If you’re in the market for stainless steel cookware, you’ve probably come across the terms “3-ply” and “5-ply”.
You may be wondering what that means and whether 3-ply or 5-ply cookware is better.
In this comparison of 3-ply vs. 5-ply cookware, you’ll learn what these terms mean, how the two construction types compare, and if the number of plys even matters.
Plus, I reveal what nine of the top cookware brands and three kitchenware retailers have to say about the differences.
Keep reading to see if 3-ply or 5-ply stainless steel cookware is better for you.
Use the links below to navigate:
- What’s the Difference Between 3-Ply and 5-Ply Cookware? The Short Answer
- Does the Number of Plys Matter?
- What the Top Cookware Brands Say About 3-Ply and 5-Ply Cookware
- Examples of 3-Ply and 5-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware
- Bottom Line: Should You Buy 3- or 5-Ply Cookware?
What’s the Difference Between 3-Ply and 5-Ply Cookware? The Short Answer
Stainless steel cookware is constructed with layers of bonded materials. Typically, top and bottom layers of stainless steel are bonded around an aluminum or copper core.
Manufacturers do this because stainless steel is durable, but it’s a poor conductor of heat. On the other hand, aluminum and copper have high thermal conductivity and are excellent at transferring and distributing heat, but they’re not nearly as durable as steel.
By bonding steel with highly conductive materials like aluminum or copper, you get the best of both worlds: durability and conductivity.
In the context of stainless steel cookware, the term ply refers to the number of bonded layers. 3-ply, often referred to as tri-ply, means the cookware is made of three bonded layers, while 5-ply means it has five layers.
All-Clad D3 is one of the most popular 3-ply stainless steel cookware collections. It’s made with an 18/10 stainless steel interior (cooking surface), an aluminum core, and an 18/0 stainless steel exterior.
If you look closely at the rim of bonded cookware, you can see the different plys.
All-Clad also makes 5-ply cookware, which they call the D5 collection. Its five layers consist of an 18/10 stainless steel interior (cooking surface), then a layer of aluminum, then a thin steel core, then another layer of aluminum, and finally an 18/0 stainless steel exterior.
The photo below shows all five layers of All-Clad’s 5-ply cookware.
Does the Number of Plys Matter?
Now that you know what the terms 3-ply and 5-ply mean, you’re probably wondering: does the number of plys matter?
The answer is: it depends. The number of plys only matters after you’ve considered the material of each ply and the thickness of the materials.
Allow me to explain.
As I mentioned above, the interior and exterior plys are steel, but the core ply(s) varies by brand and collection.
Aluminum is the most common core ply because it’s a great heat conductor and is relatively affordable. It’s used by brands such as Cuisinart, Made In, Calphalon, and several others.
The main downside of copper is that it’s much more expensive, increasing the cookware’s cost.
The stainless steel core defuses heat transfer, which results in the cookware heating up slower but more evenly.
It also makes the cookware more forgiving, meaning it responds slowly to temperature changes. In other words, if you mistakenly turn the heat on the stove too high, you won’t immediately burn your food.
The point is — the materials matter more than the number of plys. Cookware with a stainless steel interior and exterior and an aluminum core is standard, but high-end cookware with a copper core will heat up faster, and cookware with a steel core, like All-Clad D5, will heat slower.
Another key factor is thickness.
In general, the thicker the cookware, the more durable it will be. Thick cookware heats slower but more evenly than thinner cookware and retains heat longer.
Within one brand, 5-ply cookware will be thicker than 3-ply cookware. However, one brand’s 5-ply cookware might not be thicker than another brand’s 3-ply cookware.
So don’t assume that cookware with more plys is always thicker.
When comparing brands, check the specific thickness of the cookware’s walls. In some cases, it’s listed on the cookware company’s website. Otherwise, you’ll need to call the company’s support number.
Bottom line — if one pan is 3-ply stainless steel and another is 5-ply stainless steel, but the materials and thickness are the same, the performance will be similar. The thickness and the materials of each ply matter much more than the number of plys.
