Best Stainless Steel Cookware Without an Aluminum Surface – 2021 Guide

stainless steel pan on a gas stove

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In recent reports, there has been an increasing write-up about the dangers of using aluminum-made cookware. Combined with a higher level of concern for health nowadays, many people have taken an active role in avoiding aluminum-based pots and pans.

This, combined with the popularity of stainless steel cookware and manufacturers’ tendency to infuse aluminum in them, have made it important to search for stainless steel cookware pieces without the presence of aluminum.

But how dangerous is aluminum actually, and in what way when used is it the most dangerous? More generally, what would you look for in the best non-toxic cookware?

In this article, we answer all of your doubts, and more. We’ll do an overview of the safety of using aluminum in your stainless steel cookware for peace of your mind. Then, we’ll look at the list of our top picks, and some tips on how to choose the right one for yourself.

For the best overall, we would recommend the Signature line from Calphalon. In our opinion, they offer the best quality and value for the price tag.

If you’re looking to go a little lower in terms of budget, the Cuisinart Multiclad Pro series is a really good pick as well. Hardly sacrificing anything compared to the Calphalon, it offers really good value at an affordable price.

To skip straight to the full list, click here. Or if you need guidance picking the right one for your use cases, read our tips further down the article.

Firstly, Is Stainless Steel Cookware Any Good?

For a typical home cook, it’s about as good as any cookware material can get.

For starters, it is very low maintenance. It doesn’t scratch easily and doesn’t rust – the top two reasons for ruined cookware in a home kitchen. This means that you don’t have to worry about using metal utensils, or wiping it dry after washing.

Stainless steel is also lightweight, which makes it very easy to cook with it. If the piece you’re getting also comes with steel handles, it is practically oven-safe with no temperature limit!

If you cook a lot of acidic food, you would also benefit from the non-reactivity of stainless steel. This means that no matter what kinds of food you cook in it, it will never leach anything into what you’re cooking. The absence of any non-stick coating, due to stainless steel’s mild natural non-stick properties, is also a safety advantage and allows you to use it on very high heat.

Unless you have a preference or regularly employ a specific style of cooking that requires another type of cookware material, stainless steel really is the best all-around for most home cooks.

two rusty pans hung on the wall
If you hate dealing with rusty cookware, stainless steel is the material to go for.

Even More Important Question – Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe?

If you’re looking high and low for the safest stainless steel cookware and don’t know what to look for – we have a simple answer for you. Stainless steel is safe by itself, which makes pretty much all of the cookware made using it safe!

To know why this is, and how it’s safer than most other types of cookware material, we have to dive a little into its chemistry.

Because stainless steel has a high melting point, over 2500°F, there is no way you’re able to reach that in your home kitchen. In contrast, most aluminum pieces are coated with Teflon, which starts to break down at over 500°F. Even the safer alternative – ceramic coating – is able to withstand only up to 850°F. This means that stainless steel is very stable and will not break down even with very high heat cooking.

Apart from that, stainless steel is also non-reactive. This is where it really shines. Most other bare cookware materials, including cast iron, unlined copper, and yes, aluminum, will react with foods, especially acidic ones. This means that you won’t have to worry about unwanted chemicals leaching into your foods when cooking with stainless steel.

The Concern with Aluminum in Stainless Steel Cookware

So, stainless steel itself is safe, while bare aluminum is reactive and leaches into your food. So, does that mean you should be concerned with anything infused with aluminum when you’re shopping?

Generally, not at all. For most cases, it isn’t a concern.

While it’s true, bare aluminum leaches the metal into your food, but most aluminum used in cookware isn’t even bare to begin with. Many manufacturers put their aluminum pieces under a process known as anodizing, which coats the aluminum with an oxide finish that is non-reactive. Others coat it with Teflon or ceramic, and while they have their own concerns with high heat, that’s another topic, and the non-stick materials themselves are also non-reactive.

Now in a scenario where aluminum does leach into your food, there is little cause for concern as well.

Believe it or not, you’re already consuming trace amounts of aluminum every day! There is around 30-50 milligrams in any average adult body, and most even consume about 7-9 milligrams per day. To add onto that, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reassured that using aluminum in food preparation is absolutely safe.

But there is a caveat – anything in high dosage is toxic, including aluminum. If you’re still worried about that possibility, here is what you should know when shopping to avoid aluminum in your stainless steel pieces.

