See update at the end for long-term verdict. I’m leaving the original review in place for a full background.
I have been in the market for a new frying pan for some time. The old one succumbed to the usual fate of my non-stick pans… the non-stick coating started to peel off, and the bottom of the pan was also warped (it was not a very expensive pan). I had been making do with a smaller, about 8 inch pan, but while it suffices to scramble an egg, it wasn’t big enough for things like stir fry or even decent swedish pancakes.
I did grab a super cheap 10 or 11 inch frying pan at IKEA a few months ago (solely on the basis of, I need a larger pan, and, it’s really cheap so it will tide me over). Unfortunately it performed equal to cost (about 5 dollars 😛 ). It did serve the purpose of tiding me over, but the non-stick quality of it was a laugh (this is not the case with all the IKEA frying pans, some of them are fine and in fact my last well-functioning large one was from IKEA, but like I said, this was a super duper cheapy). Also the surface was already beginning to be dinged up, and it had a peculiar gold-colored inside that never seemed to want to look clean again.
I have not really been a fan of non-stick coating in general (I finally went to a steel wok and seasoned it properly this past year and I’m sure it will last forever especially compared to the previous non-stick ones I’ve had…seasoning it was much easier than I’d anticipated). However, I do like the properties of having a pan, especially a frying pan, be non-stick, and not crazy about the care and weight of a cast iron skillet (which can also have sticking issue and still requires a fair amount of greasing, something I’m trying to cut back on to reduce calories). Cooking with stainless steel is not for me :P, way too much burned on food, scraping, greasing, etc etc. Easy is a key. If something is a pain to clean up it becomes an incentive not to feel like cooking at all sometimes.
Part of the reason I’d been holding out for a new pan is, sometime last year I read a rave review in the newspaper about a ceramic non-stick pan that was vastly better than the regular chemical non-stick coatings, but expensive. I remembered the review, and the picture of the pan which was red with a white interior, but in the months since I clipped it I both lost the clipping and forgot the actual name of the pan, so I blundered along waiting for something to spark this remembrance before I spent a lot of money on a different new pan.
Enter the Bialetti Aeternum
That spark finally happened a couple weeks ago at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I had popped in for a quick stop to remedy my ongoing Adventures in Home Microwave Popcorn endeavor (subject of a future post, perhaps, when I get the method perfected), when I saw a bunch of new red and white non-stick frying pans hanging on the wall. The brand, Bialetti, re-awakened my long-lost memory of the summer review! I was pretty sure it was the same pan and jumped at the chance to try it out (I’d recently given up on doing anything with the gold IKEA pan and gone back to my little pan, not very enthusiastically).
I do have a problem sizing things up in the store. Perhaps the whole eyes bigger than the stomach thing. So once I got home with the 12-inch pan I realized it was enormously large compared to the frying pans I usually cook with, far too large in fact. One issue was none of my lids fit. I like to occasionally throw a lid on my frying pan to do things like finish cooking those vegetables a little bit or melt the cheese on my egg, however, most of them do not come with lids so I just grab a handy extra lid from my lid drawer that actually goes with a large stockpot or something. None of them were remotely large enough, and once actually in my kitchen, wielding the thing to make pancakes or something seemed like a herculean task (though it was not particularly heavy) and likely to produce pancakes larger than my actual plates.
So, with a some reluctance, I returned it to the store without testing it and bought the next size down, which was the 10 1/4″ pan. One plus side to this of course was it was cheaper! Once at home I realized that although this sounded small, it was actually the perfect size. Let the testing begin!
One of the obvious benefits of the ceramic coating was the lack of chemicals to leach into food, and the fact that it supposedly tolerates heat better and doesn’t peel off (still, no metal utensils). What I wasn’t prepared for, even remembering the excellent review, was how well it worked in terms of not sticking or burning! The first thing I cooked was scrambled eggs for my little bun’s breakfast, using my favorite silicon spatula (of which I have two because they are so handy). The eggs peeled right off the bottom without the slightest hint of burning. There was no problematic sticking (I cooked these without butter or oil of any kind, for a true test! Impossible in my previous non-stick pans). Even when the egg clung to the bottom due to being only partially cooked, it lifted right up with the spatula, with no brown burnt area. Because of the white pan bottom, it was very easy to see when things started to brown and stir them around. I did notice that cooking eggs without butter or oil did smell different (not as pleasant) but the eggs came out perfectly.
I was excited. Especially because, this meant healthier stir fry vegetables for me with less or no oil. I wilted some spinach for myself in the pan with water and added them to an omelet, again no oil, and it cooked right up! I also later tried stir frying some vegetables.
Cleanup was super easy… I ran some water in the pan and stirred the spatula around to remove any clinging bits and it was good as new without any scorching or burnt bits (also did not require use of a “green scracher” scouring pad to remove anything). Also, no worries about using soap on this pan to destroy “seasoning” since there is no seasoning needed. It looked shiny and new again (I admit, I was a little bit nervous about the white inside after my experience with the gold pan, as well as other white-interiored pans I’ve had that were enameled and never stayed looking white). Time will tell, of course, but this is off to a great start.
