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Pros and Cons of All-Clad Stainless Cookware: Scratches, Durability, Cost, and More

Living with food allergies—both her own and her family's—has driven Chris Telden's lifelong interest in diet, health, and cooking.

I love my All-Clad, scratches and all.

I love my All-Clad, scratches and all.

My All-Clad Cookware Experience

I'm the thrifty sort, so it took a lot for me to decide to buy a few choice items of All-Clad stainless steel cookware. I really wanted cookware that wouldn't rust, that would last, that would cook things nicely, and, oh, golly, I had lots of other picky requirements. I didn't buy a whole set, just the pieces I would use most:

  • I first bought a promotional $20 small saucepan without a lid and contemplated the advantages and disadvantages of making a more serious purchase.
  • Then I broke down and bought a big Dutch oven (stockpot) with a lid, a 2-quart saucepan with a lid, and a wide broad frying pan with a lid.
  • When my mom died, I inherited her two small All-Clad frying pans.
  • At some point, I also bought a very broad, super-sized frying pan that I use primarily for making pretzels.

It's been many years later now, and I'm still in love with this motley set of All-Clad stainless steel cookware, largely because I have to cook several hours a day and these pots are real workhorses. Here are the reasons I like my All-Clad and things I don't like about it.

The Cons of All-Clad Cookware

1. The Lack of a Pour Spout

The biggest negative about the classic All-Clad stainless steel line is the lack of a pouring lip or pouring spout. I don't know what the newer pots are offering, but there are times, especially with my small pots when I want a pouring rim to prevent spills.

2. It's Not Invulnerable to Burns

Given that I burn things far more than my husband does, I found it exquisite irony that the one time my All-Clad didn't recover from a burn, it was my husband who perpetrated the crime, not me. The $20 All-Clad pot sat on the stove while my husband, no mean cook himself, merrily burned tea in it. That's right. Tea.

While working in the shop, he boiled tea and sugar in that thing for I don't know how long, until it was dry. Sugar, when burned, becomes caramelized. It usually comes off with soaking, but on this occasion, my husband effected some serious chemical bonding, and that pot, with its flaked, burned bottom, has never been the same. We ran out of Barkeeper's Friend trying to get the stuff off.

My husband, who's handy, to say the least, promises me he can remove it with some shop tools. I'm still waiting. I am not throwing that pot away. I love that pot.

Update: The pot has been cleaned! It has been back in service for a couple of years now. It, like all my All-Clad, has lots of scratches, but it's still functioning as beautifully as it did on Day 1.

3. It's Expensive (Especially the Replacement Lids)

I'm glad All-Clad uses standard pot and pan diameters for the industry, because I don't think their stainless lids are worth the cost and have discovered there are better alternatives. After several years of owning All-Clad, I've gleaned that if replacement lids are needed, it's probable that a cheaper but absolutely adequate alternative is available that will fit All-Clad pans.

I know this because I lost the 8-inch lid for my 2-quart saucepan a couple of years ago. I replaced it with an expensive $50 lid by All-Clad because I assumed that was my only option. That hurt! Only later on did I find out I could have bought this delightfully inexpensive but heavyweight and serviceable Homichef stainless lid and it would fit just as well. I did buy that lid for another pot, only to find it fit the All-Clad pot perfectly. Lesson learned: For the pots themselves, All-Clad is great. But not for the lids, should one ever get lost.

4. It Scratches Very Easily

Here's the deal: If you don't take care not to scratch your All-Clad stainless, it'll get scratched. A lot. It will almost look like it's brushed steel, there are so many scratches. To avoid scratching, don't use metal utensils or hard scouring agents. That hasn't been realistic for me, though—I cook (and scorch, alas) too much.

The Pros of All-Clad

1. Durability

With the cons out of the way, I can now get to the fun stuff. The All-Clad pots I bought are the most durable pots I've ever used—including my cast iron pans. Cast iron breaks but, as far as I can glean, All-Clad does not. Every part of my pots and pans is metal, cast beautifully into utilitarian shapes. I have banged these pans on so many hard things I can't even tell you—I'm talking major cookware abuse! I have other stainless steel pots and pans, some off-brand and some Revere Ware, and they all get dented up some. Not my All-Clad.

Most of my other non-All-Clad stainless steel pots—small and large saucepans with plastic or wood handles, usually—have had the screws holding the handles come loose. Some of the lids and bottoms have even warped.

But no warping or loose screws or dings or dents have beset my trusty All-Clad. I haven't even managed to ruin a piece by using high heat on it on the stovetop. It just won't warp.

When I bought my All-Clad it was new, and it came with a lifetime guarantee. It's hard to imagine that I'll ever need to use it.

2. It's Oven-Safe

Every piece I own, thankfully even the 8-quart stock pot (or Dutch oven), have all metal parts. This means they can go from stovetop to oven easily.

I've used the Dutch oven to roast chicken and brisket. I've used it on the stovetop to slow-cook stew, rice, and spaghetti sauce. And because of this versatility, I've developed the quickest recipe for baked lasagna on the market: Make the meat sauce in the Dutch oven, lay some uncooked lasagna noodles in the sauce in random patterns, gently toss in some ricotta cheese, cover with shredded cheese, put the lid on, and bake in a hot oven until done.

When my oven broke and I was desperate for cookies, I even used it on the stovetop to bake cookies by placing a metal rack inside it. (I'm sure the manufacturer does not recommend this, but I did it anyway, and the cookies were yummy.)

