I love my induction stove. It is fast, powerful, precise, incredibly efficient, and easy to clean. Put a cast-iron pan on it and cookware that predates the Model T is transformed into a modern Ferrari.
Induction stoves heat pans with magnetic energy. The Achilles’ heel of induction is that it doesn’t work with all pans; if a magnet does not cling to your pan, it won’t get hot on an induction burner. When I changed from an electric stove to induction a couple of years ago, I had two fancy pans that were effectively bricked, one of which currently holds a Gerbera daisy plant on my porch. Finding a nonstick induction-friendly pan poses a particular problem, as many nonstick pans are not magnetic. Others are only slightly magnetic, meaning they won’t behave at all like your other pans. I have one of the latter, made by T-fal. It has performance issues on my stove, needing a much higher setting than other pans to achieve similar results. It drives me crazy.
Owners of stoves that use electric or gas can pick up a top-rated 12-inch nonstick pan for $30 to $60, but induction owners have fewer options. All-Clad makes a fantastic induction-ready nonstick “fry pan,” for instance, but it’s $200. Yet the surface of a nonstick pan eventually wears out, no matter what kind of stove we cook on, and eventually we need to get a new one. Whether we think about them that way or not, we treat them as disposable objects. I can’t get behind the idea that a pan that’s considered disposable costs that much.
You will be unsurprised to hear that I got a little frisson of excitement when rifling through kitchen product brochures—they make lovely bedtime reading—to see a new line of carbon-steel pans that might hit the elusive induction sweet spot.
Carbon steel, a close cousin to cast-iron, is fairly inexpensive and excellent on all stoves, especially induction. “Regular” carbon-steel pans can be fussy to use, however; they need to be seasoned regularly to retain their nonstick properties. Cuisinart’s Carbonware pans have the clever addition of a layer of nonstick coating on the interior. For reasons I don’t understand, very few manufacturers add a nonstick coating to their carbon-steel pans, especially in the US market.
Unstuck in Time
I called in 8- and 10-inch pans to review. They’re good-looking, sturdy, and sport comfortable handles. I cooked an egg in one, and it floated around the way you want your eggs to float around on a nonstick pan: like they’re on an air hockey table. Then I just used them like any other pans for a few weeks. I made oatmeal in the mornings. I made chicken piccata one evening. And mostly, they did what I’d been hoping and dreaming they would do—they behaved like my other pans.
Since I’d already borrowed a $40,000 thermal camera from the good folks at Flir for a grill grate review, I put it to use with my pans, setting up a test to compare my cast-iron skillet, my T-fal nonstick, and the two Cuisinarts.
I made a little spreadsheet with a column for each pan and a row for the timing intervals and heat settings, taking a photo that corresponded with each cell. I could bore you by listing the results, but the telling info was when I asked Flir’s spokesperson, Vatche Arabain, to take a look at the images.
We were on a Zoom call, and I watched his face as he flipped through the images, clearly trying to make sense of them.
“Whoa,” he said, stopping on the T-fal. “Why’s that one so cold?”
The images illustrated how quickly and evenly the cast-iron and carbon-steel pans heated, but in the T-fal, all the heat was concentrated in the center and faded quickly toward the edges, like someone was shining a flashlight at the very center from close range. I did all of the testing on the same burner, and after three minutes on high, the cast-iron was over 600 degrees Fahrenheit, but the T-fal was only in the high 300s and mid 400s. I stopped the large Cuisinart pan after a minute and a half on high, as it was also approaching 600 degrees. The cast-iron and the carbon-steel were clearly in a group together, performing wonderfully, and the T-fal was a disappointing outlier.
However, my wife Elisabeth used the smaller Cuisinart pan to make a fried-egg sandwich later that afternoon, and she ran into a bit of trouble.
“It’s sticking,” she said. I cleaned the pan and cooked another egg, intentionally using slightly too little butter. Forcing the issue didn’t work out well at all. Some nonstick pans can cook egg after egg without any cooking oil at all; but despite the claims in the Cuisinart owner’s manual, this isn’t one of them.
In case I damaged the pans in the thermal testing, I called in a new set.
What I’d come to understand is that as long as I had enough oil or butter in the pan—enough to evenly coat the bottom—I’d be in good shape. The pan would act like I wanted it to.
There were other issues I encountered with the Cuisinart pans, most notably that one of the larger pans arrived with a bit of doming to the cooking surface—where the center is slightly higher than the edges—meaning that when the oil heats up, it pools around the edges instead of coating the bottom evenly. This is a problem that plagues pan-dom, especially in the low- to mid-price range. Finally, after searing a steak, which the Cuisinart did exceptionally well, it developed a couple spots on the surface that never went away.
After several weeks with the Cuisinart nonstick carbon-steel pans, I came to a few conclusions. Most notably, that they are an improvement over my T-fal, but they are not perfect. Nevertheless, they are my new and affordable favorites for nonstick cooking on induction burners. They’re not the best, but the best I’ve found. Recently, our friends at Wirecutter found a nonstick induction-friendly pan that they recommend; I haven’t tested it, but it may be worth further exploration. It’s in the same price range as the Cuisinarts.
Might I make a suggestion here? If you’re going to use nonstick pans, baby the bejeezus out of them. We can have a nearly nonstick cast-iron pan that will easily outlast us if we take care of them, but we’ve conditioned ourselves to be OK with the idea that we toss our nonstick pans in the trash every couple of years—or sooner—when the surface wears out.
Don’t cook steak in them. Don’t push their limits. Use them for eggs and maybe some delicate fish, and that’s it. When they’re not in use, hang them where they don’t clank into other pans, or stack them with the entire cooking surface protected by a towel.
If you’re an induction stove owner and want to go the nonstick route, I do recommend these pans, even though they could be better. The hunt for the perfect one is still on, but until then, these do a very nice job.