Every day driver frying pan/skillet - Tri ply Vs carbon steel?
November 1, 2018 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Now I'm I'm my mid '30s and starting to feel like I might one day start to approach being a proper grown-up, I've been gradually replacing my craptastic mix of either ancient teflon or pound-shop (dollar store, if you're a US-ian) quality stainless cookware. Opinions online vary wildly so looking for a recommendation, with personal experience if possible. Details below etc.

Skillet/frying pan wise, so far I have:
  • Cast iron skillet, the seasoning on which is currently "fine" but remains an ongoing process.
  • 28cm (or so) high and straight walled tri-ply saute pan.
  • One, small, medium, mid range quality, non stick frying pan which remains carefully protected and tucked away at the back of a cabinet for the rare occasions I want to do very specific French omelette or egg type things.
  • One carbon steel wok (if that even counts in this category).
For general stovetop work the cast iron or the saute pan are fine, but I occasionally feel the need for a slightly smaller (24-25 cm), somewhat lighter, more traditionally shaped (sloped walls) pan.

Should I go carbon or tri-ply? Details specific to me:
  • I'm generally fine at understanding how to cook things without sticking (unless I want it to for the fond) - I can happily fry eggs in my stainless surfaced tri-ply saute pan without sticking, for example.
  • On the other hand I appreciate there's some things like certain sauces etc. where a bit of non-stick would be nice I guess. Unless that automatically means zero fond for places you'd want that? This isn't a deal breaker either way, though.
  • Actual Teflon non-stick can fuck off.
  • Price isn't a huge object, but I'm probably not going full All Clad pro on this one, so if any tri-ply skillet under £150 ($200 or so?) is going to be shit then let me know.
  • I don't really have a problem with taking the time to properly season and thereafter clean and oil a carbon steel pan, so don't really count that in the "cons" column.
posted by Dext to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Aside from the care and maintenance issues, it seems to me like the biggest difference between carbon steel and tri-ply is about $100 per pan. OK, that's a little glib, but basically if you care about value and don't mind doing the maintenance, carbon steel seems like the way to go. You just want to get something with a decently thick bottom to it so it doesn't get crazy hot spots.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:18 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Stainless tri-ply for sure, especially if you already have cast iron. So much more even heating than carbon steel with a whole lot less preheating.

You can definitely get something good for $80 or less— check these out, and there’s also a Misen that looks good. My everyday drivers (skillet and sauté) are both Henckels.

I can’t think of any sauces my stainless aren’t good for, fwiw.
posted by supercres at 5:23 PM on November 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

This, IMO, is the big difference, not maintenance.
posted by supercres at 5:30 PM on November 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah nice stainless will give more breadth and versatility to your portfolio than carbon steel will.

I think you’re on the right track for overall strategy btw, and that’s why I say carbon steel is not the best choice for you right now.

I’ve run the full gamut of pan types over the past 20 years, and have settled on mainly cast iron, some stainless, no Teflon/non-stick, carbon steel is only for woks or if I can buy a nice used piece for under $10.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:49 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yes, I'd go with whatever Kenji of Serious Eats recommends.
posted by MovableBookLady at 5:51 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

U.S. Amazon, at least, will often have stealth deals on All-Clad Tri-Ply. I got my three-qt saute pan for $99 that way.
posted by praemunire at 6:00 PM on November 1, 2018

Ok the even heating argument has won it for tri-ply.

One of the main reasons my heavy saute pan has become my go-to for searing steaks and the like is frustration with the long pre-heat and uneven temperature of the cast iron.

For some reason I thought I remembered seeing that carbon steel was much more even than cast iron and didn't even bother checking if I was right.
posted by Dext at 6:27 PM on November 1, 2018

For what it's worth I've got a set of the Tramontina tri-ply stainless mentioned in supercres' link and have been pretty happy with them, though my cast iron skillet and cast iron wok both see a lot more daily use. They do seem to be pretty well-made for the money so if you're looking for something to try and don't want to make a major commitment that could be a good choice. I believe they have a couple of different lines, however, so you might want to read up before selecting a pan.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:25 PM on November 1, 2018

I disagree profusely. All of my fancy all clad saute and fry pans sit gathering dust while I positively abuse my one carbon steel pan. I need two more in varying sizes, I’m kinda on the hunt for cheaper ones that are lighter in weight like the blue steel I’m currently using that I got at World Market. I tried the $40 fry pan that America’s Test Kitchen recommended (avail on Amazon) but it was too heavy.

After years and years, I finally settled on Carbon Steel. My original titanium ScanPan was awesome, too, but someone stole it years ago and they’ve since changed how they’re made.
posted by jbenben at 7:28 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is not directly relevant to your question, but maybe to your more general thinking: I just realized, late in life, that I can buy really fine second-hand but ready-to-use copperware at flee-markets for almost nothing. Why didn't I think of this before? I dunno, but now you know it.
posted by mumimor at 2:46 AM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I love my carbon steel pans and really only use the stainless when I want to reduce something with a lot of acid like tomatoes. I love how easy they are to clean up when the seasoning is well managed. When I want more thermal mass, I go to cast iron. Part of me loves science, and part of me wonders if we are overthinking everything when we we use IR cameras to image how evenly something heats.
posted by advicepig at 7:43 AM on November 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Reading the inventory again, I think I'd get both in the mid range if you had room for them.
posted by advicepig at 7:45 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ok. I thought I was done but, after reading the further replies and sincere disagreement, I'm considering that :
  1. It seems I can get a decent enough tri-ply for under £70.
  2. A carbon steel equivalent is likely under £40.
  3. My budget (as sort of alluded to in the question) was prepared to stretch to around 150% of that value.
So now I'm sort of thinking the real answer might actually be the one from advicepig.

Namely: get both. If one ends up going unused then I've always got friends who would appreciate it. It's not like steel cookware is going to significantly degrade with a bit of use and, if it's the carbon one I end up getting rid of, then most people would probably prefer one with a bit of use and seasoning on it.
posted by Dext at 4:48 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

One final final reply with regards to Mumimor's point about second hand cookware:

Well aware of the value of second hand pans considering the durability but, unfortunately, I learned while looking for cast iron and seeing everyone say "get a second hand one, they're better anyway!" that if you live in London there's too many people with an eye to snap up charity shop/flea market bargains as soon as they appear and it requires more scouting than I have time for.
posted by Dext at 4:54 PM on November 2, 2018

I’m excited for you by your update. Here’s what happened to me...

My blue carbon steel cheapie pan sat rusting in my cabinet for a few years. I was getting rid of teflon for reasons. I have a SHIT TON of high end and restaurant supply stainless try-ply pans because I used to cook professionally (I’m still in the industry.) I started doing parties for our community group w/ a friend who has a large household. All of her daily cookware is carbon steel. With 3 kids + adult family in a large house + a high profile executive job, she is busy. She is an accomplished baker. Me? If it involves me + flour + sugar + an oven = burnt. All of her daily cookware is carbon steel. The wheels in my mind started turning...

I sanded off the rust and put my carbon steel pan into rotation. It’s now my favorite for So Many Reasons. It gets white hot in minutes. It’s naturally non-stick with responsible care. It’s a beast, I leave it unattended to heat up and it doesn’t care. It heats up QUICKLY, but it’s forgiving if I get distracted. It’s quicker to adjust to the burner heat than my beloved cast irons. I now feel like my all clads and similar pans have no soul, I can’t use them anymore unless I really need to (item is too big for my carbon steel.)

Cleaning and oiling the pan is FINE. I can’t believe I did not embrace this lifestyle earlier.
posted by jbenben at 6:16 PM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

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