What the Top Cookware Brands Say About 3-Ply vs. 5-Ply Cookware
To get additional perspectives on the differences between 3- and 5-ply cookware, I reached out to several top cookware brands.
I contacted product specialists at All-Clad, Made In, GreenPan, Hestan, 360 Cookware, Viking, Zwilling, Cuisinart, and Great Jones. I also spoke with a few retailers, including Williams Sonoma, Sur La Table, and Crate and Barrel, to get their opinion.
When I spoke to each product specialist, I asked the same three questions:
- What’s the difference between 3- and 5-ply stainless steel cookware?
- Is 5-ply better than 3-ply?
- Does the number of plys matter?
Interestingly, I got slightly different answers from each brand.
Here are their exact responses:
“5-ply cookware contains two more interior layers of a heat conductive metal than 3-ply. 5-ply cookware is thicker, making it highly resistant to warping.”
“The difference is the number of bonded layers. There is really no difference with regard to functionality. 3-ply is perfectly fine and will conduct heat perfectly.”
“Our 3-ply, D3 collection is made of three sheets of metal: two stainless steel and one aluminum. Our D5 collection has five sheets of metal, three stainless steel and two aluminum. The 5-ply collection is more durable and preheats more evenly.”
“A ply or clad in cookware translates to a layer, so a 3-ply or 3-clad pan is three layers. The layers are like an oreo cookie, the cookie part is stainless steel, and the cream center is aluminum. Stainless steel alone does not conduct heat well, so the aluminum center helps with this, giving you an excellent surface to cook on that can heat efficiently and evenly.
All-Clad sold 3-ply pans for 40 years very successfully. About ten years ago, they developed a 5-ply pan (the D5 collection) alternating stainless steel and aluminum. The design was intended to be marketed for the induction cooktop world. At the time, it was thought that these cooktops required thicker and heavier pans to work optimally. By the way, since then, this has proven not to be true.
The induction cooktop market was not as big as they hoped, so they abandoned branding this line as induction pans in favor of convincing the public that five layers are better than three, and the D5 was a success. Over time, this too has proven not to be true.
So now, most of the culinary community prefers 3-ply pans for their efficiency and lighter weight. One of the key benefits to Hestan’s cookware is our ProCore aluminum center layer that is 35% more efficient than other stainless steel clad cookware. It’s the difference between driving a 1980’s K-car and a new Italian F1 race car.”
“The fact is while stainless steel is a safe, non-porous surface that transfers no harmful chemicals into your food, it’s not a great conductor of heat.
Aluminum conducts heat very well, but it can leach harmful metal into your food.
Imagine these two metals as being the chocolate and peanut butter in a Reese’s® Cup. Alone they have their pros and cons, but put them together, and WOW!
Once multi-ply construction was mastered and became accepted in the cookware industry, marketers had to find a way to make their brand seem better, and the race to see who had the most “layers” was on.
The problem with this sales tactic was it misinformed consumers — it’s not the number of layers that matters; it’s the thickness or gauge. 360 has one of the thickest measurements at .11.
Our cookware is 3-ply, and our bakeware is 5-ply.”
“Although 3-ply cookware uses this same combination of materials, 5-ply cookware includes two additional layers of aluminum in the “core.” These additional layers add additional thickness and create a product that is even more effective at distributing and retaining heat.”
“The “ply” in cookware refers to the layers of metals used to construct the bottom of the pot or pan, and sometimes the entire pot or pan.
Each metal “ply” has its own purpose in the construction of the cookware. When you sandwich different “ply of metal” together to form a pot or pan, you utilize the best properties each metal has to offer. The more layers of metals in the cookware, the thicker the pot or pan is.
Three-ply cookware has three different layers of metal bonded together, most often stainless steel and aluminum or copper.
Our stainless cookware uses a tri-ply construction that incorporates 18/10 stainless steel, aluminum, and magnetic stainless steel.
Stainless cookware is used for its durability and ease of maintaining and cleaning the pan. The aluminum center core, with stainless steel, ensures your food will cook evenly. The magnetic stainless steel exterior enables the cookware to be induction compatible
5-ply means that cookware is constructed with five layers of metals. There are not many additional benefits of 5-ply versus the 3-ply.
