Saturday, October 4, 2008

On Frying Pans

For many years, I have been trying to find really solid frying pans for the restaurant. We use them hundreds of times a day, so they need to be relatively inexpensive and work reliably.

Years ago, I got a stack of used All Clad stainless pans at a good price and they lasted for a couple of years. They were slow to heat but the surface was really nice and the pans looked nice, sort of. After a pan goes through its paces at a restaurant, you would never again say that it really looked nice. But in the end, they proved to be expensive junk. At around $100 apiece, they should have lasted forever, but they couldn't stand up to the professional kitchen. They all delaminated after being heated over very high heat and then being tossed into water in the pot sink.

Like every restaurant, we've always had a stack of Vollrath or Dura-Ware 10-inch aluminum pans. They're relatively cheap and light enough weight to be useful. They heat quickly, but they're going to warp over time and the rivets on the handles are going to come loose, but then, they're cheap. But you can't use them to get a really good crust on anything; everything sticks to aluminum. Still, they're the workhorse of every restaurant kitchen.

We made another foray down the All-Clad way with a couple of their MC2 pans. They look nice and seem to work OK, but they just haven't found favor with us, probably because they're expensive and we feel that we have to baby them.

Then Vollrath introduced some really nice pans in their Tribute line. We have several of their 10-inch stainless clad pans and they work pretty well. While they're on the expensive side (but less than All Clad), they seem to be a good value. They're a little slow, but they seem to be rock solid and the gator grip handles are extremely nice. The jury is still out on them; we've only had them about nine months so they haven't been through the test of time.

But, I finally got fed up with high end pans in my search to find a pan that is inexpensive, fast to heat, robust enough so that it doesn't need a warranty with three pages of disclaimers, and sears the hell out of food. I got so fed up that I went back to basics, 9-1/2" Matfer Bourgeat black steel frying pans, which you see in action in the photo above.

They heat quickly, they sear like crazy, and once broken in, they produce amazing crust on foods with little to no sticking. We can put them on high flame and forget them, toss them smoking hot into the dishwater, and heap the usual restaurant abuse on them, and they just take it, service after service after service. And at less than $15 apiece, they're cheap! We're in the process of replacing all the glamour pans with these French beasts.

Black steel is not for everyone. For starters, it's really heavy and looks like hell after just a few uses. And, it requires constant maintenance to prevent rust. We've had to retrain the dishwashers not to use stainless steel scrubbers on our pans, not to put them through the dish machine, and not to put them through any sanitizer solution. The dishwashers have to give the pans back to us on the line and we either throw them on the grill or in an oven to dry them completely, then we wipe them down with oil all over. So, they take a little upkeep, but no more than my cast iron at home, so I can deal with it.

I am so done with other kinds of pans.

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