If you’re checking out the Calphalon Elite collection, which is sold exclusively at Williams Sonoma, you might wonder if this set is the “real deal?”
It’s definitely the sort of collection I was looking for ten years ago. At the time, we were building out a wedding registry and looking to upgrade my bachelor collection of mismatched pots and pans. Finding a package deal was a no-brainer because it gave us one less thing to think about.
Fast-forward a decade, and my preferences have evolved. As you might expect, after 3+ years running our Test Kitchen, and overseeing the hands-on tests of 104 (and counting) pieces of cookware.
Even so, I’ll admit there’s still great value in picking up an all-in-one bundle that’s easy to use, easy to clean, and can singularly handle 99% of kitchen jobs.
In this article, I’ll break down what you need to know about the Calphalon Elite collection:
- The most essential features.
- What makes it stand out from competing products and Calphalon’s other lines.
- How much it costs, and the options available
My end goal is to help you decide if Calphalon Elite is the right bundle for your situation and to get there without taking up too much of your time.
Here’s the bottom line.
What we like
- An excellent registry item.
- Will handle nearly all kitchen jobs effectively.
- Easy to use. Easy to clean.
- Elegant aesthetic a perfect fit for “adulting”
What We don’t
- Expect durability of 2-5 years with regular use.
- Little care is required, but it doesn’t handle much abuse.
- Not compatible with induction stoves.
Materials & Construction
The Elite collection is built using a hard-anodized aluminum base. The biggest benefit of aluminum is that it conducts heat very effectively.
Have you ever used a cast iron skillet that takes 10 minutes to heat up? or 10 minutes to cool down, even though you’re already burning the meal? That sort of problem is non-existent with this set.
It will arrive at your desired temperature quickly and is responsive as you make changes.
Compared with untreated aluminum, the hard anodized aluminum used for this collection is more durable. It won’t bend easily and is about as hard as stainless steel. And it won’t react poorly with acidic ingredients like tomatoes.
The Elite collection is coated with a PTFE (also known as Teflon) nonstick surface, which encapsulates the body of the pans.
The benefit of PTFE is that it’s one of the slickest materials known to man. This means that your food won’t easily stick, and clean-up is incredibly simple.
For all of its convenience, there are drawbacks to choosing a PTFE nonstick coating.
Most notably, it doesn’t last forever. On a high-end set like this, expect the nonstick capabilities will fade within 2-5 years of regular use to the point where you’ll need to replace them.
There are also a handful of seemingly innocuous behaviors that will cause your pan’s nonstick surface to meet an untimely demise. I’ve written extensively about the most common ways to ruin a nonstick pan.
For example, the nonstick coating on my saute pan boiled up and peeled off after a single pass through the dishwasher. Many of its companion pieces are still going strong after a decade.
The overall aesthetic of this set is elegant. It’s an understated kind of classy that looks well-put-together but not gaudy. The angles are clean. The materials are quality. And the construction is solid.
The flat-profile glass lids are set inside a stainless steel rim. The lid handles are also stainless, which means low heat transfer into the handles when you’re cooking with them.
The benefits of glass are that it looks great and allows you to monitor your dish while it cooks. That way, for example, your rice won’t run out of water and scald to the bottom of the pot.
The flat shape of the lid is also unique because, when placed upside down on a pot, it provides a flat, safe surface to stack the next dish.
The stainless steel handles on the fry pans, saute pan, and saucepans are triple riveted into each dish.
The angle of these primary handles rises slightly from the side of the pan to just above its open face. This design choice provides a lot of leverage for wrist-tossing and plenty of clearance between your hand and stove when removing a dish.
The stock pots and larger pans are also equipped with loop-style helper handles. I’ve found these come in handy when preparing a heavy dish, especially if it’s liquid-heavy. Like a curry or even chicken piccata.
If you need to move a full, hot pan, you’ll be thankful for the extra handle.
