There isn't another stainless steel skillet that gets the kind of kudos that the All-Clad 12-inch Fry Pan (Est. $120) does. It has an aluminum core sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel and the aluminum extends all the way up the sides of the pan to ensure even heating (thus, it's a fully "clad" pan). In three separate professional tests, and in plenty of other, less formal comparison tests, this frying pan earns high marks for its great heat distribution and superior browning.
The All-Clad 12-inch skillet is the top choice of professional chefs and serious amateur cooks for a very good reason: It can handle any cooking task you throw at it, evenly and consistently delivering top performance in both low and high heat cooking, and going from stove top to oven or broiler with ease. It's also induction compatible and is a top choice for those who have glass-top or smooth-top ranges.
Speaking specifically to the All-Clad 12-inch skillet, testers say its cooking surface is roomy enough to hold an entire cut-up chicken without crowding and the pan's weight and balance are comfortable to handle. Tests also show that it's highly durable, and owners agree; many refer to it as an "heirloom" that they plan to pass on to their children. This skillet also comes in a 10-inch size that gets equally good reviews.
In reviewing complaints about the All-Clad skillet -- almost all of them having to do with food sticking -- the best advice we can give, based upon feedback we see from professional and amateur chefs, is to get to know this pan. Watch videos and read instructional information that's widely available on the internet. There's a reason food sticks, it's because All-Clad is designed to cook food in a very specific way. Those who understand that absolutely love this skillet. If your top priority is nonstick performance, though, see our discussion of nonstick skillets elsewhere in this report.
If you're willing to trade a bit of performance for a lower price tag, you'll probably be perfectly happy with the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro 12-Inch Skillet (Est. $55). It's ratings with owners -- and results in professional testing -- are close to that of the All-Clad frying pan, but at about half the price. Many say the Cuisinart MultiClad performs very well in a wide variety of culinary tasks, including browning, searing and general cooking, and that it heats quickly and evenly. It's reported as very well-balanced, with a flat, stable bottom and sturdy construction, although one professional testing organization says it's heavier and more awkward to deal with than the All-Clad. Those with smoothtop stoves say it works extremely well, with very good contact and no warping. This Cuisinart skillet comes in three sizes: the 12-inch skillet has a helper handle to make it easier to transport; the 8-inch and 10-inch skillets do not.
As with the All-Clad pan, the Cuisinart gets complaints from those who are disappointed with its lack of nonstick properties, but, as many point out, including us, there is a learning curve to stainless steel. Both the Cuisinart and the All-Clad 12-inch skillets may need a bit of elbow grease to clean, but soaking them in hot, soapy water for a while first will definitely make it easier.
The one big difference between the All-Clad 12-inch skillet and the Cuisinart is the shape. The All-Clad skillet has sloping sides that encourage evaporation, something professionals say makes it better at searing, browning and making reductions. However, many like the more upright sides of the Cuisinart, which they feel offers some stability when dealing with the food in the pan. A matter of preference, only, but important to know so you can tailor your pan selection to your cooking styles.
In tests, Tramontina pans have always been close runners up to All-Clad products. The company makes inexpensive stainless steel cookware that many professionals and experts say performs nearly as well as All-Clad at a fraction of the price. In fact, in our separate report on cookware, Tramontina is our Best Reviewed choice in budget stainless steel cookware and the Tramontina Gourmet Prima 12-inch Fry Pan (Est. $55) is a solid runner up here, too.
Owners say it is a great choice as a budget stainless steel pan, performing flawlessly in stovetop to oven to broiler cooking. They also say it heats and cooks very evenly, and feels perfectly weighted and balanced. It did pretty well in one professional test as well, but testers warn that the Tramontina has a deceptively small cooking surface, only about 8-inches, so it can't hold the amount of food you would expect a 12-inch skillet to accommodate. And, as we see with all stainless pans, it is not nonstick. Read the instructions, experienced cooks say, and you'll be happier with the results.