Welcome to our in-depth review of the Circulon SteelShield C-Series 32cm Frying Pan, a new type of hybrid pan that’s designed to function like stainless steel and clean as easily as nonstick.
There are many excellent frying pans on the market which you can read about in our handy guide to the Best Nonstick Frying Pans, so why would you want to use a new fandangled hybrid pan when any old nonstick may do?
Let’s find out, shall we?
Circulon SteelShield C-Series Frying Pan: price and availability
If you’re based in the UK, you can buy the 32cm Circulon SteelShield C-Series Frying Pan direct from Circulon (opens in new tab), John Lewis & Partners (opens in new tab) and Lakeland (opens in new tab) where it’s selling for £115. Alternatively, try Fenwick (opens in new tab) where’s it’s going for just £92.
If you live in US, try the US Circulon store (opens in new tab) ($79.99) or, better still, Walmart (opens in new tab) where the 12-inch (32cm) pan we review here is selling for $69.79 – and with a glass lid no less.
Living in the land of Oz? Try Circulon (opens in new tab) direct (A$169.95) or Myer (opens in new tab) where you can snap one up for a mere A$119.97.
Circulon SteelShield C-Series Frying Pan review: what is a hybrid pan?
Many pro chefs love cooking on stainless steel because of its excellent heat distribution, heat absorption and ability to support high temperature cooking. For these reasons, stainless steel is very efficient at creating the Maillard reaction where the outer area of meat is caramelised to produce a delicious dark crust that helps makes steaks and other meats pop with flavour and aroma. Pros will argue that the Maillard reaction isn’t fully realised on a full nonstick surface and some experts even question the safety of frying on nonstick because some of its chemical properties may leach into the food.
However, the problem with stainless steel is that food can stick if not enough oil or butter is used and steel isn’t as easy to clean as nonstick. Hence, some manufacturers like Circulon, Gordon Ramsey-endorsed HexClad and Heirol have started producing frying pans that mix stainless steel with non-stick. HexClad and Heirol adopt a sophisticated method of lining their pans in thin hexagonal shapes of stainless steel mixed with larger areas of nonstick coating while Circulon has gone down the route of using raised concentric circles of stainless steel with a durable nonstick surface embedded into the troughs between each circle.
The idea behind using mixed materials is to create a frying pan that cooks like stainless steel but with far less sticking of food. Also, these pans can supposedly be used with metal utensils because the delicate nonstick surface is a fraction of a millimetre below the steel so the utensil never comes into contact it.
Nevertheless, the jury’s partly out on how well this two-tier system works because a lot of current users have expressed dismay with their purchases, saying that food sticks far more than on their nonstick counterparts and that the pans are more difficult to clean. But on the other hand, there are many more users who have had no such issues or, if they have, it hasn’t been a big enough problem for them to mention it.
The upshot is that most of these pans – the Circulons we’re reviewing here included – need to used on a low to medium heat setting and rarely higher unless searing a steak. I’ve seen many great examples of them being used with no sticking issues at all so perhaps it’s user error – something I’m clearly guilty of because I’ve had a similar sticking issue with this pan, though I should add that the sausages it fried were exceptional.
So without further ado, let’s head straight to the review.
Circulon SteelShield C-Series Frying Pan review: design and features
As explained to some degree in the paragraph above, this classy-looking pan uses a circular mix of stainless steel with a nonstick surface embedded in between each circle of steel. The pan I’m reviewing is 32cm in diameter – Circulon’s largest in the range – with an effective cooking surface off around 27cm. The polished, mirror-like main body is cast from tri-ply stainless steel which looks extremely swish on the hob, whether it’s gas, ceramic, an Aga-style hotplate or induction. In fact, this pan is especially well suited to induction use – it’s very responsive to temperature adjustments and it should work on any zone, though its sheer size suggests the larger the zone the better. It can also be used in the oven up to a temperature of 260˚C/500˚F – just be sure not to touch the handle with bare hands. Ouch!
Despite its substantial width, the 32cm SteelShield doesn’t feel too heavy in the hand. Also, the ergonomic shape of the riveted stay-cool handle’s wide girth makes it easy to get a grip on. Incidentally, I also like the way the handle is riveted flush to the main body and coated in the same proprietary nonstick material.
Circulon SteelShield C-Series Frying Pan review: performance
Hybrid frying pans like the Circulon should be used on a medium heat setting because the stainless steel reaches temperature quickly and it stays hot for longer so it’s very easy to burn food if you’re not on the ball. A good way to tell if your stainless steel pan is at the correct temperature is to throw a few drops of water into it. If the water collects into a single bead and rolls around the pan, it’s at the correct temperature for adding oil or butter. But if the water separates into little droplets, the pan is likely too hot. You can thank me later for this.
Although I didn’t have any initial sticking during my sausage test, I did raise the induction temperature a few degrees midway and then regretted it when three of the sausages stuck to the base. It took a lot of scrubbing with a stiff nylon brush and plenty of hot water from my Insinkerator 4n1 boiling water tap to loosen the burnt-on remnants but, boy, what amazing sausages it produced.
My streaky bacon test was more successful because I never raised the induction hob’s temperature past 5. The bacon was perfectly crispy and there was no sticking. However, the surface of the pan did feel oddly resistant to my metal tongs and certainly nowhere near as smooth and slippery as a standard nonstick pan.
Test three involved frying an egg using a lump of butter and there was no sticking at all, and no remnants left behind. I’ve seen some online videos of people frying an egg on this pan using no oil at all and many of them stuck fast. But my thinking is that no sane person would fry an egg without at least some butter in the pan unless they wanted the blandest fried egg ever made. And besides, frying without butter or oil isn’t frying, it’s more like, er, heating?
I then did the pancake test and again there was no sticking. However, I won’t be using this pan to make any more pancakes – or indeed any omelettes – because I don’t like the concentric circles imprinted on the finished article.
For my final test, I tried a fillet steak on the pre-heated pan with a splash of oil and a large knob of butter, and with the temperature initially at around 8 on the induction hob. Wowsers! The outer surface was completely encased in the most deliciously scrumptious blackened crust and the centre was cooked to medium-rare perfection. Granted, the steak left a lot of burn marks on the pan which took a while to clean but I wasn’t bothered because I figured it was a price worth paying.
The upshot is that you really do need to be more careful and attentive when using this pan or there will likely be some sticking issues. However, if you keep the heat down and use some oil and/or butter, chances are your frying session will go with a swing rather than a scream.
Circulon SteelShield C-Series Frying Pan review: verdict
If the notion of frying on stainless steel appeals to you, but you’d rather not have too much sticking of food or too much cleaning up after the event, the Circulon SteelShield C-Series is an excellent choice. I would avoid frying eggs which might stick if at the wrong temperature and perhaps avoid using it for pancakes, too, unless you don’t mind circular imprints on them. But for everything else, this is a sterling option that’s wide enough to fry large quantities of meat, chicken and fish extremely efficiently and without too much post-fry scrubbing in the process.
Want to see some more top frying pans? Pop over to our guide to the Best Nonstick Frying Pans you can buy today