Because the only real concern with aluminum is its reactivity with food, you should only stay away from cookware which uses aluminum in its cooking surface. If it’s one that encapsulates an aluminum core in between its stainless steel layers, that is completely safe to use. Because the aluminum doesn’t ever come into contact with your food, it has no chance of reacting with it. The only thing you’re getting here is an added benefit of better heat conductivity.

tomato sauce and egg in a pan
Bare aluminum reacts with acidic foods like tomato or meats.

Shopping Guide: What to Look For in Stainless Steel Cookware

There aren’t many differences between shopping for stainless steel cookware in general, versus the ones that don’t have an aluminum surface. You just have to make sure they don’t actually have aluminum in the cooking surface (duh?).

For that reason we’ll list some of the general tips when purchasing a stainless steel cookware.

Metal Core

Because stainless steel itself sucks at conducting heat, a core made out of another material is usually necessary for proper performance.

The common one is aluminum, and is perfectly safe when used as the core material. If you’ve missed the part where we explain why it is, basically aluminum is only potentially harmful if used as the cooking surface. As the core never touches your food, it is absolutely safe.

Another type of core quite commonly found is copper. It is the king of heat conductivity, winning aluminum, but is more pricey.

Both materials work great, and is a matter of choice and budget.

Stainless Steel Grade

If you’re familiar with stainless steel, you would know it comes in different grades.

Basically, the minimum food-grade stainless steel cookware is the 200 series. However, most manufacturers use at least the 300 series nowadays, with higher-end ones making 18/10 grade stainless steel the de-facto high-grade cookware material.

What these two numbers represent is actually the composition percentage of chromium as well as nickel, respectively. 18/10 simply means that the steel has 18% chromium and 10% nickel in it. 304 food-grade stainless steel consists of no other substances e.g. aluminum.

In the 400 series where nickel is not used at all, or in the lower 200 series, the stainless steel surface will be more susceptible to corrosion.

Number of Layers

The standard for decent quality stainless steel cookware is to be built out of three layers. This usually consists of two outer layers of stainless steel, encapsulating a layer of some other type of conductive metal, such as aluminum. This is because stainless steel, by itself, is a very poor heat conductor.

That being said, single layer stainless steel cookware does exist too, usually found in more budget-friendly options. In this case, manufacturers insert an aluminum base at the bottom of the cookware to improve heat conductivity.

If possible, we always suggest going for at least three layers, even going up to five if you can afford it. The extra even heat distribution plus durability is worth it in the long run.

two stainless steel pots on a surface
Getting yourself high-grade, multi-layer stainless steel is a good long-term investment.

Induction Compatibility

As stainless steel is not magnetic, it lacks the ability to be used on induction stove tops.

Luckily, manufacturers are able to add this feature onto stainless steel by plating the bottom with a magnetized base. If induction compatibility is important to you, make sure to look out for this!

Our Top Picks of Best Stainless Steel Cookware Without an Aluminum Surface

Because we’re talking about stainless steel cookware in general, our list will consist only of cookware sets instead of individual pieces. If you’re not looking to purchase an entire set, no worries, simply search for the one piece you need in the same series that we mention and get that one only! The series name is highlighted in bold for every recommendation we have.

Best Overall: Calphalon Signature 10-Piece Set

Calphalon has always been a favorite brand of ours. Every piece they put out never seems to disappoint, and this holds true with this Signature line of theirs.

Comes in a brushed finish, you can immediately tell that it’s high quality. If you look into the details you’d be even more pleased. The construction is made up of five layers – two outer stainless steel encapsulating three aluminum core layers – extremely durable and responsive to heat.

It also checks all the other boxes as well. It is usable on induction stove tops, is oven-safe with no practical temperature limit, and is also dishwasher-safe. The handle is also really comfortable to hold and because it is also brushed stainless steel, stays cool even over heat.

While yes, it is expensive and requires more thought before actually pulling the trigger and making the purchase, it completely pays for itself in the long run in our opinion. We crown this as the best stainless steel cookware with aluminum core layers.

Included pieces:

  • 8” frying pan
  • 10” frying pan
  • 2-qt sauce pan with cover
  • 3-qt sauce pan with cover
  • 3-qt sauté pan with cover
  • 8-qt stock pot with cover


  • Durable five-layer construction
  • Three layers of inner aluminum core for precise event heating
  • Brushed exterior finish looks really good
  • Compatible with induction cooktops
  • Oven-safe with no practical temperature limit (excluding lid)
  • Dishwasher-safe


  • Expensive, but worth the price

Best Runner Up: Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 12-Piece Set

This cookware set from Cuisinart, as part of their Multiclad Pro line, is made of polished 18/10-grade stainless steel. Unlike the Calphalon, this is only tri-ply which means it is not as thick and durable, and can be more easily affected by temperature shock (warping due to change in temperature too quickly, e.g. rinsing hot pan with cool water).

