I’ve been burned by cheap pans before—literally, but more importantly figuratively (hey, wounds heal, but my money doesn’t magically come back when I toss out a crappy pan). For a long time, if you wanted a quality pan, you had to shell out for it. That was just the game, and plenty of the big cookware brands played it well. Now, a group of upstart companies—some emerging in just the past year—have stormed the market with high-quality pans that are as effective as they are aesthetically pleasing. Even better, their direct-to-consumer business model cuts out the middle man and gives you quality cookware for less than the big name, established brands. We’ve put a lot of these companies’ wares through the paces and selected our five favorite that really held up against the competition.
Founded by two brothers who love home cooking—Jonathan and Eric Wahl—as a way to create a stripped-down collection of essentials, Abbio created a core product line of five pans. They feature a durable tri-ply construction in their 8- and 11-in nonstick skillets, 2.3-quart saucepan, 3.5-quart sauté and 6-quart stockpot. The pans are impressively built, constructed in a way to ensure durability. Abbio also impresses with its ergonomic handles and balanced weight, making them very comfortable to cook with. You can opt for buying the whole set or the pans individually, with the star of the bunch possibly being the stockpot that’s just the right size for people who already have a larger pot like a Le Creuset dutch oven.
This year-old company debuted not with some huge collection of pans, but what it calls an anti-set. The Proclamation Duo is 7-quart pot, 12-inch skillet and lid all nestled together in one neat little section of your shelf. Proclamation Goods give you the choice of stainless or carbon steel for your skillet to pair with the pot. It’s a high-quality pan with great heat distribution. The more novel of the set is the the 7-quart stainless steel pot, which is surprisingly nimble for its size. When sautéing mirepoix for a braise the pan is light enough to still toss the ingredients. Because of its weight and shape, it makes it effective as a wok as well. That could lead you to assume it’s too light for even heat distribution, but that wasn’t the case when deploying the pan for long braises or simmering sauces for hours.
One of the originals in the direct-to-consumer cookware space, Made In has found its way Michelin three-star kitchens like Alinea and Le Bernardin, as well as teaming with some of our favorite chefs like the team from Contra, Nancy Silverton and Matt Horn of Horn Barbecue in Oakland. The company has expanded its offering to beyond just pans to now include knives, plates, glassware and more. The company excels at no-frills kitchen workhorses like its carbon steel wok that can take some pretty intense heat, or its five-layer stainless steel frying pans, which come in multiple sizes. Of the direct-to-consumer brands out there, Made In has the widest selection of pans, catering to specific tasks more than the more basic lines from other manufacturers.
Smithey Ironware Co.
Since 2015, Smithey Ironware in Charleston, SC has been crafting beautiful, polished cast iron pans. While you can get pretty good performance out of a good Lodge cast iron pan—which are readily available all around the country—they don’t have the vintage flair, beautiful patina and ultra-smooth surface that Smithey boasts. While the company sells a dutch oven, forged carbon steel pans and multiple cast iron skillets, our favorite is the set they offer with a 12-inch skillet paired with a flat top griddle that also doubles as a lid for the pan.
Another company that wants to declutter your pan collection is Our Place. Founder Shiza Shahid designed a pan to replace eight pieces in your kitchen, but also look pretty good doing it. Our Place created a stylish set of essential table and glassware along with the Always Pan, which comes in array of millennial chic colors. The nonstick pan is built for frying and sautéing and comes with a steel basket for steaming, while also being designed with a pour spout and a clever little nook to rest your beechwood spatula.