Looking for the best frying pan out there? What makes a frying pan "the best"?
Frying pans, also called skillets, are the true workhorses in your cookware collection. They're the best tool for searing and browning, which means they get the hardest use--hot cooking oil, rapid temperature changes, and constant scraping with utensils. They're used primarily on the stove top, but most can also go in the oven, too.
The truth is that there is no one best frying pan for every purpose. What makes a frying pan "the best" depends on what you're trying to accomplish. What's stellar for one kind of task could be abysmal for another. Although you can technically get by with just one frying pan, if you're a semi-serious cook, you're going to need a few different types in your arsenal.
Here, we rank our favorite frying pans based on every category we could think of. If you're shopping for skillets, you may be a little dazed by all the options out there. Understanding the different types of pans and what they're used for is the first step to finding the pan, or pans, that will work best for you.
Summary Table: Best Frying Pans/Skillet-Like Pans
This table lists frying pans by the type of material they're made from. Knowing how they're used can help you decide which material is best for you.
Type of Skillet
All purpose: Frying meat, sauteeing vegetables, browning foods. Preferably at least 10" for all-purpose use (12" even better).
Sticky foods: Eggs, fish, and other delicate or sticky foods. Not good for browning (can only use medium heat).
All purpose, but with slow, uneven heating. Best for tasks that need to hang onto heat: deep frying, high-heat searing, baking. Do not use for tomato sauces or other acidic foods.
Lodge cast iron ($)
Excellent all-purpose skillet but expensive. 2 or more millimeters of copper w/stainless cooking surface provides best performance. Don't be fooled by inexpensive pans w/"copper" in name.
Enameled cast iron
Durable all-purpose pan but with slow, uneven heating. Best for deep frying, high-heat searing, and baking. OK with acidic foods if cooking surface is enameled- or non-stick-coated.
Omelet and/or crepe pan
Making small omelets and/or crepes; an 8-inch nonstick frying pan will also work for crepes and is more versatile.
Frying pan with straight sides. Use when you need more flat cooking surface, are using wet heat method, need a lid, or you simply prefer it to a frying pan. 3-5qt is all-purpose size.
Deep Saute pan
All purpose pan ideal for many tasks, esp. if stainless. Searing, browning, deep-frying, poaching, and doubles as large sauce pan or small stock pot.
Asian stir-fried dishes: food cut into small pieces and quickly seared--use steep sides to control food temperature. Small bottom makes it best for use on gas stoves.
Deep-sided all-purpose pan ideal for many tasks (similar to deep saute pan). Called "Chef Pan" because of its versatility. Can be used interchangeably with a frying pan.
All-purpose short-handled pan for ease of using in oven. A domed lid makes it excellent for oven braising large cuts (poultry, pot roast, etc.).
There are probably more pans with frying-pannish attributes, but we'll stop there. This is a good introduction to different skillet-type pans and what tasks they're best for.
Frying Pan Vs. Saute Pan: What's the Difference?
Yes, there is a difference. (For a more detailed analysis, see Should I Buy a Skillet or a Saute Pan (or Both)?)
Yes, you know what a frying pan is--but just so we're on the same page, let's define the term clearly. Because "frying pan" can mean different things to different people.
Officially, a frying pan is a shallow, flat-bottomed pan with sloped sides used for frying, searing, and browning foods. It typically has a long, heat-resistant handle, a helper handle if it's more than 10-inches in diameter, and no lid.
A frying pan is designed to provide:
- a lot of flat surface contact with the heat source for browning,
- shallow, open sides for rapid evaporation--which encourages browning,
- sloped sides to easily manipulate food with a turner (to easily brown all sides),
- no lid (as lids thwart browning).
The long handle helps with maneuverability and is also for doing the "chef toss" you often see professionals use.
The angle of slope on the sides can vary considerably, from almost straight to almost wok-like. The more sloped, the smaller the flat cooking surface the frying pan has. There is no "best" design here; it's all in a cook's preferences and what she's trying to accomplish.
Unofficially, you can include all sorts of pans in the "frying pan" category: woks, crepe and omelet pans, and yes, saute pans. While they don't quite match the definition of a frying pan, they can all be used for browning or searing, so we're including them here.
We're using this wide definition because even though you can use a frying pan for many different tasks, it isn't always the best choice. Depending on how you cook, you may want a few different kinds of frying pans, or pans like them. How many and what type you need is completely up to you.
If the sides of a frying pan are perpendicular to the cooking surface (with no slope at all) and comes with a lid, then it's a saute pan.
Frying pans and saute pans can be used interchangeably, but a saute pan has the added functionality of wet heat cooking: The straight sides and lid make it more practical--and safer--for poaching, braising, and shallow deep frying than a skillet. It won't allow moisture to evaporate quite as well as a frying pan, but because the sides are shallow, evaporation will still occur at a decent rate. (Note: Evaporation is important to browning.)
Because of this added functionality, you might think a saute pan is the way to go. But in truth, because of their squarer shape, saute pans can feel bulkier and be harder to maneuver. Their straight sides also make it harder to get a turner in there to flip your food, and also to do the "chef toss."
Furthermore, the sloped sides of a frying pan allow you to use the sides as cooking surface (e.g., pushing food up the sides to control the amount of heat), while with a saute pan, you can't do this; you can only use the flat bottom for cooking.
Finally: most stove top burners work best with bottom diameters of 10 inches or less, which means that larger saute pans may not spread heat as well as their equivalent-sized frying pans (which have smaller bottoms because of the sloped sides).
For these reasons, a lot of people prefer a frying pan, and use their saute pan only when they need to (like for wet heat cooking).
How Are Frying Pans Measured (And What Size Do I Need)?
Frying pans, woks, and crepe pans are measured by diameter, typically across the top rim. The most common frying pan sizes to come with a set is 8-inch and 10-inch. While a 10-inch is adequate for many needs, a 12-inch (30cm) frying pan is much roomier and is easier to work with when cooking for more than one or two people, or if you like to make large batches for leftovers or meal prepping.
Saute pans, on the other hand, are measured by volume, either quart or liter. They usually have their volume etched into the bottom for easy reference:
Most other frying pan-type pans--woks, crepe and omelet pans--are measured by diameter, like frying pans, while Dutch ovens and sauce pans are measured by volume.
