The Scoop on Stainless Steel Cookware

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In a previous post I mentioned that stainless steel can leach aluminum. I was really surprised at the amount of questions and comments that generated! Leaching from stainless steel cookware might be a significant issue if you are attempting to heal a sensitive person, but honestly I have never really tackled the issue in my kitchen. My stock pots are starting to pit and look a bit worn, so it's time to invest in some new ones and to do a little more learning. GNOWFGLINS.com

In a previous post I mentioned that stainless steel can leach aluminum. I was really surprised at the amount of questions and comments that generated!

I had read that leaching from stainless steel cookware might be a significant issue if you are attempting to heal a sensitive person (like my daughter who has been on GAPS for over 2 years), but honestly I have never really tackled the issue in my kitchen. Those big pots are expensive, and the ones I own are average quality.

Now, after over 2 years on GAPS my stock pots are starting to pit and look a bit worn, and I am feeling a little bit uneasy about the amount of broth we are cooking in them. It’s time to invest in some new ones and to do a little more learning.

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is actually a low carbon, iron based steel which has other metals mixed in to increase its corrosion resistance and strength. It always contains at least 10% chromium. Other metals can include nickel, manganese, aluminum, silicon, and sulphur. The combination of metals determines the grade of the stainless steel.

Cookware With a Core

Stainless steel does not conduct heat well, so cookware is usually made with an aluminum or copper core. A sheet of aluminum or copper sandwiched between the stainless steel improves the pot’s heating ability.

The aluminum or copper core only becomes an issue if the pot is scratched, grooved, or worn to expose it. If your pot is rusting or if there are signs that the core is wearing through, it is time to replace the pot because it’s probably leaching those metals into your food.

What Are Those Numbers on The Bottom?

Those numbers you see on the bottom of your pot are actually a clue to the grade of stainless steel. These numbers specifically refer to the amount of chromium and nickel blended into the stainless steel. For example, the numbers 18/10 show that the pot is comprised of 18% chromium, and 10% nickel.

The grade of stainless steel identifies how corrosive it is. 18/8 and 18/10 indicate that the pot is part of the 300 series of stainless steel. With a higher amount of nickel, the 300 series is more resistant to corrosion and rust. A pot stamped 18/0 is part of the 400 series. With less nickel, these pots are more vulnerable to corrosion; they are also magnetic. 200 series stainless steel is considered low quality and made with manganese instead of nickel.

Leaching and Choices

Through normal wear and tear, the metals in stainless steel will leach into food. Cooking acidic foods will cause the pot to leach higher amounts. In general, nickel leaches in higher amounts than the other metals.

Knowing that all stainless steel leaches to some degree means that when cooking for a particularly sensitive or compromised individual, quality enamelware or ceramic cookware may be a better choice. Especially if you are cooking large amounts of broth and soup for healing purposes. If you have a nickel allergy you may need to avoid stainless steel entirely.

When shopping for stainless steel cookware, try to avoid the 200 series. It corrodes easily, is not durable, and contains manganese which can be extremely toxic. The 300 series is the most common and the considered the most durable. It is also highest in nickel.

Even though the 400 series is said to be less durable, it’s small amount of nickel makes it the safest choice.

Also Noteworthy

As with anything else, it is best to check the country of origin of your cookware. Imported cookware will be made from metals sourced, heated and poured under different regulations. If you are purchasing cookware from a country outside of the U.S., it would be best to research the specific manufacturing guidelines of that country. An informed decision is always a safer one.

The decision on whether or not to use stainless steel is completely individual. We can’t all afford the fancy cookware, and we may not all need it. My home has experienced significant healing while cooking massive amounts of broth in 300 series stainless steel stock pots. But now that they are beginning to wear, I think it is time to replace them with something a little safer.

Do you already have a favorite stainless steel cookware brand? Or do you use something else for your stove top? I’m not sure yet what I will choose to replace my worn pots. Let me know your recommendations in the comments.

This post may contain affiliate links. We only recommend products and services we wholeheartedly endorse. Thank you for supporting Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS with your purchases. Our family thanks you!

Comments

      • tina says

        I love, love, love my Pampered Chef pans. I won’t buy non-stick cookware any longer, but their stainless steel are brushed in such a way during manufacturing so they are sufficient at non-stick. I’ve set fire to them or had them wet &/or soaking for over a week. No wear or tear showing!!!
        For bakeware I favor Pampered Chef Stoneware.
        You can go on their website or speak with a dealer about the numbers/how they are made, etc. Very imformative. But seriously. Anything remotely cheap I would be replacing in at least every 2 years. I’m a bad cook & my family is super hard on cookware. These I’ve had 5 years with no marks or pitting. Amazing! Try it :)

      • Philippa Gaywood says

        It does somehow… i don’t know why it tastes better…. BUT and its becoming a big one… they break too easily. i have broken 2 now (and they are expensive!!!) I’m not looking/saving for a cast iron skillet.

