What Is Cookware Cladding and Ply Count — Why Does It Matter?

Published on 01/30/2024 · 9 min readShopping around for new cookware? Learn what cladding and ply count mean and why they're crucial for heat distribution, durability, and cooking performance.
Di Doherty, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Di Doherty

Photo by Mirageart

TL;DR: Cladding is the process of adding an interior layer of conductive metal to a piece of cookware to improve its even heating and durability; ply count is the number of layers. When picking out a piece of cookware, consider if it has an aluminum or copper core, how many plies it has, and if you want copper or stainless steel cookware.

I’ve been cooking since I was old enough to be trusted in the kitchen, so it's been a hobby of mine for the better part of two decades. Cookware has always interested me, as I’ve loved every type of tool. Now that I’ve collected my own cookware, I’ve come to find that having high-quality cookware makes a huge difference both in how much I enjoy cooking and in my results. Cladding can have several different benefits, not the least of which demonstrating that it’s better-made cookware.

Understanding all the technical jargon that goes into cookware construction takes time and research. If you’re unsure of what makes a good piece of cookware, start a free chat with a Curated Kitchen Expert! All of our Experts are well-versed in the terminology, meaning that they can answer any questions you may have, as well as make recommendations for what they’re sure you’ll love.

What Is Clad Cookware?

Cladding is typically done on stainless steel cookware, though copper cookware will sometimes also have it. So, what is clad cookware? Cladding is the process of adding an additional layer of metal between the outer layers of metal. What this usually looks like is a layer of aluminum sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. Clad cookware only has an additional layer on the bottom, while fully clad has an extra layer throughout the entire piece.

The reason that clad stainless steel cookware is preferred is twofold. The first is that stainless steel isn’t the most conductive of metals, and its heat distribution is only okay. Adding a layer of a highly conductive metal, like aluminum or copper, aids in even heating.

The second is durability. The more layers the cookware has, the thicker the sides will be, and the longer it’ll last. Single-layer cookware tends to be cheap and more fragile, while high-quality cookware is clad.

What to Consider When Buying Clad Cookware

A stainless steel stockpot on an induction burner. Photo by Congerdesign

Adding an additional layer of a conductive metal improves the performance of stainless steel cookware, but the fact that it exists isn’t sufficient to prove it’s best for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking for clad cookware.

Stainless Steel or Copper?

Two different types of metal can be clad: stainless steel and copper. Stainless steel is something you’re going to encounter a lot more often, but there are benefits to both.

  • Stainless steel: The vast majority of clad cookware will be made from stainless steel. Stainless is durable, easy to clean (most of it is dishwasher safe), and affordable. The cladding is added to improve heat distribution and extend its life.
  • Copper: Copper cookware is a specialty item, and it has a price tag to match. Copper has been used for a very long time for cookware because of how well it conducts heat. As copper is reactive to acids, almost all modern copper cookware has a stainless steel interior (which makes it fully clad in a sense).

Additionally, some will have an aluminum core. As with stainless, this makes the cookware thicker with better heat retention and strength, but it also helps to keep the layers from separating. As copper and stainless have such different reactions to heat, the metals can shift or shrink in different ways, causing a gap between the two layers. Aluminum is more similar to copper in its reaction to heat, making shifting less likely to happen.

Aluminum or Copper Core?

The two most common types of interior metal layers are aluminum and copper, with the former being more prevalent.

  • Aluminum: Aluminum is an inexpensive metal that’s easy to work with. It’s preferred for bakeware because of its excellent heat conductivity, and that’s why it’s also prized for cookware. It would be used as an outer layer, save that it’s easy to scratch, making it poorly suited as metal utensils, and is reactive to acids, which can cause pitting in the metal. It’s able to bring its strengths forward as an inner layer, without the drawbacks. If you want aluminum cookware, the best bet is hard anodized cookware. Anodizing is a process to make aluminum more durable and nonreactive to acids.
  • Copper: For the reasons mentioned above, cookware with a copper core is more expensive. Copper has excellent heat distribution, making it an ideal interior layer. Many of these types of pots or pans will also have a copper ring on the outside to show that it's copper clad.

Veggies being sautéd in a stainless steel fry pan. Photo by Cottonbro Studios

3-ply, 5-ply, or 7-ply?

The product descriptions on stainless steel cookware will mention the number of plies that it has. A ply is a layer of metal, so the number of plies is synonymous with the number of layers.

