As a New Yorker who must account for every square inch of his apartment -- especially the kitchen -- I'm always intrigued by the space-saving claims of gadgets and cookware that can do the job of two or three (or more) others. The Always Pan, a newish frying pan made by direct-to-consumer kitchen startup Our Place, is marketed as just that. The brand caught my attention with silky-smooth ads on social media and promises that the pan would be my new favorite piece of everyday cookware, replacing a good many of my existing kitchen tools. Eight pieces of cookware, to be exact. That was enough to motivate me to take the popular pan for a spin and I quickly learned there is a whole lot to love about the Always Pan, even if it isn't quite the kitchen game-changer the maker boasts it to be.
The Always Pan bills itself as a do-it-all pan that'll replace your frying pan, nonstick pan, sauté pan, steamer, skillet, saucier, saucepan, spatula and spoon rest; a single piece of cookware that lets you braise, sear, steam, strain, sauté, fry, boil, serve and store. A pan that you'll use not just often but "always."
What I liked
At first blush, it's hard not to notice how darn good this pan looks, which I'm sure accounts for a healthy portion of its popularity. The Always Pan sports an understated modern aesthetic and is available in four warm hues, each with a matte finish: charcoal (gray-black), spice (light salmon), sage green and steam (ivory). You could absolutely keep this pan out on the counter with the lid on and it wouldn't look odd or out of place. It's also light and easy to handle but feels solid and well-constructed, so I wouldn't worry about it busting or breaking.
Designed for multipurpose use: Though you can do a lot more than just fry with frying pans, most aren't necessarily crafted with multiple cooking methods in mind. Not so with the Always Pan, which is designed to let you do things like safely make sauces with the unusually high sides (nearly 3 inches) and steam foods like fish and vegetables with the custom insert.
Built-in spoon rest/storage: I don't know why every pan doesn't have one of these. The pan's handle, which has a notch to hold the specially designed wooden spatula, serves as both storage and a temporary spoon rest while you're cooking. I love that feature and use it often. The spatula does jut out over the base of the pan, so I assume over time the heat might damage the wood if you left it there for extended periods, but when you need to put it down for a quick second to grab other ingredients or tend to another pot or pan, it's very nice to have.
It's a great size: There are plenty of 10-inch frying pans so this wasn't a revelation by any means, but for a single fellow like me, or even when cooking for myself and a guest, this pan is an ideal size to use for almost anything from meats to vegetables to side dishes. If I were running a household of four or more I might find myself dragging the 12-inch frying pans out instead. As mentioned earlier, the high sides are great and mean less spillage as well as ample vertical room for steam to build for fish and veggies.
Steamer basket: Speaking of which, steaming in a skillet is totally fast and easy, so it makes sense to have a steamer basket that fits snugly in the pan. It's another feature I use regularly and had me wondering, "Why doesn't every frying pan come with one?" especially since it can't possibly be too costly to produce.
What I didn't like
Ceramic surface: This unique cooking surface is a bit of a double-edged sword. While it's quite possibly the easiest surface ever to clean, nonstick (honestly, nothing ever stuck to this pan) and nontoxic, it's also somewhat limiting. No matter how hot I revved the burner under my Always Pan, it never quite imparted a real sear like cast iron, carbon steel or stainless steel consistently do. So while it's an excellent pan for cooking vegetables, eggs and shellfish, trying to get caramelized burgers, steaks or is not as easy.
Having said that, I think for what this pan aims to be -- a supremely versatile, easy-to-clean frying pan for all those quick daily jobs -- it's probably the right material. Traditional nonstick cookware coating deteriorates fairly quickly, sometimes in as little as a year depending on usage. Priced at $145, you'd likely want a pan like this to be with you for a bit longer than that, which makes this coating a better choice in my opinion. Though ceramic nonstick is tougher than traditional nonstick, it's still not anything like steel or cast iron, so you'll still want to take some special care. For one, it's recommended to never use metal cooking tools with the Always Pan, and though it claims to be dishwasher-safe, I would simply wash by hand with soap and warm water. The company even provides a safe sponge to use on it.
The handle: This is a minor critique, but the pan's handle is squared, and I've certainly used pans with handles that are shaped to the curve of a human hand better and thus are more comfortable. It's something I noticed but it didn't bother me much.
It's not oven-safe: This is another rather minor inconvenience, especially since I'll look for any excuse to use my beloved Dutch oven, but if you're hoping for a pan that can go from stovetop to baking, this isn't it.
The Always Pan normally sells for $145, which isn't cheap, especially for a single frying pan, but I contend that it's worth it for the right type of cook. Who is that person? If you're the type who cooks at home often but not a ton of terribly complicated meals and sticks to, let's say, lots of scrambled eggs, stir-fries, pan-seared and steamed or sautéed veggies, then this is a solid pan to own and it will likely be flying in and out of the cupboard regularly. You really could get away with just having this one pan, coupled with a saucepan or stockpot, and be able to get through most basic recipes without much issue. It would also be the perfect single pan to outfit an extremely small kitchen like in an RV or small office.
At 20% off, it's a lot easier to justify. I really did find myself using it a lot and not just because I was testing it, but it wasn't the only pan I reached for in the course of a trial run. I still see value in having smaller sauciers, larger frying pans, my favorite wok and a few other pieces of cookware that I use weekly, if not more. Perhaps the "Often Pan" would be a more accurate, if not far less attractive, name. It is, however, one of the more versatile pans per square inch than you'll find on the market and a sound addition to the right kitchen collection.