  1. Terri says

    What about Saladmaster? I have a set that I purchased about 15 years ago. The literature says that it has titanium in it, and allegedly that makes it a very high quality pan. What do you know about Saladmaster? How does this fit into the information above? I certainly don’t want to be eating leached metals. Thank you.

    • says

      Hi Terri. I did some checking into Saladmaster because it is super hard to find a 400 series pot, and Saladmaster always comes up in the conversation. From their site it appears that they put 400 series stainless on the outside, but the inside is a standard 300 series steel. I think the difference is their claim that the titanium makes it more resistant to leaching due to acidic foods, etc. but from what I have read titanium leaches, too. The perk with Saladmaster seems to be it’s incredible durability. I’m not sure if that helps, and I am certainly not a Saladmaster pro. I have never even owned a pot myself!

  2. says

    Salad Master is what I use as a chef. It doesn’t transfer any toxins at all to the foods and the foods don’t shrink like they typically do in less quality cookware. This is 360 grade metal and it is also surgical stainless steel, which means it can’t leach toxins. As a nurse, we used this in surgeries when doing hip or knee replacements. Many people who use this cookware have significant reduction of symptoms and even heal completely from some diseases due to the fact that no toxins are being cooked into the foods. I hope that helps. Remember to always cook on low to medium heat as well.

    • says

      Hi Amy! So interesting about shrinking food. I had no idea that would be impacted. And the point about cooking on low to medium heat is an important one. Unfortunately Saladmaster is not void of leaching. Here is a quote from one of my favorite WAP articles: “Although some high-grade stainless steels are supposed to be risk free, they may be so only in water at near-neutral pH. None of the 300 and 400 series stainless steels evaluated are stable in tomato acids and salt.2 Series 316 corrosion-resistant stainless steel is the best (used in Saladmaster brand cookware). It is resistant to tomato juice and vinegar, but corrodes with exposure to citric acid and salt (so add salt after cooking).” http://www.westonaprice.org/environmental-toxins/mad-as-a-hatter

  3. Sally says

    My mom just went to the doctor and asked questions about metal and alzheimers. The doctor told her really woman need to worry more about calcification in the body because of all of the added calcium in the diet. I thought that was interesting. she was more worried about metal getting in her system.

    • lisa says

      I am concerned about the metals. Especially fillings, my family has early onset Alzheimer’s. Mother, Aunt, and Grandmother all passed by the age of 65. I also believe the body has to have the right amount of minerals Vit D being one of the major players. U can not have proper absorption of calcium with out Vit D and magnesium.

  4. Adam says

    I found that interesting. It makes wonder about stainless steel flatware. Its very easy to bend. Do you know if they are safe? Or, what series of stainless steel they are?

    • says

      Flatware is rated the same and should have the labels like pots (18/0, 18/10, etc). I imagine they would have similar issues if you are using a stainless steel spoon and leaving it in the pot when cooking, for example. I don’t believe there would be much worry with the use of stainless steel flatware for eating, considering the amount of time the food would be in contact with it. And the temperature would be considerably lower than that when cooking.

      • leslie says

        i can’t find a series number on the bottom of my moms pots…
        or anywhere else on the pots.. i guess i could look up the name online? is there a website i can check it out on ?

  5. Carol G. says

    I have All Clad Stainless Steel pots and pans. They are quite thick before you would get to the aluminum layer. I have had them for ten years and they show no wear and barely show surface any scratches and those that I can see cannot be felt. I looked into Mercola’s ceramic pots and pans, but after an inquiry to the website I found out that they are made in China . . . No thanks. I have been interested in trying the ceramic iron skillets and soup pots, but imagine that they are quite heavy.

    • says

      oooooh boo. Seriously they are made in China? That’s a bit disappointing! Great info on the All Clad. That brand actually keeps coming up in my searching and I am leaning towards those for my large broth pots.

      • Sandy says

        I had a whole set of Mercola’s cookware. I really didn’t like it. Everything stuck terribly even though I tried using different oils and butter to cook the food in. I finally gave them away. Waste of money!

    • Jessica Klanderud says

      I have some All Clad cookware and I’ve found them to be very high quality. They are also made in the USA – near me in Chambersburg, PA. They have a twice yearly factory sale where you can get the cookware for 60% off. I’ve gotten most of my pieces there and I am so happy with them. If you are at all able to attend it would be worth it. The sale is the first weekend of December and the first weekend of June every year.

