Published Thursday, January 01, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.

A 12-inch skillet should last a lifetime and cook almost anything. But does quality construction have to cost top dollar?

Highly Recommended
  All-Clad Stainless 12-Inch Fry Pan

Testers praised this pan for having “everything you need in a skillet and nothing you don’t,” with enough cooking surface for sautéing eight chicken pieces without crowding; steady, controlled heat for excellent browning; and a good shape with low sides. The weight balance was outstanding; it was easy to manipulate and lift. In the durability test, it sustained the least damage, with barely visible dents.

*** *** *** *** $135.00
  Gourmet Standard Tri-Ply 12-Inch Skillet

At half the price of our winner, this skillet browned foods “perfectly well”—though the crêpe test revealed a slightly uneven heat pattern. While its cooking surface is smaller, testers observed that the gentle slope of the sides let food spread out nicely. The balance was slightly off, with weight overly concentrated in the pan. When whacked, the body dented.
Note: Gourmet Standard is no longer in business.

*** *** ** ** $64.99
  Calphalon Contemporary Stainless 12-Inch Omelette Pan

This handle-heavy skillet struck testers as “lightweight, almost flimsy.” This pan is the thinnest of the lineup, which made it hard to control: We had to keep reducing the flame, but once we did, the results were excellent. In our solder test, the heat distribution was especially fast and even. The pan’s handle loosened during the durability test, and the body dented.

*** ** *** ** $119.95
  Weil by Spring, The Healthy Kitchen 12-Inch Fry Pan

This “five-ply” pan with extra layers of aluminum alloy around an aluminum core (manufactured under the name of healthy living guru Dr. Andrew Weil) had slow and steady heat. Its smaller cooking surface left steaks slightly crowded and chicken unevenly browned. It is heavier than we prefer but handled well despite its weight, though it dented when whacked.

** *** ** ** $120.00
  All-Clad 13-Inch Stainless French Skillet

Testers loved the generous 11-inch span of this pan’s cooking surface, but it was heavy and awkward to manipulate, with a fast sauté speed that required vigilance. The pan’s corners are not as sloped as we like, making it harder to blend pan sauce. It dented and the handle loosened in our abuse test. (We asked All-Clad what made it “French.” The reply? It’s just a name.)

** ** ** ** $99.95
Not Recommended
  Miu Stainless Steel 12-Inch Open Fry Pan

While comfortable and easy to maneuver, this disk-bottom pan is small—two steaks were a tight fit, and they steamed rather than browned. Mostly thick stainless steel, it had trouble recovering lost heat, and tall sides increased the potential for steaming. In the durability test, the handle tore partly away, and the body warped.

* ** *** * $48.99
Not Recommended
  Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless 12-Inch Skillet

This disk-bottom pan offers a generous cooking surface, but testers called it “flighty.” Heat built up in the thick aluminum disk and transmitted abundantly through the cooking surface, making the temperature climb precipitously. Steaks browned well on the first side, but got too dark on the second. Onions scorched and smoked, even when we lowered the heat. In the durability test, the disk bottom fell off.

* * ** * $49.95