Product Review: Calphalon Unison Nonstick Sauté Pan

We can't remember the last time we've been this excited about a pan - and a nonstick pan at that! Nonstick pans often lose out in both kitchen performance and sheer sex-appeal to their brighter, shinier stainless steel cousins, but Calphalon has definitely been taking some strides to close the gap. This one can sear meat and can even go in the dishwasher!

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Product Details: Calphalon Unison Nonstick Sauté Pan with Cover, 4 quart capacity (also available in 6-qt and 3-qt sizes), dishwasher safe, oven safe up to 500°, and life-time warranty. The body is heavy-gauge hard anodized aluminum with stainless steel handles, and the cover is tempered glass.

Calphalon's Unison nonstick cookware has been approved by the FDA, but you should know that they do use PTFE to create their nonstick coating. Health concerns have been raised over PTFE, and you can read more discussions on this topic in this post on nonstick cookware and this one on using nonstick cookware. We generally advise using cast-iron cookware for both performance and health reasons, but we also recognize that many of us like to have at least one nonstick pan in our collection.

Look and Feel: This pan feels solid and well-balanced in your hand, and we think it looks elegant and sophisticated on the stove top. It's easy to lift and maneuver, and the handle stays remarkably cool even after the pan has been sitting on the stove for a while. The extra handle-loop opposite the long handle is surprisingly useful, especially when taking the pan in and out of the oven. After four months of regular use, this pan still looks as good as new.

Performance Pros: Calphalon's main selling point for this particular pan is that the nonstick surface is specially designed and textured to enable cooks to sear food and create pan sauces just like with stainless steel pans. Since this is one of the biggest reasons we usually recommend and choose stainless steel over nonstick, we were very curious to see how the pan performed.

We tried searing scallops, stew meat, and pork chops, and we were able to get a surprisingly nice sear with very little effort each time. In each case, the meat became evenly colored, developed a good crust, and still didn't stick at all to the pan. We'd even say that it was easier to get the exact color we wanted using this pan than our stainless steel pan.

We were also happy to see a nice fond forming on the bottom of the pan left from searing meat and cooking vegetables. This is something that we don't normally get much of in nonstick pans, and gives us the possibility of deglazing, building a sauce, and keeping all that caramelized flavor in our dish.

Performance Cons: We did quickly learn that cooking with this pan would require a slightly different technique than we were used to. While the fond does start forming, we found that it tends to come up all at once in a big sticky clump when we deglazed instead of melting into a sauce. Instead of waiting until the end of cooking, we started scraping up the fond every few minutes as we cooked. Since the pan is nonstick, the fond releases easily without liquid. And because it hadn't build up too much, we were able to melt it back into whatever we were cooking.

This meant that we could build a lot more flavor in a dish than when using other nonstick pans, but only if we were ok having the flavor stay in the dish itself. If we wanted to build a gravy or pan sauce later to serve alongside a dish, we had some problems. Whisking might help break up the clump of fond, but all of our whisks are metal and can't be used on nonstick surfaces.

Overall: We also cooked frittatas, pasta sauces, and stir-fries in this pan. All of them came out beautifully. The pan provides a consistent, even heat that is easy to control. The fact that we can throw this pan in the oven to finish a frittata or a steak is another big selling point for us. (On the downside, the product specifications say that the pan is not broiler-safe. Boo!)

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Recommended? If you're looking for a versatile nonstick pan that can handle a lot of different kitchen tasks, this one is it. The trouble with the fond and the deglazing isn't enough of an issue for us to detract from its usefulness for searing meats (especially delicate seafood) and overall utility.

Buy It: Calphalon Unison Nonstick Sauté; Pan (4-quart), $225 from Williams-Sonoma

Related: What's the Difference? Sauté Pan verses Skillet

(Images: Williams-Sonoma and Emma Christensen)

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