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The best fully clad stainless steel cookware you can buy

The best fully clad stainless steel cookware you can buy
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  • Dependable, versatile, and attractive, stainless steel cookware is very popular in the kitchen - but not all pieces are constructed equally.
  • Stainless steel cookware that's fully clad heats ingredients more uniformly and retains heat more effectively while resisting warping.
  • Constructed of five alternating layers of stainless steel and aluminum, the All-Clad D5 Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set is our top pick. It lives up to its famous name with even heating, stability, durability, and a lovely silvery sheen.

Stainless steel is great for cookware construction: It's nonreactive, durable, and easy to clean. A downside is that stainless steel conducts heat poorly. Metals like aluminum and copper deliver much better thermal conductivity. Unfortunately, these metals are softer and reactive with acidic ingredients, thus possibly leaching into foods and causing health issues. On top of that, they are high-maintenance.

Cladding offers the best of all worlds by fusing together layers of different metals to harness their strengths while compensating for their weaknesses. With clad stainless steel cookware, copper and aluminum serve as heat conductors when bonded between layers of stainless steel. And the external stainless steel layers make the cookware stronger and sturdier overall.

Fully clad stainless steel cookware is built with these layers of metals throughout each piece's body - along the bottom and up the sidewalls to the rim. In contrast, bottom-clad ones are layered only at the base. Cooking with bottom-clad stainless steel pots and pans is perfectly fine, but their stainless-steel-only walls don't spread and retain heat well.

Kate Williams - formerly of America's Test Kitchen and current editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen - explained, "When you're cooking anything that is going to need some even heat from your pot or pan's sides, such as a thick braise or a custard, you'll want to pull out fully-clad cookware. [Recipes to be cooked] over low heat will also turn out best cooked in such a vessel; the increased insulation from the multiple layers of metal will help […] maintain an even temperature."

Alas, fully clad stainless steel cookware can be expensive. When researching these cookware sets, you should consider factors that affect performance and price, like the following:

  • Ply or number of layers in cladding: Tri-ply cladding has three layers (such as aluminum sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel) while five-ply has five fused layers (for example, stainless steel, aluminum, copper, aluminum, stainless steel). Five-ply cladding, which conducts and retains heat better, is sturdier and more resistant to warping, but more expensive, slower to heat up, and according to the cooking pros we consulted for this guide, not necessarily crucial for better cooking. Seven-ply cladding is available in very high-end models as well.
  • Metals used in cladding: Copper has slightly better heat conductivity than aluminum, but be aware that copper is more expensive.
  • Thickness of sidewalls and overall weight: The thicker the walls, the better the thermal conductivity and insulation. A good test is to pick up a pot or pan and see how it feels - you want it to have a bit of heft. A heavier piece is more likely to have substantial cladding; a lightweight piece has thin cladding. Also, tap the bottom of the pot or pan: A low-quality piece emits a "clang" and a higher-quality piece produces a "thud."
  • Number and types of pieces in the set: Since fully clad stainless steel cookware isn't cheap, you may want to stick with just the basics in order to keep costs down. But if you have the desire to invest in more pieces, you'll have more flexibility to prepare a greater variety of recipes, either one at a time or simultaneously.

We interviewed a former prep cook and consulted culinary equipment sites that specifically focus on and test cooking equipment to explore fully clad stainless steel cookware sets.

Here are our top picks for the best fully clad stainless steel cookware sets:

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