Pans... high heat and easy to clean?
I do a lot of high heat cooking/searing and I've been using...
1. a stainless steel pan. Performs great but often requires some serious elbow grease to get clean.
2. a nonstick pan. Cleans up very easily, but the high heat ends up ruining the nonstick surface.
3. a cast-iron pan. Amazing performance, but its weight makes it cumbersome to handle, it's hard to clean, and it has various cooking limitations (can't use anything acidic).
Are there any alternatives that I'm missing out on?
Carbon steel. Blue steel, suggested by Hmm, is one subset of carbon steel.
Like cast iron pan, you can season a carbon steel pan. Foods become stick less on a seasoned carbon steel cookware. Unlike cast iron cookware, carbon steel cookware are usually made much thinner. As such, they have faster heat response and lighter in weight. Most professional Chinese woks are made with carbon steel for these reasons.
Enamelled cast iron, perhaps? Still heavy but very easy to clean and can be used to cook acidic foods. I have a few Le Creusets and I just love how well they sear and how easy clean up is.
Thanks! Any other options?
I'm going to have to look into carbon steel pans. It sounds like it is easier to handle than cast-iron pans, but I do worry about its maintenance. Unfortunately, I'm one of those guys that will fry something up and let the pan sit there for days unwashed. I'm also worried about rust as my cast iron pan developed rust before I even used it (I guess a few drips of water must have got on it somehow).
I'm also on the fence about enameled cast iron. I don't mind the heft too much, but I worry about my lady and the fact that we have a flat top stove (never again...). The easy cleanup makes it very tempting but I could swear I read something about how they shouldn't be used with high heat.
"Unfortunately, I'm one of those guys that will fry something up and let the pan sit there for days unwashed."
Sounds like the problem isn't with the pans. Sounds like the problem is with you.
Gotta take better care of your cookware my friend, regardless of their material.
A carbon steel pan is easier to wield. However, it requires about the same level of maintenance as a cast iron pan. I have fried and cooked in my cast iron pan without washing my cast iron pan right away. As long as there is not much water, oil from cooking will not harm the pan.
Anodized aluminum is light, sears beautifully, releases food when the sear is finished, and should be able to handle being unwashed for several days without damage. It won't wind up being the prettiest cookware you own, but it's quite durable. Take a look at Calphalon.
If leaving any pot uncleaned (that won't rust in water), just keep it wet and that should make eventual cleaning easier.
But as for cast iron, once you have a good seasoning built up, a little acidity isn't going to do much to the seasoning. Try out cooking some tomatoes in it if it's well-seasoned as a test.