For comparison, a 3 quart saute pan is roughly equivalent to a 10-inch frying pan, and a 5 quart saute pan is roughly equivalent to a 12-inch frying pan. A 4-quart saute pan will probably be the approximate size of a 10-inch frying pan, but with deeper sides.
A 5 or 5.5 quart Dutch oven is an ideal size for many, with a cooking surface about the size of a 10-inch skillet but deep sides to stews, soups, and braises.
What Size Frying Pan Do I Need?
A 10-inch frying pan (roughly equivalent to a 3-qt saute pan) is the typical size sold with cookware sets and considered by many to be a good all-purpose size.
However, a 12-inch frying pan is going to have about 40% more flat cooking surface (depending on how sloped the sides of the pan are). They are very nice for large pieces of meat like chicken breasts and may eliminate the need to cook in more than one batch.
Also, if you like to have leftovers or like to do weekly meal prepping, a 12-inch frying pan is going to be a lot more handy than a 10-inch. In general, we prefer the 12-inch skillet to the 10-inch for most uses.
If you instead have a saute pan, a 3-quart might be large enough; because of the straight sides, you have a lot more flat cooking surface--but keep in mind that it's not as easy to use a turner in a straight-sided pan.
Larger pans are more expensive, but on the whole we believe they are worth the extra cost, especially if it's an all-purpose pan. For nonstick (eggs and fish), a 10-inch pan is probably big enough. (If you get a bigger one, you may be tempted to use it for other things, which we strongly discourage.) 🙂
How Many Frying Pans Do I Need?
You certainly don't need one of every type of frying pan out there (there's a lot of overlap), but you probably need more than one if you're doing any kind of meal preparation for more than just yourself.
For example, you need a good all-purpose frying pan large enough to cook for your family, plus a nonstick frying pan for eggs and fish. You may also want a smaller (8-inch) frying pan for side dishes and other things--nonstick, clad stainless, or whatever you prefer.
There you have it: 3 frying pans is a good minimum number of skillets to own: a large all-purpose pan, a nonstick all-purpose pan, and a smaller extra pan.
Alternatively, you may want a saute pan instead of a second frying pan; this adds some versatility to your stovetop cooking game. The nice thing about a saute pan is that its lid will often fit a frying pan or two, too--so no need to buy an extra lid (unless you routinely use both pans at the same time).
Also alternatively, instead of nonstick you can invest in a well-seasoned cast iron or carbon steel pan, either of which will also add more options.
There are a lot of options and combinations, any of which can work for you.
So, this is the minimum frying pans you might find in an average American kitchen:
- 12-inch all purpose frying pan (clad stainless, cast iron, or copper if you're a serious cook and can afford it)
- 10-inch all-purpose frying pan or saute pan for sides and smaller dishes (clad stainless, cast iron, or copper)
- 8- or 10-inch nonstick frying pan for eggs and fish (could also be cast iron or carbon steel if you're opposed to nonstick).
In addition, you might also find (depending on what people like to cook):
- Extra large frying pan or saute pan (for larger families and people who entertain a lot)
- Mini frying pan(s)--4-inch (or so) frying pans for tiny jobs and individual servings
- Crepe pan or 8-inch nonstick frying pan
- Deep saute pan (great for deep frying, small batches of soups and stocks, for use as a large sauce pan, and general all-purpose versatility)
- Chef's pan (similar to as a deep saute pan or covered wok)
- Sauteuse (short-handled shallow roasting pan, often with domed lid)
- Enameled cast iron frying pan for baking, deep frying, braising, and more.
To summarize, the types and sizes of frying pans you need depends on what and how you like to cook. If you're a new cook and don't know yet, you'll figure it out. It's best to start with a good all-purpose frying pan and take it from there.
The most popular all-purpose frying pan sizes are 10- and 12-inch. If you're in doubt as to which size to get, we recommend you go with the 12-inch: unless you're cooking just for yourself, this is the best frying pan size for most cooking tasks.
What Should I Look For in a Frying Pan?
1: Heating Properties
Heating properties are the whole reason you buy cookware: the better it is at transferring heat evenly and efficiently, the better the entire cooking process will be. If you buy a decent quality pan, this shouldn't be an issue: durable, high-quality pans are going to have good heating properties. Still, some pans are definitely better than others, and different materials perform in different ways and are good for different tasks.
Copper is the fastest, most even cookware material out there. If you want the absolute best performance possible, go with copper. But it's both expensive and high maintenance (requiring regular polishing to keep its gorgeous luster), so actually isn't the ideal cookware for many people.
Aluminum is almost as good as copper, if it's heavy enough. It requires about twice as much aluminum to attain heating properties roughly similar to copper, so you want a fairly thick aluminum, such as cast or forged pans (as opposed to stamped, which are too thin to provide very good heating). Cast or forged aluminum is a little more expensive than stamped aluminum, but it's still an inexpensive option that will provide great heating.
Aluminum has drawbacks, too, though: an aluminum cooking surface can react with acidic food, imparting an off flavor. It's also soft, so it doesn't wear as well as more durable materials (such as clad stainless). Hard-anodized aluminum is more durable and non-reactive, but is usually found only on external pan surfaces.
Cast iron retains heat very well, so it's good for high-heat searing, deep frying, and baking (e.g., corn bread). But it heats slowly and unevenly, and it can also react with acidic food (like aluminum does) and impart an off flavor. Cast iron is also heavy and bulky, with a 10-inch cast iron pan weighing about 5 pounds and a 12-inch about 8 pounds. (So imagine how much it will weigh when it's filled with food!) It's inexpensive and lasts forever, so a lot of people consider cast iron to be good all-purpose frying pan. We do not, though, because of the drawbacks given above. But it's still a kitchen essential because what it's good at, it's very good at. Also, when well seasoned, cast iron is a decent substitute for a nonstick frying pan, if you're trying to avoid nonstick coatings. It's not 100% nonstick, but it comes close.
