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- 1 Types of Stainless Steel
- 2 What are the Grades of Stainless Steel?
- 3 How is Cookware Heated on an Induction Cooktop?
- 4 How Magnetized Stainless Steel Works
- 5 Stainless Steel Cookware Materials
- 6 How to Test Cookware for Compatibility
- 7 Clad vs. Disc-Bottom Cookware
- 8 Why Cook with Stainless Steel?
- 9 Final Thoughts
When shopping for an induction cooktop or stove, buyers want to know if they can use their existing cookware. If you have carbon steel, cast iron, or enameled cast iron, the answer is yes. What about stainless steel? Will your stainless steel cookware work on an induction cooktop?
Stainless steel cookware works on induction cooktops if the base of the cooking vessel is made with magnetic stainless steel. Stainless steel is made of chromium, carbon, and other alloying elements. The corrosion resistance and mechanical properties of stainless steel can be enhanced by adding nickel, manganese, and molybdenum.
When nickel is added to stainless steel, its physical structure is modified so that it becomes non-magnetic and thus will not work on an induction cooktop.
Types of Stainless Steel
The two main types of stainless steel cookware are ferritic and austenitic. They have different crystalline structures in the grain of the steel. Many properties of stainless steel depend upon the crystalline structure.
Ferritic steels are magnetic when subjected to a magnetic field. They have a chromium content between 10.5% and 18% and less than .2% carbon. Since the amount of nickel is minimal, some companies declare ferritic steel “essentially nickel-free.” Ferritic stainless steel can work on an induction cooktop.
Austenitic stainless steels are not magnetic. When a sufficient amount of nickel is added to stainless steel, the crystal structure changes from ferrite to austenite. Cookware made with austenitic stainless steel will not work on an induction cooktop.
The most common austenitic stainless steels contain approximately 18% chromium and 8% nickel (18/8). They are known for their corrosion resistance and ability to maintain their strength at high temperatures.
What are the Grades of Stainless Steel?
Within the types or families of stainless steel, there are various grades. These grades indicate corrosion resistance, durability, magnetism, and chemical composition (including chromium and nickel).
Two stainless steel grades, 304 and 316, are members of the austenitic family and are not magnetic.
Type 304 is the most widely used stainless steel alloy. It consists of 18-20% chromium and 8-10.5 % nickel by weight (18/8 or 18/10 stainless steel). This stainless steel contains other alloying elements such as carbon, silicon, and manganese, with the remainder being mainly iron.
Type 316 has a similar chemical composition as 304 stainless steel. The main difference is that 316 contains 2-3% molybdenum, while type 304 only contains trace amounts of molybdenum. The higher molybdenum content results in improved corrosion resistance.
How is Cookware Heated on an Induction Cooktop?
If you are unfamiliar with induction cooking, here’s a short explanation of how it works.
An induction cooktop has a glass/ceramic plate with an electromagnetic coil (usually copper) underneath it. When the unit is switched on, an alternating electric current goes through the coil, generating a fluctuating magnetic field above the coil.
When a pot or pan containing iron or magnetized stainless steel is placed on the cooking zone, the fluctuating magnetic field induces eddy currents in the cooking vessel’s metal. As these currents swirl, kinetic energy is turned into heat, conducted through the pan’s metal. The pan and its contents are heated.
How Magnetized Stainless Steel Works
An induction cooktop uses electromagnetism to heat the cookware. When the unit is powered on and an induction-ready pan is centered on the cooktop surface, a magnetic field fluctuates above the induction cooktop. Currents are induced in the cookware, and heat is conducted through the pan’s metal, heating the pan and its contents.
To optimize contact with the magnetic field, the bottom of the cookware should be flat, placed in the cooktop center, and the same size as the cooking zone.
Stainless Steel Cookware Materials
The materials used to make the pots and pans affect the cooking performance.
Cookware with three layers is referred to as a tri-ply. Most tri-ply cookware has a layer of aluminum (for conductivity) sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. These layers are on the base and go up the sidewalls of the vessel. The exterior layer is magnetized stainless steel (18/0), while the interior layer is usually either 18/10 or 18/8 stainless steel (18% chromium and either 10% or 8% nickel).
Some 5-ply pots and pans have alternating layers of stainless steel and aluminum, while others have a middle layer of copper sandwiched between two layers of aluminum. This ensures even and quick heating and reduces the chance of your vessel warping.
Cookware with a disc-bottom has a plate of conductive material bonded to the base of the cooking vessel.
How to Test Cookware for Compatibility
If you have stainless steel cookware and are not sure if it is induction suitable, place a magnet on its base, and if it sticks firmly, it will work on your induction cooktop.
Here is another method to test your pan’s induction compatibility if you don’t have a magnet.
- Place the pan in the center of the cooktop.