        • Annika says

          I don’t have a reason to think it wasn’t the real thing… but mine isn’t exactly new so it may be possible they’ve used different manufacturers in the past. It’s also possible it was the box that was made in Korea. ;-)

    • Kelly says

      I have personally done the research as well, and bottom line is, unless your stainless steel cookware is dinged and pitted, the amount of metals likely to get into your food is negligible. Good quality stainless steel remains among the top of the list of safe cookware, as referenced in your site articles. Of course, you get what you pay for, so investing in a quality brand such as the All-Clad d5 series is best, but it’s not always affordable for everyone. So that’s when we have to make the best choices we can and remember to entrust our health to God.

  6. Cindy B says

    We use Calphalon which is a very good brand as far as quality and durability… I would go for all clad if I could afford it… the same set I paid nearly $400 in calphalon would have cost about $1200 in all clad or more maybe… wonder about the cast iron/ceramic put out by LeCreuset.

  7. Noelle says

    For stock i use a large Lodge made in USA cast iron dutch oven. It has a lid that will close tightly or vent. I love it! I roast chickens in it too, cook oven risotto etc. i do understand that there would be some who cannot have extra iron for specific reasons but in general iron is beneficial nutrient whereas toxic heavy metals are not. I have high mercury load, lead, and possible other other metal toxicity so i prefer iron to the other metals leaching.

  8. Maria says

    I just bought my first stainless steel pan. It’s a Vollrath and I adore it. Vollrath is made in the USA and it’s 18/0, a 400 series pan. It was a bit pricey but less than All-Clad and I was able to buy it from a local small business restaurant supply store. I’m hoping to slowly replace all of my non-stick pans with this over the next few years.

    • Karen says

      Where did you find this information? I looked at their website for stainless cookware and the only information listed on each product page was either 18/8 or “high-quality.” Do you have a specific product name for your pan? Thanks.

      • Maria says

        Hi Karen,
        I guess it gives two numbers (I must have looked too quickly, sorry) it actually says the interior is 18-8 and the exterior is 18-0. (So I guess it’s half 300 series and half 400 series?) I have the Tribute 3-Ply Fry Pan Natural Finish with Trivent Silicone Handle. My pan isn’t actually stamped with either of those numbers, but it is magnetic. :)
        This is the webpage for the pan that I have: http://vollrath.com/ProductFamily/Professional-Cookware/Tribute174-3-Ply-Fry-Pans-Natural-Finish-with-TriVent174-Silicone-Handle.htm

        • Karen says

          Thanks, Maria! I had thought I’d reached the pinnacle in SS when I found out about all-clad, but now I see there are more important things to look for than just longevity. I’m new to cooking, and I just want to check that I’m understanding correctly: 300 vs 400 series relates to 18/8 or 10 vs 18/0 and is NOT a separate indicator of material quality?

          This is actually quite troublesome to me, I enjoy sprinkling in lime juice and salt while cooking my fish, instead of after. So… what does everyone recommend I cook with instead, in those situations? I think I’ve read cast iron shouldn’t be mixed with tomato, and I think maybe now I should assume that includes all citrus and vinegar? Would a le creuset stoneware baking dish in the oven be suitable? Now I’m wondering what an all-clad can do that a le-creuset can’t! I’ve heard good things about x-trema cookware but I prefer to cook on an induction range so therein lies my dilemma. Any help would be appreciated, thanks!

          • Dale says

            I would look into Saladmaster.. they are made in the US for sure! 7-ply, 316Ti, series 400… safest cookware! they have demos and free house dinners..im located in san diego and my friend referred me to it. it’s the best cookware ever!

  9. jill says

    I have Farberware stainless steel pots and pans that I bought 38 yrs ago. It hasn’t pitted, stained, or scratched. Only the handles seem to be getting a bit old, but still work fine.
    My newer set of stainless already has stains on it that don’t come out. More like discoloration. I think those are Cuisinart. They work fine, but don’t look as nice as my old set. I’m keeping and using both sets, along with all my old and newer cast iron.

  10. says

    300 series stainless is generally speaking more corrosion resistant than 400 series, meaning that less of the metal would get into your food).

    Here is a very pertinent survey conducted by the government of Finland in 2010:

    http://www.ttl.fi/en/publications/electronic_publications/documents/stainless_steel.pdf

    The study, titled “Review on Toxicity of Stainless Steel” is 87 pages long, with several dense pages of references at the end. For each potential area of concern with stainless affecting human health in every situations, the findings of numerous scientific studies are assessed and evaluated in light of EU guidelines for toxic material exposure. Whether or not you put any stock in the EU guidelines, the amounts and types of material which are found to transfer from stainless to food are interesting to think about.