The overall look and feel of this set is elegant, which is important to most people, but it’s all for nothing if it can’t cook the way you want it to. This set can do most common jobs in a Western kitchen, but there are some limitations.
Heat Conduction & Retention
I touched on this briefly in the materials section, that aluminum is an awesome heat conductor. That means the pans in the Elite collection will heat up quickly and also cool down pretty fast.
This is great, most of the time.
But if you’re cooking over a constantly fluctuating heat source, you may be better off with a different material that retains heat more easily. Like stainless steel or even cast iron.
With most modern ranges, this isn’t a problem. But it can be in older ovens or stovetops, particularly those using dated electric coils.
It is occasionally nice to have greater heat retention than the Elite collection offers for recipes that call for placing a cold ingredient in a hot pan – like a steak. Or even when adding room-temperature pasta to an already boiling stock pot.
You don’t want to lose that boil!
Even so, any drawbacks related to heat retention are probably small. And you can always add a dutch oven or cast iron skillet to your collection later if that becomes an issue for you.
This set is oven-rated to 500 F. Beyond that temperature, the PTFE in the nonstick coating starts to break down.
The truth is that there are very few benefits to putting a nonstick pan in the oven in the first place. Think about it. Do you cook that way? Not many people do.
The great news is that it’s possible if you need it. The reality is that you probably won’t need to do it anyway.
If you’re using an induction cooktop, this set isn’t going to be a match. It will not work on an induction stove.
This is because the anodized aluminum base used for the Elite series doesn’t have any magnetic properties, and induction hobs rely on magnetism to work properly.
There are a few comparable nonstick sets with induction compatibility, but generally, they cost more. This is because of the extra material and manufacturing steps required to press a stainless steel disc into the bottom of each pan.
I personally like the All-Clad HA1 set as a good alternative if you’re going to be using an induction top.
The great news is that the Elite nonstick set doesn’t require a lot of specific care or difficult cleaning. On the flip side, it also won’t take a lot of abuse.
A word of caution – the care instructions don’t match some of the advertising.
For example, while this set may be “dishwasher-safe” or “metal utensil-safe,” those are surefire ways to shorten the useful life of a pan.
Your everyday pans from this set, mostly the fry pans, are likely to be exhausted in 2-5 years. But they can wear out much more quickly if you aren’t treating them right. The less-used pieces, like a stock pot, will probably serve you much longer.
This set is perfectly suitable for the majority of home kitchen jobs, but there is an opportunity cost. None of these pieces are likely to be “the best option” for any specific kitchen task…except maybe the egg pan.
Even so, they’ll get you down the road a ways while you add specialized pieces to match your cooking style.
Some people might also say that spending several hundred dollars on a nonstick set isn’t a prudent move, given their short lifespan.
If you do a lot of high-heat cooking, then this set probably isn’t a great fit either. The temperature limitations on PTFE are prohibitive. And, even at low temperatures, it’s best to stay away from this synthetic coating if you’re a bird owner.
The Calphalon Elite set is priced where you might expect a full nonstick set that includes an elegant aesthetic. You’ll find similarly priced and performing products available from brands like All-Clad, Scanpan, Hexclad, and Calphalon’s other product lines.
With that said, this isn’t a product at the bottom of the market. You can find bargain PTFE nonstick pans for much cheaper. Usually for under $20. The affordable option probably won’t look as good, have a matching set, or last as long. In many cases, under a year.
The Calphalon Elite series is especially suitable as a registry item or if you need a user-friendly set that doesn’t require a lot of thought and planning. Just get the bundle, and the vast majority of your kitchen tasks will be covered.
If you’re the type of person that likes to put extra time and energy into locking down “the perfect setup” and learning how to use it, then you may be able to assemble a better-performing collection piece by piece.
At the end of the day, most people don’t need more performance than what is offered by this set. So if you like the look, it’s in your budget, and you don’t want to burn time piecing together a set one at a time, then I’d recommend it as a good option. Just remember to treat it with care.