The "C" in cookware stands for cutthroat. Whether it's the best nonstick pot, cast iron pan, or stainless steel set, I have yet to come across more ferocious opinions on a product in my two years of lifestyle shopping writing (just take a scroll through r/cooking on Reddit). Knowing this, when tasked with testing Caraway's first-ever stainless steel cookware set I shivered. A beautiful, durable, 4-piece, priced at $700, and non-toxic collection in my sorry excuse of a kitchen? With lids and Caraway's signature, space-optimizing storage included? The phrase "I'm not worthy" didn't do the situation justice.
But there is no reason an average chef like me can't reap the benefits of stainless steel — as long as I keep a few things in mind. "Cooking with stainless pans requires patience," Executive Chef at Hard Rock Hotel New York Oscar Gonzalez tells me. "They take time to properly heat up, being that at the right temperature, food doesn’t stick," he adds. Yes, out of respect for Caraway's exquisite creation and the integrity of this review, I immediately sought out professional help. And Gonzalez was more than happy to help make sure my journey to stainless steel prowess would end in a delicious meal, not baked-on scrambled eggs and tears.
If the suspense is killing you as much as opening that Beyoncé-Renaissance-Tour silver box killed me, then scroll on. Find out if my salmon sear metamorphosed me into a stainless steel cookware connoisseur, or sent me back to non-stick with my tail between my legs below.
What's the deal with stainless steel pans?
"Stainless pans are versatile and can retain heat better than non-stick pans," Gonzalez explains. According to him, those high temperatures then produce excellent sears on proteins and richer color on vegetables. So it makes sense that, based on the brand's press release, Caraway's main priority when crafting its new cookware was heat retention. Each piece in the cookware set (also available ala cart) — one 3-quart saucepan, 4.5-quart sauté pan, 6.5-quart Dutch oven, and 10.5-inch fry pan — features corrosion-resistant and chemical-free stainless steel cooking surfaces. It is also five-ply, meaning there are five layers of steel to further improve heat retention and avoid too many pesky hot spots that burn one part of your food while leaving the rest of it raw. Stainless steel can also get hotter than other materials (like nonstick) and even go in the oven. In short, while we're dazzled by its glitzy sheen appearance, we're thoroughly impressed by its durable specs. Not only that, but we also love the lids and premium organizers included with purchase. (Heads up: Estimated ship date is December 12!)
Click on any "How To Cook With Stainless Steel Pans" how-tos or interview a professional chef, and you'll leave with, at the very least, one piece of knowledge: Your pan needs to be hot. Because I did not know what dish I was going to make prior to questioning Gonzalez, I was unable to ask him how to sear a salmon filet. Instead, I googled "how to sear salmon in stainless steel pan." Kelly's Clean Kitchen quick-hit Youtube tutorial popped up and I followed it to a T. The oil shimmered (and, unfortunately did start smoking so I lowered the heat), the salmon sizzled, and nothing stuck. As much as I would like to attribute this successful start to my cooking chops, I have to give it up for the pan. For reference, I've used my parents' 5-year-old stainless steel pans when I go home for the holidays and every time food sticks like glue.
Voila! To my extreme surprise, I made salmon that I would actually serve to another person. There's a first time for everything. The skin was crisp and perfectly flakey, the meat wasn't too oily, nor was it rubbery. It was some damn good, evenly-cooked salmon that barely left a mark on the pan (pictured).
One of my most pressing questions to Gonzalez: How do you wash stainless steel pans? He provided some worthwhile expertise. First and foremost, never put them in the dishwasher, hand wash only. Caraway's on-site care guide seconds this notion and recommends a light scrub. Gonzalez, however, offered us some bonus care techniques. "A stainless pan will last forever if you take care of it," he says. "One way to clean them is taking a little bit of oil — doesn’t need to be expensive, can be canola — on a towel and massaging your pan. It’s also a good idea to not stack pans directly on top of each other. If you need to because of space — and we in NYC know the struggle with space — place a napkin on the center of the pan and then you can stack on top." Which reminds me, Caraway's pots and pans came stacked with fuzzy velour separators beneath each piece.
After the pan cooled I went along with Caraway's simple instructions as it was only my first use. One aggressive water rinse wiped out the oil and lifted a bit of the salmon skin residue. One light scrub with my soft bristle brush and it was as good as new (with a very slight outline of the salmon remaining).
I'm no Gordon Ramsey (yet), but even I can tell that these are some top-notch stainless steel pans. I can already imagine people's thoughts: For $700 those pots better cook my dinner for me, clean themselves, and last a lifetime. And while my pan did not become sentient Disney Fantasia-style and cook my food, nor did it wash itself — I think it got pretty damn close. (I'll do my best to circle back on the whole lasting a lifetime thing.)
Shop More Caraway Bestsellers
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
For more can't-miss shopping stories delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our Most Wanted newsletter.