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High-End, Non-Stick Pans: Are They Worth the Investment?

Updated on February 4, 2018
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Dawn is a baker and former restaurant owner. Her years in the kitchen provide a wealth of experience to share.

Every Kitchen Needs, At Least, One Quality Non-Stick Pan

Every kitchen should have a decent non-stick pan. There's no need to float your over easy eggs in butter or your country style potatoes in oil to prevent them from adhering to the bottom and clean up is a breeze! Or, at least it should be. That's the whole point. Which is why, there is little more frustrating than when your non-stick pan fails to perform. Is it just the nature of non-stick? Are they all destined to leave you scraping your fluffy, perfectly bubbled pancake off the bottom? Do you have to spend a small fortune on a high-end brand to get a pan that will last and maintain a quality performance? Unfortunately, the answers to those questions aren't an easy yes or no. Although, after having cooked in a variety of non-stick pans from all ends of the spectrum, I certainly have come to my own conclusions. Conclusions you might find surprising.

Care & Maintenance Will Impact Non-Stick Performance & Longevity

The way a non-stick pan is maintained and cared for is a very important factor in the longevity of the pan and how well it maintains a quality performance. Even high-end pans will suffer if neglected and eventually fail without care. That being said, even the lowest of low-end pans, like anything, will last longer if cared for properly. Without proper care, the non-stick cook surface will become worn and scratched, which leads to eventual peeling. Improper use and care can lead to warping, resulting in an unbalanced, wobbly pan.

In my kitchen, I pay extra attention to the care of my non-stick pans. Which means, NO metal utensils, tongs, whisks or tools of any kind touch the non-stick cook surface, period. I never put my non-stick pans in the dishwasher, even if they are "Dishwasher Safe". I always hand wash them with a non-abrasive, soapy, sponge or brush. When they're put away, I generally don't stack them. But, on occasion it happens. Hey, nobody's perfect.

Big Box Store Brand Non-Stick Pans? No, thanks.

Stashed away in my attic, like a veritable tomb, is a tote labeled "Camping Cookware". Its where my bedraggled and over worn kitchen accoutrements are relegated. The non-stick styling of Rachael Ray, Paula Deen and Ree Drummond fill that tote with frying pans, sauce pans and pots. In their company are a few non-stick pans with no identifiable brand. Aside from sharing residence in my attic, they have price point, retailer and quality in common. Every one of them has degraded and has a "fuzzy" feeling cook surface from innumerable tiny scratches. Some of the pans are warped, some are rusting and all of them failed to remain non-stick. Considering the attention I pay to caring for my non-stick cookware, the cook surfaces of those pans, in my experience, are sub-par and far too fragile to endure my careful and frequent use. For those reasons, I steer VERY clear of big box store brands for my non-stick pans.

There are two brands of non-stick pans that remain in my kitchen today. One is the moderately pricey, high-end Calphalon brand, Unison Series. The other is the very affordable and widely sold T-Fal brand, Ultimate Hard Anodized Series. Each has it's own unique strength. Each deserves it's well earned place in my kitchen. Both far surpass the big box store brands in quality, in my experience.

Calphalon Unison - High Quality, Moderately High Price

Six years ago, I invested in a set of Calphalon Unison non-stick pans. I shopped around and purchased a 10 piece set for $699.00. Which, included an additional "12 inch Everyday Pan" as a "FREE" gift. In all, I got 7 pans and 5 lids, for a cost of around $760, after tax. Meaning, I spent roughly $108 for each pan. Sold individually, each pan, in my set, retails for somewhere between $70 and $200. The Unison series carries a lifetime warranty, if any of the pieces fail I can return them for a free replacement. Making them an investment that could last a lifetime, in theory.

The Calphalon Unison series is made of a heavy gauge, hard anodized aluminum that has a sturdy weight and feel of quality. Designed to go from stove top to oven, the handles are made from a durable stainless steel. Typically, non-stick cookware has a reputation for being unsafe to cook with at extremely high temperatures. The reason being, is that extremely high temperatures cause the non-stick surface to degrade, shedding it's non-stick properties and possibly releasing chemical compounds into the food your cooking. What makes the Calphalon Unison series different, is that it has a specially textured "Sear Non-Stick" cook surface that is PFOA free. Meaning, you can safely cook on a range top or in an oven at temperatures up to 500 degrees. Which, happens to be fantastically ideal for pan seared steaks, stir-fry and single skillet meals.

