Buying Guide

The Best Frying Pans For The Home Cook

Cast Iron
A steak is being seared in a cast iron frying pan.

A tried and true kitchen cookware classic, the cast iron pan is a home cook’s standby. Cast iron pans are durable and versatile and can handle serious heat. You can use cast iron pans for frying, sautéing, searing, braising, baking, broiling, roasting and stewing. Because cast iron can get so hot, they are the best pans for frying and getting an amazing crisp. This quality also makes cast iron pans the best frying pans for steak, in our estimation.

Given how much ground this pan can cover, you should snag one that will comfortably serve the portion size you most often cook. If you cook for one, an 8- to 10-inch model is great (and its weight will be less of a burden). If you are often cooking for a family, you should buy a 12- to 14-inch model. 

  • Cast Iron Care

For effective use, a cast iron pan needs to develop a seasoning, or slick patina-ed surface. Many cast iron pans come with a pre-seasoned surface, but for exceptional results, you’ll want to help the pan develop even further.

You achieve this by careful cleaning. No soap should be used, or else the seasoning will be stripped. And after wiping down or rinsing your dirty pan, you need to dry it thoroughly. Over time, a pan’s surface will become slick and glossy and release food no problem. If sticking is a real concern of yours, you can find cast iron pans with enameled interiors.

  • Cast Iron Considerations 

Cast iron is quite heavy, so when selecting a cast iron pan, be sure to look for useful features like comfortable handles and spouts that make pouring out the pan’s contents easier. 

Cast iron heats slowly and, at times, unevenly. However, the material is so versatile and budget friendly, that this shortcoming can be easily overlooked. 

Non-Stick
An egg is cooked in a non-stick frying pan.

The usefulness of a non-stick frying pan is undeniable. They are the best pans for frying eggs and cooking delicate things like white fish. Not only do they maintain the condition of the food you are cooking, but you will be able to use less oil or fat when cooking. Cleaning will also be much easier. 

Non-stick pans are often made of aluminum, so they are considerably lighter than other cookware options, making them easier to maneuver (and ideal for someone with a sensitive wrist). This ease of handling means non-stick pans are great for delicate cooking projects like making omelets, eggs, pancakes and fish. 

  • Features to Look For

When selecting the best non-stick frying pan, make sure handles are riveted to the body of the pan in order to maximize ability to operate the pan. Also, make sure your pan is induction cooktop compatible if that is your chosen cooking surface. 

  • Non-Stick Considerations 

Non-stick pans’ uses are limited. Because of their chemical coating, you need to be gentle when using – scratching the surface with a metal utensil or cleaning tool will mean you must throw the pan out (non-stick surfaces are often made from a chemical coating that can be quite toxic, and regardless of harm-done, the pan will cease to function at that point). The non-stick coating cannot be exposed to ultra-high heat, so not only is oven use out of the questions, but you will not be able to achieve an impressive sear or browning. 

Stainless Steel and Carbon Steel
A woman cooks chicken in a Stainless steel pan.

Stainless steel frying pans are beloved for a number of reasons. First off, their nice looks. They’re bright, shiny and therefore a joy to use. They’re also easy to clean, too. Frying, sautéing, searing, braising, deglazing – they’re all on the menu.

Most stainless steel frying pans are not actually made of exclusively steel. Steel does not conduct heat well, so most incorporate aluminum or copper. These materials can come into play as a base for the pan or in a clad method, in which the material is sandwiched in between two layers of stainless steel. This three-layer outcome is called “tri-ply” and helps ensure a pan heats evenly. Given this precise makeup, stainless steel pans are typically a bit more expensive than cast iron and carbon steel options and can in fact get quite expensive. 

A technical feature to look for in the best Stainless-steel pans is material quality. Look for a pan with a grade of 18/10, meaning the percentage of chromium, which resists corrosion, is at 18%, and the percentage of nickel, which gives the steel its shiny appearance, is at 10%. 

  • Features to Look For 

Stainless steel pans are lighter than cast iron, so they’re the best pans for frying when you need a bit of dexterity. Think flipping, tossing and pouring. Their handles will typically be longer. If you’re going to be using the pan to pour out deglazed liquids and contents of the sort, look for a pan that has a rolled edge. Since this sort of pan is so versatile and light, it’s best to keep a large model on-hand. 