Enameled cast iron has the same properties as regular cast iron, but won't react with food. It's also more expensive than regular cast iron; sometimes a lot more expensive. While it's hard to beat an enameled cast iron Dutch oven for braising, an enameled cast iron frying pan may not be ideal unless you are a diehard fan of cast iron.
Carbon steel has the same slow, uneven heating properties of cast iron, but because it's thinner, it doesn't hang onto heat as well. Even so, many people love it, especially professional chefs. This is because it's cheap, durable, and easier to handle than cast iron. Additionally, a well-seasoned carbon steel frying pan can make an excellent substitute for a nonstick pan, if you are someone who wants to avoid nonstick coatings. A small carbon steel frying pan for eggs and crepes can be an excellent, inexpensive addition to your kitchen, but it certainly isn't a necessity, especially if you already own a cast iron skillet or nonstick skillet.
Clad stainless is durable and can have excellent heating properties depending on how much aluminum and/or copper it has sandwiched between the external layers of stainless. Clad stainless is our all-purpose cookware of choice, IF it has a thick enough aluminum/copper interior.
If you want the very best clad stainless--kind of the best of all the cookware worlds combined (except nonstick), and nearly as good as thick gauge copper--go with the Demeyere Proline frying pan.
Nonstick cookware can be made from any material above and coated with PTFE (aka Teflon) or ceramic. It's usually aluminum, either stamped or cast. A cast aluminum nonstick pan can provide excellent heating properties for a surprisingly reasonable price. Most kitchens should have one or two nonstick pans for eggs and fish, but we don't recommend nonstick for all-purpose cooking because the coating won't last very long even with the most careful kind of use. Also for this reason we recommend that you do not spend a lot on a nonstick pan. You may think if you pay more the nonstick surface will be more durable, but this is not really the case; both types of nonstick coatings--PTFE and ceramic--tend to wear out within a few years no matter how much you pay for them. (Just read the one-star reviews of expensive nonstick pans on Amazon to see what we mean.)
- If you want, and can afford, the best of the best and don't mind high maintenance, go with copper.
- If you want inexpensive-and-durable, yet heavy and slow to heat, get the Lodge cast iron or a good carbon steel frying pan.
- If you want a high quality aluminum pan, we recommend All-Clad MC2, which has a thick layer that provides superb, even heating and has a stainless steel cooking surface for durability. If you want inexpensive aluminum, you can go with numerous restaurant supply brands, like this one. (Any restaurant supply store is going to have the best options for cheap aluminum cookware.)
- If you want durable, even heating all-purpose frying pans, go with clad stainless: All-Clad, Demeyere, Cuisinart Multiclad Pro, and Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad are our recommended brands. Clad stainless is our recommendation for all-purpose cookware.
- If you want nonstick, Anolon Copper Nouvelle is hard to beat, heat-wise--it's got half a millimeter of copper in the base and it's built like a tank!. (Just please don't buy this for your primary pan.) All-Clad HA1 is also a good brand and surprisingly reasonably priced. Both are induction compatible.
NOTE: For more information on all of these topics, check out our Cookware Archives.
You can take this to the bank: Since a frying pan gets the hardest use out of all the pans in your kitchen, it's the single most important piece to invest in. In fact, with other pans, you can actually get by with mediocre quality. But frying pans need to be durable.
In fact, other than with nonstick frying pans--which are inherently not durable--durability is equally as important as heating properties.
Thus, you should buy the best frying pan you can afford. (Nonstick is the exception to this, as we already mentioned.) By "best," we mean one with great heating properties and a durable build.
What makes a frying pan durable? Mainly the material it's made of. Cast iron, carbon steel, and stainless steel provide the most durability.
The build quality will also matter, as will the quality of the materials used. In particular, not all stainless steel is created equally, which is one reason prices of clad stainless cookware are all over the place. Agian, you don't have to pay top dollar, but more expensive cookware is probably going to be made from more durable stainless steel. This means that it will be less prone to rusting, pitting, and other corrosion. It will also be thicker, which means it will be less prone to warping.
You don't have to go out and buy the most expensive frying pan on the market to get good quality. But you definitely shouldn't skimp, either.
Stability/reactivity refers to how much the cooking surface reacts with food, water, dishwashing, etc. The best pans have a very low level of reactivity: they don't react with food, giving off flavors or leeching chemicals into your food.
The most stable cooking surface is clad stainless. Enamel-coated cookware is also very stable and nonreactive, but enamel can chip, making it less durable than stainless.
Carbon steel is almost as good as clad stainless, but lacks its top-notch heating properties.
Cast iron and aluminum both react with acidic foods, so they score rather low in this category.
Nonstick coatings are stable and nonreactive with food, but they lack durability: no matter how well you take care of nonstick, it's going to lose its nonstick properties in a surprisingly short time. This makes nonstick stable, though short-lived, so not a good choice for all-purpose cookware.
4: Design and Value
Most of the other important factors--handles, lids, pouring spouts, overall style and design--are largely personal preference. As long as you get something durable that you also find functional and stylish, you will have a great pan: a pan that won't be reactive with food or corrode easily; a pan with the heating properties you're looking for; and a pan you can love. You will find yourself ecstatic every time you go to make dinner. (Well, maybe not every time. But it helps.)
Having said that, there are a few design choices we think are important. One is that an all-purpose frying pan should have a good amount of flat cooking surface; that is, steep rather than sloped sides. Another is stainless lids and handles: no plastic handles, no glass lids. Stainless is the most durable and lightweight material for both lids and handles, and will provide the longest life span and easiest handling.
You may also want to consider how easy a pan is to hold. Does the handle fit in your hand easily? Is it comfortable? Can you stabilize the pan with it? If it's a large pan, does it have a helper handle?
A lot of people hate the standard All-Clad handles, but we actually like them. While it's true that they can dig into your hand or arm a bit that groove makes them incredibly easy to stabilize, even with one hand. Your thumb will fit into that groove and keep the pan from sliding around. So even if you hate the All-Clad handle, you should look for one that you can provides some way to stabilize the pan.
