Cooking great food takes more than a favorite recipe or fresh ingredients—it also takes the right equipment. And few tools are more critical to culinary success than reliable, high-quality cookware. As a food writer, pastry chef and avid home cook, I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of different kitchens, which means that over the years, I’ve handled pretty much every brand and material of cookware you can imagine. My own kitchen cabinets are a grab bag of pots and pans, from the remanence of my first starter set to the acquisitions from various upgrades and household merges.
With all that hands-on experience under my belt, I’m often asked what cookware set I recommend. Until recently, though, I never had an easy answer. You see, most cookware sets are composed of a single material type, often forcing you to choose between stainless steel or nonstick pots and pans. And while I think there are plenty of uses for both material types, my honest recommendation for most home cooks is to have a mix of both. Now, I’m happy to report that I’ve finally found a set that offers the best of both worlds: The Sous Chef from Made In.
I stumbled upon this set during my quest to find the best stainless steel and best nonstick cookware on the market. Of the dozens of brands I researched, Made In was the only one to offer a range of materials in a single set. The company first made a splash in 2017, when it introduced home cooks the internet over to its line of competitively priced, direct-to-consumer cookware with professional-quality specs. Competitive pricing doesn’t mean cheap, though—priced at $699, the Sous Chef is definitely an investment, so it needed to meet some pretty high standards to be worth the price tag. Naturally, I had to give it a spin and see what it could do. The answer: practically everything.
11-Piece Set Includes:
- Stainless Steel: 10-inch frying pan, 2- and 4-quart saucepans with lids, 3.5-quart sauté pan with lid, 8-quart stock pot with lid
- Non-stick: 10-inch frying pan
- Carbon Steel: 12-inch carbon frying pan with 2-ounce carbon steel seasoning wax
- Stainless Steel: 5-ply clad, made in the US and Italy
- Non-stick: PTFE nonstick coating without PFOA, made in Italy
- Carbon Steel: Made in France
- Stainless Steel: Dishwasher safe, hand wash recommended
- Non-stick: Hand wash only, avoid metal utensils
- Carbon Steel: Hand wash only, requires seasoning, avoid metal utensils
Stainless Steel Vs. Nonstick Cookware
If you ask most professional chefs why they prefer stainless steel, they’ll credit its versatility, and I have to concur. You can crank up the heat, cook with whatever fats or acids you want, scrape metal utensils on its surface, and scrub it countless times–none of which is true of nonstick cookware. Most importantly, it has the right balance of surface adhesion and heat conductivity to brown and caramelize foods in ways nonstick cannot. Made In’s stainless steel has 5-ply cladding that’s designed to heat and cool quickly and evenly while being warp-resistant and long-lasting.
Just because pro chefs favor stainless steel doesn’t mean nonstick is worthless. Nonstick offers a great convenience factor—it’s easy to clean and perfect for cooking eggs, pancakes and meals with melty cheese. It’s also a perfectly acceptable pick for cooking anything that doesn’t need to be browned or cooked at a very high temperature. Just keep in mind that these pans are, by definition, coated with nonstick material that is far from indestructible. That means no metal utensils, no dishwasher and no highly acidic ingredients, all of which can cause the nonstick surface to corrode and render it useless.
Testing The Sous Chef
At a minimum, a good cookware set should cover the sizes and shapes needed for most standard home recipes. Ideally, I would need a 10-inch frying pan, a 3-quart lidded sauté pan, both a small and a medium lidded saucepan and a large lidded stockpot. Everything else is considered value-add. In the search for an ideal set, it can often be a challenge to get every desired size and shape, but the Sous Chef ticked all those boxes.
All the pans have hollow handles that arch sharply away from the pans themselves, making them ergonomic and well-balanced. The pot and lid handles are large, wide set and curved to allow a tight and comfortable grip, even with my hand in a potholder. Those details (quite literally) stuck out to me, and so, before I set out to use them, I stacked them in my cabinets to assess storage space. While they fit comfortably in my lower cabinet just as my previous cookware, they are definitely designed for stove functionality first. If you have shallow cabinets or drawers, or lack space in general, you might want to consider a set that is designed to nest.
To really evaluate the Sous Chef, I knew I’d need to conduct different cooking tests for each material and pan shape. For all the following, I assessed if the food was cooked to a recipe and industry standard for color, texture and temperature within a standard time frame. If all the basic requirements were met, the test was considered successful and then assessed for flavor to determine more subjectively if it was average or above average.