The thickness of 5-ply cookware reduces the chances of warping, and it also enables fast, even heat distribution for superior cooking. Usually, the added metals consist of aluminum alloy and/or stainless steel.”
“5-ply means that cookware is constructed with 5 layers of metals. There are not many additional benefits of 5-ply versus the 3-ply.”
“The “ply” refers to the layers of material used to construct pots and pans. The difference in the layers comes down to personal preference.
That said, a higher ply does not directly correlate to higher quality cookware. The thickness of the materials used and distribution through the cookware will have more impact on the heat distribution than the number of layers.
We chose to go with 3-ply for our stainless pieces. Our stainless pieces are fully-clad, meaning they have aluminum cores that are layered with stainless steel. The aluminum core travels up the sides of each pan and helps distribute heat across the entire surface, so your food heats up and cooks evenly.”
“5-ply cookware will provide more insulation and better heat conduction.”
Sur La Table
“3-ply and 5-ply are terms used to confirm how many metal layers are used to manufacture the cookware. Most of the time, two layers of steel are used for the interior and exterior, and the core may be aluminum or copper to improve the heat conduction.”
Crate and Barrel
“3-ply stainless steel design combines three layers of metal to create one solid piece that is formed into the vessel. 5-ply contains two extra interior layers of a heat conductive metal than 3-ply.
A higher ply does not always directly translate to higher quality cookware. The thickness of the pot or pan’s material and distribution of the cladded metal throughout the cookware affect heat distribution more than the number of layers contained within the cladded metal.
Therefore, the right cookware for you depends on what you are cooking and how you want those items cooked.”
Examples of 3-Ply and 5-Ply Cookware
The table below shows the best-selling 3- and 5-ply cookware collections from the top brands. I’ve included the number of plys and material of each ply to help you compare.
|Brand/Collection||3-Ply or 5-Ply||Materials|
|All-Clad D3||3-ply||Stainless steel interior, aluminum core, stainless steel exterior|
|All-Clad D5||5-ply||Stainless steel interior, aluminum, stainless steel core, aluminum, stainless steel exterior|
|All-Clad Copper Core||5-ply||Stainless steel interior, aluminum, copper core, aluminum, stainless steel exterior|
|Made In Stainless Steel||5-ply||Stainless steel interior, triple-layer aluminum core, stainless steel exterior|
|Misen Stainless Steel||5-ply||Stainless steel interior, triple-layer aluminum core, stainless steel exterior|
|Calphalon Signature||5-ply||Stainless steel interior, triple-layer aluminum core, stainless steel exterior|
|Calphalon Premier||3-ply||Stainless steel interior, aluminum core, stainless steel exterior|
|Anolon Advanced Tri-Ply||3-ply||Stainless steel interior, aluminum core, stainless steel exterior|
|Demeyere Industry||5-ply||Stainless steel interior, triple-layer aluminum core, stainless steel exterior|
|Le Creuset Tri-Ply||3-ply||Stainless steel interior, aluminum core, stainless steel exterior|
Bottom Line: Should You Buy 3- or 5-Ply Cookware?
The main difference between 3-ply and 5-ply cookware is that 3-ply is made with three bonded layers, while 5-ply is made with five.
When I asked nine cookware brands and three retailers if the number of plys matters, some said 5-ply cookware offers superior durability and heat conduction, some said it depends, and others said it doesn’t matter.
With so many mixed messages, it’s easy to understand why shoppers are confused.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t choose cookware based on the number of plys. Instead, look at the materials of each ply and the overall thickness.
Those factors will have a much greater impact on the cookware’s heat distribution, heat retention, and overall durability (and price) than the number of plys.
In general, stainless steel cookware with a copper core will heat up faster and respond to temperature changes quicker than cookware with an aluminum core. And thicker cookware is typically more durable and delivers superior heat retention.
If you’re looking for cookware that’s thicker and heats up fast, and you don’t mind spending more, consider 5-ply copper core cookware like All-Clad Copper Core.
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