Stainless steel’s durability, versatility, and responsiveness has made it a time-tested cookware material. Plus, it’s easy to maintain and use. You don’t need any fancy utensils or specific washing methods. Whatever you want to do in the kitchen, you can do it with stainless steel.
Fortunately, you don’t need to break the bank to get a decent stainless steel cookware set that lasts a lifetime. Many wallet-friendly options are available that can rub shoulders with premium brands.
Check out this guide to find the best stainless steel cookware sets of 2023 under $200.
What is the Best Budget Stainless Steel Cookware?
The best budget stainless steel cookware combines durability, even heat distribution, and affordability. Look for items with thick, multi-layered bottoms that conduct heat efficiently and high quality bonding of bases and handles.
The Calphalon 10-Piece Pots and Pans Set is among the best affordable stainless steel cookware. It cooks with rapid and even heat distribution and has excellent build quality.
Best Overall: Calphalon 10-Piece Cookware Set
This 10-piece, feature-packed stainless steel set is Calphalon’s most affordable collection, probably due to the impact-bonded bottom. The aluminum core is restricted to the base of this pan, rather than running through the sides. (Check out our detailed review of Calphalon’s fully clad stainless steel set!)
The stainless steel handles don’t heat up thanks to the V-shaped design that minimizes touch points with the body. These pots and pans are perfect for stove-to-oven cooking. They’re oven-safe and can tolerate temperatures of up to 450°F.
All the pots and pans in this set have measuring marks and easy-pour spouts, clever touches that make cooking easier.
If you have limited space or don’t need a 10-piece set, check out this Cuisinart collection. It has just about anything an average home chef may need for cooking. The plated bottom has an aluminum core sandwiched between two stainless steel layers, offering great heat distribution at the base.
However, you may experience uneven cooking since the aluminum core doesn’t run through the sides. Stainless steel’s limited heat conductivity prevents uniform heat distribution throughout the vessel.
The stainless steel lids fit snugly and have stay-cool handles. The contoured handles have a V-shaped design to remain cool and offer a perfect grip.
Best Starter Set: Cooks Standard Professional
I love the variety in this Cooks Standard set. The company allows you to pick an 8-piece set alone or with different additional parts to match your needs. Although the prices vary across the sets, you can get each for under $150.
The basic 8-piece set consists of two saucepans, one stockpot, and one saute pan, all with stainless steel lids. The impact-bonded bottom is made of an aluminum sheet encapsulated by two layers of stainless steel, offering excellent heat conduction and heating up fast.
What impressed me the most about this set is its excellent build quality. The pots and pans are heavy and don’t feel flimsy. The brushed exterior with the shiny strip around the rims makes a gorgeous contrast that I love.
The handles are difficult to grasp, though. The slightly sharp angle with the body makes the pots and pans feel heavier. However, they’re made of stainless steel, which doesn’t transfer heat and prevents them from heating.
Best Stainless Steel Skillet: DELARLO Whole body Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 8 inch Frying Pan
If you’re on a tight budget in search of a standalone stainless steel cookware piece, this skillet offers an affordable solution. You wouldn’t expect to get a skillet with such a sturdy construction and superb heat distribution at this price.
Unlike most wallet-friendly stainless steel cookware, this skillet is tri-ply, with an aluminum core running through the sides of the pan for even cooking. Its construction is durable but lightweight. This tri-ply stainless steel fry pan is deep enough to hold food, and the edges have a no-drip design.
Another great feature of this pan is the ergonomic handles screwed on the outside. This design has removed one of the most significant flaws of riveted cookware. Food doesn’t stick to the rivets, making it easy to clean. You can unscrew the handles and stack the pan more easily.
Best Stainless Steel Pot: T-fal E75846 Performa Dutch Oven
T-fal is a reputable brand and the go-to choice for many families. The quality of construction doesn’t disappoint, and the design has comfort and ease of use in mind. The same goes for this pot.
The pot has vented, tempered glass lids and measurements etched on to the walls of the side so you don’t have to estimate volumes with cooking.
The bottom may develop salt stains, which is common in many stainless steel products. If it’s annoying, you can clean it with Bar Keeper’s Friend and make it as good as new. The lids are ergonomic and easy to grip.
Best Stainless Steel Pan with Nonstick Coating: Cuisinart Chef’s Classic
This skillet is perfect for those who want the durability of stainless steel – but with a nonstick surface. After all, stainless steel can’t become 100% nonstick, no matter how carefully you preheat it. The coating on this pan is reinforced with titanium to offer more durability and better nonstick features.
The encapsulated bottom heats up fast and offers even heating, perfect for frying eggs and veggies. And although it’s lightweight enough to allow for stir-frying, it’s high-quality and sturdy.
The tapered rims allow for drip-free pouring, and the stainless steel handles remain cool during cooking. However, like other nonstick cookware, it can scratch if you use abrasives or metal utensils.
Best Ceramic-coated Stainless Steel Pan Set: Blue Diamond
Do you love the idea of kicking Teflon out of your home for good, but aren’t sure if you’re ready for the learning curve of cooking in uncoated stainless steel? In that case, this Blue Diamond ceramic set is right up your alley.
The 7-piece set I link to here is the best Blue Diamond stainless steel value for your money, but there are several options with differing pieces, and every set costs under $200.
The 7-piece set includes ceramic-coated stainless steel skillets of three sizes and a nice large saute pan. It’s ideal if you don’t want to invest in an entire pots and pans set but need different-size pans to fry different things simultaneously.