As for value, that is also a personal choice. But we believe that value is best measured in cost-per-year-of-use. That is, if you divide the cost of a skillet by the number of years you'll use it, you'll see that buying a higher quality, more expensive skillet is actually the most economical long-term choice. For example, if you pay $200 for a stainless frying pan that has a 30 year life span, your cost-per-year-of-use is less than $7 a year. If you pay $30 for a nonstick frying pan with a 3 year life span, your cost-per-year-of-use is $10. See the difference?
This doesn't always translate, though: If you pay $30 for a cast iron skillet that lasts 100 years, your-cost-per-year-of-use is $0.30 per year--but because of the drawbacks of cast iron (weight, bulk, reactiviity with acidic foods, slow heating), it may not be quite the bargain it appears to be.
In short, you should buy a frying pan that has all the attributes you want--but make sure you are considering the long term usage, and remember that sometimes, it pays to buy the best you can afford.
5: Induction Compatibility
This is only important if you have an induction cooktop, portable or otherwise. If you don't, then you can skip this section. However, if you ever want to expand your options with a portable induction cooker or perhaps even switch to a full-sized induction cooktop, you may want to consider making sure your skillet is induction compatible.
This isn't as hard as it sounds. All cast iron and carbon steel pans are naturally induction compatible. And if you buy any sort of clad stainless, your pans will almost certainly work with induction, too.
It's only if you buy aluminum or copper pans where you run into problems (and glass or ceramic, but we don't recommend any of those because of their horrific heating properties). Many aluminum pans have a magnetic bottom plate to make them induction compatible--so check to make sure. (All the aluminum pans we recommend here are induction compatible with the exception of the All-Clad MC2, which is a heavy gauge aluminum pan with a non-magnetic stainless cooking surface.)
As for copper, you're probably out of luck. The only copper cookware we know of that's induction compatible is All-Clad's Copper Core, and while it's a good performer, it doesn't contain enough copper to compete with Mauviel, Matfer Bourgeat, and other copper heavy-hitters.
Best All-Purpose Clad Stainless Frying Pans
So, we recommend primarily frying pans here, but you can assume that other pans in the line will be equally high quality. For example, if you already own a 12-inch clad stainless frying pan, you can buy a saute pan in the recommended line instead. Or a sauteuse, or chef's pan, or whatever suits your fancy.
Best Overall: Demeyere Proline
Build Quality: The Demeyere Proline is one of the best frying pans on the market in any category. With a wall thickness of 4.8mm, and 3.7mm of aluminum, it has almost twice the heft of All-Clad D3 (and D5) with almost twice as much aluminum inside. This makes for an extremely durable pan with absolutely stellar heating properties. It's almost as good as copper, but with so.much.more. usability.
The heft of these pans also gives them excellent heat holding properties, similar to cast iron (but with faster and more even overall heating).
Silvinox: The Demeyere Proline (like all Demeyere clad stainless) is finished with a proprietary finish called Silvinox that makes it less sticky and easier to clean than other stainless cookware (including All-Clad). It's not nonstick, but it is less sticky than other stainless products.
Rivetless: To further increase the ease of use, the Proline is rivetless: the handle is welded on, so there are no rivets on the cooking surface to clean around. How great is that!
Induction compatibility: If you want induction compatibility, Demeyere is the premium manufacturer of induction cookware. All of their cookware is induction-compatible, and designed to provide optimal use with induction hobs. Their Inducto-Seal technology puts the less corrosion-resistant magnetic stainless between two layers of surgical stainless to increase durability. Other makers, including All-Clad, puts the magnetic stainless on the exterior. So the Demeyere Proline is the least-reactive clad stainless on the market because it has no exposed magnetic stainless.
For more details about Demeyere cookware, see All-Clad Vs. Demeyere: Which Is Better?
Pros: Superior heating properties, heavy and durable. Straight side walls for lots of cooking surface. Rivetless with Silvinox finish for easier cleaning.
Cons: Their weight makes them difficult for some people to use (get the 9.4 inch, not the 11 inch if this is an issue for you). They're also pretty expensive, although their cost-per-year-of-use is low.
Buy if: If you want the very best clad stainless available, this is the frying pan for you. It's heating properties are as good as pure copper, its durability is unsurpassed, and it's heavy enough to double as a cast iron frying pan. It's a little heavy, though, so if that's an issue, we suggest that you don't go bigger than the 9.4 inch, as you may find it cumbersome.
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Top-Notch: All-Clad D3
All-Clad D3 is the tri-ply against which all other tri-ply is measured. These pans are great all-around performers. They're not cheap, but they're less than some of the newer All-Clad lines (D5, D7, Copper Core) and provide similar performance. For this reason, we still recommend the D3 over some of the multi-clad products that All-Clad offers. For more information on the All-Clad cookware lines, see our Ultimate All-Clad Review. For a top quality, general purpose frying pan, D3 is hard to beat.
Build Quality: All-Clad D3 is their original clad stainless cookware and in our opinion, still the best. It has a wall thickness of 2.6mm with an aluminum layer of 1.7mm. This is considerably thinner than the Proline above, yet it's enough aluminum to provide 1) very good heating properties, and 2) enough heft to resist warping. Most other tri-ply has a considerably thinner layer of aluminum, making All-Clad one of the best out there. All-Clad's clad cookware is made in the USA and has a reputation for excellence and durability.
Induction Compatibility: All-Clad D3 is induction compatible.
D3 Vs. Other All-Clad Lines: If you don't need induction compatibility, we recommend the Master Chef (MC2) skillet. It has 3mm of aluminum (close to twice that in the D3!), giving it the best heating properties of all the All-Clad lines and enough heft to resist warping. (LTD2 is equivalent, but more expensive because of the hard-anodized exterior.) MC2 is also the lowest-priced All-Clad line, so there you go.
We don't like any of All-Clad's other lines all that much: sure, they're top notch quality, but none of them are so much better than D3 (or MC2) to justify the extra cost. Copper Core is nice stuff (see our full review here), but expensive without a whole lot of added functionality (although it is thinner and lighter, so if weight is an issue for you, Copper Core is a good option). D5 has the same wall thickness as D3, but with more stainless and less aluminum. If you want a heavy, heat-holding pan, D7 is great--but cast iron is a whole lot less expensive.
Pros: Great heating properties, extremely durable, super high polished stainless exterior.