The Unison, 12 inch, "Everyday" pan is aptly named and became my fast favorite. I use it nearly everyday, by far more than any other pan in my set. Its deep enough to make sauce, the perfect size for one dish dinners, big enough to oven roast a whole chicken and its earned my adoration. After 6 years of near daily use, the non-stick cook surface is beginning to show the slightest signs of wear and bares a few shallow scratches, but continues to perform without fail. There's no sign, whatsoever, of the cook surface taking on a fuzzy look and feel, like I experienced with brands of lesser quality. Additionally, my pan remains perfectly balanced, shows no evidence of warping and continues to conduct an even heat. The Calphalon Unison series has not disappointed and the "Everyday" pan, specifically, has delighted.

Am I happy with my investment? Yes, absolutely. The lifetime warranty means I'm done investing in non-stick pans, I like that. The quality of the cookware is such that I may never need to use the warranty, but I like that too. More importantly, I can safely use these pans at extremely high heats without poisoning my food and I like that a lot.

Would I purchase an entire set of high-end, non-stick pans again? No. No, I wouldn't. I paid $108 each, for 4 pans I rarely use and that's a waste. If I had it to do over again, I would only purchase 1 or 2 pans that I'd use regularly, pocket the savings and have cabinet space to spare for a low end priced, high quality T-Fal ... or two.

T-FAL Ultimate Hard Anodized - High Quality, Affordable Price

Eight years ago, on the advice of a PBS cooking show, my husband purchased himself a single, $35 pan. A T-fal, Ultimate Hard Anodized, Thermo-spot, 12 inch, fry pan. Like my Caphalon, the T-Fal is made of hard anodized aluminum, with a "Techno Resist" anti-warp base that promises even heating, but its noticeably lighter weight and thinner than the Calphalon. The riveted handle is silicone coated and stays cool to the touch over a hot stove-top. The cook surface is T-Fal's "ProMetal Non-Stick" that's touted as being "exceptionally durable", "scratch resistant" and "Safe for use with metal utensils ". Indeed, the cook surface feels strong to the touch, tough, scratch resistant, like it might actually be safe for metal utensils. I'm impressed. The pan's unique "Thermo-Spot" heat indicator is designed to show when the pan is perfectly preheated. Its dishwasher safe and oven safe too, but only to 350 degrees. Meaning it'll never see the inside of my oven. Making the Calphalon more versatile in comparison.

The first week we used the pan we were blown away. Christopher Kimball was right! The T-Fal was impressive! It heated beautifully even, the Thermo-Spot changed color at the perfect temperature, the non-stick coating was amazing! You could pucker your lips and blow an over-easy egg across the surface. Wow!

Fast forward two years, we've used the T-Fal nearly everyday since and the only change is the Thermo-Spot stopped changing color. We've taken excellent care of it, no metal has touched it's non-stick surface, its never been in the oven or the dishwasher and its still performing better than any pan we've ever owned. But, will it last? We use it everyday, that can't last forever, right? Plus, it would be nice to have more than one favorite non-stick pan. If a $35 pan can give us this kind of performance, imagine what a high-end non-stick could do? So, we invested in a set of Calphalon non-stick pans.

Six more years, of cooking almost everyday, pass and two pans have been on my range top consistently. My husband's, $35, T-Fal and my, $108, Calphalon "Everyday" pan. Eight whole years and my husbands T-Fal has held it's own. In fact, the T-Fal is in beautiful condition, there's a few shallow, barely visible scratches on the cook surface, nothing that impedes performance. There's no sight or sign of fuzzy texture and it performs as well as it did the first week we brought it home. T-Fal has proven to be an affordable, reasonably priced non-stick cookware option that consistently delivers impressive quality. We are more than satisfied with our purchase. The only drawback is, the T-Fal is not safe for high heat and because of that my Calphalon has a secure spot in my kitchen. Even still, I value them both and recommend them both with the utmost confidence.

© 2018 Dawn M


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