Last year, when I’d started reviewing products in the burgeoning direct-to-consumer (DTC) cookware market, I kept an eye out for a particular item: a dusty pink pan that seemed to adorn almost every dinner table in my filtered little bubble of sponsored Instagram posts. Made by American contemporary tableware company Our Place, the modular-design item claimed to replace the functions of at least eight different types of cookware. But it wasn’t available in Canada, was completely sold out, and had a waitlist about 30,000 orders long. I went on to look at DTC dutch ovens instead and put it out of mind.
In September 2020, Chatelaine heard from Our Place with two bits of news: the Always Pan was back in stock, and now shipping to Canada. Did we want to try one out? I spent the next six weeks doing just that.
Launched by Shiza Shahid—who also co-founded the Malala Fund, which provides access to education for girls around the world—last year, Our Place mostly specializes in ethically-made porcelain and glass tableware and has, from time to time, launched limited edition products geared towards celebrations such a Lunar New Year—except for the Always Pan, which has always been on the company’s roster. It retails at about $195 CAD, which is steep for a single piece of cookware, but it’s meant to function as at least eight: a frying pan, sauté pan, skillet, saucier, and non-stick pan. It comes with a steamer basket that can double as a colander and a spatula specifically designed to hang on the pan’s handle when not in use.
What it does best
Right out of the box, the Always Pan is a beautiful item. Made with aluminum, coated externally in a matte finish that comes in five subdued colours and internally with ceramic for a non-stick finish free of the chemicals typically associated with Teflon, it functions well as a stove-to-table serving piece. And since it’s well-suited to one-pot dishes, you may well end up using it this way a lot.
At first I mostly used the Always Pan for simple fries—eggs, onions, and a pepperonata that sweats out on medium heat for an extended period of time—and I haven’t had a single item stick to its surface. Its non-stick coating is among the best I’ve tried in a pan, but it does require gentler care. You should avoid using metal utensils on non-stick surfaces in general, but definitely not on this pan, and never use a steel sponge: while I haven’t experienced it with this pan, ceramic coating in general scratches quite easily, and deep-enough scratches can lead to chipping.
Its well shape lends itself to shallow soups and casserole-type dishes, too, the kind you’d make in a big sauté pan. Rice-and-protein dishes cooked in one pan are often a go-to weeknight dinner for me, and the pan worked beautifully for those. Stir-fry-type dishes, providing they don’t rely on sustained high heat (more on that later), also work well in this pan thanks to its high walls.
The Always Pan can also be used to boil and drain pasta; this works, I tried it with spaghetti. But overall, it’s better suited to pastas cooked via absorption method, as you’ll be able to fit a larger portion size in the pan overall this way.
While this pan fries, stews, and simmers really well, there’s three things it simply doesn’t do as well as my regular set of pans: sear, steam, or cook in the oven. While it heats up quickly, it doesn’t get quite as hot as stainless steel for the kind of surface-sealing sear you want when cooking, say, a cut of meat. And while the lid’s locking mechanism works beautifully for steaming (I don’t have another pan with quite as good a seal), the basket/colander doesn’t leave a whole lot of clearance room for water, which can be a problem if you’re steaming for an extended amount of time. For the most part, those aren’t deal-breakers for me. What’s more of a concern is the fact that it isn’t oven-safe. I’d gladly trade its steaming functionality or colander (a stock pot and slotted spoon have always worked well for me) for the ability to roast, broil, or oven braise with this otherwise versatile piece of cookware.
Is it worth it?
The Always Pan is genuinely useful—though I’d be quicker to recommend it to someone starting a kitchen setup from scratch or looking to replace a couple of pans at once. If you’re used to big-batch cooking, meals with plenty of sides, or feeding a household of four or more, though, it may not be big enough to be the only pan in your arsenal, or the one you always use—and $195 is a lot to sink into a single item if it can’t, for your purposes, do it all. Overall though, the Always Pan can cut down on the number of pans you use, and it doesn’t hurt that it looks just as cute on a stove as it does on the table as a serving piece.
Published October 2020; updated October 2021