Cons: Expensive, some people dislike the grooved handle (it "cuts into their hand").
Buy if: If you don't want the heavier Proline (above), D3 provides an almost perfect combination of great performance and lightweight maneuverability. It's an excellent all-purpose frying pan that, while not cheap, will have a low cost-per-year-of-use.
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Best Cast Iron Frying Pan: Lodge
Cast iron skillets are still wildly popular as all-purpose skillets among a certain cooking crowd, but we prefer clad stainless. Cast iron does have its place, though, and that is for tasks that require its stellar heat-holding abilities: primarily, searing steaks, frying chicken (and other foods), and as a baking vessel.
Heating Properties: Why is cast iron not ideal for an all-purpose skillet? Number one, its slow, uneven heating properties. Cast iron will take a lot longer to come to temperature and clad stainless, aluminum, and copper. It also heats unevenly: because of its molecular structure, which is rough and choppy, uneven heating is a given. It is also really heavy, which many people don't like.
However, that heft and molecular structure make cast iron a star at holding heat. That is, once hot, it stays hot for a long time. This makes it an almost perfect vessel for the aforementioned tasks, which need heat-holding properties to get you the results you want (e.g., brownness and crispiness).
The original nonstick: Cast iron is also the original nonstick cookware. A well-seasoned cast iron pan is almost as good as a Teflon pan, with no need for delicate handling. This is another reason people love cast iron.
So while we don't love cast iron like some folks do, we recommend owning at least one cast iron frying pan. You can spend hundreds on boutique cast iron--that's a thing now--but part of the appeal of cast iron is its low, low price. Expensive brands are nice, but no matter how much you spend that cast iron is still going to heat slowly and unevenly. So get the Lodge, which you'll be handing down to your grandkids. Its cost-per-year-of-use will be virtually pennies.
Pros: Heat-holding properties make it perfect for high-heat searing, deep-frying, and baking. It's also inexpensive, so an easy add-on skillet to your kitchen.
Cons: It's heavy, and it heats slowly and unevenly.
Buy if: Buy a cast iron frying pan for superb searing and deep frying. It will leave your D3 in the dust for these purposes. And no matter how inexpensive you go, it will last forever. So it's a good buy, even if you only use it a few times a year.
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If you buy a non-enameled cast iron frying pan, Lodge is our recommendation because you don't need anything fancier or more expensive: the reasonably priced Lodge will last as long as a fancy boutique brand.
However, if you're buying an enameled cast iron frying pan, we recommend spending a little more (actually, a lot more). Lodge makes enameled cast iron, but the overwhelming consensus is that the higher end brands are worth the extra expense. Inexpensive enamel is much more prone to chipping and cracking, while a le Creuset pan can take a lot of abuse and look as good in 20 years as the day you bought it.
Why buy enameled cast iron, when the regular stuff is so much cheaper? The enamel finish makes the pan completely unreactive with food (unlike the Lodge pan above, which you shouldn't use for anything acidic), so you can use it for everything.
(A le Creuset Dutch oven is another investment piece, but it's oh, so worth it. The heft makes it a joy to use for braises, soups, stews, and even baking.)
Build quality: le Creuset enameled cast iron is still made in a small factory in France under the strictest quality standards. You can find cheaper enameled cast iron pots (much cheaper), and they'd probably be just fine--for awhile. The beauty of le Creuset is that its enamel surface is extremely durable and chip resistant; you can use any utensils, clean it with a scrubby, heat the crap out of it, and it will still look and perform like new for decades. if you buy a lesser brand, you'll have to be careful with utensils and baby it a little bit to avoid chips and cracks.
You'll be handing this one down to your grandkids, too--and they will love it as much as you do. This Dutch oven shows the features of enameled cast iron:
Pros: Extremely durable build quality and the right heft for deep frying, searing and baking. Also fairly easy to keep clean.
Cons: Expensive, and if you don't like the weight or slow heating, not ideal for an all-purpose frying pan.
Buy if: Buy a le Creuset frying pan if you need like the heft and don't mind slow heating. If you love le Creuset, you can work around the drawbacks.
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Best Carbon Steel Frying Pan: Matfer-Bourgeat
Why buy a carbon steel pan? If you don't like the weight of cast iron or the possible health issues of nonstick cookware (not to mention its short life span), you might want to consider a carbon steel frying pan. Structurally, carbon steel is very close to cast iron, with similar heating properties (that is, slow and uneven) and similar heat-holding properties (thought the thinness makes it not as good).
You can go a little cheaper and get the Lodge carbon steel pan, which is probably very good, but we like the M-B because of the welded handle--no rivets to clean. However, the Lodge is pre-seasoned, which is a really nice feature, as seasoning properly requires several repeated applications of oil/heating, oil/heating. (It's a bit of a pain.)
Some people love this pan for all-purpose use, but we see it as an auxiliary pan, just like cast iron.
Nonstick qualities: There are certain things this pan will be great for, and that includes nonstick purposes. (In fact, many professional chefs use well-seasoned carbon steel instead of nonstick for crepes and omelets.) It's heavy enough to use like a cast iron pan, but the sides are a little too shallow for deep frying; you will find this is the case with most carbon steel pans.
Be forewarned, though: if you're accustomed to lightweight aluminum nonstick pans, this pan is going to feel like a ton of bricks. The heft is part of its appeal, though, so if you can get used to it, it's the better option for a nonstick frying pan; it will provide a comparable nonstick surface with none of the headaches--and you can heat it as hot as you want to.
Pros: Lighter than cast iron with similar properties; when well-seasoned, it's an almost nonstick surface. Inexpensive.
Cons: Seasoning is a pain, although a very nice pan when seasoned. Buy the pre-seasoned Lodge if you don't want to do it yourself. Also, not really an all-purpose pan, but excellent for many tasks nevertheless. Also: even though it's lighter than cast iron, it's still a dense, heavy, and somewhat unwieldy pan. The long, flat handle can be hard to grip and not great for maneuverability.
Buy if: Buy a carbon steel frying pan if you want the performance of cast iron without the heft, or if you want a nonstick pan without the concerns of PTFE or ceramic coating. A little too heavy for a general-purpose pan, with a flat, uncomfortable handle, but a great add-on.
