The de Buyer company has been making these pans in France since 1830 but they are only just started to catch on here in the US. Made of spun carbon steel, the surface is highly polished and smooth, making the process of developing and maintaining the non-stick seasoning relatively quick and easy (and is why some people consider them superior to cast iron).
It's true that I found creating the non-stick patina was a quick and easy process. After following the pre-seasoning instructions to first wash with very hot water and soap and then boil a handful of potatoes in water, I quickly seasoned my pan by heating a few centimeters grapeseed oil over fairly high heat for several minutes. The non-stick patina quickly established itself and I put it to a tough first test -- scrambled eggs. I was delighted when the eggs cooked to a thick, creamy mass and then slid out of the pan as if it was teflon.
Another important test my new pan passed with flying colors was the fried egg. I was confident that my egg wouldn't stick, but how would it cook? I preheated the pan with a medium flame for a minute or so, lowered the heat slightly and added a small knob of butter which immediately sizzled. Then I cracked a cold (just from the refrigerator) egg into it. The pan evenly and completely cooked the white while leaving the yolk warm and runny. I was surprised with this as I am used to having to cover the pan to produce a perfect sunny-side up, runny-yolked egg.
But these pans aren't just for eggs! The carbon steel is a hefty 2.5 mm thick, which conducts heat beautifully and makes them perfect for searing meats and other proteins. I have yet to use an acid such as a tomato or wine in this pan, however. From what I understand, it is either not recommended (carbon steel is 99% iron) or at least not until the patina is very well established. (Has anyone had any experience with this?)
I also appreciate the pan's handle which is at a good angle for lifting, although some people don't care for it. It does get hot, so I use a pot holder or silicone sleeve.
If you've been wanting to wean yourself from Teflon and other chemical-based non-stick surfaces, then this is the pan for you.
It should be noted, however, that these pans are not for non-fat cooking. The surfaces patina does prevent sticking but some fat is needed as well. I highly recommend that you invest in the de Buyer line, season and maintain it well and you will be, like me, one very happy cook!
The de Buyer Mineral B line used to be hard to find but is now readily available from Williams-Sonoma, Sur le Table and Amazon.com.
→ Find it: DeBuyer 7.9" Mineral B Element Iron Frypan, $39.95 at Amazon
(Image: Dana Velden)