All-Clad Tri-Ply vs. D5 cookware: heating / response time
January 7, 2017 5:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be receiving a set of All-Clad cookware as a wedding gift (lucky us!) and am trying to choose between their original Tri-Ply (with 3 layers) style and their newer D5 (with 5 layers) series. As it will be a gift, price is not a factor (again, lucky thing). We'd be happy with either style in terms of looks and most aspects of performance. The deciding factor could be the heating and heat response time, with which it's entirely possible that the decidedly more pricey D5 line actually performs decidedly worse. More details below.

I'm concerned that those two extra layers (one of stainless steel, one of aluminum) might increase the heating (and cooling) time kind of a lot, which over the life of the set could mean a lot of wasted time (and wasted utility costs); and even, occasionally, slightly worse cooking results. Or is the heating time difference between the two negligible? I haven't been able to find any kind of a quantitative comparison between the two in this respect. Would greatly appreciate any info or advice on this.
posted by Mechitar to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
As the guy who literally wrote the leading internet guide on the physics of cookware ("Understanding Stovetop Cookware," now in bad need of updating), I can reassure you that the differences between the two lines won't make any difference you will notice.

The extra stainless layer in the D5 line probably adds a modicum of extra structural stability, although I don't think this is an issue with the three-layer lines, and theoretically could be slightly less thermally responsive and have a slightly higher heat capacity. But even if this is true, I doubt very much you would notice it.

That said, I always recommend against cookware sets as they inevitably include several pieces you never really use.
posted by slkinsey at 6:54 PM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

I worked for five years in a high end kitchen store and was extensively trained on cookware, so I'm very familiar with All-Clad but not overly familiar with the D5, so I'll give you a general answer. More aluminum is going to be more responsive — it will both heat up faster and respond more quickly when you turn the heat down. So technically the D5 would be what you want.

Stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat. It's non reactive (unlike aluminum) so that's why it's sandwiching the conductive material. I can't think of a reason why you'd add another layer of stainless, as it's not necessary—I have plenty of other tri-ply cookware with a thicker aluminum layer than All-Clad uses. It's gimmicky if they do use three layers of stainless steel...there are other reasons why I dislike All-Clad construction and would be happy to elaborate if you like, but will refrain from derailing! (Except to say that Demereye is my favorite brand and if someone was buying me a set I'd ask for Demereye Atlantis, with a Swiss Diamond 10" fry thrown in and a Staub French oven to make an amazingly complete kitchen.)

All-Clad does make a very pricey copper core line. Copper is a great conductor of heat and during my training we had to make several dishes using different cookware (that we got for free, so I still own them so I have many many years of cooking with them now.) I compared the All-Clad tri-ply and the copper core and observed a difference when looking for it. You might notice a difference in how responsive they are to changes in temperature, though it's not really that huge. But if the sky is really the limit and All-Clad is the only brand you're considering, go for that. :)

On preview, not all cookware sets are bad and I quite like the options that All-Clad has — sometimes you can swap out pieces if you know you won't use one if you're buying from a brick and mortar store (at least, the store I worked for did so with approval from All-Clad). But in general I wouldn't stress about whether you should get a set or not unless you're getting a really big set, in which case, yeah, they tend to throw in random sizes you don't really need and buying from all one brand is not a good way to have a complete collection because different brands excel at different things. Feel free to memail me if you want far more information than you asked for!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:15 PM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I can't think of a reason why you'd add another layer of stainless, as it's not necessary . . . It's gimmicky if they do use three layers of stainless steel.

I agree that it's probably simply a gimmick to get people to spend more. All-Clad used to have a virtual monopoly on fully clad cookware with an aluminum core, and charged accordingly. This hasn't been the case for some years now, and it's hard to justify spending all that money for All-Clad Stainless when you can spend less than half that much on tri-ply cookware by Tramontina or someone like that. Theoretically increasing the amount of stainless steel would increase the thermal capacity of the pan while reducing somewhat the thermal conductivity. I'm not sure why this needs to be done with an internal layer of stainless steel, however, instead of just increasing the thickness of the external and internal cladding. The only reason I can think of for doing that is so they can claim that "this one has FIVE layers" and charge more because people are easily led to believe that more layers equates to better. And, again, they need something to differentiate them from the zillion other brands of three layer fully clad cookware on the market today.

Stainless-clad/aluminum-core cookware that is the same thickness throughout can be useful for things such as frypans, smaller saucepans and perhaps small sauté pans. But for stainless pieces such as large saucepans, large sauté pans, stockpots, etc. I think pans with an extra-thick disk bottom are better and they're usually less expensive. And, of course, don't forget about carbon steel for frypans, which is my personal favorite for applications where reactivity isn't a major concern.
posted by slkinsey at 7:36 PM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have no experience with either set you're looking at, but for what it's worth The Sweethome just did their review of cookware sets (here) and had this to say about the D5 set:
The All-Clad d5 Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set held on to heat more, so it took longer for us to make caramel and achieve nicely golden-brown chicken. This set also costs $100 more than our upgrade pick.
The upgrade pick they're referring to there is an All-Clad Tri-Ply set.
posted by noneuclidean at 4:55 AM on January 8, 2017

This comparison of the various All-Clad types seems like a pretty good summary of pros and cons. Here is a chart. I'm not averse to sets, per se, but I think, having taken a look at the most commonly available set options, I would probably pick the 10 piece set (seems like the most useful mix of options if you are getting a set).
posted by gudrun at 9:45 AM on January 8, 2017

I have the 10" frying pan in D5 and Tri-Ply. I most often use them to brown meat on medium-high heat and then cook it on low with a little liquid for about 45 minutes. I notice no difference in either stage of cooking. I also use the pan to saute things, to caramelize onions, make risotto, and other less-demanding uses, and there's no difference that I can see.

What is different: during browning of meat, spatters of oil on the interior sides of the D5 harden into stubborn, dark-brown residue that's hard to remove. I have to use Barkeeper's Friend and a lot of elbow grease. The Tri-Ply can be cleaned with a scrubber sponge and less effort.
posted by wryly at 12:36 PM on January 8, 2017

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