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Best Nonstick Frying Pans
There are a few nonstick skillets that stand out from the crowd without costing a lot more. Here are our favorites.
Best Overall: Anolon Copper Nouvelle Cast Aluminum Frying Pan
Build quality: The Anolon Copper Nouvelle is, in our opinion, the best frying pan in the nonstick category. It is actually an unbelievable deal. Its cast aluminum side walls conduct heat really well, but it also has a disc on the bottom made of aluminum, copper and stainless. It has a half millimeter of copper, which is enough to make a significant difference in performance vs. similarly priced frying pans. (All-Clad Copper Core has just under a millimeter at about 0.9, but for a significantly higher cost.)
The heavy disk along with the cast aluminum will also help the pan resist warping (unlike many thin, inexpensive nonstick pans).
Look at those impressive layers on the bottom of this pan: magnetic stainless, aluminum, copper, aluminum--for some of the best heating properties you'll find at this price point.
Nonstick Properties: This frying pan is PTFE (the generic term for Teflon). As such, it's not going to last you more than a few years, and it should be used carefully: no high heat, no metal utensils, no scrubby pads, no aerosol cooking spray, and no using the dishwasher.
We aren't huge fans of nonstick pans--they should never be your primary pan--but for eggs and other delicate and sticky foods, this is a really, really great performing pan; again, probably the best frying pan at its price--or really, in the world of nonstick, one of the best pans at any price.
Induction compatible: The bottom disc not only adds to the heft and heating properties, it also makes this cast aluminum frying pan induction-compatible.
Pros: Great heating properties and build quality at any price point, but especially at this price point.
Cons: The pan has very sloped sides with a small flat cooking surface--so you may prefer the All-Clad HA1 (see it below). Also, the nonstick coating won't last very long (true for all nonstick coatings). But you will certainly get your money's worth out of this pan--especially if you buy the 8-in./10-in package, which is a fabulous deal (2 pans for the price of one).
Buy if: If you're set on nonstick, this is probably the best frying pan on the market, outperforming pretty much every other PTFE pan around. Or if you want to round out your skillet collection with a true nonstick pan (instead of cast iron or carbon steel), this is an excellent choice. Anolon uses some of the most durable nonstick on the market, so you should get a number of years of use out of this frying pan if you take good care of it.
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Runner-up: All-Clad HA1 Cast Aluminum Nonstick Frying Pan
If the Anolon Copper Nouvelle frying pan (above) isn't what you want--its long, wok-like walls make for a rather small flat cooking area--then we recommend the All-Clad HA1/NS1 cast aluminum frying pan.
HA1/NS1: From what we can tell these are the same pans, other than small differences in the shape of some of them. Both are cast aluminum with induction compatibility, both are the same price. If you buy from Williams-Sonoma, your options are NS1; if you buy from Amazon, HA1. We don't know why these differences. (W-S carries some All-Clad lines exclusive to them, so maybe that's what's going on.)
Build Quality: These pans are heavy gauge cast aluminum with a stainless plate on the bottom. If you look at the image above, you can see how thick these pans are. This gives them really excellent heating properties--similar to the more expensive MC2 line, but with PTFE coating rather than stainless.
The external surface is anodized aluminum, which is similar to stainless in strength, adding to the durability of these frying pans.
We wish the rivets on the cooking surface were PTFE rather than stainless, but that is really the one drawback of this frying pan.
Some reviewers have complained that these pans don't work with induction, but in all of our tests they worked just fine; excellent, in fact.
Overall, the build quality makes this one of the best frying pan options for nonstick.
Affordability: You might think that because these pans are made by All-Clad that they're going to be expensive. Au contraire, mon ami: these pans cost only slightly more than thin, stamped aluminum skillets. If you get the 10-inch/8-inch combo pack, you'll pay about $30 per pan--not bad, is it?
Compared to other All-Clad nonstick: You can pay clad stainless prices for All-Clad nonstick skillets: D3, D5, and Copper Core all have nonstick options. Don't do it. It's a bad investment to pay clad-stainless prices for a pan that's going to have a PTFE lifespan. And you may think All-Clad will honor their lifetime warranty and replace it, but they, like most purveyors of nonstick cookware, are tough to pry money out of: nonstick coatings have a finite life span, and that's all there is to it. So don't think you're going to get a new D3 nonstick frying pan from All-Clad every few years. Not gonna happen.
Made Where? Because the HA1/NS1 pans aren't clad stainless (they're cast aluminum), they're not made in the US like All-Clad's other cookware lines. These pans are made in China. But don't hold that against them, because they're a great, inexpensive option for nonstick pans.
Ease of Care: These frying pans are technically dishwasher safe, but we recommend hand-washing for the longest possible life. The nonstick surface washes up so easily, you won't mind doing it.
Pros: Great heating properties, great price, induction compatible.
Cons: Has all the drawbacks of nonstick cookware: short life span, fragile, scratches easily, can't use high heat, etc.
Buy if: Buy the All-Clad HA1/NS1 frying pan if you want nonstick and don't like the shape of the Anolon Copper Nouvelle (above). The heating properties aren't quite as good, but with approximately 3mm of cast aluminum, they're still going to be excellent.
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Best Ceramic Nonstick Frying Pan: Green Pan Lima
Ceramic nonstick: If you love nonstick but are concerned about the PTFE coatings being unsafe to cook with (it's not, as long as it's used properly), ceramic is your answer. You can find uber-cheap ceramic cookware like the stuff sold on the late night infomercials. However, your best bet is to buy a reputable brand. Ceramic nonstick has a limited life span--typically even more limited than PTFE--so you don't want to spend a lot. But the super cheap pans are going to be terrible to cook with. Just as importantly, the ceramic coating on cheaper pans is almost certainly made in China, and could contain dubious materials such as lead and cadmium.
GreenPan uses Thermolon ceramic coating, one of the first ceramics in the marketplace. It's a German technology (though the pans are made in China) and one of the highest-rated ceramic nonsticks available.