Stainless Steel Components
For the stainless steel, I wanted to focus on maximizing flavor (browning and caramelization) and versatility, since those are the two major selling points of the material. With that in mind, using the fry pan, I pan-fried 85% lean turkey burgers in 4-ounce portions, five to six minutes per side on medium-high heat, and seared large sea scallops on high heat for two minutes per side . For the sauté pan, I cooked 6-ounce chicken breasts for five to six minutes per side, removed them, and used the pan to make a simple lemon and butter sauce.
The fry pan made turkey burgers with even caramelization on the outsides and juicy interiors and produced scallops with crusty sear and tender interior in a matter of minutes. The sautéed pan yielded golden yet juicy chicken breasts with a quick lemon butter sauce. The handles stay cool and are well-balanced with the pans when in use, so they don’t wobble on the stovetop and stay level when lifted.
In the stockpot, I made a large batch of marinara sauce with a base of onion, garlic and two 28-ounce cans of peeled tomatoes to test the capacity and fond development for flavor. In the small 2-quart saucepan, I made four 12-minute hard-boiled eggs and reheated two portions of the marinara. And in the medium saucepan, I made long grain rice in a two-to-one water-to-rice ratio, simmering for 18 minutes.
The stock pot was truly a star, perfectly sized at 8 quarts to make a vat of marinara sauce, with sides high enough to avoid a huge splatter mess. The bottom is wide enough to produce a layer of tasty fond to deglaze yet fits nicely on a standard stove burner. The 2-quart saucepan is great for reheating two of those sauce servings and making hardboiled eggs with a perfectly yellow yolk. I’m admittedly bad at making rice for some reason, but nothing stuck in the 4-quart pot, and it came out fluffy and evenly cooked.
Though you can use the dishwasher for stainless steel, I hand washed everything. The turkey burger and marinara tests required a light soak in some soapy water, the scrubby part of a sponge and a little elbow grease to clean. This is where the argument for nonstick usually comes in, but a nonstick coating will never quite get the same caramelization as stainless steel because you need surface adhesion for that to occur. To me, it’s not worth the tradeoff for most recipes.
All in all, the stainless steel components yielded excellent results. My only real mishap occurred when I discolored the interior of the medium saucepan making rice when I squeezed a lemon over it for flavor. This in no way affected the efficacy of the pot, but it was worth mentioning. Also, after all my initial tests, I did eventually pop the stainless steel in the dishwasher just to see and it did dull. Again, it doesn’t affect the functionality of the pots at all, but if you’re into aesthetics, it’s worth noting that you might have to put in a little extra elbow grease to make it shine again. A little scrub with Bar Keepers Friend or baking soda will do the trick.
Also, because of the construction, these pans are on the heavy side. If you’ve worked with stainless steel before, these will feel nicely weighted and easy to work with. But, if you’re used to nonstick sets which are typically aluminum-based, they will be noticeably heavier. The wide handles help with grip, especially on the sauté pan. But if you have trouble lifting, you might want to reconsider.
Where nonstick shines is on everyday tasks that would naturally stick like eggs, and one reliable nonstick fry pan is really all you need. For the nonstick fry pan, I tested both sunny side up eggs for two minutes over medium heat and scrambled eggs with shredded cheese for three minutes over medium heat.
The Made In pan cooked eggs to perfection. My sunny side up eggs had lightly crisp edges with a perfectly runny center, and my scrambled eggs were light and fluffy. The real test, of course, was the cleanup. It’s not dishwasher safe, but that doesn’t matter. By the time my eggs hit the plate, the pan was practically already clean, no sponge required.
Carbon Steel Component
Finally, a carbon steel fry pan is quite the bonus because it typically isn’t offered in sets. If you’re not as familiar with this material, imagine if stainless steel and cast iron had a baby. It has the heat conductivity of cast iron but a lighter weight, closer to that of stainless steel. Like cast iron, it requires a bit of TLC to season and maintain, but it does provide exceptional sears on fattier meats. Since it needed a bit more fat to help season, I made a second batch of turkey burgers to test, and it indeed did sear to perfection.
My Final Thoughts
Minor callouts aside, the Sous Chef is overall a superior set of cookware. It offers exactly what I would want if I created a set of my own, providing top-of-the-line stainless steel in the optimal sizes required to make most home recipes and one nonstick pan to handle the quick and easy meals. It even offers a bonus carbon steel pan, which provides the benefits of cast iron without the heft.
High-quality cookware is worth the investment, and this set not only solves the conundrum of stainless steel versus nonstick but also helps you avoid having to spend even more money to buy supplemental pans. If you’re in the market for an upgrade or a refresh in your kitchen, want more bang for your buck on a wedding registry, or simply want to start off on the right foot in a new place, consider the Sous Chef. Though I can’t vouch for its longevity yet since I’ve only had it for a few months, all indications point towards a long life ahead for these pots and pans with many successful meals along the way.