Of new pans and product quality

After enduring years of buying various non-stick fry pans, SWMBO and I finally reached agreement: We Have Had Enough Of This Crap And We Are Not Taking It Any More.

So we went and bought a real one.

This post is really about product quality, a theme I’ve been banging on about at work, and which prompted me to do this picture in best Kathy Sierra style:

The diagram is for MANUFACTURERS of products:

Making crap means you don’t get happy customers, unhappy customers tell others, and in the long run, low quality means your business won’t survive. These days most of the Crap is Cheap, and is imported from China and sold through discount stores. A heck of a lot is sold through Bunnings, too.

Making something Pretty Good gives you a chance of success. There are lots of manufacturers of stuff that’s Pretty Good. You pay a bit more, and generally customers are happy. Manufacturers of the Pretty Good can (and sure do) struggle – they compete with each other and with all the cheap crap. It’s a hard life, making something that’s Pretty Good.

Making something Perfect is a bad, bad move: mainly because you can spend so long in product development, burning up money, tweaking and finishing, polishing and adjusting, and getting just that little bit better. Perfect products don’t ship, so makers of perfect products are just like makers of crap – in the long run they don’t survive. They can have a lot of fun going broke, though.

Making something Excellent is where only a few manufacturers want to be, with deliberate strategies to get there and stay there. Excellent products stand out from the Pretty Good by something… figuring out the something is the hard part. Usually some kind of feature, or innovation, something people are prepared to have which makes the product stand out.

Excellent products naturally cost more than just the Pretty Good – after all, why sell for less when you stand out? Makers of Excellent products can (all going well) make very high margins on their products, and customers are happy for them to do so, because those customers get something that is (truly) Excellent. Complacency, and slipping back to being merely Good is a big danger.

—-

So, to pans:

Cheap Cheap!

Once upon a time, when money was tight, we bought whatever was cheap.

By and large, cheap was (and still is) crap. In the case of a fry pan, cheap is made of thin pressed metal. Over time the heating and cooling cycles make the base of the pan dish outwards.

you know all those pans you have that won’t sit flat on a stove? Cheap CRAP.

Pans that don’t sit flat on a stove annoy me.

There is a cheap and cheerful temporary solution: turn the pan upside down and place it on the kitchen benchtop (handle sticking out off the bench). Now get something heavy – a wooden breadboard will do, and bring it crashing down HARD on the centre of the pan base. A couple of blows usually knocks them back into shape. I’ve done this at home for years, and I’ve been known to do it in holiday accommodation – B&Bs and so on – as well. Not my pan? Don’t care. It’s busted and I’m gonna fix it. Very noisy! Scares the hell out of everybody if you haven’t told then you are doing this!

Cheap pans have cheap non-stick coatings. These are usually soft, scratch easily, or they peel or blister. They are thin and in the event you get something carbonised on which won’t come off easily you are pretty much screwed. There are various home remedies for cleaning up these pans – they work after a fashion, once or twice – but in the end, screwed is screwed.

Moving Up

A few years ago we found better kitchenware – made by an Adelaide company, part of the business my former employer had. Nice – a thick base, though still pressed. A decent thick coating, though still fairly soft. This one was about $40.

We had moved up from the Cheap Crap, to the Pretty Good.

After about 5 years, this one too is beginning to show its age and its quality.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad product, it is merely a good one. It has no dishing of the base, it has a few minor scratches on the coating, and it is generally doing well.

It’s also clear that within another year or so it will be getting to be past its use-by date and up for replacement.

Along the way we bought a humungous Le Creuset cast iron pan – seemed a good idea at the time and for some jobs it’s just fine. (Hint: never ever ever wash a cast-iron pan with soap or detergent. Warm water only. Ever.) The test is cooking fried eggs in a cast-iron pan. Very very difficult. It also weighs about 3/4 tonne and to carry it any distance is a two-handed task. For day-to-day use it is not quite appropriate.

The Experiment

So far our journeys in fry-pans have moved from the Crap to the Good - so what about the Excellent?

Today we went out and bought a new pan. Gasp – shock, horror!

This is a Swiss Diamond. The things which should make it an Excellent product, that stands above the others are:

- whilst aluminium, it is thick, and it’s cast rather than pressed;

- the base is seriously flat – it looks like it has been machined;

- the coating is some new space-age combination of diamonds (really!) and some fandangled non-stick thing. The coating survives the Choice Magazine test of 10,000 cycles being scraped with a scotch-brite pad, and you can use metal utensils with it; and

- the manufacturers must believe their own hype, it has a lifetime guarantee.

And yes, it cost about 3 times a much as the Good pan it will replace.

