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Are Expensive Necessarily Pans Better?

By megnut
December 15, 2006


From left: Crestware 9-inch professional-gauge fry pan, All-Clad Master Chef 2 9-inch fry pan.

In this corner, clad in extra-heavy-duty aluminum for durability, from China by way of Bowery Kitchen Supply in New York City, and weighing in at 19.25 ounces, the challenger, Crestware Professional Gauge Fry Pan!

And in this corner, wearing brushed aluminum over stainless steel, from Pennsylvania by way of Amazon.com , and tipping the scales at 25.9 ounces, the champ, All-Clad Master Chef 2 9-Inch Fry Pan!

Tonight, these two frying pans will face each other in an epic battle to determine who can fry the better egg.

Is the All-Clad as professional as it claims? Can an upstart that costs a quarter of the price come from the kitchen-supply shop and reach the top? This is what I set out to determine in my kitchen. To maintain a level playing field, I put each frying pan on a gas burner and turned the heat to medium-high. After about a minute, I added one tablespoon of unsalted butter to each pan and continued to let them come up to temperature. Quickly, though, I became concerned. While All-Clad's butter bubbled nicely, Crestware's had already begun to turn brown. Determined to waste no time, I cracked an egg in each pan. The white set quickly on Crestware, barely spreading beyond the yolk. But the white moved out further on All-Clad. The pans seemed to be at two different temperatures, even though my stove dial was set to six. Ding, ding—end of round one.

Charging from their corners, both competitors commenced with sizzling, and I grabbed the handle of the All-Clad (nicely rounded on the edges, ergonomic for good gripping) to slide the egg a bit in the pan. I moved over and grabbed the handle of Crestware (not nicely rounded, squared off edges dug into my palm) and pulled my hand back quickly. That sucker was hot! Iremembered my restaurant days and used a towel to grab the handle while I slid the egg around the pan. So far, so good: Both eggs were bubbling and spitting, crisping nicely along their edges. But wait, what was that? Ding,
ding—end of round two.

Smoke? Smoke was coming off Crestware as the butter burned! I looked to All-Clad. No smoke. Butter sizzling nicely. Clearly Crestware was now considerably hotter than All-Clad. An acrid smell filled my kitchen as I flipped each egg and cracked fresh pepper and salt on top. After an easy-over, I slid the eggs onto a plate (careful to use a towel when holding Crestware) for the final test: taste. In the last moments of the final round, the fight intensified as both eggs tasted delicious. Crisp whites, creamy yolks, ideal flavor. But there was an odd sound coming from my kitchen. I kept hearing a distinct "plink" every minute or so. Putting my ear next to Crestware, I determined it was "plinking" as it cooled. Ding, ding—end of the third and final round.

To the judges! How to score this frying pan battle? The champ's corner was hoping for a TKO, but the judges didn't oblige. The All-Clad pan is heavier, feels more substantial in the hand, and has a much more comfortable handle. Crestware got surprisingly hot quicker than expected and the butter burned. But this problem could have been eliminated by using a slightly lower heat on the challenger pan. Given the price differential ($9.99 for Crestware, $39.95 for All-Clad), Crestware delivered a nicely cooked egg.

The final outcome? Both eggs were delicious, but Crestware was outclassed in this battle by All-Clad.

16 Comments

Did you try repeating the test, with the two pans switched on the burners? Stoves are notoriously inconsistent. Granted, the hot and uncomfortably shaped handles won't change, but the rate of heating and burning of butter might.

Were both of these pans completely unused before the test?

huh! I am intrigued by the "plink"! insufficient thermal transfer? seems like this would cause warping over time. Well, I took thermodynamics pass/fail, so I am not the one to answer this, but will continue to research.

Target has a line of All-Clad knockoffs that worked pretty good.

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=16259

http://tinyurl.com/yd87x7

I bought a whole bunch of them as gifts at one point, and still use them on a prosumer stove (Garland). They hold up very well.

Kudos on the study. I would reason that you get to know your pan over time and how much heat it will take to get up to cooking temperature.

To me, if I can cook an egg on medium low rather than medium high, that's a good thing in terms of taste and energy consumption (maybe not for one egg, but for 1000 eggs...) Plus the Bowery pan heats quick--better in a restaurant kitchen than waiting around for butter to melt.