Green Pan makes several lines of ceramic nonstick cookware, but the Lima is our favorite. If you buy the 10-inch frying pan, it comes with a bamboo spatula--all for about the same price as the All-Clad HA1/NS1 (above). If you buy the 12-inch, it comes with a lid--nice, but unfortunately, it's glass (we much prefer stainless lids for durability).
Build quality and heating properties: We like the Green Pan Lima for its cast aluminum construction, meaning thick enough to provide durability and good heating properties. The stainless handle is also a plus (a lot of nonstick pans, including other GreenPans, have plastic handles). It's oven safe up to 600F (about 150F higher than most PTFE pans).
We love that the rivets are unobtrusive, high in the pan, and covered with nonstick coating. This is the kind of attention to detail that makes this a really nice frying pan.
Induction: The Lima is not induction compatible. If you need induction compatibility, you can buy the GreenPan Valencia, but it's quite a bit more expensive. Essentially, they're a Lima with a stainless disc on the bottom.
Affordable: You can get the 10-inch frying pan--probably the best size in nonstick--for about $30. That's the same as the All-Clad nonstick pan above.
Why Only Amazon? You can find similar Green Pan products at Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma, but not the Lima--and the prices are a lot higher. We have found Amazon consistently has the best prices and selection for GreenPan products.
Pros: Trusted Thermolon coating, good price, good build quality.
Cons: Short life span (like all nonstick).
Buy if: This is the best frying pan for someone who wants nonstick but wants to avoid PTFE (AKA Teflon). You can get less expensive ceramic nonstick skillets, but you won't get the build quality or reputation of the Lima. You can go more expensive (Zwilling Spirit, for example), but you're paying for a pan that will outlive its nonstick coating.
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Best Copper Frying Pan: Mauviel M'Heritage 250C
Copper cookware is a whole different ballgame than everything else. It's the professional's cookware of choice, and for good reason: copper conducts heat about twice as fast as aluminum and even more evenly. It is hands down the best skillet out there.
In fact, Julia Child reportedly said that you need pans with at least 3 millimeters of copper to get the desired performance. Well, today, it's almost impossible to find pans of that thickness (we couldn't, anyway). But the M'Heritage 250S is close, with a copper layer about 2.3mm thick.
Mauviel also makes a few lines of 150 cookware that's--you guessed it--1.5mm thick (actually about 1.3mm). While this is going to be a decent performer (better thanAll-Clad Copper Core, in comparison, has just under 1mm of copper), if you're going to get a copper frying pan, go big or go back to the store. You're spending the money, you want the best--so go with the 250.
Build Quality: This stuff is the best of the best. 2.3mm of copper with a thin layer of stainless for the cooking surface--the best combination available. Old school copper frying pans had tin cooking surfaces, which you can still find, but stainless is the better choice. Tin surfaces require re-tinning every few years because the tin wears out rather quickly--so go with stainless. (You can find pure copper cookware, too, but that is more for specialty cooking, such as candy-making. Copper is fairly reactive with food, so you want a stainless--or tin--cooking surface if you're buying a general-purpose frying pan.)
The handles on the 250C are cast stainless (that's what the "C" stands for). Mauviel also makes a 250S line with stainless handles and a 250B line with bronze handles. They're all stellar performers. We picked the cast stainless handles only because this line is the most widely available. The handles are very long, which provides balance to the pan. However, they may make both storage and oven use more difficult.
These frying pans are a little bit shallow, with wide, low sides, but they have a lot of flat cooking surface. They're truly designed for serious cooks--so whether you want to get a spatula in there or do the chef toss, these pans are ideal for most purposes.
Induction: Copper pans are rarely induction compatible, and these are no exception. If you want copper performance with induction, All-Clad Copper Core is an option--but with only about a millimeter of copper, you won't be getting anywhere near the performance of the Mauviel. (Although the Copper Core is nice cookware, though probably overpriced for what you get.)
Pros: 2.3mm of copper, stainless cooking surface, top-of-the-line construction and performance.
Buy if: If you want the best frying pan in every sense of the word, this is the pan for you. The performance is unsurpassed, the build quality is stellar, and it's beautiful.
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Best Crepe Pan: de Buyer
You don't need a crepe pan unless you are a big fan of crepes and make them regularly. Otherwise, an 8-inch nonstick frying pan, such as the Anolon Nouvelle Copper, will do just fine and is a more versatile option.
A crepe pan is just a specialized frying pan used for making crepes. It has very shallow sides, with some having no sides at all. This feature makes it a bit of a unitasker, which is why we recommend a nonstick frying pan as a more versatile substitute.
Serious chefs prefer a well-seasoned carbon steel pan (also called blue steel) for making crepes. de Buyer crepe pans are inexpensive and durable, so your low initial investment will serve you well for decades. But again, unless you are really into crepes, get a nonstick skillet instead.
Pros: Inexpensive, durable, almost nonstick surface without the chemical coating.
Cons: A crepe pan is really only good for crepes or possibly as a small griddle.
Recommendation: If you love crepes, go with a crepe pan. It's a small investment that will last for decades. If you are only an occasional crepe maker, go with a small nonstick frying pan like the Anolon Nouvelle Copper because you'll get more use out of it.
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Best Clad Stainless Saute Pan: All-Clad D3, MC2, Tramontina
See All-Clad MC2 Saute Pan on Amazon (not induction compatible)
A saute pan is just a straight-sided frying pan with a lid. These features make saute pans more versatile than frying pans, but they are also a little bulkier, so many people still prefer a frying pan, and pull out their saute pan only when they need to: for wilting greens, sauteeing that's going to use a lot of liquids, or a dish that needs to be covered.
On the other hand, some people prefer a saute pan to a frying pan because it has more flat cooking surface and can be used for more dishes. There's no right or wrong answer here; it's just about your personal preference. Our recommendation is that you have one of each: an all-purpose frying pan and an all-purpose saute pan. That way, you can choose the best pan for the particular thing you want to accomplish.
All-Clad D3 is a fabulous all-around saute pan. It's durable, roomy, and you can use it for almost anything. Like all All-Clad cookware it has a lifetime warranty so in the unlikely even that something goes wrong, you're covered.