I use my wide, broad All-Clad frying pan less often than my 2-quart saucepan and Dutch oven. But what I use it for, I love it. These days I primarily use it to boil bagels and soft pretzels. These baked goods need a big, shallow pan to simmer in before they're baked. I can cook seven bagels or pretzels at a time in my All-Clad —it's highly convenient. The lid is enormous, but it's also tight-fitting and has not warped, which I consider a feat of manufacturing, given its size.

3. It's Easy to Clean ... Even (Minor) Burns

Cleaning my All-Clad stainless steel cookware is pretty easy. I absolutely despise doing dishes, I mean, despise. I can stick the pans in the dishwasher—the smaller ones, anyway. The larger ones (the broad, shallow frying pan and the Dutch oven) don't fit no matter how I turn them, but that's okay. I can live with it.

The important thing is that, if you wash the pan quickly, burned food comes off easily. Either by filling the pot with water and simmering for a few minutes with the lid on, by using Barkeeper's Friend for really tough cases (rare), or (much more commonly) just by scrubbing it with a plastic scouring pad. For the EXTREMELY tough cases (like the burned sauté pan mentioned above) using sandpaper or a metal grinder may be called for.

4. It Looks Great

My All-Clad cookware hasn't even remotely begun to rust, and I trust that it never will in my lifetime. It does have some scratches (since I ignore the instructions not to use metal utensils) but I'm the kind of cook that likes my cookware to look authentic, anyway. However, I do understand that this can release nickel and other base metals in any stainless steel alloy.

The lids of the pots and saucepans remain tight-fitting and shiny. The cookware looks wonderful on the stove, so wonderful I don't feel I need to stash it away (and that's a good thing because space shortages are the rule rather than the exception in our home).

5. It's Basically Nonstick

I stressed and stressed over the kind of cookware to get, largely because I wanted the convenience of nonstick, but without the Teflon. In the end, I decided against nonstick and for All-Clad.

I was glad of this later because when I married, I married a man with a parrot, and parrots can't survive the fumes Teflon and other nonstick surfaces emit when they're heated.

I decided to gamble on All-Clad partly because I read a review or two that suggested that food didn't stick to it all that much. I didn't get one of the All-Clad nonstick pans (if they even existed at the time).

I've found that while sautéeing, I do need at least a thin film of grease, butter, oil, or something of the sort in the frying pan and Dutch oven to keep food from sticking (it's still no substitute for my $30 seasoned cast iron frying pan). But as long as I wait for the pan to get very hot before I put food in it, it works wonders.

Even more important, as I said above, food is so, so easy to clean off. I consider ease of cleaning one of the main benefits of stainless steel cookware, and All-Clad in particular, over nonstick. Why? Well, because with nonstick pans, I invariably reach for a scouring pad or something that destroys the nonstick surface, because even though it's supposed to be nonstick, it never is for me (my husband will claim that my attentiveness to my cooking, or lack thereof, is at fault, but that's his opinion.). With All-Clad, I rarely have to use heavy-duty scouring pads.

6. The Handles Don't Get Hot on the Stovetop

Because of the design of the pots, the handles of All-Clad pieces don't get too hot to handle when you cook on the stovetop. This seems like a small detail, but I can't count the time I've burned my hands on pot handles because the heat carries over and there was no oven mitt available. That doesn't happen to me on these.

However, I do have to be careful about the lids, which do get hot. And this will sound silly, but it's all too easy to forget that a pot you just took out of the oven and set on the stove is too hot to touch!

Is All-Clad Nonstick?

I didn't buy the official "nonstick" All-Clad, but it's nearly nonstick. I've found that while sautéeing, I do need at least a thin film of butter, oil, or something of the sort to keep food from sticking. But as long as I use a little fat and wait for the pan to get very hot before putting food in it, it works wonders, and cleaning is a breeze.

Will It Rust?

My All-Clad cookware hasn't even remotely begun to rust, and I trust that it never will in my lifetime.

Is There a Lifetime Guarantee?

When I bought my All-Clad it was new, and it came with a lifetime guarantee. It's hard to imagine that I'll ever need to use it.

What Is All-Clad Made Of?

It's made with an aluminum core sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel, then hand-polished and mirror-finished. All parts, handles, and screws are durable metal.

How Do You Season All-Clad Cookware?

The stainless steel cookware doesn't need seasoning.

What If It Gets Too Burned or Stained?

Once we burned a pan so badly it could not be cleaned by hand, not even with Barkeeper's Friend scouring powder. But my handy husband used some shop tools (sandpaper and a metal grinder) to clean it and now it's a bit scratched but still as good as new.

Is the All-Clad Cookware Set Worth the Investment?

I'm the thrifty sort, so it took a lot for me to decide to buy a few choice pots and pans. I imagine the whole set would be worthwhile if you had a use for each piece, but just bought the pieces I would use most. I own seven pieces, plus lids, and they were definitely worth every penny.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do you season All-Clad cookware?

Answer: The stainless steel cookware doesn't need seasoning.

Question: Why does my new All Clad sauté pan stick?

Answer: The cooking heat may be too high. But it also depends on which particular model you have. For my regular All Clad stainless, I make sure I use enough grease (we're not a fat-free family) and heat it up long and slowly enough for things to sizzle before adding food.