If you have the budget, it'd be interesting to get a super fancy chef's frying pan (like say, a Sur la table model) for like $80. Something a restaurant would never use but a kitchen dandy might convince themselves is the only pan their maid should ever use to cook an egg.

Awesome study! It would have been even cooler to see two videos of the eggs cooking side by side.

I would reason that you get to know your pan over time and how much heat it will take to get up to cooking temperature.

Seconded. And, how well do the pans stand up over time? How well do perform after a few months of heavy use?

I'm not a cooking expert, but in evaluating pans, I would probably prefer the All-Clad because of the weight and handle. But so many other factors matter to: how much space it takes up, how easy it is to clean, how light or heavy it is (because I'm a wimp), if I'm going to bang it up easily because I'm a klutz...

Me for the heavier pan; I tend to forget things on the stove, and a slower heating means less burned food. But the cheap pan is also useable as long as you remember tp provide for its cheapness. Next bout: try frying an egg on the sidewalk in August.

Did you try repeating the test, with the two pans switched on the burners?

I didn't, but my stove is new and the flames were at the same height. Also, I use my stove all the time, and I've never noticed any difference between the two burners. But you make a valid point, and if this were a real, scientific study, I would have been more careful about such things.

Also to answer the other questions. The All-Clad is old and "broken-in", the Crestware was new and never used. I think the Crestware got hotter because it was entirely aluminum, whereas the All-Clad had a stainless-steel core. Knowing your pans, and being familiar with them and how they handle, will yield much more consistent (and better) cooking results. That seems more important to me than simply buying an expensive pan.

I like the weight of the All-Clad more, it felt better in the hand. The plinking really freaked me out. I might use it some more and see if that always happens. Both were easy to clean, but I didn't really burn anything on there.

For some reason, I find the All-Clad pans a lot easier to clean, particularly with eggs, cheese and burnt matter. With a bit of soaking, even the worst stuff comes off easily.

Megnut, the All-Clad has an aluminum core with Stainless Steel on the cooking surface (and the exterior, if Stainless line, raw alum, if M2). The Aluminum core significantly improves the heat distribution, but I am willing to bet that the metal on the Crestware was lower quality than the All-Clad, leading to too-fast heating and maybe to the "plinking." Still intrigued!

I do believe that the stainless layer adds resistance, helping for more even distribution. I want to get a sliced pan, cut in half to see the clad strata!

@thebkk: Correct, I wan't clear enough. The MC2 is actually three layers sandwiched : "Brushed aluminum exterior; 18/10 stainless-steel interior; pure aluminum inner core." The plinking could well be due to quality of metal.

I might not have used an egg for this test. I might have seared red meat. Eggs are a good test of heat distribution but the searing of meat is the true test.

The speed with which the pan heats is of less concern to me than how evenly the pan heats. Aluminumm is a good conductor of heat; copper is even better; steel is not as good and stainless steel is very poor conductor among metals. A heavy aluminum pan with a thin stainless steel lining is going to be a better frying pan over time than a stainless steel pan with a thin layer of aluminum. It's hard to tell if the butter burns in one spot first or all over at once. Nevetheless, a pan that responds quickly to heat is good, especially if it also cools down as quickly as it heats up. Hot spots can, and often do, develop over time. The plinking would lead me to suspect the pan was heating or cooling evenly. I'd worry about both hot spots and warpage over time, but I don't have the scientific background to provide good reasons for my worry.

Sometimes it's more economical to buy a cheap tool and replace it when it wears out than to buy a good tool once, but I find I tend to keep on getting by with the cheap tool long after it's stopped functioning properly. To protect myself, I've learned to buy better tools in the first place. On the other hand, it's often as easy to abuse good pans as cheap ones and the low cost pans may be good first choices for beginners learning to cook.

As I understand, the All-Clad that is currently sold is no longer certified for professional use in restaurant kitchens. I think that's something people should consider when spending that kind of money on a pan with a "name".

hehe, this is like an episode of america's test kitchen.

ditto on what jperlow said. went to target to buy one of those chefmate copper bottom fry pans maybe half a year ago. 17.99 or something and it's pretty good. handle doesn't really get super hot, but i've never tried to fry an egg in it b/c i'm an amateur that uses teflon pans for eggs. (mmm.. teflon in my tummy. damn dupont to hell)

My cheap pans ALWAYS plink, and freak me out!

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