Other than that though, there isn’t much to complain about these pieces. The heating is quick thanks to the aluminum core – albeit not as evenly heated as the Calphalon – and provides a good cooking experience.

It also comes in sets of lower piece count if you don’t need the full set and would wish to save a little more, namely 7-piece and 10-piece at the time of writing.

All in all, it’s a really great full set cookware that offers almost as good as an experience as the Calphalon Signature series for the average home cook, while staying affordable.

Pieces included:

  • 1.5-qt saucepan with cover
  • 3-qt saucepan with cover
  • 8” open skillet
  • 10” open skillet
  • 3.5-qt sauté pan with cover
  • 8-qt stockpot with cover and steamer insert


  • Triple-layer construction with an aluminum core in between two 18/10 grade stainless steel layers
  • Polished surface makes the pieces bling
  • Tapered rims for drip-free pouring
  • Compatible with induction cooktops
  • Oven-safe for up to 550°F
  • Dishwasher-safe


  • Triple-layer construction is less durable than the preferred five-layer and is more susceptible to temperature shock
  • Handle is not as ergonomic and can get hot

Second Best Runner Up: Lagostina Tri-Ply 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set

If you’re still hunting for even more budget-friendly bargains, this Lagostina cookware set is about as low as we would recommend if you still want tri-ply stainless steel.

This set offered by the Italian cookware brand is surprisingly high-quality, at such an affordable price. To add onto that, it is a full set that will let you accomplish many cooking styles at home, all with a tri-ply durable construction.

A minor thing that may not matter to some which I think is worth pointing out, the frying pans included in the set actually comes with lids! Many cookware sets of this size do not include them, so with this set from Lagostina you’re able to take advantage of the lids and do some steaming.

If you’re getting this for use on induction stoves, do take note that the linked listing has a few options, and induction only works with the glass lid or metal lid options, but not the copper ones!

Pieces included:

  • 8.5” skillet with cover
  • 10” skillet
  • 2-qt saucepan with cover
  • 3-qt saucepan with cover
  • 3.5-qt sauté pan with cover
  • 8-qt stockpot with cover and steamer insert


  • Triple-layer construction, with an aluminum core in between two 18/10-grade stainless steel layers
  • Handles stay cool when cooking
  • Flared lips for dripless pouring
  • Compatible with induction cooktops
  • Oven-safe for up to 500°F excluding lid, and 350°F with lid
  • Dishwasher-safe


  • Due to the thinner construction, will be more prone to temperature shocks and warping
  • Doesn’t look as premium as the ones from Calphalon or Cuisinart
  • Not as sturdy as the more expensive options

Best Under $100: Cooks Standard Classic 9-Piece Set

Honestly, this is one of the best stainless steel cookware without an aluminum surface under $100 that you can buy right now, if not the best.

Many of the budget-friendly options we have seen on the market either have bad quality control issues, or downright unacceptable construction and performance. This, on the other hand, manages to deliver a good experience with a low price tag.

One thing to note is that the pieces are only constructed out of a single layer of stainless steel, as expected in this price range. What you’re losing out here is mainly the durability, as well as the heat distribution and retention that comes from having conductive metal all around the cookware. This is also even more susceptible to temperature shock than the Cuisinart tri-ply set.

Other than that though, it really is a great cookware set. The handles are also ergonomic and comfortable to hold which is a plus. Considering some of the expensive sets can’t even get this right!

Pieces included:

  • 1.5-qt saucepan with cover
  • 3-qt saucepan with cover
  • 6-qt stockpot with cover
  • Steamer insert with cover (fits into the 1.5-qt and 3-qt saucepan)
  • 10” frying pan


  • Made of high-quality food-grade 18/10 stainless steel
  • Ergonomic handles
  • Oven-safe for up to 500°F excluding lid, and 350°F with lid
  • Compatible with induction cooktops
  • Dishwasher-safe


  • Only single layer so loses out on durability and thickness
  • Only an aluminum base instead of an encapsulated metal core, which makes heating less even and only focused on the bottom

Best Nickel-Free: HOMI CHEF 14-Piece Set

In terms of nickel-free stainless steel cookware, there really aren’t many on the market. This is mainly due to the fact once you remove the nickel content from stainless steel, they’re more prone to corrosion and would generally have a shorter lifespan.

