Stainless steel, an alloy of steel and chromium, is well-deserving of its popularity in modern kitchens. In this guide, we'll walk you through what makes stainless steel pans excellent, how to use them properly, what to do when pesky (but easily remedied) stains show up, and—most importantly—how to choose stainless steel cookware that is right for you.
Why Stainless Steel?
They can go in the oven, on induction hobs, and last for long stretches of time. (While you can put them in the dishwasher, we wouldn't recommend it, as harsh dishwasher detergent and hard water wears the metal down.) Since stainless steel pans are non-reactive, you can cook high-acid foods, like tomato sauce or lemony braises or baked beans, without worrying about discolouration or metallic tastes. Soups, stews, chillies, curries, anything with a high liquid-to-solid ratio—anything at all, really—is well taken care of by stainless steel. Yes, that includes eggs, which are known to cling to stainless steel pans, as well as steaks and other foods that require a good sear. It just requires a bit of know-how.
Cooking with Stainless Steel
As a general practice when cooking with stainless steel, heat the pan on low, then add your cooking oil. Make sure to only increase the heat *after* the oil is in, otherwise your pan runs the risk of warping. Once the oil is hot, add your food. This more or less guarantees food will cook beautifully and not cling to the pan. Another way you can aid this process is to make sure food isn't too cold before you add it to the pan. For example, when taking meat or vegetables out of the fridge, let it sit on your countertop for 10 to 15 minutes so it can adjust to room temperature; that way it makes a smoother transition to a hot pan. One of the best things about a (high-quality) stainless steel pan is that it guides your cooking—for example, food will release from the pan once it's nicely browned, and that's the ideal time to turn it over. To force this too soon means sub-par taste and unwanted messiness.
One thing you have to watch out in a stainless steel pot is pitting, which are little pockmarks that occur when water reacts with chlorine (a component in salt). They won't make your pan unusable, but these blemishes can spread and are difficult to remove. To avoid them, make sure to only add salt *after* water comes to a boil, as the high temperature of boiling water means there is not enough oxygen to provoke this reaction.
You can use any oil you'd like in a stainless steel pan, but do note that extra-virgin olive oil and sesame oil burn at a lower temperature that other oils, so pay attention to how hot your pan feels when using oil and adjust the heat accordingly. But most importantly, use oil! Though brushed stainless steel will release food (and clean up easier) than polished stainless steel, it still needs a good glug of oil.
Hob & Oven Compatibility
Stainless steel pans work on gas, electric, and ceramic hobs as well as the AGA. They work on induction hobs as long as the pan is made from ferritic (magnetic) steel. To check this, see if a magnet attaches to the bottom of your stainless steel pan. We only stock stainless steel cookware that's compatible with induction hobs.
Stainless steel pans are oven compatible too, though it varies by brand. Mauviel's M'Cook range can withstand up to 360°C in the oven, while All Clad's stainless steel pans can withstand up to 315°C. Silampos stainless steel pans are oven-safe up to 200°C.
Cleaning & Maintaining
While stainless steel is easy to maintain because it won’t chip, scratch, or warp very easily, that doesn't mean it could *never* happen. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you cook, and how to properly clean any stains or marks of wear-and-tear:
- Always make sure the pan has cooled before you clean it (with soap, water, and a sponge). This is because placing a hot pan under cold water causes thermal shock, which could risk warping the pan
- For stubborn stuck-on bits, soak your pan in water and soap for some time so it softens, then clean with a sponge or brush. Avoid harsh scourers like steel wool unless absolutely necessary, as they could scratch the pan
- Water spots happen when the metal has prolonged contact with the oxygen in water. To avoid these, dry your pan as soon as you're done washing it. To get rid of them, add a bit of baking soda to the pan, then wash it with water and a sponge
- If you notice chalky white spots on your pan, it's usually the steel reacting with calcium, an ingredient in hard water (looking at you, London). To get rid of them, you need something acidic like vinegar or lemon juice. Add a mix of vinegar or lemon juice and water to your pan (1 part acid, 2 parts water). Bring to a boil, let it cool, then wash as normal. This trick also works for when your pan takes on a 'rainbow' hue, a result of overheating
- For general polishing and bringing your pans back to mint condition, a stainless steel cleaner like this one from Mauviel is your best bet
What Is 'Tri-Ply', 'Multi-Ply', or '5-Ply'?
Because stainless steel is not a good conductor of heat on its own, it is often layered with a heat-conducting metal like aluminium or copper (the best!). 'Ply' refers to that layer of metal—so tri-ply means three layers, and five-ply means five.
