A Cast Iron Pan Fit for Cornbread and Kung Pao


There's a certain kind of romance involved when cooking with cast iron. Rough-hewn and rugged, it's pure Americana – the cookware of choice for cornbread, cowboys, and campfires. And now that it's making a comeback, perhaps it's time to replace your rusty old skillet with the Staub Perfect Pan.

At just over nine pounds, the 12" x 3.5", 4.5-quart pot is a sturdy and reliable vessel for stews, braises, and shallow frying. A glossy enamel coated exterior is handsome, chip-resistant, and easy to clean, while a specially formulated matte enamel interior aids in browning and caramelization. And the best part? No seasoning is required.

After two weeks of testing, the biggest surprise was that the Perfect Pan performed best as a wok. (Okay, maybe it wasn't that surprising since it came with a steamer insert, chopsticks, and spatula.) Sloped sides and excellent heat retention qualities made it an excellent choice for stir-fries, which cooked in less than ten minutes. Southern fried chicken, cooked in a shallow pool of oil, also came out of the pan in perfect form.

Unfortunately, a couple of drawbacks kept the pan from earning its title. The curved silhouette was not conducive to searing large pieces of protein, like steaks. Two New York strips sat awkwardly on the bottom as they cooked – they'd have been better off sliced into strips. A second problem occurred during dishwashing. While the sandpapery texture of the cooking surface did help to brown meat as it claimed, the residual burnt sugars clung to the pan and required tons of soaking and scrubbing to remove. (Moral of the story: Be generous with the oil before adding your ingredients.)

Nothing ever achieves true perfection now does it? But while it may not live entirely up to its hyperbolic name, the pan comes pretty damn close.

[$150, williams-sonoma.com]

Field Notes
Days Tested: 14
Foods Cooked: Southern fried chicken, beef and broccoli stir-fry, New York strip steaks, baked ziti, tofu/spring vegetable stir-fry, fried rice
Nitpik:Requires careful pre-heating and generous amount of fat to avoid sticking, otherwise clean-up can be difficult.