- Put a small amount of water into the pan.
- Turn the unit on.
- If an error message flashes in the LCD, the pot or pan is not induction ready.
Some manufacturers stamp the words “induction suitable” or induction symbol on the base of the pan. If you have the box, the pan came in; you can check to see if the induction symbol is printed on the packaging.
Tip: Most induction cookware can also be used on gas and electric stoves.
Clad vs. Disc-Bottom Cookware
Now that you know what types of stainless steel cookware work on induction cooktops and how to test your cookware for induction compatibility, let’s look at stainless steel cookware construction. The two types of stainless steel cookware construction are clad and disc-bottom.
In cooking terms, cladding is a manufacturing process where a thermally conductive material such as aluminum or copper is covered with a non-reactive material such as stainless steel.
Clad cookware means the body of the cooking vessel (everything but the handle) is made from a sheet of metal with 3 to 7 layers of metal (stainless steel, aluminum, and copper). This sheet is processed and pressed into shape, with the base and sidewalls being the same or almost the same thickness. This allows heat to be more evenly distributed.
Multi-Clad Induction Cookware
When describing stainless steel cookware construction, manufacturers use terms such as aluminum or copper core. Core refers to a layer or a disc of material encapsulated in another material. For example, a layer or disc of aluminum or copper (the aluminum core) can be in the middle of two layers of stainless steel.
The term "ply" refers to the layers of materials used in the manufacture of the bottom and sides of the cooking vessel. Each layer has a purpose. Stainless steel is resistant to corrosion, and magnetized stainless steel makes the vessel induction compatible.
Since stainless steel is a poor heat conductor, a metal that conducts heat well, such as aluminum or copper, is placed between two layers of stainless steel. Since copper is a better thermal conductor than aluminum, pans with a copper core react more quickly to temperature changes.
Multi-clad cookware can have 3, 5, or 7 layers of metals. These layers are on the base and extend up the side of the vessel.
For example, a 3-ply induction frying pan can have an exterior layer of magnetized stainless steel, aluminum core (center), and an interior layer of non-magnetized stainless steel (typically 18/10 or 18/8). The grade of stainless steel on the cooking vessel interior differs according to brand and product.
Here is an example of an induction-ready pan with five layers (from exterior to interior):
- Magnetized stainless steel
- Stainless steel grade - chromium/nickel (18/10,18/8, or 18/4)
Is Stainless Steel Thickness Important?
A pot that only has one layer of stainless steel won't conduct heat very well and is prone to warping and denting. Each additional layer increases the pan weight and thickness, which in turn improves the thermal conductivity.
The thicker the base, the greater the distance between the heat source and the cookware’s surface. This is helpful because when the heat gets to the cooking surface, it will be more evenly spread out.
Disc-Bottom Induction Cookware
Disc-bottom induction cookware usually means the exterior of the base is made of thin magnetized stainless steel with a conductive material such as aluminum or copper bonded to it.
Not all disc-bottom pots and pans have layers that touch the edge of the vessel. This is problematic when using gas or electric stoves as the outer edge of the pan is going to be colder than the center. Sauté pans or skillets having disc-bottoms do not produce good results.
Some pots and pans are described as "bottom encapsulated with impact-bonded aluminum." This means that pressure and friction, and not adhesive, form the bond between the bottom of the vessel (stainless steel) and the disc (aluminum). For example, the three layers of a pan could be stainless steel, aluminum, and stainless steel.
Be sure to read the entire product description because sometimes pots and pans have a disc on the bottom and a single layer of stainless steel in the body. This is not necessarily bad; however, you want to know the vessel’s construction you are purchasing.
Why Cook with Stainless Steel?
Stainless steel cookware can be used to cook a wide variety of foods. It is particularly desirable when high temperatures are needed to cook steak or brown meats.
Stainless steel cookware is durable, corrosion-resistant, and heats quickly and evenly. High-quality stainless steel pots and pans are non-reactive, so the only flavors you experience are the ones added to your food.
If used and cleaned correctly, stainless steel will not stain or rust. Steel wool and steel brushes should not be used on stainless steel cookware. Tiny particles can remain on the surface of the cooking vessel and will eventually stain and rust the stainless steel.
Stainless steel cookware can be used on induction cooktops as long as the base is made of magnetic stainless steel (18/0). Many manufacturers stamp the bottom of the pan with the words “induction suitable” or with a spiral symbol.
If you are buying online, be sure to check the manufacturer’s website to verify it is induction compatible. If you shop at brick-and-mortar stores or yard sales, take a refrigerator magnet with you to check pans to see if they will work on your induction cooktop. If it sticks firmly, it will work on your induction cooktop.
Stainless steel is versatile in that it can be used on all types of conventional stoves and cooktops and to make a wide variety of dishes.