W-S Wire Mesh Grill Pans
06/06/14 - 08:09 Filed in: Gear | Accessories
I recently wrote a blog entry entitled ISLAND OF MISFIT GRILL TOYS where I describe some grill tools I was not using or no longer able to use. One that fell into the "No longer able to use" category was my Williams-Sonoma Mesh Chef's Pan and Mesh Frying Pan. This blog entry will serve as a review of the two replacement pans I bought recently which are usable on my Big Green Egg. Read it carefully because it is definitely a mixed bag. I can live with the issues I have with the pan, but your mileage may vary.
To begin at the beginning: I first became aware of this line of grill pans, exclusive to Williams-Sonoma in 2007. The line consisted of a 12" diameter x 4" high (30 x 10 cm) Mesh Frying Pan, a 12" diameter x 6" high (30 x 15 cm) lidded Mesh Chef's Pan and a 17 1/4" x 11" x 2" high (44 x 28 x 5 cm) Mesh Roaster. They were very well made and used a heavy stainless steel wire mesh held in a thick frame made from stainless steel rod stock. The two round pans had a 12" (30 cm) long fixed handle. This was the first generation of these pans and while I bought the roaster, I passed on the lidded Mesh Chef's Pan because the lid was not removable. At the time, the fixed handles did not bother me because on my gas grill I could either let it stick out of the front of the grill lid or turn it 90 degrees and let it stay completely inside the grill. In 2009 they came out with a third generation of the Mesh Chef Pan and a second generation of the Mesh Frying Pan, with the big improvement being the inclusion of a removable handle. While I regretted not having the pans with removable handles, I was able to use what I had with the equipment I had. The big thing to look out for is the fixed handles got as hot as the pans and became like branding irons. Even with double gloves or gloves and a pot holder the pans handle became too hot to hold very quickly.
Fast forward to 2012 where I bought my first Big Green Egg in August. With it's 18" diameter (45 cm) grill surface the fixed handle pans simply did not fit. Cooking with the lid partially open and the handle sticking out was not an option. I did keep my gas grill around until February of 2014, but I only used it once and that was just for grilling some corn on the cob. Meanwhile Williams Sonoma had come out with a new line of grill pans. By my count, this was the 4th generation of the Chef's Pan and the 3rd generation of the Frying Pan. This time the big change was the material the pan was made of. It was a dull stainless steel with square perforations cut out of the metal. I didn't particularly care for the looks of these pans. My first issue is they were far less open than the wire mesh versions. To me this meant less of the smoke from the grill would reach the food. The perforations were square in shape with ever-so-slightly rounded corners. I wondered if this squarish shape would mean the pan was harder to clean because it might trap food. Also the greater area of metal meant more potential for sticking. All of this is pure speculation on my part, since I did not use this generation of pan. I was thinking of picking up new versions of these pans with the removable handles this summer, and I was wishing the pans were the original wire mesh material. To my great surprise when I got my latest Williams-Sonoma catalogue in the mail a month ago they had moved on to generations 5 and 4 of the Chef Pan and Frying Pan. The change: They were back to the wire mesh like the pans I had owned.
This will be a combination review/first impression of this new and "improved" line of pans. It is actually mostly review vs first impression. Other than the removable handles, the construction of these pans is identical to the ones I previously owned. I am going to base my remarks on years of use with the other pans. I will cover the handles last because they are definitely a mixed bag. Before I get into my review of the 5th generation Mesh Chef’s Pan I will briefly comment on the 4th generation chef’s pan, which W-S refers to as Steel Chef’s Pans.