All-Clad MC2 Saute Pan: The All-Clad MC2 is a less expensive alternative to D3 that is not induction compatible. If you don't need induction compatibility, MC2 has superb heating properties and also comes with a lifetime warranty.
Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad Saute Pan: If you love clad stainless but just don't want to spend All-Clad money, the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad (not any other lines of Tramontina) is a good alternative. Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad is fully clad cookware that is very, very close to All-Clad in both durability and performance for a fraction of the price. It may be slightly thinner, and the stainless might slightly more prone to corrosion, but it is nearly as good as All-Clad. If you're on a budget, it's one of the very best choices you can make. It's also a very pretty saute pan:
You can also find the Tramontina saute pan on Amazon, but Wal-Mart tends to have better prices.
Saute Pan Pros: Durable, all-purpose pan for versatile cooktop needs. Comes with a lid (that often fits other pans).
Saute Pan Cons: Skillets are bulkier than frying pans, harder to use a turner with or to do the chef toss.
Recommendation: Any of these saute pans will provide decades of service. If you want a straight-sided pan for wilitng greens or shallow deep frying, all of these saute pans are excellent options.
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A deep saute pan isn't an essential pan, but if you have one, you may find that you use it more than any other pan in your kitchen. The deep saute is a superb all-purpose pan that you can use for frying, deep frying, braising, wet heat cooking (like wilting greens), and also for soups and stocks. In other words, you can use it as a tall frying pan or saute pan, a large sauce pan, or a smallish Dutch oven or stock pot. You may not think one pan can do all of these things well, but the deep saute pan really does. If you want one truly all-purpose pan in your kitchen, the deep saute pan is an excellent choice.
Another option for true versatility is a chef's pan, which is more of a deep frying pan than a deep saute pan, with long, sloped, frying-pan sides:
It's called a chef's pan because it's designed to be a versatile, multi-use pan. The domed lid is said to circulate heat and hold moisture better than a flat lid, but the difference is small, and also keep in mind that a flat lid is easier to store and put in the dishwasher. Once again there is no wrong answer here, but rather, about your preferences. If you're interested in a multi-use pan, both the deep saute pan and the chef's pan are great options.
Another feature of the chef's pan is that it can work for a wok, while a deep saute pan won't; the deep saute pan, on the other hand, is great for deep frying, which you cannot safely do in a chef's pan because the sides are too shallow.
You may be able to find other brands of deep saute and chef's pan, but these aren't super common pans, so it's not easy. If you want a versatile pan, it's really worth spending the money on a good quality one because you will get so much use out of it.
You can find these in nonstick versions (there are actually more nonstick options than clad stainless options on Amazon), but we don't recommend them because they'll probably see hard use, both on your stovetop and in your oven, and the nonstick coatings aren't going to stand up to it.
Deep Saute Pan Pros: Very versatile, all-purpose pan you can use for frying, deep frying, sauteeing, braising, soups, and even stock making. The chef's pan is equally good for all of these things, too.
Deep Saute Pan Cons: Expensive (All-Clad is the only brand with truly deep sides that we really like), the deep sides may slow down evaporation, which won't be the best for browning (but is still more than adequate).
Recommendations: If you love the idea of a multi-purpose pan that you can use for deep frying, get the deep saute pan. If you would rather have a multi-purpose pan that also functions as a wok but isn't so great for deep frying (because the shallow sides make it unsafe for large amounts of hot oil), get the chef's pan. You don't need both of these, but having one can be a great addition to your kitchen arsenal. You may not pull them out if you're just frying up hamburgers or chicken thighs, but if you want to make a sauce, too, they're perfect.
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Best Sauteuse/Rondeau/Brazier: All-Clad, Tramontina
Finally, we come to the sauteuse/rondeau/brazier. While these aren't exactly interchangeable terms, they all describe a pan with two short handles that is deeper than a regular frying pan but shallower than a Dutch oven. Some have domed lids and some don't. Some have straight sides, while some have sloped sides. The short handles make all of them ideal for stovetop and oven use, making this another versatile, multi-use pan. The short handles also make these pans great for serving: you can place the sauteuse/rondeau/brazier right on the table with a serving spoon, and no long handle to get in the way.
The All-Clad Copper Core line is usually way more expensive than the All-Clad D3, but in this case, the Copper Core sauteuse (3-quart) is a better deal. Yes, the All-Clad D3 sauteuse is a quart larger (4-quart), but that probably doesn't make it worth the much higher price tag. You can look at both and decide for yourself. The heating properties are very similar (which is why we usually don't recommend Copper Core over the less expensive D3 line).
If you really want to save some money, go with the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad brazier: it's a really pretty pan, is twice as big as the Copper Core sauteuse, and will set you back less than half as much:
Who should buy a sauteuse/rondeau/brazier pan? Anyone who prefers two short handles to a long one, or anyone who likes the idea of serving dishes in the same pan they're cooked in. If you already own a frying pan and a Dutch oven, a sauteuse/rondeau/brazier is a bit redundant, but you may find yourself reaching for it simply because it's less bulky than a Dutch oven, and/or you don't have to transfer food from a frying pan to a serving dish. You may also prefer the two short handles to one long one, especially if you like to use it in the oven.
You can find these in nonstick versions, too, but because they get hard use just like a frying pan, we don't recommend getting one.
Look for comfortable handles, a depth good for what you want to use it for, and a tight-fitting lid.
Pros: Versatile, multi-use pan, short handles make it great for both oven use and serving right from pan.
Cons: You may prefer a Dutch oven for braising, as the sides on a sauteuse/rondeau/brazier might be shallower than you'd prefer.
Recommendation: A nice extra pan. Not as versatile as a deep saute pan, but convenient for many uses. If you like the short handles and find a Dutch oven too large for many of your needs, a sauteuse/rondeau/brazier is a good compromise.
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Frying pans are the most-used, most-abused pan in your kitchen, so it makes sense that they are the best pan in which to invest your cookware budget. Even semi-serious chefs should have 2 or 3 frying pans, in different sizes and materials, to choose from.
We've shared our dream list of what we think are the best frying pans in every category (and a few that go beyond frying pans, like the Dutch oven). Thoughts, questions, or opinions? Please share in the comments below.
And thanks for reading!