  • 3-ply: Sometimes also called tri-ply, this is the most common variation. Three-ply cookware has a single interior layer of conductive metal and two layers of exterior metal, usually stainless. That makes it lightweight, durable, and heat reactive.
  • 5-ply: For those looking for a little extra oomph, there’s five-ply cookware. What that means is that there’s an additional layer of conductive metal and an additional layer of stainless steel in between them. This makes it heat more evenly and adds durability. The tradeoff is that it is slower to heat and heavier.
  • 7-ply: This cookware has seven layers of metal. While once again this will make the cookware more durable and have better heat distribution, it’s rarely enough of an improvement that most home cooks will notice. Seven-ply cookware tends to be heavy and slow to heat, which is enough of a drawback for most people to decide they want something lighter.

Features to Look For

There are a lot of good pieces of cookware out there, but it can be hard to distinguish them from the mediocre ones. Here are a couple of features to look for to ensure that you’re getting the most for your money.

Fully Clad

A piece of cookware that’s fully clad has an interior layer of metal that covers the whole of the pot or pan, not just the bottom (which would be simply clad). Fully clad cookware has the dual benefit of lasting longer — as the metal is thicker all the way around — and heating more evenly. It does tend to be more expensive, but you’re getting something valuable for your extra dollars.

Mulled wine in a stainless steel saucepan. Photo by Leeloo the First

That’s not to say that a piece of cookware that’s simply clad is poorly made or worthless. There’s a lot of clad cookware that would serve you very well. But if you have a choice, pick the fully clad one.

Induction Compatible

Induction stovetops are still niche at this point, but they're becoming more prevalent. Induction works by using a magnetic field to heat the cookware on its surface, meaning that the pan needs to be ferromagnetic to work on that type of stove.

Cast iron, carbon steel, and stainless steel are all induction compatible, while copper and aluminum are not. Fully stainless steel pans or pots are one way to go, as is a copper pan with a stainless steel base.

Oven-Safe Handles

Having a piece of cookware that works both on the stovetop and in the oven greatly increases its versatility. Stainless steel handles are an excellent way to ensure that the pot can go in the oven, which opens up a lot of potential for recipes.

A cheesy casserole in a stainless steel casserole pan. Photo by Anna Tarazevich

Pot roasts are the most obvious, of course, as they start off simmering on the stovetop, and then are baked in the oven. But there are a number of recipes that involve searing pork or beef, and then cooking them in the oven, which means that having a sauté pan or frying pan that can work in both places limits the number of pans you’ll need to use.

How to Pick the Best Clad Cookware for You

Knowing what the best cookware for your needs is can be time consuming. To help point you in the right direction, I’m going to describe three different people and what cookware I’d recommend to them.

Michelle: Dedicated Cook Who Wants to Upgrade Her Cookware

Michelle has been cooking for most of her life, but she's finally gotten a good job and wants to splurge on upgrading all of her cookware. The idea of her cookware matching and performing similarly appeals to her. She’s looking for something high-end that’ll last her the rest of her life.

Features to look for:

  • Copper exterior or cladding, as that’s only used in upper-echelon cookware
  • A full cookware set to cover everything she needs

Recommended products: Viking Copper Clad 3-Ply Hammered, All-Clad Copper Core 5-ply Bonded Cookware Set

Gene: Young Professional Looking to Improve His Cooking Skills

Gene cooks for himself now and then, but he’d like to get better at it as he wants to look after his and his partner’s health. He has some cheap cookware he bought just out of college, but he wants to get some good cookware to make cooking easier and more enjoyable. He’s not looking for anything too difficult to care for.

Features to look for:

  • Fully stainless steel cookware for ease of care
  • Oven-safe cookware to increase versatility

Recommended products: All-Clad D3 Stainless 3-ply Bonded Cookware Fry Pan with Lid, Viking Contemporary Stainless Steel Stock Pot

Kylie: Baker Looking to Improve Her Craft

Kylie has always loved to bake and she’s collected a bunch of high-quality bakeware. Now, though, she’d like to get some better cookware to help when she makes custards, boiled frostings, or melts chocolate.

Features to look for:

  • Clad saucepans for delicate boiling and cooking tasks, like making custards
  • A small skillet that is good for low heat, like melting chocolate

Recommended products: Hestan CopperBond Induction Copper Open Skillet, Zwilling Spirit 3-Ply Stainless Steel Saucepan

Find the Right Clad Cookware for You

A stainless steel fry pan and an array of grains. Photo by Toa Heftiba

There are so many options out there for cookware that it can be hard to pick out just the right one for you. If this article didn’t answer all your questions, then talk to a Curated Kitchen Expert! Curated has a guarantee that you’ll love what you buy from us, and the key to this is our Experts. Every one of our Experts is happy to make recommendations, answer questions, or even talk shop with another enthusiast. Best of all, it’s free!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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