However if you are looking for one like this, the HOMI CHEF set is one of the better ones we have come across that is being sold.

Built with 430 grade nickel-free stainless steel, all pieces included with this set do not have nickel in them. If that’s what you’re looking for, perfect. But do note that this makes them prone to corrosion, which is evident in the complaints where many were saying that the bottom started chipping off. Do keep this in mind if you do decide to go with this!

Pieces included:

  • 1.5-qt saucepan with cover
  • 2.5-qt saucepan with cover
  • 8-qt stockpot with cover
  • 8” frying pan
  • 9.5” sauté pan with cover
  • 5 stainless steel utensils


  • Sacrifices corrosion resistance for the absence of nickel in its stainless steel content
  • Only a single layer of stainless steel all around the cookware pieces, with the base layered with aluminum for heat conductivity
  • Compatible with induction cooktops
  • Oven-safe for up to 400°F (excluding lids)
  • Dishwasher-safe


  • Complaints of the inner surface chipping away – which is expected of nickel-free cookware that is prone to corrosion, and is something that should be kept in mind

Best Splurge: All-Clad Brushed D5 10-Piece Set

Finally, if you have the bucks to spend on the highest quality of cookware, this full set from All-Clad will keep you happy for many, many years down the road. Understandably out of budget for most of us, this is more suited for those who take cooking very seriously and would love a professional grade cookware set.

All-Clad is famous for making really high-quality cookware, all done in the US, and this one is no exception. Crafted in their factory in Pennsylvania, each cookware piece is made with five layers of alternating stainless steel and aluminum. This construction not only makes it durable and warp-resistant, it also improves the heat conductivity and retention of the pieces.

The joy of using them cannot simply be described with words. Once you hold them in your hand, the weight and balance is just right, making for very good kitchen experiences. They also feel sturdier and more durable than any other offering out there – including our best overall recommendation of the Calphalon. Not to mention this set has the absolute best stainless steel pan out there. Balanced, heats quickly and evenly, and naturally non-stick by just using a little oil.

If you have the budget for it and enjoy cooking as a hobby, definitely consider splurging for these. It is something you will not regret!

Pieces included:

  • 8” frying pan
  • 10” frying pan
  • 1.5-qt saucepan with cover
  • 3-qt saucepan with cover (which fits on the 8” fry pan)
  • 3-qt sauté pan with cover
  • 8-qt stock pot with cover


  • Five-layer construction with alternating layers of stainless steel and aluminum to hold and distribute heat across the cookware
  • Every piece has a brushed exterior and is very well constructed with thick materials that prevent warping
  • Excellent feel and balance in the hands
  • Flared edges for drip-free pouring
  • Handles are ergonomic and stay cool when cooking
  • Compatible with induction cooktops
  • Oven-safe for up to 600°F
  • Dishwasher-safe


  • The price tag is the only downside, really

How to Pick For Your Use Case?

In most of our top picks articles, we would go ahead with a roundup at the end of the list and help readers like you decide which one is the right one for yourself. However in this case, the decision is pretty easy actually. It all comes down to your budget.

Because all of the sets mentioned here are built impressively well, we recommend going down this list and stopping at the one which price you feel the most comfortable paying for:

For most home cooks who have the cash to spend, the Calphalon Signature set would be the best overall. Even though the All-Clad Brushed D5 set is better-built and more premium, it’s probably overkill for most, and would be reserved only for those serious about cooking and are looking for the absolute best tools to accompany their skills in the kitchen.

Generally, we wouldn’t recommend the HOMI CHEF cookware set for most people, unless you’re looking specifically for a nickel-free stainless steel cookware set. Because they lack nickel, pieces in that set are highly prone to corrosion.

Wrap Up

There you have it, our list of top picks for the best stainless steel cookware without an aluminum surface.

Now it’s time to pick up one for yourself, and start enjoying cooking with your new stainless steel pieces – aluminum-free. Be sure to skim through our short guide and click through the links to check the latest prices.

If you’re still unsatisfied and you’re looking for something other than stainless steel, its not-so-distant sibling, carbon steel instantly comes into mind. Whether you’re looking for carbon steel pans or carbon steel woks, the material handles all kinds of cooking well – the prime reason it is quickly becoming the favorite of even professional chefs.

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