4TH GENERATION STEEL GRILL PANS:When I began thinking about replacing the two fixed handle model grill pans I owned, I went straight to the Williams-Sonoma website. I expected to find wire mesh pans similar to mine save for the removable handle. Instead I found they came out with a new line of pans using a perforated steel material in lieu of the wire mesh. This new material is shown in the left hand picture above and the mesh material is shown on the right. These generation of pans seemed to be around only a year, before W-S reverted back to the wire mesh variety. So why am I wasting my time telling you about these? Well they seem to be still selling these pans, perhaps simply to clear out inventory. I immediately wondered about cleanability and the openness, or lack of, in these pans. Now I have zero hands on experience with these pans, but when I was research my purchase of removable handle grill pans for use with the Egg I read the user comments for these pans. I would suggest reading all of the comments before you purchase one of these steel grill pans. They sound like they are much harder to clean than the wire mesh versions of the pan. Many people complained about the difficulty of cleaning these pans. If you want the pan to look as good as new, it looks to be impossible with these 4th generation pans. There were multiple comments saying that as soon as the steel of these pans was exposed to the heat of the grill, the metal discolored-permanently. There were many posts from people who grilled fish or other foods with a gooey, sugary sauce who complained about the amount of food that stuck to the pan and was VERY VERY difficult or impossible to clean.
5TH GENERATION WIRE MESH GRILL PANS:
Now we all know “Suggested” price is the silly and totally ridiculous price that a manufacturer lists so that you feel better about yourself paying the price they actually want to charge you to begin with. I will list the “Suggested” Price here because this way you will know the maximum price you would ever pay for the item. The prices for this new 5th generation pans seem to vary from time to time. I got mine for 20 percent off the “Suggested” price for a Memorial Day sale, but the prices are even a bit lower on the website right now.The “Suggested” Price of the Mesh Chef’s Pan is $39.95 and the price it is sold at seems to vary between $31.96 (my 20 percent off sale) and $27.96 (current price). When I bought the second generation of this pan back in 2009 I seem to remember paying around the $39.95 amount. I actually didn’t mind paying that amount at the time because I felt the pans were built to last a lifetime. The Mesh Fry Pan has a “Suggested” Price of $24.95 and I paid $19.96 (20 percent off) and it currently sells for $17.46. The Mesh Roaster, which I still have my original version of carries a “Suggested” price of $29.95 and currently sells for $20.96. I don’t know that I would wait around to try to squeeze out the lowest sale price for these pans. They are so well built that over the lifetime of the pan a few dollars here or there is insignificant vs. the enjoyment you will get eating the items cooked with these pans.
CONSTRUCTION:One of the things I always liked about these pans was how rugged and well built they seemed. Many grill accessories seem to be cheaply constructed and look like they were made just good enough to accomplish the task at hand. The W-S pans are sturdy and would seem like they could last 10 years or more with a minimal amount of care. The baskets are made of a decently heavy gauge of stainless steel wire. It will not dent or deform from light casual contact with other objects. The wire mesh is held in a stainless steel frame made of a heavy gauge rod material. As I mentioned, the wire mesh construction means these pans are over 50 percent open to help let the smoke flavor in. Other than the handles, I have zero complaints about the construction of these pans. They are sturdy and well made for the task.
CLEANING/APPEARANCE:This is a mixed bag. The pans are dishwasher safe. In the past I found that some foods will try to stick to the pans, but if you give the pan a good spraying with PAM for Grilling very little sticks. At least of the type of foods I cook with them. I typically are using these for some sort of grilled vegetable dish. The veggies are usually tossed with olive oil and that is about it. Looking at the comments on the website, there were some folks who mentioned having issues when they used various types of sauces and glazes. I could see this, particularly due to the high sugar content the sauces might have. Sugary sauces + high heat = burning. Williams-Sonoma does sell a wire brush for cleaning these pans, but so far I haven't had to use it. I have made veggies in the 5th gen. Chef's Pan twice now and they look as good as new. Part of this may be my new dishwasher does a far better job of cleaning than my old one. After 5 years of use, my other pans did have some discoloration and residual smoke stains on them. But nothing serious and I also think people must be realistic about their expectations. After all these are grill pans and they are exposed to a harsher environment than a kitchen stove. I am guessing over time these new pans will look the same, some discoloration and smoke stains. If I do use something with a sugary sauce I would expect a higher degree of staining and I would expect to have to use a wire brush to remove some bits of stuck on food.
