The Ultimate Guide To Waterless Cookware
What do you call cookware that can function as regular stainless steel cookware but offers the additional option of steam or vapor cooking?
Answer: Waterless cookware!
When I first heard of waterless cookware, I really had no understanding of it. It looked just like regular stainless steel cookware, albeit with funkier lids.
I had all these questions: How is it different, how does it work and is it really capable of ‘waterless’ cooking?
And really, the bigger question is, why would you need or want to do waterless cooking?
If you’ve got similar questions in your mind, well, you’ve come to the right place. Join me as I find answers to all my questions… and yours!
What is waterless cookware?
Simply explained, waterless cookware is cookware that is designed to create a vapor seal between the pot and lid, so that the food can cook faster in its own juices, and retain a lot more of the nutrients that might otherwise be lost by adding extra water or fat.
Can any other cookware achieve the same vapor seal? Yes, depending on the fit of the lids. Waterless cookware is generally heavy stainless steel with lids that fit extremely well which make it suitable for waterless cooking. As the pot is heated, the lid forms a seal with the pot, trapping the vapor from the food and creating a somewhat pressure cooker like environment.
Is waterless cookware healthier?
By some accounts, food prepared at low temperatures, with minimum moisture, retains minerals, upto 20 times more than foods prepared by other methods.
Does that make the cookware healthier?
According to the manufacturers, yes.
According to the Cookware Advisor, maybe. A pot or a pan is only as healthy as the person who is cooking in it. So maybe it’s more accurate to say that waterless cookware can help you cook healthier. But the cookware itself is just a tool. Let’s not confuse the tool with the artisan!
Can waterless cookware be used for regular cooking too?
Yes absolutely. With waterless cookware, you can cook any way you like and you can cook the way you’re used to. At the core of it, waterless cookware is simply high quality (usually) stainless steel cookware with well fitting lids. Think of the waterless cooking as an extra feature you can enjoy and use to expand your menu options.
What material is waterless cookware made of?
In the simplest terms, waterless cookware is multi-ply or clad stainless steel cookware. Multi-ply means having multiple plys or layers of metal, both on the base as well as up the sides i.e. clad cookware.
You will hear of tri-ply, 5-ply, 7-ply or even 9-ply waterless cookware. Don’t let it confuse you. More plys or layers don’t matter as much as the thickness or gauge of the metal.
Typically the inside layer that comes in contact with food, is a high quality grade of stainless steel referred to as Surgical Stainless steel. The outside layer is often magnetic stainless steel for induction capability. The middle layer(s) is aluminum or copper for excellent heat conduction.
Surgical stainless steel? What does that even mean?
To understand this, it would be best to give a brief summary of stainless steel in general: (For a more detailed overview, read here)
- There are more than 60 grades of stainless steel, though not all of them are food grade. According to the NSF International Standard for Food Equipment Material, food grade stainless steel has to be of a type in the (AISI) 200 series, 300 series, or 400 series.
- The most common type of food grade stainless steel used in cookware is 304 series stainless steel (part of the 300 series).
- Of the 304 series, the two most popular types of stainless steel are 18/10 and 18/8 which form part of the 304 series. The first number refers to the amount of chromium present and the second represents the amount of nickel. For example, 18/10 stainless steel is made of 18% chromium and 10% nickel. Both of these are corrosion resistant due to the presence of nickel and perform equally well.
- Less common than 304 stainless steel, is a higher-end version of stainless steel called 316 stainless steel which contains a small percentage of molybdenum. The chemical composition is approximately 16–18% chromium, and 10–14% nickel and 2% molybdenum.
- This grade of stainless steel is even more resistant to corrosion but is also more expensive.
- Because of its extra resistance to corrosion, 316 stainless steel is often used for surgical equipment and biomedical implants. Hence the name Surgical Stainless Steel.
- It’s important to note, however, that since there is no formal definition on what constitutes “surgical stainless steel”, this term is used by manufacturers to refer to any grade of corrosion resistant steel. Marketing spin? You bet.
- By this definition, both 304 and 316 stainless steels are considered surgical or medical-grade stainless steel.
- So when a cookware manufacturer claims that the cookware is made of surgical stainless steel, it could be 304 stainless steel or 316 stainless steel.
Which leads directly to the next frequently asked question:
Is 316 surgical stainless steel superior to the more common 304 stainless steel for cooking?
Concise answer: No.
In day to day cooking, you are likely NOT to notice any difference between a good quality 304 stainless steel pan and a 316 surgical stainless steel pan. But it does not hurt to be offered a choice, especially if it is a choice between two quality options.
