There is no lack of diversity in cookware — cast-iron, enameled cast-iron, carbon steel, copper. Yet there is little dispute that a stainless steel skillet is the workhorse of the American kitchen, its throne built on a foundation of all-around performance, durability, versatility and no-fuss maintenance. What separates quality stainless steel from a mountain of low budget imposters is mostly materials, a bit of design and what kind of warranty you’re covered by.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Misen just recently began shipping its stainless steel cookware, which naturally includes a selection of skillets. The cookware, like the brand’s explosively successful chef’s knives, toe the line of premium-made-affordable. The brand elected to go the direct-to-consumer route in order to cut prices. The stainless steel skillet — and greater cookware line — looks like a worthy second effort. So, is it?
The Good: This is not a smokescreen of buzzwords and decent web page design — Misen’s second kitchen-improving project is certainly premium stainless steel cookware. Top and bottom layers of steel coat each piece, and three layers of fast-heating aluminum make up the core. I tested the 10-inch skillet and, at just under 3 pounds, it’s heavy; but not so much that it’s not easily maneuverable with one hand. Once properly heated, that weight helps it retain heat more effectively when fridge-cold ingredients make contact. I tested the piece’s ability to cook evenly by searing a chicken thigh in the middle, sides and in-between and saw virtually no difference in sear from one spot in the pan to another. This weight, and the overall quality of the materials used, also prevents warping at higher heats. Where many brands are forced to stamp their products with warnings about high heat cooking, Misen does not.
Who They’re For: Misen’s cookware is for the aspirational All-Clad owner with a mid-market budget. Misen may be the brand for you if you’re paying keen attention to consistency and like the things you work with to simply feel like quality.
Watch Out For: A structured and spelled-out support system is often a downfall of products looking to disrupt longstanding markets with big promises, and Misen is no different. There is no warranty for these pans, whereas many of the industry old-timers (and some newcomers) offer anything from five years to lifetime coverage.
Like many cookware makers, Misen advertises a handle that is slower to fry your fingers than others. It’s hollowed out (warning: the hole closest to the cooking surface caught a lot of grease when cooking and is hard to spot), which made me think it may delay finger-burning for a few extra minutes. However, set to the same heat as my budget skillet they became nigh-ungrabbable all of 30 seconds later. I suppose there’s an argument that could be useful, but the fact remains if you’re cooking for more than five minutes you’re going to use a mitt.
Alternatives: Like Misen, Made In Cookware is a fairly new operation, and operates in much the same way Misen does: direct-to-consumer, online only, five-ply design, mid-market prices. The difference in cooking between the two skillets was minimal — I preferred the Made In skillet’s ($69) handle and would give a very slight advantage to the Misen’s heat retention. But, Made In supports their steel with a lifetime warranty, where Misen does not offer a warranty. More broadly, Made In’s line also includes a non-stick skillet, where Misen is just stainless steel.
The Misen skillet easily out-seared and generally out-cooked my low budget Calphalon skillet and was very clearly not of that caliber, so I would not recommend skimping for cheap stainless if you’re a stickler for consistency.
Verdict: In a vacuum, the $65 Misen stainless steel skillet is a good cooking tool to use for just about anything you can fit in it. But the lack of warranty is a dark mark on an otherwise well-made and fairly-priced product, and because there are alternatives in the same price region to tangle with, Misen’s skillet is perhaps only worth it for those seeking a heavier, more even cooking experience and don’t fear damage or durability issues down the road.
Weight: 2.8 pounds
Diameter: 10 inches
Material: 5-ply stainless steel
Handle Length: 7.8 inches
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