David Siegel’s Skillet Porn

David Siegel
Dec 12, 2019 · 6 min read

Skillets, frying pans, and crepe pans are so complex I needed a separate document to describe and show them. If you read my kitchenware porn page, I’m only interested in high-end products. There are lower-end products that perform as well but don’t last as long. I’ll discuss a few of those here. This is stovetop only — I will make another page for ovenware.

Skillets come in five cooking materials: stainless, carbon steel, nonstick, cast iron, and ceramic. Many professional chefs choose carbon steel because it’s lighter than cast iron and you can just buy them by the ten-pack. I don’t see them being used at home. I also have no interest in ceramic pans. Here I will cover stainless, cast iron, and nonstick.

My approach is to have one stainless and one nonstick skillet of different sizes. I think that’s a reasonable strategy for most people. I would get the bigger one in stainless and the smaller one in nonstick.

The Market

The market for frying pans wants to buy a cheap pan and then get a new one when it degrades. The vast majority of pans sell for $20–40. There are remarkably few pans above that.

Misen’s approach is to make a pan that’s designed to last a year or two and then get a new one. That’s not so bad. All-Clad’s approach is to make the best pan possible. Iittala’s approach is to make a pan that belongs in the Museum of Modern Art and lasts for generations.

Size

It might occur to you that you want a 12" pan. This is a bad idea. A 12" pan is too big and heavy for a stovetop. 11" is the max. If you’re single or a couple, I recommend an 8" and a 10" pan. If you have more mouths, get 9" and 11.”

All-Clad

All-Clad is a mid-range department-store line of products that somehow caught on with people registering for their weddings.

I have this 10" skillet and don’t like it. Its surface is stained, scratched, and sticks. I have the 12" copper-core non-stick pan that costs $240, and I hate it. It’s way too heavy, the handle hurts, and it’s larger than any of my burners, so the outside edge doesn’t get hot. It’s too delicate and is already scratched, despite my babying it.

The people in the All-Clad handle department, whom I am sure are very nice, can’t design a handle to save their lives. This handle hurts. It hurts because the heel of your hand has to push down to keep the pan up. Maybe if you have a very light pan, then you can put your thumb into the top of the handle and it might not hurt. I don’t understand how they are so popular.

But there is good news! If you want an All-Clad pan, you can upgrade your pan by getting the handle grip to save your hands …

If you have an All-Clad pan, get the All-Clad grip: $20

If you think about it, it’s brilliant: design a handle that hurts, so people have to buy the $20 grip just to use them.

Stainless

I’m a believer in stainless steel, but in practice they become sticky, film up, and need scouring. You can use steel tools with them, but they are probably the last choice for frying an egg. I do want to try the new Iittala Tools skillet. These are gorgeous pans that match my pots, and I am excited to own and use them. I expect they will perform better than other stainless pans. I will report back after I have spent some time with them. Note that these are the only non-riveted pans on the market.

Iittala Tools 9.5" stainless frying pan: $240
Iittala Tools 11" stainless frying pan: $310

Nonstick

A nonstick coating can go on top of stainless steel, aluminum, or some other substrate. The problem is the coating. Every Calphalon I’ve ever seen is scratched all the way through. The coatings don’t last. There are many fancy coatings and surfaces — Swiss diamond, Hexclad, etc. — but most of them don’t last more than a few months.

I’ve looked at the nonstick options and have come up with two that I think are reasonable. The Misen pan is designed to be replaced yearly, and the All-Clad is probably best-in-class, despite my bad experience. I hope they’ve changed the coating since I got mine.

Misen pans in 8" ($45) and 10" ($55) versions.

For the All-Clad, you can choose between the French version, which is made of aluminum with steep straight sides (as opposed to flared). If you flip the pan to turn things, as I do, I think you’ll find the straight sides very helpful. I definitely don’t recommend the copper-core. I think this aluminum pair would be worth trying, because I like the shape and because they are priced to be replaced every year:

All-Clad 8" and 10" aluminum nonstick french frying pan pair: $60 (plus $20 more for the handle grips)

Or the 3-layer steel:

All-Clad Steel 3-layer nonstick 9" pan: $100 — don’t forget a handle grip

As I said, I have the copper-core version of this pan in 12", and I really hate it. Not only is it too heavy, but the nonstick surface really isn’t non-sticky after a few months of use. I hope a better nonstick pan arrives on the scene. Until then, you may want to think of replacing your pan every year or so. Don’t forget to get lids and handle grips!

Cast Iron

I’m not going to feature a cast-iron skillet with a handle here. If you’re the kind of person who loves cast iron, you already know what you like. I don’t believe cast iron should be on the stovetop. It seems like every new cast-iron skillet gets its start on Kickstarter these days. I am covering cast-iron skillets for the oven on my upcoming Ovenware porn page.

Crepe Pans

I make crepes about once a week, from scratch. A good skillet makes excellent crepes, but it takes more technique. In this category, I think we have a clear winner, though I haven’t tried it. It’s a heavy 11" pan, and 11" is what you want, because your large burner isn’t going to cover 12.”

Le Creuset Toughened NonStick Crepe Pan, 11": $80

This is in second place. If you have a large burner, try it:

Berndes 11.5" crepe pan: $87

Be sure to check dsiegel.com for all the latest Product Porn installments!

David Siegel is a serial entrepreneur in Washington, DC. He is the founder of the Pillar Project and 2030. He is the author of The Token Handbook, Open Stanford, The Culture Deck, Climate Curious, and The Nine Act Structure. He gives speeches to audiences around the world — see his speaker page if you would like him to speak at your next event. His full body of work is at dsiegel.com.

David Siegel

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Provocateur, professional heretic, slayer of myths, speaker of truthiness to powerfulness, and defender of the Oxford comma.

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