – It’s the most common stainless steel grade on the market and an indicator that the pots and pans will last for years.
- 304 stamp – It is stamped with an extra two numbers, either 18/8 or 18/10 (the first number indicates the percentage of chromium while the second number indicates the percentage of a nickel). 18/10 is the most common one.
- 316 stamp – The difference between 304 and 316 consists of the latter having an extra component added molybdenum or titanium. This will increase its resistance to corrosion but will also make it a tad pricier.
- 400 Serie – If the high level of nickel is a turnoff for you, then this type of stainless steel cookware is for you. Labeled with 18/0, it still contains around 0.75% nickel, so if you’re allergic, the safest way would be to switch to another type of cookware.
Number of pieces
How often do you cook? If you rely mostly on eating out or ordering in, buying 16-piece cookware might be too much. If you plan to go all-in, purchasing a set will usually save you some dollars instead of purchasing individual pieces.
Important: Lids, instruction manuals, and even cooking books count towards the final number of pieces in a set.
Size of pots & pans
How often do you cook? Are you short on space? The answer to these questions will help you decide what to buy.
A 12″ stainless steel frying pan is big enough to make it suitable for a ton of dishes, from an omelet to a stir-fried dinner.
A small 1.5-quart saucepan and a larger 4 quarts one are more than enough, even for daily use.
In the same scenario, a 5 quarts stockpot and an 8 one will suffice.
The material used in the core
Here we have two options: copper or aluminum. They are both great heat conductors, but copper is much more expensive, and this will be noticeable in the final price.
Aluminum has 61 percent of the conductivity of copper, but it doesn’t weigh that much, being around 30% lighter.
Full stainless steel, stainless steel, and glass or stainless steel with a silicone rim are the three most popular options.
A simple, minimal stainless steel lid will require minimal care and cleaning.
The stainless steel and glass duo is excellent is you want to take a sneak peek without lifting the lid, but it’s prone to breaking.
Stainless steel with a silicone rim lid has a great look, but it may be harder to clean.
Look for ergonomic handles that are also oven-safe and easy to clean. Avoid chunky, easy to maneuver handles since they tend to be accident-prone. Look for handles that are cool to touch when cooking so you can easily move it.
TIP: Riveted handles last longer compared to spot welded ones.
Appropriate for your cooktop type
Gas, electric, or induction, stainless steel cookware works perfectly on all of them.
IMPORTANT: Not all disc-bottomed cookware will work on an induction cooktop; make sure the bottom is metallic.
These are the most critical factors you should look for in a stainless cookware set. Do your homework, see what brands tickle your fancy, and keep an eye on them if you want to score a good deal.