There are many brands of nonstick cookware on the market, but two of the most popular are Circulon and Calphalon. Both offer pots and pans that are easy to clean, heat evenly, and come in different color options. However, what distinguishes these pans is the coating used to create their slick cooking surfaces. While some nonstick pans use ceramic finishes, which can chip and break, others rely on polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), better known as Teflon, to create their smooth coatings.
While PTFE is safe to use, it can release toxic fumes at high temperatures, which is why DuPont now recommends using its Teflon cookware only on low to medium heat. It is also inadvisable to use metal utensils with Teflon cookware, as the coating can flake and become trapped in food.
In contrast, both the Acclaim and Ultimum collections of Circulon pans use a hard anodized aluminum construction with a TOTAL nonstick coating. This combination is both more durable than other types of nonstick, and safer from the release of toxins when used at higher heats. The aluminum is also a more efficient conductor of heat than traditional nonstick, which allows for even heating across the entire cooking surface of the pans. This makes them more versatile than other types of nonstick, and suitable for a wide range of cooking tasks.
The other feature that sets these pans apart is the patented TOTAL Food Release system, which uses hi-low concentric rings to reduce abrasion between the nonstick coating and cooking surface. This reduces food and utensil abrasion, which extends the life of the nonstick surface. It also improves the ability of the cookware to hold heat, which allows the pan to sear meat and brown foods.
In terms of design, the dark charcoal gray pans with mirror-polished stainless steel lids and handles look sleek and modern. The handles are comfortable and stay cool to the touch, and the rims of the pans have been tapered for added strength.
These pans have a slightly heavier weight than most of the competition, which helps them retain heat and resist warping. They also outperformed the competition in our tests of temperature consistency. We measured the difference between the hottest and coolest parts of the cooking surface of a Circulon skillet, and found that it was only 22 degF, which is exceptionally close.
These features are why we chose the Ultimum and Acclaim sets to include in our Best Buy nonstick ratings. Both are dishwasher safe and oven-safe up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they are not as durable as some of the other cookware in our ratings. We also found that they have a limited searing capability, as their raised ring design prevents food from making complete contact with the nonstick surface. This could be a problem for cooks who want to sear meat or vegetables in their pans.