My non-oil tests were all well and good, but I gave it another test the other night sauteing an onion and I decided to throw a teaspoon of olive oil in for flavor, due to the recipe I was making. I’m sure it would have cooked just fine without, given my previous experience, but it does enhance the taste and I decided my diet could afford a bit, and test the pan at the same time :). This time I used my standard bamboo stir fry paddle. The onion cooked up, softened, sweetened, and caramelized perfectly without a hint of sticking or burning, using much less oil than I would have normally used in such a recipe. It was extremely easy to tell as before when it was getting dark because of surface and the fact that the browning did not stick to it at all (even with a wooden spoon). The surface resisted the onions so much in fact, it was more like stirring around some packing peanuts in a pan, there was no scraping involved at all, and they cooked perfectly.
There were only really two items to report here, both very minor. One is, once I removed the cardboard packaging I noticed a small ding in the coating of the inside of the pan, near where the handle attaches. Since I’d already been back to the store once to switch out pan sizes, I didn’t feel like returning it for an “unblemished” pan, though they probably would have taken it back. I was slightly concerned that this damage would affect the coating’s permanence, considering how fast that happens on traditional non-stick pans once there is a breach in the coating. However, it wasn’t in a place that really affected performance since it wasn’t on the main cooking area, and since this pan has a ceramic coating it didn’t seem like something that was likely to start peeling up. We’ll see how it wears with time.
The other item of note was that the pan handle was slightly loose right out of the package. Luckily, it is one of those frying pans which is constructed with an adjustment screw, so my phillip’s screwdriver took care of the problem right away. I was pleased to see they included this adjustment feature, pans which don’t have a screw invariably end up with the handle loosening in time if you do a lot of wrist action with no way to tighten them again. Not sure why it wasn’t tight to start with, but just something to note.
All in all, I’m just loving this pan. I see on the Bialetti website that they also have other types of saucepans (and matching lids for the frying pans too, neither of which were available at that time at the store I was at), which I would just love to snap up (my other most used pan is a large pot for soups, pasta, etc, but I also have some rather low quality saucepans that I use often and could stand to be replaced). The cookware also comes in other colors! Purple, blue, pink, and silver. The red is gorgeous but hmm… I’m thinking about that purple :).
Very impressive, Bialetti. I think I can safely say this is THE best frying pan I have ever used, non stick or of any other type (including classic cast iron skillets), and it was fairly inexpensive (around $25 for the 10 1/4″!) compared to what you’d expect to pay for what’s normally thought of as a “really good” pan. I can’t WAIT to try this with Swedish pancakes this weekend!
Update: Not so great.
So, I continued using this pan for a year or two. I also got a saucepan with a lid. The frying pan eventually developed two issues: 1) I overheated the frying pan which seemed to damage the ceramic coating so it wasn’t as non-stick anymore, even if greased. I think theoretically if I had not overheated it, it would not have had as much of a problem, as it clearly happened in the overheated part of the pan first. However, it is *very easy* to overheat as the ceramic heats up so quickly. On a pan with oil I think I probably notice faster that it’s overheating because the oil starts smoking, but on an oil-less pan there is no such clue. 2) The white coating develops discoloration and scratches over time, which may or may not be related to the overheating/scratching (I only used non-stick utensils: Plastic or silicone spatulas or wooden utensils). I’m not sure if this is related to the overheating issue. Another person who I know who bought the same frying pan eventually developed the same issues as well, and it sounds pretty common based on replies here.
I tried several other ceramic non-stick pans. Unfortunately I can’t recommend any of them: this was really the best option I tried. The others were not as non-stick from the beginning, and they developed the same issues, faster. What I have ended up doing is going back to light-weight cast iron for my fryng and this is my highest recommendation at the time. (I have 2 separate pans for eggs/pancakes and everything else. This does require some oil for foods not to stick, but it was just better than the other options and there’s no issue of damaging the pan with utensils that happens on classic non-stick or ceramic, and the pan doesn’t get destroyed from overheating. I’m clearly hard on my cooking pans.
One good thing about Bialetti!
I still have the Bialetti “Aeternum” Ceramic Coating saucepan with clear lid. This one has fared a lot better than the frying pan and I’m very pleased with it. If it eventually kicks the bucket I’ll probably buy another, unlike the frying pan. It has gotten discolored (I think this is inevitable with the white coating). I am also wondering if eggs in general contribute to the discoloration, because that is mainly what I cooked in the frying pan, and the one time I boiled eggs in this saucepan it discolored a lot more. The reason this pan works and the frying pan doesn’t is I’m not cooking the same kinds of things (eggs/pancakes/stir fry), so there is not the issue of scraping dry things off the bottom. It’s generally a wetter environment in this pan, like soup, chicken in a sauce, hamburger crumbles followed by tomato sauce to make spaghetti, etc. I especially like it for spaghetti sauce because I can brown the meat in it first and then the sauce doesn’t get that metallic interaction you get with tomatoes and metal pans. The non-stick coating means it’s very easy to wash up afterwards. I do also use it for one “dry” usage which is popping kernels such as amaranth. This grain is popped similar to popcorn but without oil, and the dry heat plus the clear lid helps me see it as it pops and pop a little bit at a time. There is an overheating potential for using it without iron as with the frying pan, so it requires care.