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best 12" stainless skillet for under $100?

hi everyone,

i'm considering ordering the 12" all-clad stainless skillet, which i can get for around $100 for irregular quality. is there a pan which is better for the same (or less) money? i've seen people on this board say that sitram and paderno grand gourmet are similar/better, but both seem to cost more than the $100 price point i'm looking at.

intended uses:
- i cook mostly mexican food, which means mostly stovetop cooking
- i find myself browning meat quite often, either for a braise or for slow cooker action

are there any pans that i should be looking at? i saw a calphalon stainless 12 inch for $40 at TJ maxx, but it's made in china and i try to buy american whenever possible.

thanks!!!!

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  1. if you're patient keep an eye out for a sale- i got the all clad (1st quality) covered 12 inch for 79.99 at bloomingdales recently, also at macys i saw a nice price (also $80 i think) for the covered french skillet....

    2 Replies
    1. re: qwerty78

      qwerty that is an awesome price you found for the 12 inch skillet, especially with the cover. how long ago was it? what store was that deal at?

      1. re: ceviche

        it was at bloomingdales during a one day home sale maybe a month ago. i JUST saw the 11in covered french skillet at macy's for 79.99 it's 99 online so i would check or call a macy's.

    2. "Skillet" is a very broad term. There are 2 main kinds, either a saute pan (straight sides) or an omelet pan (curved sides). I think a saute pan is far more versatile, so that's clarification/question #1.

      #2 is are you sure you need a 12 inch pan? 12 inches is quite large, larger than you think, and most people don't need that much space on an everyday basis. Saute pans are often listed in quart size, and a 3 quart pan is often large enough for most applications.

      2 Replies
      1. re: HaagenDazs

        HaagenDazs, i think i meant omelet / frying pan. i've never used a saute pan, i figured that for browning meats (which i do a lot) the wider "mouth" of a frying pan would allow steam to escape (and thus prevent steaming of the meat thereby promoting browning) than the straight sides of a saute pan. am i understanding the physics correctly?

        1. re: ceviche

          Yes and no... I think you've got the right idea of having wide open surfaces for water/steam to evaporate and reduce, but saute pan versus omelet pan, I think the saute pan offers more cooking surface and thus more space and evaporation. The sides aren't really high enough to have that much of an impact on moisture retention. The other advantage comes in the form of versatility, where I still think the saute pan is far more versatile. Anything from browning meats to risotto to a braise, a saute pan does it all.

          Going back to the first point though, for browning to occur properly, the meat should not be crowded in the pan anyway, right? A saute pan offers more wide-open, flat "real estate" to cook on. The curved sides of an omelet style pan tend to reduce the actual cooking surface.

      2. If you have a restaurant supply place nearby go see what they have. There is a line of SS products (made in China) that are very good, sold under various brand names including Update and Winco, made for the restaurant market. They have an applied aluminum sandwich bottom. I have several and am very happy with them. A lot cheaper than any all-clad. Most restaurant supply places seem to carry them.

        http://www.wincous.com/ProductShow.as...

        1 Reply
        1. re: johnb

          I have been very pleased with a 12" SS skillet from Sur La Table. When I got it they had a 20% sale going and I think I paid about $70. It produces beautiful fond which makes excellent sauces.

          One thing I've noticed is it is a big pan and takes a healthy burner to generate enough heat for the entire bottom surface.

          I cook 98% of the time for the two of us and I really appreciate the space for cooking two pieces of fish or beef or a handful of scallops. Last night I fried two slices of pancetta, removed, deglazed with chicken stock, sauteed chopped asparagus in minimal stock and finished by adding the pancetta back in. It works great both for range top or to finish oven roasting food after being pan seared.

        2. if by skillet you're referring to a frying pan, I would recommend a pan with a disk bottom like Sitram rather than a pan with aluminum or copper sandwiched between stainless. If it's a saute pan, then go with the all clad. The reason is that for a frying pan, most of the heat you need is on the bottom (where the disk is), and having sandwiched copper or aluminum on the sides isn't so important. If it's a saute pan, then you might indeed want the conduction capabilities on the sides that a sandwiched pan provides.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chuckl

            chuckl, thanks for clarifying on the disk/clad distinction for me. i knew there was a difference in performance but i couldnt' really figure out how that would play out in the real world. am i correct in thinking that:

            - disk bottom would be better for browning meats
            - clad (with sandwiched sides) would be better for braises, in the same way that a LC dutch oven is good for braises, by providing all-around heat?