Why get waterless cookware?
If you look at a waterless cookware manufacturer’s claims, the common highlights or reasons of why you should buy it are:
- High quality surgical stainless steel
- Lower cooking time
- Healthier as it preserves nutrients due to cooking in steam
We’ve seen earlier in this write up that while these claims may be true, they are not unique to waterless cookware. Example, looking deeper into each of the above highlights of waterless cookware:
- Most quality stainless steel cookware is made of what is loosely defined as surgical stainless steel. It’s just marketed more prominently by waterless cookware brands for some reason
- Cooking time will be lower anytime a steam environment is created with the help of well fitting lids – whether its waterless cookware or not.
- And cookware does not make food healthier, it’s the chef who’s doing the cooking.
I’m going to offer a different scenario as to why you would consider waterless cookware.
Say you’re in the market for new cookware. Let’s assume you’ve narrowed it down to stainless steel cookware. And you’ve further narrowed it down to a quality stainless steel set like Made In cookware or a waterless cookware set like 360 Cookware.
So essentially you have a choice here between two quality options.
Why would you choose one over the other? Simply put – preference.
If you’re going to buy stainless steel cookware, waterless cookware offers all the benefits of stainless steel cookware with the additional benefit that it’s also designed for efficient steam or vapor cooking (aka waterless cooking).
You have an option. Almost like a 2 in 1 option when it comes to waterless cookware.
Now who among us doesn’t like options?
What about the steam control valves?
Some waterless cookware sets have the additional feature of steam control valves on the lid. The purpose of these is to enable you to control the amount of steam build-up inside the pot, depending on what you are cooking.
Again, a ‘nice to have’ feature. Not all waterless cookware offers it. But it’s another option that doesn’t hurt.
How is waterless cookware different from say, a good quality multi-ply stainless steel cookware?
Short answer: the lids.
The body of the cookware, whether a regular multi-ply construction stainless steel or waterless cookware, is usually some combination of stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core.
The lids of waterless cookware, however, are specially designed to fit the pot well. This is essential to creating a vapor seal so that the food can cook in steam for waterless cooking.
It’s important to note that I’m not saying this result can’t be accomplished with a regular pot, just that this is an essential feature of waterless cookware. And the main one that sets it apart from a regular stainless steel cookware.
Additionally, these lids are often equipped with adjustable steam control valves that allow you to control how much steam escapes while you cook.
How can I tell if a waterless cookware set is of good quality?
Gauging the quality of a waterless cookware set is the same as gauging the quality of any stainless stainless steel cookware, which we covered in great detail here.
Here’s a quick summary:
1. The grade of stainless steel.
Make sure it’s made with 304 or 316 series stainless steel as these are the standard used in good quality cookware.
2. The weight of the pot.
A good quality stainless steel pot will have a certain heaviness or ‘heft’ which you can feel when you lift it.
A heavier pot means the manufacturer didn’t skimp on material in making the pot.
This means it’s not likely to have hot spots so that food will get evenly cooked. It will also be less susceptible to dents and dings.
In today’s online shopping world it’s very possible you are buying your cookware sight unseen (or pan unlifted ;)). If so, check reviews to see what others say about the heaviness or sturdiness of the pots.
3. The material used in the core
Stainless steel on its own, is a poor conductor of heat. You want a set that has one or more layers of aluminum or copper in the middle so that you get the durability of stainless steel along with the superior heat conductivity of either of the other two metals.
Reputation of the company.
Last, but not least, choose a brand that has a built a reputation for quality and stands behind their product with a decent warranty.
What is the best waterless cookware brand?
As the Cookware Advisor, I’ve narrowed down the top 2 choices for best waterless cookware brands:
Best waterless cookware brand #1 – 360 Cookware
360 cookware offers a wide ala-carte selection of cookware pieces, from saucepans, fry pans and sauté pans to accessories and flatware.
Of special mention is the 360 cookware Slow Cooker.
I’ve always owned and used a standard Crockpot type of slow cooker with a ceramic insert inside a metal holder.
360 cookware’s slow cooker kind of blew me away.
It’s essentially a slow cooker base that allows you to turn their 2.3 Qt, 4 Qt or 6 Qt pot into a slow cooker i.e. the same pot can be used on the stove as well as on the slow cooker base. In their own words, that “instantly doubles your cookware’s versatility”, and I have to say I agree!
What is it made of?
360 Cookware is made of tri-ply stainless steel cookware. Tri-ply means 3 layers of metal, running along the base as well as up the sides.
