Last Updated Jan 2020 – You’ve probably heard of All-Clad, and you might have even read a discussion about whether or not their cookware is worth the cost. Even if you know all about the illustrious history of this top cookware company , however, it’s still tough to understand the differences between all of their cookware lines. With options in anodized aluminum, stainless steel layered with aluminum, and even complex offerings involving copper, there’s a lot to choose from.
For many people, the most confusing choice is the one between the different sets made from layered steel and aluminum. All-Clad has at least 4 lines that utilize very similar multi-clad construction. In order to help you choose between Tri-Ply, D5, and MC2, here’s a basic run-down of how cladding works and what the differences are in how each set is constructed.
Before we get too into things, let’s look at the basic details for each set. Here’s a quick rundown of what each option contains.
* Tri-Ply *
All-Clad’s Tri-Ply line comes in 5, 7, 10, and 14-piece cookware sets. You can also purchase individual pieces. I’d recommend getting a covered saute pan like this one here, since it lets you cook both liquid-heavy dishes and your normal frying pan fare.
Key features of the tri-ply line include polished stainless steel exteriors, stainless steel cooking surfaces, and metal lids and handles. The durable metal used in all of these components helps make this cookware line very long-lasting. Not only is it dishwasher and oven safe, it has the potential to last in your kitchen for literal decades.
Like the D5 set below, the stainless steel cooking surface means you’ll have to use a bit of care in order to keep foods from sticking. This has a big upside, however, in that you don’t have to worry about scratching your non-stick cooking surface with metal utensils. Not only can you use whatever utensils you want with these pots and pans, you also don’t have to worry about your non-stick wearing out over time. This cookware set can easily last you the rest of your life if you’re careful with how you clean and handle it.
If you think the basic details of this set are pretty similar to the D5 line, you’re right! Keep reading to find out how these two sets differ. The bottom line is that they’re quite similar in how they handle in most kitchens. Feel free to make your choice based on which set you prefer visually or which one is on a better online sale.
* D5 *
The D5 line comes as a 5, 7, 10, or 14 piece set. You can also get individual pieces, like this lidded saute pan.
Like the Tri-Ply line, the D5 set has an exterior of brushed stainless steel and a smooth stainless steel cooking surface. The handles and lids are both made of metal. This means the set is very durable, oven safe, and even dishwasher safe, too. You can trust your All-Clad D5 cookware to last for years, if not decades.
WIth a stainless steel cooking surface, you’ll have to use some caution when you cook sticky foods. This isn’t anything new: in fact, cooking most foods should be nearly identical on the D5 and Tri-Ply lines. As long as you carefully control your temperature, use an appropriate amount of fat, and you wait to flip your food until the time is right, you should have no problems cooking foods like eggs and meat on the stainless cooking surface of these pots and pans.
All-Clad’s primary advantage over other brands is longevity and brand recognition. This set will last for many years in your kitchen and will show your family and dinner guests that you have some of the very best cookware around. It’s a solid investment in your future that will help you have lots of fun in the kitchen for a very long time.
Want to know how this set differs from the Tri-Ply line? Let’s talk about the common features of the two lines in order to understand what sets them apart.
What Is Cladding / Multi-Ply?
Stainless steel is durable, strong, non-reactive, scratch resistant, and easy to clean, but it doesn’t conduct heat very well. This means that cookware made entirely from stainless steel won’t heat up very quickly. Worse, when you turn the heat down, your cookware will stay hot for a while, making it difficult to control.
Aluminum, by contrast, is soft, somewhat prone to being scratched, and not a particularly good cooking surface. On the other hand, it’s very lightweight and conducts heat quite well.
How well? At normal cooking temperatures, aluminum conducts between 124 and 144 Btu per hour degree Fahrenheit foot (yes, this is a really weird unit, but remember that thermal conductivity has to vary with both the temperature difference and the amount of material). Stainless steel, by contrast, conducts between 7 and 26 of the same unit. This is a pretty huge difference. It means that under normal conditions, aluminum conducts heat at least 5 times as well as steel.
Cladding is the practice of combining multiple metals in order to take advantage of all of the positives at once. The basic “clad” pan utilizes a core of solid aluminum and a thin layer of stainless steel on the outside and inside. This protects the aluminum against damage and provides a safe cooking surface.
How Does Tri-Ply Differ From 5-Layer D5?
All-Clad’s Tri-Ply line uses the most standard method of cladding. It’s got three layers: a generous inner layer of aluminum, a stainless steel cooking surface, and a magnetic steel exterior (for induction compatibility). By contrast, the 5-layer D5 line uses a different pattern.
It’s still got a stainless steel outside and a stainless cooking surface. In between these layers, however, you get a thin core of steel that’s sandwiched between two layers of aluminum.
In practice, this doesn’t change a lot. Advocates of D5 claim that the extra stainless layer helps slow down heat transfer in a good way. Because it blocks heat a little bit, it forces the lower layer of aluminum to heat up totally evenly before it transfers heat up to the core layer of stainless. This means that the pan is more forgiving to cook with and will heat up a bit more evenly in theory.
Honestly, though, you’re unlikely to notice a big difference between the two sets. Side-by-side tests tend to show that the D5 line heats up slightly slower (by something like 10%) due to the extra layer of stainless steel. It’s difficult to measure how well heat spreads throughout a pan in the short-term, meaning that it’s tough to verify D5’s theoretical advantage in this department. This means that both sets are very comparable in actual kitchen conditions.
If you want an All-Clad set that’s measurably different, check out the Copper Core line instead. This set utilizes a layer of extra-conductive copper in order to maximize heat transfer and give you one of the best cooking experiences around.
What About MC2?
All-Clad’s Master Chef (or MC2) line features a slightly different design. Rather than having a hard, durable steel exterior, it utilizes an alloy of brushed aluminum for even better heat distribution. It might not beat the Copper Core line in all respects, but it definitely will provide slightly better heating than either the Tri-Ply or D5 lines.
In practice, this means it might boil water a little bit faster. You won’t notice a huge difference, however, and the outside of the pots and pans is arguably slightly more fragile. For more information about the MC2 line, check out our reviews here.
All-Clad Tri-Ply vs D5: The Superior Set
All-Clad’s Tri-Ply and D5 cookware lines are very similar. Both sets use a “cladded” construction model, with the Tri-Ply having 3 layers of alternating steel and aluminum while the D5 line uses 5. As far as cooking performance goes, the Tri-Ply line heats up slightly faster (it shaves about 30 seconds off of the time it takes to boil a pot of water, which for me takes something like 7-9 minutes in total).
The D5 line is very comparable, however, and is somewhat more forgiving. While heat transfers through each pot or pan a bit more slowly, it does so a bit more evenly. The slightly slower heat transfer also means that you’re less likely to accidentally burn food when you use heat that’s a bit too high.
Overall, however, the differences aren’t very big. A small reduction in the time it takes to boil water is hardly a big deal. A lot of the time, you’re letting your pots and pans preheat for a bit before you add food, anyway.
While the Tri-Ply line might heat up a few seconds faster, you’re probably chopping vegetables, washing dishes, or performing other kitchen tasks while you wait for your pots and pans to pre-heat or your water to boil. This means that a slight reduction in cooking time doesn’t necessarily translate into more free time for you. It just means that you’ll have to return your attention to your pot slightly faster.
So which line should you choose?
If you want the more responsive, thermally conductive line, Tri-Ply wins by a small margin. If you want a more forgiving line that still offers excellent thermal conductivity, D5 is the better choice. For most people, however, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a set based on looks or an online sale. The differences are pretty minor and both sets are very high quality, meaning you’ll be happy with whichever you choose.