The internet's most multifunctional kitchen essential, the Always Pan, can officially handle the heat — and by heat, we mean 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Any lingering concerns about the original pan's infamous kryptonite (high temps) have flown out the window due to Our Place's newest addition: the oven-friendly Cast Iron Always Pan. And, it's BACK in stock after limited inventory sold out in just 20 minutes last month.
With the $155 Cast Iron Always Pan, you get the same eight-in-one cookware charm as the OG Always Pan as well as the classic colorways and specs (okay, its diameter is a half-inch smaller). But this time around, replace the Always Pan's nonstick inner coating with low-maintenance enamel cast iron, swap out the original opaque ceramic lid with a chic, clear glass top, and throw in some adorable silicone Hot Grips that protect hands from the cast-iron handles when hot.
How long Our Place's Cast Iron Always Pan drop will last is beyond us. So, if you're in the market for a new addition to your kitchen, you can head over to the retailer's site now, click that "preorder" button, and expect a shiny new pan come late June. Need more info? Read on below as I — an extremely amateur cook with some handy professional chef intel — put the Cast Iron Always Pan to the test and detail all you need to know.
What's the difference between the Always Pan and the Cast Iron Always Pan?
Just like eyebrows, the pans are sisters, not twins. Aside from multifunctional charm, stovetop compatibility, and aesthetic colorways, they prefer different lifestyles. The Cast Iron Always Pan is a frying pan, skillet, sauté pan, braiser, griddle, roaster, baking dish, spatula, and spoon rest in one. This allows you to grill, sear, braise, fry, sauté, roast, bake, broil, stew, and serve whatever to your liking. It also has a black enamel iron interior, which, unlike the Always Pan's slippery nonstick, allows you to turn up the heat on the stovetop, bake in the oven, and make some extra-crispy, perfectly seared dishes. Plus, its transparent, modular glass lid is 100% oven-safe for up to 425 degrees. (The Cast Iron pan itself can withstand up to 500 degrees. Meanwhile, the classic Always Pan must steer clear of both the oven and the broiler).
As for the tools included with the Cast Iron Always Pan, you receive the same all-natural sponge and beechwood spatula that come with the Always Pan. However, this time Our Place threw in two adorable, custom-fit silicone Hot Grips so you can safely pick up the cast iron after high-temp cooking.
What makes the best cast iron pan?
As a novice chef with a heightened awareness (dare I say fear?) of cutthroat cast-iron culture, I made sure to do my research. I've heard stories of spouses unknowingly putting cast iron in dishwashers and ruining the long-time "seasoning" or novices not using it to its full potential. So, I frantically texted my good friend Mira Weimer, who not only made me some of the best mac 'n' cheese my tongue’s ever tasted but also is a full-fledged cook at critically acclaimed Bay Area restaurant Chez Panisse. (It’s even Obama-approved.)
“I look for a cast iron pan with a thick, heavy bottom, so it provides an even distribution of heat and things aren’t getting scorched,” Weimer tells Refinery29. “Bumps and pits from a weird casting can cause further damage if your spatula gets caught. You also want it to be perfectly flat, so oil isn’t pooling in one area over the other. To me, a smooth, thick, and flat bottom is a perfect pan.”
Noted. I also talked to a nonprofessional but nonetheless an amazing home cook whose mac 'n’ cheese also warms my heart: my auntie Marlene Jaffe. Her tried-and-true cast iron has years of sautés, braises, bakes, and the like under its belt. “[My cast iron] is heavy, well-seasoned, and braises or fries meat quickly," she says. "It also goes from stovetop to oven.” She wrapped up her praise with this: "You can literally cook [a cast iron] on the highest heat, and it just makes food taste better and better."
After I digest this knowledge and read up on Our Place’s description, I’d say the Cast Iron Always Pan measures up. Per its on-site specs, the skillet checks in at a hefty-yet-intentional seven pounds to prevent finicky “hot spots” — just like Weimer mentioned — and to ensure “maximum heat retention.” As for the infamous cast-iron seasoning, the pan actually requires none, thanks to its enameled cast iron interior that guarantees a "beautiful patina" over time. (For my fellow newbies, patina is a layer of oils and fats in a cast-iron pan that improves its function over time. Seeing how seasoning was one of the hottest topics throughout my research, I was wary but, nonetheless, relieved I could skip the process. On to the less-than-gorgeous meals . . . or, as I like to call them, experiments. )
Cooking Experiment #1: The Stovetop
Now, you may be thinking, why put a bad cook in charge of reviewing an intermediate-level pan? The answer is simple: Our Place made the Cast Iron Always Pan easy to care for (like all of its cookware) and with beginners in mind. That said, I showed my mom this picture of my eggs, and she urged me to not include it in the article if I didn't want to get absolutely fried like said eggs in the comments. But I am fearless, shameless, and — damn it — my eggs tasted easy like Sunday morning while I endured a stressful Monday afternoon.
What I mean is the eggs sizzled with joy atop the sleek black surface and developed wonderfully crispy edges — which my mouth thoroughly enjoyed crunching on. The biggest difference between the Always Pan and the Cast Iron was the flaky borders of each egg that could only be attained by such high-level heat. As I am most familiar with nonstick, I made the mistake of trying to flip them before the golden crust formed, hence the tortured appearance.
Cooking Experience #2: The Oven
Now, this bake was a tasty breeze and my personal favorite aspect of this pan. I do not bake, so I do not have bakeware. I pop the occasional chicken thigh in the oven on a not-so-fancy baking sheet, and it turns out fine. But now I have the perfect cooking partner. The Cast Iron is absolutely lovely for going from cooking to baking in a flash.
I freed these biscuits from the can, popped them in the oven, and they were flaky heaven. Also, that crisp on the bottom? Paul Hollywood from The Great British Baking Show would definitely categorize it as too dark, but I had a lovely time munching away.
Which Always Pan do I prefer?
As a mother, you're not supposed to pick favorites, but alas, the Cast Iron Always Pan is quite the charmer. However, as a struggling home cook, I think I'll stick to the nonstick. To our readers with a knack for cooking — hell, even a passion — I think this pan makes a wonderful, useful, and gorgeous addition to your kitchen. If it does end up making its way to your door, I beg you, please invite me over whenever you're making mac 'n' cheese.
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