The inside layer which touches the food is 18/8, 304 stainless steel (In case you’re wondering about the difference between 304 stainless steel and T304, it’s one and the same thing.) 18/8 means the steel has 18% chromium and 8% nickel.
The outer layer is 400 series magnetic stainless steel to make the cookware induction compatible.
A thick layer of aluminum is sandwiched between these two layers of stainless steel for excellent heat conduction.
What about the lids?
The lids are fully stainless steel, and are designed to create a seal for vapor cooking i.e. cooking in the steam created from the moisture in the food.
This, along with the tri-ply construction allows the food to be surrounded by heat and steam from all sides, thus earning the name ‘360 cookware’.
Is it safe in the oven and broiler?
Yes, up to 500 Degrees
Is 360 Cookware dishwasher safe?
Yes though as always, my advice as the Cookware Advisor would be to wash all your cookware by hand.
What is the warranty on 360 Cookware?
In the company’s words: “This is the last cookware you’ll ever have to buy.”
360 Cookware offers a fantastic lifetime warranty for workmanship and materials. Meaning if you hold on to the proof of purchase, your heirs can claim a replacement in case of defect! While that is not a likely scenario, the point is, this is a company that will stand behind its products.
Where is it made?
360 Cookware is handcrafted in their Green E-Certified factory in Wisconsin, USA.
They have been recognized by the EPA for using 100% wind-generated power and do not use any harsh chemicals in their cookware or bakeware.
Says owner and CEO, Bryan Hurley, they are a ‘green’ company, “not because it’s cool, but because it’s the right thing to do”.
360 cookware vs All Clad
Here are some tips to help you decide.
On the face of it, both are:
- Made in the USA
- Clad stainless steel cookware i.e. the inner layer of aluminum runs throughout the base and up the sides of the cookware
- Considered good quality, premium cookware
Now the differences:
- The price. While sale prices vary, All Clad will generally cost you more than an equivalent pan(s) from 360 Cookware
- Versatility. 360 Cookware offers the versatility of being both a great stainless steel cookware for regular cooking as well as being specially designed for waterless cooking.
- Environmentally responsible. 360 Cookware stands firmly for ‘green’ manufacturing practices and has been recognized by the EPA as such.
In conclusion, when it comes to 360 cookware vs All Clad, my personal opinion is that you get much better value for money with 360 Cookware.
360 Cookware is a well designed, high quality set of stainless steel cookware. It would be an excellent purchase for you if you want:
- Made in USA
- Versatility so you have the option of regular cooking as well as waterless cooking
- A solid warranty
- A company that cares about being environmentally responsible
(Use code WELCOME10 at checkout to get an instant 10% off)
Best waterless cookware brand #2 – Maxam Waterless Cookware
Maxam waterless cookware is not available as individual pieces and is sold only as a complete 17 piece set. Included in the set are:
- 11 3/8″-skillet with helper handle and egg rack (and 5 separate holders)
- 7.5-quart roaster with cover
- 3.2-quart double boiler
- 2.5-quart saucepan with cover
- 1.7-quart saucepan with cover
- A high dome cover for the skillet or roaster.
What is it made of?
Maxam waterless cookware is 5-ply stainless steel cookware made of heavy gauge 304 stainless steel. 304 stainless steel, as I’ve noted earlier, is either 18/10 (10% chromium, 10% nickel) or 18/8 (10% chromium, 8% nickel)
The base has a 9-element encapsulated thick aluminum disc which allows the heat to spread quickly and evenly. One thing to note, the 5 ply layers are only on the bottom, not up the sides like other ‘clad’ cookware.
The base of the pan is magnetic, making this cookware induction compatible.
What about the lids?
The lids are specially designed to fit precisely into the rims of the pans to create a seal while cooking. This is what enables waterless cooking.
Each lid has a steam control valve which can be adjusted to control the amount of steam being held in the pot during cooking. You can also open the valve, once cooking is done, to release the steam.
Is it safe in the oven?
The lids and handles on Maxam waterless cookware are made of plastic therefore, this cookware is only oven safe up to 350F.
Is Maxam waterless cookware dishwasher safe?
Yes it is. Though as always, my advice as the Cookware Advisor would be to hand-wash all cookware and avoid subjecting it to the harsh environment of a dishwasher
What is the warranty on Maxam waterless cookware?
Maxam offers a limited lifetime warranty against defects in materials or workmanship under normal use for the normal life of the product. The cookware is guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Where is it made?
Maxam cookware is made in S. Korea.
This is a highly affordable, good quality set of cookware that is available at a fraction of the price of other waterless cookware. If you are in the market for waterless cookware, this is a good budget purchase that will give you years of enjoyment.
Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.