There are many factors to consider when choosing the best stainless steel pans. Two of the most important are the composition of the metal and how the pan is constructed. Other factors are more personal, including the weight of the pan and the design of the handle. A few design aspects, such as the shape of the lip of the pan for pouring and the material from which the handles are made, can make using the stainless steel pans more or less difficult in certain situations. There also are some special situations that might help limit one's options, such as whether the pan will work on an induction cooktop.
The actual material from which stainless steel pans are made is one of the most basic ways to decide which cookware is the best, and many companies print this information directly on the packaging. There are two important metals contained in the steel alloy that are important to note, namely chromium and nickel. High chromium content is important because it forms chromium oxide when it interacts with oxygen, and this process helps to make the surface of the pan tough and highly resistant to scratching. Chromium oxide even generates a gas that rebuilds pan surfaces over time. Nickel also helps boost durability in stainless steel pans, but a high amount is more desirable because it provides a brighter, more polished finish.
One factor to consider is whether the stainless steel pans should be clad. Pure stainless steel does not conduct heat evenly or efficiently, so many pans use aluminum or copper in the center of the steel to help distribute the heat, although pure stainless steel is usually considerably less expensive. If a pan has a single aluminum or copper core in the base only, then it is called a clad pan. If the core extends up the sides of the pan, so every part of the pan effectively has a core, then it is called fully clad. When the metal core is made from multiple layers of copper or aluminum, it is known as multi-clad and is very effective for cooking but also very expensive.
The design of the stainless steel pans themselves also should be considered when trying to choose the best. The handle should be comfortable to hold, and the weight of the pans should not be overwhelming. The way in which the handle is attached to the pan also should look and feel solid and secure. If the pan is going to be used in the oven, then the handle should be made of a material that is oven safe. One of the best ways to determine whether a pan can be easily handled is locate one and hold it before making a purchase.
Before buying any pans, one should be sure they work with the stove on which they are intended to be used. For example, some heavier pots and pans might not be recommended for use on glasstop stoves. Some types also have been known to scratch or otherwise damage ceramic stovetops, though some of the damage can be avoided if one is careful. At the same time, some stoves may do better with heavier, good-quality pans to help prevent damage to both the pans and the food being prepared.