    As pointed out by others here, the main constituents of the stainless steels used in foodware are (300 and 400 series) are iron, nickel, and chromium. The materials of potential concern would be the nickel and chromium. In these alloys, the availability of nickel is found to be less than 0.1% of what it would be from a similar proportion of bulk nickel metal. The exception is alloy variants with sulfur added, typically to enhance machinability. These are not used for foodware. Even people hypersensitive to nickel (i.e. skin allergy) experience no reaction from intimate and lengthy contact with 304 or 316 stainless.

    The availability of chromium however is approximately equal to what would be predicted given its proportion of the alloy. The question is how much chromium is coming off the metal during typical food preparation and storage activities.

    The Finnish report finds that for medium to high pH range, even at cooking temperatures and with prolonged storage, essentially nothing transfers from the stainless to the food. Low pH materials result in some transfer.

    One study cited in the report looked at storage of pickled lemon in stainless, which is lower pH than almost anything else you would think of using in the kitchen (pH 2.1). Kombucha is 3-4, pure white vinegar is 2.4. Other studies looked at prolonged boiling of low-ish ph foods in stainless. What was generally the result was that while some chromium and nickel transferred to the food, the actual amount was something like 10 times less than typical intake of these metals from the food itself (25ug/kg food is typical).

    Exceptions are with the first few uses of new pots, and with some types of welds.

    Many surgical implants and medical devices are made from 316L. This is because it is among the least reactive materials with biological systems that can be produced and worked at a reasonable cost.

    To me, knowing that my food itself contains 10x the amount of what is coming off my pot makes me feel quite comfortable with the safety of my 304 stainless cookware.

  11. Stephanie says

    I just got off the phone with Calphalon. Their stainless steel is 18/10 most of the time though some might be 18/8. Either way, their stainless steel lines are in the 300 series. I received my 10 piece set back in 2005 for a wedding gift. I love them to this day. They are easy to clean and now I can rest that they are a safe variety. Also, I, too, choose Calphalon because of its high quality and much more competitive pricing than All Clad. I will add that I began using a cast iron skillet for a lot of foods recently and like it.

    • Laura says

      I just contacted Calphalon’s customer service department. They have changed all of their stainless steel cookware to be induction ready. All of their stainless steel is now 18/0 even though their FAQ’s page in their website still says they use 18/10.

  12. Diane Fernandez says

    I have been wanting to buy Nutraease cookware for a long time because they say they use surgical grade steel/titanium. What does that mean? These are definitely pricey but are they worth it?

    • Dale says

      saladmaster is better than Nutraease.. surgical grade as in 316ti, better detachable handles as well as lifetime warranty and really good customer service.

      • Cyndi says

        Just saw the above reply and wanted to correct it because I was looking at the Nutra Ease cookware site when I decided to read more about aluminum in pots. Their website says “NutraEase™ is the ultimate in 316Ti Stainless Steel cooking technology. The combination of superior 316 type stainless steel and Titanium (316Ti) construction is designed to deliver one of the most durable surfaces available in stovetop cooking.” I hav

  13. tony w says

    Hi, I stumbled across this post while looking into SS cookware. We’re concerned about the leaching thing and generally trying to find healthy cooking alternatives (we still use a variety of SS cookware) but have recently been concerned after noticing discoloration, what others have called a “blueish rainbow tint”. Most opinions I read said this is nothing to worry about, but I’m still looking into it. This post was informative as we continue exploring options. However, one option I didn’t see above is glass cookware. A while back we bought an old Corningware Visions glass pot for cooking soup, etc. I would think that is safer than any type of metal pot. Any thoughts on that?

    • Karen says

      I’ve never heard about glass cooking pots but I do favor casserole dishes, since their nature is so easy to cook with. But all I’ve ever read and heard about glass is that it’s the most inert of all the options, even roasting over a fire.

    • barb says

      I have an old Corning ware amber glass pot from the thrift store, too. I hope it’s healthy. It seems like nothing is nowadays.

    • Rena says

      I had a set of glass cookware and loved using them for specific things. I had European burners on the stove I had at that time and they were ok to use. Since then, we moved and “upgraded” to a glasstop stove. My specific stove says that glasstop cookware cannot be used on it so I sold the cookware. Sometimes wish I hadn’t of.