            1. re: ceviche

              I'd agree with that in general. A clad pan is clad all over the cooking surface: sides and bottom, so you can also get the benefit of good conductivity at the bottom of the pan as well as on the sides. The saute pan has straight sides compared with a frying pan, with sides that angle out, so if you want to say make a sauce from the frond that's accumulated after you brown your meat, it might not be so messy when you deglaze. Also, I personally find the saute pan a little better going from stovetop to the oven for finishing. When you make a sauce, it's nice that the sides as well as the bottom conduct heat efficiently either for heating up or for lowering the temperature. On a disk bottom pan, the sides will be stainless and thus not as good at conducting heat. If you're just frying, i.e., you only really need heat control at the bottom of the pan, and this wouldn't be as important as it is if you were making a sauce and wanted uniform heat all around, letting it simmer for a while on the stovetop. To be honest, it's nice having both, but if you're going with one big pan that will be sort of an all-purpose workhorse, a clad saute pan would be a good choice. If you're just, say frying something quickly, it's nice to have a frying pan with a disk bottom that's maybe a little smaller. I hope i didn't overcomplicate your decision

          2. does anyone have any experience with these frying pans?
            http://www.surfasonline.com/productli...

            i think they might be similar to the winco one linked to by johnb.

            5 Replies
            1. re: ceviche

              In the event you do buy a fry/omelet pan be aware of the measurements: pans are measured across the top, not the actual cooking surface. With the curved sides on a 12 inch skillet, you're actually getting about 9 inches of cooking surface. Compare that to a saute pan with straight sides, a 12 inch saute pan is 12 inches of cooking surface.

              1. re: ceviche

                I have the Vollrath 3-ply 12" saute pan shown on the website. It's great; browns as well as an All Clad copper 12" saute pan I received as a gift. The Vollrath handle is wider, and easier (for me) to grip than the All Clad. The handle is coated with a black substance that's rated to 400 degrees, if I remember correctly. Mine has done fine at higher temps with repeated use. It's about 5 years old, and it's going strong.

                Problem: OP asked for something for less than $100. Mine was far less, but these pans have increased in price dramatically.

                I tried a couple of disk-bottom pans, but didn't like them. The sides were thin and any contents that touched the sides while the pan was in use burned itself permanently onto the metal. If considering a disk-bottom pan, make sure the sides are thick enough to avoid the burning problem.

                1. re: rdt01

                  I've not had that problem with sitram, what brand were they?

                  1. re: chuckl

                    They weren't Sitram. I don't recall the brand, but I bought them at Surfas which is a restaurant supply house. I don't work in the industry, so I thought I was doing something wrong. I took one back to the store seeking help. The owner was extraordinarily gracious. She explained the problem, took back the pan and returned it to the manufacturer and gave me another pan - perhaps a 10" all aluminum pan. It was much heavier guage on the sides and worked fine.

                2. re: ceviche

                  Yes I'm pretty certain they are the same pans. They are made at a factory in China which offers them to anyone with whatever brand name is wanted. They are good pans.

                  BTW, as to the comments that those pans experience burning on the side because they are disk bottom, well, that's true but I use them for similar tasks and it's no big deal. I also have some of the Volrath ones, which are clad, and they too are excellent. Bottom line is there are many possibilities and it's not necessary to spend big bucks to get good performance.

                3. Emerilware pans are rated higher by Consumer
                  Reports and cost far less than All-Clad.

                  Another good bet is restaurant supply
                  outlets, such as this:

                  http://www.webstaurantstore.com/searc...

                  In general usage, BTW, skillet and frying
                  pan are synonymous (see Wikipedia). A saute
                  pan is more awkward for dishes requiring
                  a spatula.

                  1. I like All-Clad's 11'' French skillet. It's under $100, and the actual cooking surface is probably close to what the 12'' one is, if not the same. It's got tall enough sides for basic (though certainly not authentic) stir frying, and if you have a cheap universal lid (or a small cookie sheet ...) it doubles as a saute pan in a pinch.