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When shopping for an induction cooktop or stove, buyers want to know if they can use their existing stainless steel cookware. Those who want to buy new cookware, wonder if stainless steel works on an induction cooking surface.
Stainless steel cookware works on induction cooktops if the base of the cooking vessel is made with magnetic stainless steel. Although some stainless steel varieties are magnetic, others are not.
Magnetic stainless steel must meet two criteria: 1) the alloy must contain iron, and 2) the crystal structure must be arranged in a ferritic or martensitic structure.
If the alloy has an austenitic crystal structure, it is not magnetic. Here is a short explanation of why this is the case.
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 to become non-magnetic and thus will not work on an induction cooktop.
Stainless Steel Types
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 depending upon the crystalline structure.
Ferritic stainless 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 sufficient 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.
Stainless Steel Grades
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 contains trace amounts of molybdenum. The higher molybdenum content results in improved corrosion resistance.
How Stainless Steel Works on Induction
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.
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.
For example, a cookware manufacturer, such as Cuisinart, has individual cookware pieces and sets that are induction ready. However, they have product lines that will not work on induction stoves.
Tip: Even if the marketing materials say it will work on all types of cooktops, verify that will work on induction cooktops.
Testing for Induction Compatibility
If you have stainless steel cookware and are unsure if it is induction suitable, place a magnet on its base, and if it sticks firmly, it will work on your induction cooktop.
Below is an image of using a refrigerator magnet to test a stainless steel pan from Made In Cookware.
Here is another method to test your pan to see if it is compatible 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.
Another way to find out if the pan is induction ready is to check the cookware's base for the words “induction suitable” or induction symbol.
Below is an image of my Circulon nonstick saucepan with the words induction suitable on the bottom 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 or in the manufacturer's instructions.
Manufacturers sometimes describe the cookware as being “ferromagnetic.” This context means the base contains a magnetic metal, such as iron, making the cookware induction ready.
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 the two kinds of stainless steel cookware construction - 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.
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 to manufacture 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, an 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)
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 will 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, 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.
Is Stainless Steel Thickness Important?
A pot with only 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 it will be more evenly spread outwhen the heat gets to the cooking surface.
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 pots and pans are durable, corrosion-resistant, and heats quickly and evenly. High-quality stainless steel cookware is non-reactive, so the only flavors you experience are the ones added to your food.
If used and cleaned correctly, your stainless steel pans 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 is versatile in that it can be used on all types of conventional stoves and cooktops and to make a wide variety of dishes. There are still some companies that manufacture stainless steel cookware sets in the USA.
Stainless steel cookware can be used on induction cooktops as long as the base is magnetic stainless steel (18/0). Many manufacturers stamp the bottom of the pan with “induction suitable” or 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.