  14. Stephanie says

    I have ceramic coated cast iron. Is there any reason to believe this is an unsafe choice? Is it fairly heavy but vey durable and i haven’t had any problems.

  15. jacki says

    I replaced all my Teflon with old revere ware copper bottoms. And I have a few cast iron pieces. Any ideas on the safety of the revere ware?

  16. Rena says

    I realize this is from September of last year, but it was just shared via another blogger. Having read this I just grabbed one of my pots to see what it said on the bottom….no series number, but it is 18/10 stainless steel. I did a fair amount of research when I bought the set – couldn’t afford All-Clad so I went with Cuisinart Multi-Clad Pro, and I love it. Hopefully I won’t have too much pitting problems with it (in my lifetime). If you haven’t already purchased yours, look into the MCP.

  17. lisa says

    I know this is dated last year but I am just now reading this and I am courious as to your take on copper pots and pans?

  18. Steve says

    Hi, your article on Stainless Steel cookware states that all of it LEACHES metals into the food. Some companies claim that
    316Ti Surgical Steel does not leach. Do you have any info to substantiate that.
    thanks so much
    Steve
    rysleeve@aol.com

  19. Leslie says

    My husband and I are getting ready to buy 360 cookware. 360 is made in the USA in a “green” facility, meaning they don’t use harsh chemicals and finishes like most manufacturers. They are also wind powered. We’ve been really impressed with the company so far.

    • Kelly says

      Leslie…

      I just looked into their products and company and I like what I see! Did you purchase yet?? What do you think? How do their products compare to 316Ti Surgical Stainless Steel as mentioned above? Does anyone know the difference between Stainless Steel and Surgical Stainless Steel?

      Thanks!
      Kelly

    • Cris says

      Hi, I just purchased the 360 stock pot. I looked for 2 years for a stainless steel crock pot.
      So exited this company offers this. It is so well made. I have all clad and Le Creuset as well.

  20. tina says

    So we are exceptionally hard on cookware & only 2 companies have stood up to our cooking & lifestyle. Pampered chef stainless steel (& stoneware for oven) and some pans sold at a home party in the 70s….I think maybe Miracle Maid? Went through my great aunt, my parents, and myself.
    However, I am wondering about Cast Iron and helath risks (or benefits) from using it?

  21. Angela says

    We have enameled cast iron Le Creuset. I threw everything else away but I could only afford 4 pieces because they are expensive. I love cooking with iron over a gas stove. At Costco, I recently found a Kirkland (that’s Costco’s own brand) enameled cast iron stockpot. It’s just like my Le Creuset.

  22. Faithe says

    I did quite a bit of research on this about 10 or so years ago. As I lived near a Williams Sonoma outlet, I was able to purchase All-Clad bit by bit when I had the money. At the time, my sister and I would get together to do once-a-month cooking, so we really used those bigger pots and pans! I saw the investment not only for our joint cooking efforts, and my own cooking, but now as I am married and have a daughter, the investment in high quality pots and pans will be passed down to the next generation. After 10+ years of using them, they still look practically new.

  23. Carleta says

    Look into Townecraft. I bought the small set a few years ago and do not foresee ever buying another set in my lifetime. They’re amazing and address all of the issues you speak of in your post.

    • Leta says

      I have owned a complete set of Chef Ware by Townecraft for over 28 years now. I also have their bake ware. It is in great shape and cleans easily. I just recently broke a handle when I dropped it on my hardwood floor. The company offers a lifetime warranty. The imprint on the side of the pans says, “5-ply multicore, T304 stainless steel, made in USA = 85″. They were expensive when I bought them, but since I have not had to purchase any more cookware, I’d have to say they were cheaper in the long run. One of the main selling points was the fact that they are surgical steel.

  24. says

    My mom just purchased a ‘Marmite’ Stainless steel 16 quart stock pot for me, made in China. The numbers you mention earlier do not correspond to what is stamped on the bottom of the pot….at least as I can determine. So here is what is stamped on the bottom: 886420 (maybe 9?9?86420. Is this a 400 series? I am making a great deal of bone broth for clients with compromised health conditions, so want to use the least toxic/best quality stock pot.
    Thanks, ElizaBeth

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  1. […] The Scoop on Stainless Steel Cookware – Gnowfglins I had read that leaching from stainless steel cookware might be a significant issue if you are attempting to heal a sensitive person (like my daughter who has been on GAPS for over 2 years), but honestly I have never really tackled the issue in my kitchen. Those big . This is 360 grade metal and it is also surgical stainless steel, which means it can't leach toxins. As a nurse . My mom just went to the doctor and asked questions about metal and alzheimers. The doctor  […]

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