  • Stainless Steel Care

To clean, you can use warm, soapy water and a sponge – this material is less finicky than cast iron. When confronting stains, you can use a bit of vinegar or lemon juice [link to THD pantry cleaning guide].

  • Stainless Steel Considerations 

Stainless steel pans are often not fit for the oven, where oxidation can occur and handles with any plastic will melt. 


  

Carbon Steel Frying Pans

Carbon steel frying pans are a close relation to the cast iron pan. They are very popular with restaurant chefs, since they are versatile and can handle high-heat searing as well as cooking that requires a bit of finesse. You can use them on any stovetop, including induction, and they move seamlessly to the oven. As is the case with cast iron, carbon steel frying pans must develop a nonstick patina, which comes from use and seasoning. 

Once equipped with this surface they fry up eggs, pancakes, fish and other fragile dishes like a dream. This ability is thanks to the flexibility and lightweight quality they possess, which cast iron lacks. Carbon steel also heats up more quickly than cast iron, but it still lacks the exceptional conductivity of aluminum and copper. 

  • Carbon Steel Care

Cleaning a carbon steel pan should be done by hand. Use hot water and wipe it with a paper towel, then promptly dry. The ideal final step is to give it a swipe of oil to re-season.

  • Carbon Steel Considerations 

Something to bear in mind when considering a carbon steel pan is that, without a solid patina, raw steel will react with acidic and alkaline ingredients, giving your food a metallic taste. And regardless of patina, this characteristic means you should avoid using the pan to cook high-acid foods like tomato sauce. 

Another potential deal breaker is carbon steel’s aesthetic. The pan’s patina will not be pretty. It is a dark, grimy color that is completely natural, but not characteristic of for-show cookware. 

Copper
Vegetables are sauteed in a copper frying pan.

Copper skillets are exceptional. They are also pricey. This is because of their outstanding conductivity powers – they heat up quickly and evenly, and cool with the same speed and consistency. Using a copper pan, you will have less stress about sauces breaking, foods will stick far less often and you will be assured that your pan is going to last a long while. 

  • Copper Care

Copper oxidizes quickly, even when merely hanging from a rack, so it must be cleaned regularly to maintain its shine. The amount of patina you’re fine with is personal preference, but if a polished appearance is a must for you, you’ll be putting in a fair amount of work.

  • Copper Considerations 

The traits that makes copper such an excellent conductor also give copper a tendency to react when in come in contact with a variety of foods, especially acidic ones. Many copper pans feature interiors of a different material in order to combat this. These linings may not last as long (tin, for example) or may not conduct as well (stainless steel) as the copper base. Regardless, you should look for a copper pan with a thickness of 2-2.5 millimeters to ensure best performance. 

Another element worth consideration is that copper cannot be used on induction stovetops. This is not a deal breaker though, as magnetic plates and coils are pretty readily available these days; and a number of copper pans come equipped with an alternative base. 

Specialty Pans
A crepe pan is used to cook a pancake.
  • Crepe Pans

A crepe pan is a lightweight non-stick frying pan with low sides, designed for making crepes. Pancakes and eggs also do well on these. Really, these are the best frying pans for anything that you’d ideally slide right out of a pan and that does not give off too much juice while cooking. For a crepe pan, a comfortable and sturdy handle is key. 

While a crepe pan is not a necessity if you have a good non-stick pan at home, they really do make cooking much easier and can make those Sunday brunches that much more fun. 

  • Deep Skillet Frying Pans

Another frying pan that elevates a kitchen arsenal is a deep skillet. If you are partial to making your own sauces, spend evenings braising away or like to give shallow frying a go every once in a while, having a pan that offers depth is quite useful. 

Make sure the model you select comes with a well-fitting lid so you can simmer liquids and control splatters. 

  • Grill Pans

Wondering which is the best frying pan if you love to grill but hate to be at the mercy of the elements? Griddle and grill pans are the answer. These tools are typically made of cast iron, so they exhibit similar characteristics. The key differentiator of a grill pan from a standard cast iron is a grated base, which gives meat and vegetables gorgeous grill marks and also helps with fat circulation. Thanks to the grates, you’ll avoid a burger that’s left to sit and boil in its own juices. All you’ll be missing is the charcoal.