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One Pan to Rule Them All

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I'm in the market for a new frying pan/skillet. Specifically I'm looking for a versatile, durable pan that can take punishment and be suitable for all of my various culinary endeavors, including:

-searing meat, then finishing in the oven
-stir-frying in a vaguely Asian manner
-caramelizing onions
-deglazing/reducing pan sauces
-knocking people unconscious

I find that cast irons are too heavy for my weak arms to handle (I also move apartments a lot) and I've already got (read: my roommate has) a nonstick for all of my omelet needs. Would carbon steel, stainless steel, or aluminum be best for my needs?

Thanks!

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  1. If you want it to knock people unconscious, then look at Demeyere.

    1. I would have voted cast iron, of course, but might you consider anodized aluminum? I find that I can do much in these pans, although it is my opinion that cast iron does most tasks a bit better. Calphalon has the most typical versions of this type of skillet. I mostly use the few I have for eggs and fritattas, but occasionally, I pluck one of them out of my drying rack to cook with because I am feeling too lazy to reach for something else, so I have used it for many other things. My biggest complaint about these pans is that they don't lie flat enough for my glass cooktop, even when they were brand new, so there are a bit more unstable than I would like. I have a carbon steel wok, and it is harder to keep up (meaning, prevent from rusting) than I would want for my everyday pan, so I wouldn't be inclined to recommend it, although there are lots of fans on these boards. I also have very high quality stainless steel saute pans, and their heavy bottoms make them great for searing and then oven finishing. While these can do a bang-up job of most tasks, things tend to stick badly in them unless you heat the pan and use oil or butter to coat the bottom well.

      I'd put cast iron, enameled cast iron, and copper, with either a tin or stainless steel lining, in the "too heavy" category if you don't want heavy pans.

      1 Reply
      1. re: RGC1982

        While I am smitten with and testing my new carbon steel and cast iron pans, I love and have gotten tons of use from my circa 1998 Calphalon anodized aluminum pans (fry pan, sauce pan, and stock pot) and agree they are a great all-around pan -- virtually non-stick (yet you can sear in them), super easy to maintain, non-reactive, and lighter than cast iron.

        Not sure if they make them like they used to, but mine are still going strong. And I used the fry pan almost continuously, until recently, when I started trying out my new cast iron (which are great but a pain to maintain relative to the Calphalon - at least at this stage in the seasoning process -- and don't take as well to acidic foods, which I cook a lot with..).

      2. I think a saucier (larger than 3qt) or so-called chef's pan will do . I have a 3qt AC SS saucier with small helping handle and do all of them except knocking people unconcious. (However, for real stir-frying with high heat, a carbon-steel wok is always better.)

        http://compare.ebay.com/like/12063835...

        http://www.google.com/products/catalo...

        1 Reply
        1. re: hobbybaker

          I'm with "hobbybaker". I love my chef's pan for all-around utility. Also, though it's not technically a skillet, the smaller handles might make it easier to store in an apartment kitchen.

        2. You have received plenty of advice, so I will just add one bit. Because you demand the pan able to sear and stir fry ... etc. You will need to pan with some depth to it. For example, a country fry pan, a Chef's pan or a wok shape fry pan:

          http://www.debuyer.com/product.php?id...
          http://www.amazon.com/Calphalon-Comme...

          As for metal material, it depends which of the requirement is more important.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Chemicalkinetics, I remember you were looking into the deBuyer Force Blue line a while ago - did you ever get one? I have a carbone plus 10" which I originally bought for omelets but now use for a ton of other things...I need a second 10" though to leave at another location - im thinking mineral steel or force blue.

            1. re: dcole

              Hi dcole,

              Thanks for your thought. Yes, I have gotten hold of the deBuyer Force Blue frying pan. It works out quite well. I should have bought a larger one, but other than that, all is well.

              You may know this, but I will mention them anyway. Mineral is pretty much the same as Carbone Plus, so I don't think you find a lot of surprises. Mineral is a tad more polished. Force Blue has a dark surface, which a few of us suspect as a black oxide/bluing layer. Force Blue is also thinner than Carbone Plus.

              http://www.debuyer.com/product.php?id...
              http://www.debuyer.com/product.php?id...

              A thinner pan will have better heat response, but poorer heat capacity, so it is really a preference thing.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Thanks! I think I am going to give the Force Blue a shot as I don't really need the extra heat capacity (mostly omelets and less high heat applications).
                I knew about the similarities of the carbone plus/mineral - thanks to one of your earlier posts actually.
                Have you noticed if the Force Blue seasons faster than the carbone+/mineral - I think Iread somewhere that people have recognized that it does.

                1. re: dcole

                  Hi dcole,

                  I don't have a Carbone Plus nor Mineral, so I don't have a reference for comparison. I will say that my Force Blue pan was very easy to season compared to my cast iron skillet and regular carbon steel woks. It was ready to be used on day one after the initial seasoning process.

                  I believe the Force Blue surface is actually the black oxide, magnetitie. Some believe it is easier for polymerized fat to stick to magnetitie than bare carbon steel, if so, it will be easier to season the Force Blue cookware.

                  "Also, things bond better to magnetite than bare iron (for example, polymerized fat). "

                  http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/201...

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Thanks a lot. I did find that my carbone + seasoned fairly quick - and in terms of getting it to nonstick - incredibly faster than my cast iron.

                2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  "A thinner pan will have better heat response, but poorer heat capacity, so it is really a preference thing."

                  Thicker pans also have more even heat on the cooking surface. Commercial carbon steel griddle plates are often 3/4" thick for example, sometimes as thick as 1". Of course, you wouldn't want something that thick at home because it would take excessive amounts of energy to use it properly (not to mention that it would have very slow response even if you did have the BTUs to drive it, and it would be incredibly heavy).

                  1. re: MaximRecoil

                    That of course makes sense. I also think cookware is often over analyzed - as I did for a long time. I heat my cast iron very slowly, and my carbon steel (debuyer carbone plus) slowly - I had never noticed a problem of even heating with the carbon steel - of course it is not aluminum or copper, but I find it is fine....I don't imagine running into a problem with a pan slightly thinner.

            2. I have 8 different Demeyere pieces which I love, but would not live without this pan also;

              http://www.katom.com/054-4012.html?CI...

              It can survive any kitchen war.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rcspott

                Could not pull up your pan at Katom. Please give us the name. Thanks.