I used one pan through college. It was $11 and had a wobbly handle, but it got me through more eggs-for-dinner dinners and 9-inch stir-frys than I can count. I threw it away, scratched and weird after a melty plastic spatula incident, when I graduated, and moved to Brooklyn where I now borrow my roommate's lovable but wobbly-handled $11 pan.
The pan is Italian-made and aluminum, with a PFOA-free nonstick coating and a not-too-long handle that you can tighten via a hidden screw should it begin to feel loose. It's heavy enough to feel sturdy, but not so heavy that it was a pain to carry it home on the subway—which I did. During my weekend with the pan, I put it to three tests (a pan-fry, a sauté, and a caramelization) and here's how it fared:
Left, the egg-in-a-hole fries up; right, nary a trace left in the pan post-fry.
Saturday Morning: The Pan-Fry
First things first: a fried egg, the measure of any pan. I dropped a pat of butter into the pan and cranked the gas to medium-high (I like a crispy-edged egg) while I sawed off a piece of bread and cut a hole in the middle. When the butter began to sizzle, in went the bread and the egg. Here's what I noticed:
Unlike with some nonstick pans, the butter began to brown while my egg cooked; and when it was time to flip my egg-in-a-hole—which sometimes requires some crossing of fingers and holding of breath—I just slid the spatula under it and, you know, flipped it. Easy.
It was clear right away that, even on my very slanted stovetop, everything had cooked evenly thanks to the pan’s heaviness and even heat. The pan barely looked like it had been used, without a trace of egg (or even, it seemed, butter) residue.
Same pan, different stove. Metal tongs not pictured.
Sunday Night: The Sauté
On Sunday night, I was slated to visit my friends John and Deirdre for Sunday dinner. I had to test a recipe in addition to the pan, so I loaded everything—the pan and a gallon baggie of marinated green beans—into my purse and walked the 15 minutes to their house. “I have to do this for work,” I told them as I lit the burner on their stove. Like mine, theirs is a gas stove, which was just fine because this pan works equally as well on electric and induction stovetops. You can even put it in the oven (up to 300° F), like a cast iron skillet.
The pan heated up quickly, and I poured the green beans into it, tossing them with John and Deirdre’s metal tongs. Thanks to four layers of extra-durable nonstick coating, metal utensils won’t scratch the pan. This is good for a number of reasons: no need for “please: no metal utensils” notes stuck above the stove (I am admittedly guilty of this), and you can tote a pan to your friends’ house for dinner and not have to worry about whether they’ll have the appropriate cooking spatula or tongs to use with it.
Peaches caramelizing in the early morning light.
Monday Morning: The Caramelization
Bleary-eyed, I rolled out of bed knowing it was time for the pan’s third trial, its second breakfast. I had a heap of the season’s last peaches going south fast, so I set my mind to a quick batch of caramelized peaches. I put the pan over medium-high heat and when it was quite hot, I added sliced peaches, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a little salt.
Caramelization can also be tricky in a nonstick pan, but the syrup bubbled up immediately and the peaches started to take on color. I spooned them warm over yogurt—a very good Monday morning breakfast. And the pan cleaned up almost immediately, the post-caramelization sugar crust needing barely any scrubbing. All I had to do was wipe it out with a sponge.
First photo by Bobbi Lin; all others by the author, who is not a photographer.