What Makes a Good Pan?
Saturday 24 August 2019
What makes a good pan?
Whilst on the subject of pans, it occurred to me that you might be interested to know what I look for when choosing a pan range for Art of Living. Well, top of my list is what is the pan made from. Obviously it’s going to be a metal of some sort, but what sort makes a huge difference to the way it works. Then I look at the handles, what they are made of and how are they attached to the pan. Then, if I’m looking for coated pans, what’s the quality and probably lastly what effect does the brand have on the sales.
So if I take these one at a time, the pan’s material is the most important single factor in making a product that will perform well to outstandingly! In particular I look at the quality of the base, because it’s the base that spreads the heat. A pan that doesn’t spread heat fast and evenly is difficult to use because it's slow to heat up, gets hot in the middle and still “cold” around the edge. One is then tempted to turn up the heat more, resulting in burnt food in the middle of the pan and not cooked on the outside. It all ends in tears. So good heat conduction is a prerequisite.
How do I judge from the outside whether a pan will spread heat evenly and fast? Material is the key to this question. In descending order of heat conduction (therefore speed at which the pan will heat up all over not just the centre), the metals used in the pans we sell are Silver, Copper, Aluminium, Steel, Stainless Steel and Cast Iron. Next is how thick is the material being used? For example, as good as aluminium is, a pan made from one and a half to two millimetre thick just won’t hack it and inevitably hots spots and burning will result (in fact 3mm is the minimum that we sell and that’s ok) and lastly how pure is the material being used. Recycled aluminium is good in terms of ecology but the impurities in recycled material will invariably have an adverse effect of speed of heat spread.
Coatings are next and the reason that they are not higher on my list is, in fact, because coatings have got pretty good these days and even relatively inexpensive pans such as Green Pan's Cambridge range (in stock in the shops but not currently available online) have a very decent ceramic coating on them, which if treated correctly will last and last. Personally I’m not that enamoured with that particular range as it’s at the minimum end of what I believe makes an ok pan, that’s to say it’s a recycled aluminium 3mm body but a starting price of £27.00 it works and will last you a good long time….very far cry from the non-sticks of even the early 2000 which would absent themselves from the pan at the merest suggestion of heat or being shown a metal fish slice! And if you’re prepared to spend a little more you can trade up to the Venice range which will give greater room for error in use and begins to compete with Le Creusets Toughened Non-Stick and 3-ply ranges. I’ve written quite a lot about non-stick coatings and how to make them last longer, so if you're interested to know more then click here to go through to our blog post.
Lastly, does the brand have an effect. Well of course it does. My chums at Le Creuset are the masters of marketing and although I sometimes think that £200 is an awful lot of money for a chunk of cast iron with a few layers of enamel on it, if you saw the 30 odd stages that a Le Creuset casserole goes through before you get your hands on it, you might be forgiven for wondering how on earth they make any money on it all. I say that, having been to the foundry quite recently seeing for myself the degree to which they are in effect handmade and hand fettled and sprayed (by hand).
So, sometimes the brand can be a deciding factor, but if I take Le Creuset TNS (Toughened Non-Stick) then I recall very clearly getting really excited about its imminent arrival in a discussion with Nick Ryder (Le Creuset MD) at home over lunch. He had recognised that their non-stick cast-iron pans were a bit of a liability, so much so that we had decided to stop stocking them several years before (explanation click here) and was planning to introduce an aluminium range. And this is an example of what I referred to under metals. Put non-stick on cast iron and it ends in tears, put it on 5mm of aluminium and everything’s rosy in the garden. That must have been 12 years or so ago. Now TNS is our best selling non-stick range. Would it have become so without the Le Creuset name and marketing machine behind it?
No, I doubt it.
So there you have my criteria in something like a logical order of how I choose what to stock. I realise that I haven’t mentioned looks or indeed price. Oddly enough it is one of the last things on my list. The Italians apart, the looks of most pans are pretty conventional. In money terms I’m generally looking for certain price points so we have a price range that fits a wide range of pockets. And talking of price, you may have noticed that I included silver in my list of metals that are used in the construction of our pans. Was I exaggerating? Well Our second biggest selling range, Demeyere Atlantis, has two different types of pan construction. This is dependent on what is demanded of the pan (they are unique in taking this approach I believe). One of them, the type they employ for casseroles and saucepans has a 2mm solid copper disc built into the base (which sadly you will never see unless you do something particularly horrible and brutal with the pan) and which is attached to the stainless steel, in the base, with silver, used if you like, as a solder. Demeyere saucepans, as a result, start at £200 each which puts even Le Creuset in the shade price wise. But do they transmit heat fast from one side of the pan to the other? They most certainly do Stanley, nothing competes except a solid copper pan of at least 2mm thickness. They’re fine for commercial environments, or for people who love polishing copper. For the enthusiast who enjoys cooking with the best, then Demeyere is where it’s at. Am I biased? Yup!
Now I always make it a rule (error of judgement) of allowing Babette to read my email, before it goes out. She's very good at proof reading and picking holes in my logic. I used to think that I was pedantic about certain aspects of the English language, but I think it's safe to say she puts me to shame there and irritatingly and ironically she’s usually right when it comes to grammar (which I initially spelt grammer). She has just read this and remarked that it's rather dull.
I was just trying to recall why it was that I married her when she did a very Babette thing and found three good things about what I had written. She then suggested that I add the following. I remarked that it wouldn’t sound like me if I wrote what she wanted to dictate and persuaded her to write it herself.
“Reading this I am reminded that Andrew and I spend a lot of time training our people to know the differences in pans, not just their features, but the benefits to you, so if you are in the market for pans, please come and put your local shop to the test. Expect us to ask what you like to cook, how much time you want to spend doing so, and what experience you have had with pans so far. Expect our people to be honest, and to pass you on to a more knowledgeable colleague if they don’t know the answer to your questions. Expect us as a business to really help you find the right pan for you because believe it or not, we get really excited to talk about pans. Our philosophy of taking anything back that you are not entirely happy with is a great incentive to get it right!"
Ok I think that’ll do on pots and pans and, in fact, as it’s taken me most of the morning (with a few interruptions) to get this far I think I’ll have to call it a day for this week. I used to think that as I wrote these emails more frequently that they’d gradually take me less time to write. So far that hasn’t been the case. My mother always said I was a slow developer. I fear she was right!
I trust you have a pleasant and peaceful long weekend.