The true test will be what we think of it in 5 years time, but who could pass up the chance to try it out? Tonight we browned 1 kg of beef pieces in it, and the cleanup was dead easy. The best ever. So it’s off to a good start.

Truly – paying 3 times the price for an EXCELLENT product will be well worth it, if it lives up to its promise.

Thus forming a concrete example of the picture up the top.

9 Comments

Umm, Swiss Diamond pans are made from Teflon, just like other cheap cookware.

Here’s an article I read about 8-9 months ago.
http://www.newstarget.com/021059.html

You’re still in the “crap” zone, I’m afraid… :(

Comment by Merovingian | June 17th, 2007 11:39 pm | Permalink

We just got given a Jamie Oliver Tefal Anodised frying pan:

http://kitchen-homeware.anythingonline.com.au/c6555/c6556/c6557/c6559/p65232

No idea if its good or crap but it has a very nice heft to it! And the cooking experience was the best we’ve ever had – it appears to distribute the heat evenly out to the very edge, unlike the cheaper pans which have an obvious central hotspot. Easy to clean too!

If we get five good years from it I’ll be very happy.

Comment by Daniel | June 18th, 2007 8:26 am | Permalink

We’ve been there too, though we have come up with a different solution, which works really well:
Teflon is great, but not suitable for high temperature cooking. This pretty much rules out a teflon pan for searing meat, etc. We have a “good” teflon pan which we use exclusively for eggs, and other fairly docile tasks. Have used the same frypan for the last 5 years with no discerable change in performance.
Good old Cast-iron pan. I actually found the one I have been using for the past 25 years in someone’s trash bin. I threw it in the coals of a really big wood fire until the whole pan glowed a dull red. After it cooled, I ’seasoned’ it with olive oil, and it has been working like a charm ever since. You’re right.. not good for eggs, but the only thing to use for our fortnightly pancake breakfast. Used for searing meat, searing just about anything. The very first pancakes the morning after making chile con carne taste a bit funny.
Le Creuset enamelled cast iron pan (small). a One-hand job. Used for pretty much everything else.

Comment by don | June 18th, 2007 9:23 am | Permalink

Favourite Pan: 30-odd year old cast iron skillet. I expect it is much like your 3/4 tonne Le Creuset.

Advantage: It’s so heavy that Mrs Fitz cannot pick it up to hit me with it.
Disadvantage: If ever she does land a blow, I’ll stay hit for a long time.

Comment by MikeFitz | June 18th, 2007 10:59 am | Permalink

I just read the article linked to by Merovingian – how disappointing! I’m still on stainless steel cookware (the crap variety but it’s ok for the moment). What are you going to do? Have you used the pan yet?

Comment by DunePrincess | June 18th, 2007 11:21 am | Permalink

I found the article linked by Merovingian as well.

The guy who writes it is no scientist, and he has a thing about Teflon.

The dangerous product is not Teflon (PTFE), its PFOA, a substance product during the teflon manufacture process and completely removed by high temperatures.

There has been a big beat-up.

ALL modern non-stick pans use PTFE in some form or other, and there is no evidence of its being harmful in the last 30 years.

So I’m comfortable.

Comment by Wally | June 18th, 2007 3:09 pm | Permalink

Oops – mind you – we have the cast iron thing for high temperarture stuff, and a stainless steel pan as well. Not as though lacking for choice.

I’ll never use a non-stick pan for really hot things anyhow, irrespective of what is claimed about it.

Comment by Wally | June 18th, 2007 3:10 pm | Permalink

Our worst pan lasted less than a single use. We bought a cheap fry pan when I was sharing a house with some mates at University. We went to cook breakfast the next day and the tomato caused the coating to come straight off :(

We have bought some allegedly excellent fry pans with a “lifetime” guarantee. I suspect that the guarantee is for the lifetime of the pan, not the user, which in every case has been around 5 years.

I currently use a non-stick cast iron fry pan from the same manufacturer as you eluded to in your “moving up” category. The first one lasted for about 4 years. I took it back and they gave me a new one ! The new one is now nearly 4 years old and needs to be replaced. I noticed that the shop doesn’t stock them any more :(

Comment by Darren | June 19th, 2007 12:51 pm | Permalink

I have a cast aluminium? iron? frypan given as a christmas gift 11 years ago. Its non stick coating has almost completely worn off but the pan is still the best thing I’ve ever used. Stuff still doesn’t stick and it makes great pancakes. It gets a good scrubbing with a soapy steelo pad after each use and there is no residual flavour to taint the next batch of pancakes or whatever.

Comment by river | August 20th, 2007 11:22 pm | Permalink

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