WIRE CLEANING BRUSH:There is a cleaning brush available for these pans. I bought one back in 2009 that has stiff stainless steel bristles. To be honest, with the type of cooking I typically do, veggies sprayed with olive oil, I haven’t had to put it to much use. I have used it several times to knock off a couple pieces of food that were stuck on after I emptied the pan. I noticed they sell a different type of brush for the 4th generation steel pans. It has a handle and head that look more like a traditional grill grate brush than the one I got in 2009. The bristles are also made of brass, which is a softer metal. My guess, and this is only a guess, is that the softer brass bristles are for use with the steel plate material. The brush I have may scratch the wire mesh of my pans, but you would never notice this on the wire. The 4th generation pans are perforated steel, so the softer bristles are probably kinder on the steel plate. The reason I was mentioning this is so you will be sure to get the right brush for your particular pan. I don’t see the style brush I got for my wire mesh pans available for sale on the W-S site. But these pans have only been back out for a month or so and when I got my older pans it took several months for a brush to be made available. Long way of saying: I would ask about the appropriate brush for use on the new wire mesh style pans.
The first picture shows the latch system and the complexities introduced. There are to spring-loaded latches you must use. The top latch holds the lid in place. You must press this spring latch open and hold it open to remove the handle. Then while holding this latch open you must also press and hold the lower spring loaded latch to release the bottom of the handle. You still aren’t home free yet, the second picture shows the the handle end is bent to match the angle of the sloped sides of the pan. This means while holding the two latches open you must now pull the handle both up and towards you to remove the handle. This is simply not an easy repeatable one-handed operation.
HANDLE:This is the new and improved feature of these pans, at least for me, is the handle is removable. It is definitely a mixed bag. In fact rather than beat around the bush, let me say the ONLY good thing about the removable handle is it is removable. Having removable handles which reduces the overall length of the pans down from around 24" (60 cm) to 12" (30 cm) allowing it to fit on the Big Green Egg. The execution on the removable handles is terrible on so many levels I don't know where to start. The first problem is it can not be done with one hand. The second problem is the clamp (frying pan) or clamps (chef's pan) are fussy. They need to be in a rather precise position to lock into place. The third problem is the type of adjustments and positions you need to get your fingers into are not easily done using the heavy gloves you need to wear to protect your fingers from the scorching heat. A fourth problem is once you manage to get the latch holding the handle in place undone getting the handle to slide on and off the pan is difficult at best next to impossible at worst. The reason for this is the lip or tab that attaches the handle to the pan is bent at an angle. The reason for this is the sides of the pan slope. So for the main part of the handle to be level, the tab has to slope at an angle parallel to the sides of the pan. Do when you go to remove or install the handle you aren't just raising or lowering the handle. You are raising or lowering it in the vertical direction, plus you need to move it horizontally forward or backward to get it to slide down the sloped slot on the side of the pan. If reading this sounds complicated, believe me trying to do it is even harder. Plus on the Chef's Pan there is a second spring loaded catch that must be released and held in the open position so you can release the latch for the handle and remove the handle. It would have been nice if the latch for the lid was independent of the handle, but it isn't. If the handle is removed the top lid is not latched in place because it's latch attaches to the handle itself. A last issue with the Chef's Pan is the handle is a bit loose feeling when attached. The attachment mechanism is the same as the Frying Pan, i am wondering if it is the extra weight of the Chef's Pan that makes for the handle feeling a little loose. What doesn't make me feel at all warm and fuzzy is the though the problem may get worse with food in the pan.
These operations are not something you want to be this fussy when you are working with thick gloves over a hot grill. Before I wrote this blog I spent about 15 minutes with both the Chef's Pan and the Frying Pan to see if I could figure out the trick to getting the handles to come on and off. No go. At best it is a two-handed operation which really isn't the most desirable approach. At worst it is two-handed, but only if you aren't wearing thick gloves. Also you don't want to keep the lid of the Egg open very long when you do need to shake the pans to stir the food.
The first picture shows the veggies headed out to the grill. The handle is off the pan and the pan is resting on a cooling grid set into a half sheet pan. The second picture shows the pan on the grill minus the handle. To stir the food I put on some welders glove and pick up the pan using the hinge on the right and holding the handle and lid latches together on the left.