The Blue Diamond ceramic coating is free of PTFE, but made of diamond-reinforced silica. The tri-ply stainless steel means that its aluminum core runs through the entire vessel. This creates more even heat distribution while offering more durability than impact-bonded pans.
Best Tri-Ply Clad Stainless Steel Cookware: All-Clad
Okay, so this set is definitely not budget cookware. But if you’ve been sold on the wonders of stainless steel and want to invest in a set for a lifetime, this is a great one to choose. The premium workmanship of All-Clad has made it a reliable and high-rated brand that stands the test of time.
This set is made in the US of high-quality brushed stainless steel, combining quality and beauty. It’s also oven-safe and can handle 600°F. All Clad was the original manufacturer of tri-ply stainless steel pans, so their products have excellent thermal conduction, heating up fast and consistently without showing hot spots.
The stainless steel handles have a comfortable and ergonomic angle and stay cool while cooking. It’s also easy to clean and comes out as good as new after careful washing.
How to Get the Best Stainless Steel Pans For Your Money
If you’re on a tight budget, you may want to do extensive research to get the best cookware for your buck. Before taking the plunge, make sure stainless steel is what you’re after.
What Is Stainless Steel Cookware?
Stainless steel cookware isn’t made of a single element. Instead, it’s an alloy consisting of different materials at varying percentages.
Steel is a combination of iron and carbon, making it durable and strong. However, it’s prone to rusting, so manufacturers add chromium to give it the signature shine that makes the product stainless. Nickel also increases the steel’s brightness and corrosion resistance.
This resulting stainless steel sheet is still unsuitable for cooking due to its poor thermal conductivity. So, during a process called cladding, a layer of aluminum or copper is placed between two stainless steel sheets to achieve thermal conduction.
This process results in a product with many benefits, including:
Is Stainless Steel Nonstick?
Stainless steel can be nonstick. It takes trial and error to heat it to the perfect temperature and add the oil at the right time to achieve nonstick results.
Cookware can’t be truly non-stick – in the sense that food slides off it without using much oil – unless it’s coated in PTFE (black nonstick coating) or ceramic. Most ceramic or nonstick coated pans are made of aluminum, but there are a few made of more durable stainless steel.
What Makes Stainless Steel High Quality?
Not all stainless steel products are created equally. Since stainless steel is an alloy of different metals, manufacturers use varying combinations of metals, resulting in different qualities and price ranges.
Stainless Steel Grades
Manufacturers categorize stainless steel using numerical grades that show the composition and uses of the product. Food-grade stainless steel is available under these grades:
The copper or aluminum core added to stainless steel cookware makes it heat conductive. Copper has superior conduction qualities but costs way more than aluminum. However, the process can vary across manufacturers.
Like any other product, other factors, such as brand and design, determine stainless steel cookware quality and price.
Some brands are known as premium and cost more, while you can find budget-friendly alternatives with similar qualities. For example, Calphalon and Cuisinart are known as lower-cost equivalents of All-Clad.
Design and aesthetics also affect cost and quality. For example, the construction of handles, the exterior finish, and the lids can determine the general feel and functionality of the cookware.
Handles that don’t heat up, are riveted, and made at a perfect angle are coveted pieces that can make a big difference in your cooking experience.
Is Stainless Steel Cookware Worth the Money?
The short answer is a resounding yes! Many users opt for stainless steel because it’s highly durable and promotes healthy cooking. It doesn’t contain shady nonstick materials and is pretty straightforward to use.
Most stainless steel cookware is dishwasher and oven-safe, easy to clean, and versatile. You can use it for oven-to-stove cooking and pretty much every cooking method, including:
The only catch is that stainless steel isn’t nonstick. It takes time to get the hang of it and preheat it at the right temperature. But once you get there, you can rely on your stainless steel cookware to last a lifetime.
Is Cheap Stainless Steel Cookware Safe to Cook With?
Generally speaking, stainless steel is among the safest options to cook with. It doesn’t contain “forever chemicals” like PTFE nonstick pans do, but may react with acidic foods and release chromium and nickel, which can cause allergic reactions.
All the products covered in this article are made by reputable brands known for their quality materials.
Reputable brands manufacture their products with food-grade stainless steel that doesn’t pose health hazards. However, you should take caution if purchasing off-brand and knockoff products. These are made by shady manufacturers that don’t have rigorous quality control procedures. For example, the aluminum they use in their products could be contaminated with lead.
Definitely don’t buy PTFE-coated products from knockoff brands. If they don’t go through FDA approval, they may contain harmful chemicals not allowed by FDA. For example, they may contain PFOA, a component banned by the FDA.
Cheap Teflon coatings will flake off much faster than quality brands and can find their way into your food.
Stainless steel has become a staple in our cookware thanks to its durability, versatility, and ease of use. You may need to try different temperatures to achieve a nonstick surface on uncoated stainless steel, but it can be done. If you don’t want to mess with food sticking, you can also get stainless steel pans coated in ceramic, like those from Blue Diamond.
The good news is that decent quality stainless steel cookware is within the reach of most budgets.
#1 Recommendation: Calphalon 10-Piece Pots and Pans Set
The products recommended in this article are all budget-friendly and high quality. My favorites are Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless Steel Collection and Calphalon 10-Piece Pots and Pans Set, which are beginner-friendly, durable, and easy to use.
If you have any questions regarding the best budget stainless steel cookware, please share your comments below.