Above is a brand-new All-Clad 2-quart saucepan. It retails for $165 at stores like Williams-Sonoma, though you can occasionally find deals on the cookware at outlets such as TJ Maxx and Marshall's. This saucepan and four other pieces of All-Clad cookware were generously gifted to me 10 years ago by loving relatives on the occasion of my marriage. All of the cookware has outlasted the marriage five times over; it hangs from a series of stainless steel racks mounted on my kitchen wall as a testament to the futility of marrying someone before you really even know yourself as well as the far more cheerful adage that you get what you pay for. Or, in this case, what your relatives paid for.
Below is a 10-year-old All-Clad 2-quart saucepan that's been burned to a crisp. The night before the photo was taken, I'd made a pot of cream peas and kale cooked down with saltpork and cayenne pepper. There was just enough left for a small dinner the next day, and I tossed the remaining peas into the saucepan to simmer while I took my dog for a short walk. A short walk became a surprisingly long one as Waffles dawdled, taking her time with that most excruciating of dog decisions: where to pee. It has to be the perfect spot. By the time I got home, I was starving—but all that greeted me at the door instead of the scent of peppered peas and gently rendered pork fat was a cloud of black smoke.
I rushed into the kitchen to attempt to salvage the pan and the peas. I was too late. The peas were unrecognizably soldered to the bottom of the pan; the inside of the saucepan itself was coated in a tar-like black substance from top to bottom. I whimpered as I took it outside to smoke and sputter; I whimpered even harder imagining having to replace the saucepan, by far the most used in my All-Clad arsenal. I use it in the mornings to make steel-cut oats for breakfast, at lunch to warm up soup (the microwave in my tiny apartment is used almost exclusively for extra storage), at dinner to make barley and mushrooms or a pot of turkey necks to go with a pan of cornbread.
Instead of admitting defeat (i.e., coughing up another $165 to replace the pan), I soaked it overnight in soapy water and went to work the next day with a Brillo pad, determined to rescue my favorite pan. I had burned things before—most notably some catfish filets whose scrabbly grains of cornmeal batter seemed all but embedded in the stainless steel of my All-Clad saute pan—but never like this.
Still, only 10 minutes later, there it was: a buffed and burn-free saucepan, looking almost brand-new. I nearly wept. And when I'd finished rejoicing (and getting the dark gray stains out from under my fingernails, because I'm a grown adult who doesn't own dishwashing gloves), I texted the before-and-after photos to my mother the chef, whose own collection of All-Clad (and LeCreuset bakeware and Mauviel copper) is legendary. Her reply, as expected: "You get what you pay for." Which was then followed by: "I've never made a mess in an All-Clad I couldn't fix."
My mother and I aren't alone in our admiration for All-Clad—or in our unintentional abuse of the cookware. In a recent review of the very same saucepan by Chow, the cooking website noted: "CHOW Senior Editor John Birdsall has a set of All-Clad stainless pans that have been in almost daily use for 30 years, and that show few signs of wear (even though he once mistakenly left a saucepan on the stove, returning home to find the liquid boiled away and the pan dangerously hot but otherwise undamaged)." The secret, it seems, to All-Clad's success is its signature "tri-ply" construction that sandwiches an inner core of aluminum between two thick layers of stainless steel that's been alloyed with chromium (the stuff that makes stainless steel stainless) and nickel (the stuff that makes the metal resistant to rusting, among other things).
And yes, I understand that even one All-Clad saucepan is a significant investment. I'm not suggesting that anyone ditch all their pots and pans and empty the shelves at Sur La Table (unless, you know, you want to—in which case, by all means). But if you cook regularly and routinely, consider which cookware you use the most and then consider slowly replacing those pieces over time with investment pieces that will last you 10 years, 30 years, or even longer. Just remember to buy a few Brillo pads while you're at it.