NECESSITY IS A MOTHER:So the approach I am taking, out of necessity, is these are handle-less grill pans. I take the pans out to the grill with the handles already removed. I carry them out on a 1/2 sheet pan with a cooling grid sitting on top. When is is time to carry the pan back inside, I use this same setup and the cooling rack and sheep pan protect the counters from the hot grill pan. I still wear gloves until the pans are safely inside. I do not want to worry about it if the pan starts sliding around on the tray. I can grab it and stabilize it with my handed without getting branded. When it is time to shake the pans around I put on my heavy duty welders gloves and grab the rim of the pan. The hinge end of the lidded Chef's Pan also doubles as a handle, so I grad this with one hand and I use my thumb and forefinger of my other hand to hold the clamp area of the pan together. Doing this it is easy enough to pick the pan up and shake and invert it, to help stir the food. I just make sure to be very careful I have a good grip on the clamp side of the pan so it doesn't fly open. When the food is done I take it straight off the grill put it back in on the tray and carry it in. As far as I am concerned the handles will remain permanently detached and sit in my grill storage closet. I'm sure from time to time I will see if I can figure out a different way to get the handles on and off. But the reality is this method I am currently using will still be quicker than anything I can figure out with the handle.
SHOULD I BUY THIS PAN? - ProsThese pans will be (nearly) perfect for some people and other people should definitely look elsewhere. If you want a well-built mesh grill pan this pan fits that bill. If you want or need a grill pan with a removable handle so it will fit on a circular shaped grill such as a Big Green Egg or Weber Kettle, these pans have you covered. If you have a pair of heavy duty welder’s gloves or grill gloves and don’t mind putting these on to put the pan on or off the grill and donning these to shake the pans to stir the food these pans will work for you. I should mention you are going to need to put on gloves to grab the handle of any grill pan. The question is do you mind using something other than a handle to shake the pans. I will mention my attitude here has changed. I was initially a bit miffed that I couldn’t EASILY use the handle. After using the pan the first time and using gloves to place the pan and shake it, my attitude changed. I realized that even if the handle went on relatively easy, gloves were faster period. Either way you put on the gloves and simply grabbing the pan and doing your thing is way faster than snapping a handle on and off. Faster = Lid Closed Faster. So I realized I am glad I can use the pan WITHOUT the handle.
SHOULD I BUY THIS PAN? - ConsIf you are a “By-the-Rules” kind of person and want to use the handle of a Grill Pan with a Removable Handle you will not be happy. The handle is a fussy to add or remove and takes two hands to do it. If I hadn’t decided it is better for me to skip the handle, I would have returned the pan. The other big thing involves cleaning and appearance. If you only cook veggies coated lightly with olive oil and use some PAM on the pan, cleaning the pan won’t be difficult. Most of the food won’t stick to it and you can just toss it in the dishwasher. Over time it will show some discoloration and darkening from the heat and smoke of the grill. If you will be grilling items with thick sugary sauces, items will stick, burn and stain the pan. You will need to hit the pan with a wire brush before putting it in the dishwasher. Even after some quality time with the brush and maybe even pre-soaking the pan before putting it in the dishwasher, these pans are never going to look as good as new. Some people posting comments on the W-S website wanted a non-stick pan and this simply isn’t realistic. Non-stick pans have a high temperature limit you do not want to exceed or the finish begins breaking down. This is something you do not want in your food or in the air you breath. Maximum temperature is easy enough to control on a stove or oven, no matter what you do you are not going to exceed 500 or 550 degrees. You have dials you can set to easily control the temperature. An outdoor cooker can easily reach or exceed these temperatures and controlling the temps is not as simple. Most companies are not going to manufacture a pan which can easily be abused so-to-speak. A Big Green Egg allowed to heat up uncontrolled can easily reach temps of over 1,000 degrees. So I would say you aren’t going to see a non-stick finish on a grill pan. But bottom line here is if you want a pan that is a showcase pan you can hang from a hook in your kitchen and have it look like the day you bought it, this isn’t the pan for you.
CONCLUSION:I would have to say that in an imperfect world, this is the best grill pan I have found. Your mileage may vary.
SOME RELATED LINKS: Here is a link to a blog entry about the first generation Lidded Wire Mesh Chef’s Pan as well as a description of a grilled salad cook made using the pan .
THINGS REALLY PANNED OUT 2009 Blog Entry about the first generation Lidded Wire Mesh Chef’s pan and a grilled veggie salad made using it. This pan is similar to the current model with the exception of the fixed handle on the 2009 version.
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