The nonstick surface of the MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet fails in a short time

MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet doesn’t stay nonstick for long

When I first published a review of the MSR Windburner Stove system, I included my thoughts about the Windburner Ceramic Skillet. Now, after using it for many months, I think it’s worth reviewing by itself, so I’ve pulled the text over to a new post and updated it.

I ordered the Windburner Ceramic Skillet online and thought I was getting the original plain aluminum finish which MSR no longer lists on its website—and I assume doesn’t make anymore. I wasn’t happy at first when I realized this one has a ceramic coating as I’ve not had good luck with nonstick pans in the woods. Teflon is just not durable enough for outdoor use and soon gets scratched. I had no experience with ceramic coatings, and I was dubious. It turns out I was right.

MSR Ceramic Skillet
MSR Ceramic Skillet

MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet design

The skillet has a ring welded to the bottom of it that fits around the Windburner stove system, but it doesn’t have the same fins that the boil pot has. Still, there’s good heat transfer, and I suspect the ring helps prevent the thin aluminum from warping. The way the ring fits over the stove makes the pan very stable.

The underside of the MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet
The underside of the MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet

The skillet uses the same proprietary detachable handle that MSR has been using for years. I’m not a big fan. It is light, but if you fold it over, then you’re going to scratch the non-stick surface of the pan. If you detach it, the handle is an awkward L-shape that digs into anything next to it in your pack and threatens to damage fabric because the edges are sort of sharp.

MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet handle

How the MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet cooks

Because of the thinness of the metal pan and the excellent heat transfer from the MSR Windburner stove, I’ve found the best thing is to get the stove turned down as low as possible before you put the skillet on top of it. That can be a bit fiddly because the stove doesn’t have the greatest fine control on the low end. I do it before I put the skillet on because you need to be able to see the flame and the wire that goes across the top of the burner that glows red in order to get the lowest setting possible. Unlike other stoves, you can’t do it just by the sound of the flame.

Cooking with the MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet
Cooking with the MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet

The MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet nonstick surface doesn’t hold up

When new, the MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet finish is very non-stick, and you can get away with a minimum amount of oil. I’d like the pan to be a tiny bit bigger, but it has nice high sides to keep food from slipping out if you load it up.

However, after just a few uses, there was discoloration in the center of the pan.

MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet discoloration
MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet discoloration

At first, the pan was still completely nonstick despite the discoloration, but after a few more uses there’s always a patch in the center of the skillet where food sticks and slowly turns a burned color.

A patch of stuck on food in the MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet
A patch of stuck-on food in the MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet

Still not a fail

Given that the MSR Windburner Ceramic Skillet doesn’t stay nonstick, you’d expect that I’d give it a failing grade. I wouldn’t. As I said at the top, I don’t think nonstick is a good idea in camp cookware. It probably has a lot to do with how thin the pans need to be, but I’ve yet to own one that holds up. That said, there are a lot of things I do like about this frying pan. It’s light, it has deepish sides, it hasn’t warped, and despite getting developing the patch of stuck-on food in the middle every time I use it, it really hasn’t affected the taste of what I cook that I’ve noticed. I just have to soak it for a while when I get home and then carefully scratch it off with a fingernail in an attempt not to damage the surface anymore. What I’d really like is if MSR started making the non-coated pan again. I think they should have stuck with that idea because—in my experience—bare-metal pans can be seasoned with use and are often quite nonstick once you achieve that seasoning.

Bonus: Snow Peak Folding Spatula review

It’s not really part of the MSR Windburner Stove review, but an item that I picked up around the same time that I purchased the Windburner is a Snowpeak Folding Spatula. It’s just a $10 item, but Amazon served it up to me when I was looking for something else, and I thought what the hell. When it arrived, my first reaction was I was sure that the handle would be too short to keep my hands away from spattering grease, and I nearly tossed it in the pile of other camping failures without even trying it out.

Snow Peak Folding Spatula
Snow Peak Folding Spatula

However, I did take it on my next camping trip, and I really like it. It folds up a little fatter than I’d like, but it’s a lot sturdier than you’d expect. It’s non-stick surfaces safe, and I haven’t been burned by spattering grease. It even doubles as a makeshift spoon for eating right out of the pan if I’m camping alone. It’s been a pleasant – and inexpensive – surprise.

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