When you think of cookware, stainless steel is probably the first that comes to mind. When you fled the nest, it’s probably the first thing you bought, inherited or received as a gift.
There’s a good reason. Stainless steel is the “work horse” of cookware materials. They resist stains, rust and corrosion. They’re easy to clean and pretty hard to damage. You can use steel wool to work out stubborn stains and they generally boast being dishwasher safe.
Stainless steel pots are a staple for boiling water for pasta and steaming or boiling vegetables. The frying pans can handle higher heats, which make them an ideal choice for searing meat. The big con with the frying pans is you usually have to use a fair amount of oil/butter to make sure your food doesn’t stick.
18/8 or 18/10?
Food grade stainless steel is either 18/8 or 18/10. These numbers represent the number of chromium and nickel (respectively) in the steel. 18/10 is more pure and is sometimes referred to as “surgical grade” or “surgical steel.” This is the steel you want to choose if you are concerned about “leaching” or metallic contamination. 18/8 is still recognized as food grade and considered safe for use.
If you are looking for 18/10 stainless steel, you’ll have to do some research on the brand. There are different standards on items manufactured in China. Sometimes 18/10 stainless steel products that are made in China have been tested and reported to be closer to 18/8.
Tri-ply or five-ply?
Try to pick a stainless steel pan that has at least three layers (tri-ply). It’s usually a layer of stainless on the outside, a layer of aluminum on the inside (because aluminum is a great conductor of heat), and a layer of stainless on the inside. Some stainless steel cookware says it’s five-ply.
Although there are five- and even seven-ply cookware lines out there, some less expensive brands count the bonding materials as a “ply” in order to label a tri-ply as five-ply. Often, if you look at the rim of the cookware, you can see the different layers and count them to double check.
The dreaded aluminum pan
Some of you probably cringe when you hear “aluminum” based on a rumor that it leads to dementia. The Alzheimer Society of Canada says there is no evidence to support this claim. Read about it here.
If that doesn’t convince you, you can rest assured knowing the aluminum doesn’t come in contact with the food. Or you can shell out the extra clams for a copper interior. Copper, after all, is a better conductor of heat.
When shopping for stainless steel, here are some things to look for and ask about:
- Will it work on my stove? (If you have an induction cooktop, you need to ask this first.)
- Is the handle comfortable?
- Is the handle too long to fit in my cupboard? (Seriously. Sometimes it’s too long to fit.)
- Is it made of 18/10 or 18/8? (If this is important to you.)
- Where is it made?
- How many layers does it have?
- What is the core material?
Should you buy a set or individual pieces?
Unless a set is on sale for a significantly lower price, you don’t save a ton of money buying in bulk.
Look at the pieces included in the set. If you aren’t going to use all of them, you are actually spending more money than you would if you bought useful pieces individually.
Say you really want a sautee pan, but you already have a good pasta pot. If you look at a set that has a pasta pot, but no sautee pan, you’ll probably end up buying the pan in addition to the set. Now, you’ll be left with an extra pot you don’t need and you spent more money than the set anyway.
If you see a set with everything you want, congratulations. Go ahead and buy the set.
This doesn’t happen often though. The cookware companies are smart. They usually leave out desirable items.
Sets make great gifts for newlyweds and children fleeing the nest, but you’re usually better off buying individual pieces.