Before All-Clad invented the first tri-ply pan in the 1970s, stainless steel pans mostly had sandwich bases, meaning the heat-conducting layer of aluminium was only at the base of the pan, closest to the hob. But the heat conducting layer of aluminium or copper in multi-ply pans extend to the rims of the pan, resulting in quicker heating and more even distribution of that heat.
In our stainless steel range, we carry tri-ply and five-ply pans, as they have different benefits that suit different cooking preferences and price points. Tri-ply pans are more lightweight, and because there is less metal for the heat to get through, these pans tend to heat up faster. Five-ply pans are heavier and take slightly longer to heat up, but they retain and distribute that heat much better. For example, a pasta dish in a five-ply pan will stay warmer of longer once off the hob. Their heft also makes it less likely to warp, especially on induction hobs.
Brushed vs. Polished
There are two kinds of stainless steel finishes: brushed and polished. Both styles function similarly, but brushed stainless steel is slightly easier to clean because the slightly textured surface prevents dirt from sticking as stubbornly. It also does not capture as many fingerprints. All the stainless steel pans we stock at Borough Kitchen have brushed interiors, and the exteriors vary. Exteriors come down to preference—some prefer the matt look of brushed stainless steel (and that inability to catch fingerprints), while others prefer the classic shine of a polished stainless steel pan.
The Best Stainless Steel Pots & Pans on the Market
We tested a lot of different stainless steel pots and pans before deciding which ones met our standards of function, quality, and durability. From there, we separated them into our 'best of the best' and 'best of value' camps.
Our 'best of the best' range of pans from Mauviel and All-Clad tick off all the boxes: They respond to heat beautifully, have thoughtful design features, are made of highest-quality raw materials, and last for decades upon decades of daily use. Our 'best of value' range from Silampos is also excellent. It ranks well in heat responsiveness, good design, and longevity, but lacks certain features that make them as exceptional (and expensive) as our ranges from Mauviel and All-Clad. Simply put, they are the best stainless steel pans you can get at the most affordable price point.
Every pan in this fantastic 5-ply range from Mauviel has two outer layers of induction-friendly stainless steel and three inner layers of heat-responsive aluminium. The middle layer of that aluminium is pure, meaning there is no adhesive agent in it that slightly weakens its power. Curved pouring rims provide drip-free pouring, and comfortable, stay-cool handles mould to your hand. High-quality stainless steel that’s polished on the outside but brushed on the inside (for stick-resistance) makes clean-up simple. Designed for European kitchens, Mauviel pans stack together neatly for efficient storage. Shop Mauviel M'Cook pans and sets here.
Since All-Clad introduced the world to tri-ply technology, they are masters of the craft and offer a few different ranges of stainless steel cookware. The following three are our favourites from their roster.
D3 / Tri-Ply: The pans in All-Clad's original tri-ply range feel light to lift but are sturdy, with comfortable handles that mould to an underhanded grip and stay cool on the hob. The stainless steel on the exterior is polished, while the interior has a brushed finish that makes it stick-resistant and easy to clean. Shop All-Clad D3 / Tri-Ply pans and sets here.
D5: This 5-ply range was designed with the high heat of induction hobs in mind. It has 18/10 stainless steel exteriors with two heavy-gauge layers of heat-responsive aluminium in the middle, plus a core of stainless steel, which diffuses and spreads heat evenly and prevents warping. This also results in excellent heat retention, so your food stays warm long after you take it off the hob and to the table. Both the inner and outer parts of these pans are finished with brushed stainless steel. Shop All-Clad D5 pans and sets here.
Copper Core: Copper is the best heat conductor out there. That's why All-Clad’s Copper Core range, which features a copper layer sandwiched between two layers of aluminium and stainless steel, is truly one-of-a-kind when it comes to heat responsiveness and even distribution. The shapes and finishes of these pans are similar to the D3/Tri-Ply range, but it has the added benefit of vented handles that stay even cooler as you cook. Shop All-Clad Copper Core pans and sets here.
Made in Portugal since 1951, Silampos pans are clad, from base to rim, with three layers of metal: non-reactive and induction-compatible stainless steel on the outside with a core of heat-responsive aluminium. The stainless steel is polished on the outside for a mirror finish, but brushed on the inside for enhanced stick-resistance. The vented, recessed handle stays cool as you cook, and a curved rim prevents liquids from trailing along the side of the pan when pouring. Shop Silampos pans and sets here.