Can this hybrid skillet sear as well as stainless steel and release food like nonstick? We're about to find out.
Nonstick and stainless steel skillets are mainstays in the average home kitchen. While both have their advantages, each cookware type has its limitations too. HexClad is a new(ish) hybrid cookware that claims to have a true nonstick surface, but one that won't succumb to nicks or wear and tear the way most nonstick does. It also boasts an ability to impart searing surface heat similar to stainless steel and cast iron.
If these lofty claims are true, a HexClad frying pan would be just about the only one you'd ever need. To see how HexClad measures up to its marketing, I took a 10-inch skillet for a month-long test drive and did side-by-side cooking with both stainless steel and nonstick skillets. We'll see if HexClad really is a one-pan-fits-all cookware innovation.
While the HexClad didn't perform exactly as advertised -- it was unable to do the true searing work of a stainless steel skillet -- it does have distinct advantages over other pans I've tested. It won't (and shouldn't) replace all your stovetop pans, but for the right person with the right cooking habits, it would make a fine addition to your cookware collection.
Here's more on that.
HexClad is the first cookware line to fuse PFOA-free nonstick with stainless steel that is laser-etched in an interwoven honeycomb pattern. The stainless steel lines are slightly raised, while the nonstick is set back in the center of the hexagonal honeycomb shapes. The idea is that the steel will allow for high surface heat when searing steaks, all while protecting the inset nonstick from becoming damaged by metal utensils and general wear and tear.
Like most cookware, HexClad features an aluminum core which is both light and an excellent conductor of heat. But at 3 pounds, a HexClad 10-inch pan is still heavier than the average nonstick skillet or three-ply stainless steel skillet, most of which generally weigh under 2 pounds.
Hexclad makes a full line of cookware, but I only tested the frying pan -- the most commonly used piece. The sturdy skillet sports a comfortable, rounded stay-cool handle. It's both dishwasher-safe and oven-safe up to 500 degrees F.
The big test for the HexClad as a replacement for stainless steel (or cast iron) is how well it can impart surface heat and sear meat and veggies. I cooked several searable foods on the HexClad skillet, often side-by-side with an All-Clad three-ply stainless pan. The HexClad did better than a traditional nonstick skillet, which is famously not great for searing, but it never reached the levels of a good stainless pan.
In one test, I formed two round sausage patties and dropped them into both pans with a teaspoon of oil in each. I cooked them for two minutes on each side. As you'll see in the image below, the stainless skillet delivered a markedly better crust. This was the case for most of the high-heat searing I did with the HexClad pan.
I also cooked several foods in the HexClad that I would typically use a nonstick pan to make. One of the most common nonstick candidates is scrambled eggs. If you've ever made eggs in a stainless pan, you know there's generally some scrubbing that follows, but eggs should lift completely free from a good nonstick pan.
I cooked a scrambled egg in both the Hexclad and an OXO nonstick skillet on low heat with one teaspoon of melted butter. This time, the HexClad performed just as well as the nonstick skillet. The egg glided around with ease once it became solid, and came completely free when it was done cooking.
While the HexClad didn't sear as well as stainless steel, it was much easier to clean, akin to Teflon or nonstick. Just a rinse of warm water and two wipes with a sponge rendered it spotless.
One other big claim the HexClad makes is that it can resist the wear and tear of utensils -- even metal ones -- that tend to deteriorate a nonstick pan over time. In the month I used the HexClad, I didn't notice any chipping or visible damage to the protected nonstick coating. I even whacked at it a few times with a metal spatula, but the raised steel guards seemed to protect the more sensitive nonstick material as intended.
HexClad was noticeably less proficient at searing than the marketing jargon would have you believe. That said, it still sears meats, fish and veggies better than other nonstick pans. It is, however, about the toughest nonstick pan you're likely to find. Nonstick skillets have the shortest lifespan of any stovetop cookware. Even when you're careful to avoid metal utensils, the surface will inevitably break down and begin to lose its nonstick properties.
The HexClad releases even super sticky foods about as well as any nonstick pan, but it's remarkably tough and will likely last you years longer than traditional nonstick. If nonstick is your preferred material for daily cooking or if you're particularly rough on it, causing it to break down quickly, a HexClad will save you from having to replace your pan as often.
For a serial crepe or pancake maker, you might opt for HexClad's 12-inch griddle ($139) since it'll release those breakfast foods with ease and allow you to use metal spatulas freely without fear of damaging the coating.