One of the great joys of learning to cook is the number of types of food you have to prepare. And eat, of course. Having the best possible equipment to prepare all of these dishes is essential for success. Nowhere is this more evident than when handling a skillet or frying pan.
About 75% of recipes require the use of a frying pan. OK, this is a number I made up, but you get the idea. Having the right pan for different types of cooking – searing, sautéing, scrambling – can help you make your next recipe a success. There are countless types of frying pans made from all kinds of materials, with new ones being introduced all the time. Each type of stove has its strengths and weaknesses, but there are four in particular that I just couldn’t do without.
My essential quartet of frying pan types are blue carbon steel, five-ply stainless steel, hearty cast iron, and basic non-stick. Whether it’s for searing a strip loin, flipping chewy omelets or baking a salmon fillet, these are the four pans I think every home chef should have on the grill.
Carbon steel is the only type of cookware that gets overlooked, and I think that’s a real shame. Think of it as a lighter version of the cast. It is very hot and is doing so much faster than melting. like cast iron, it’s great for searing steaks and chicken, but weighs about half as much.
Because of its light weight, I find it much more pleasant to use. You can actually maneuver it around the stove without straining your wrist. Much like cast iron, it will develop a natural seasoning and non-stick patina with continued use. But beware, carbon steel will never be as non-stick as real non-stick cookware, so be careful when making eggs or pancakes.
Made In makes my favorite 10 inch blue carbon steel skillet for $ 79. It has a cool-touch handle and slightly taller sides to minimize steak splash. Although Made In also makes a smaller 8 inch and a larger 12 inch model, I like the 10 inch size. It’s big enough for almost anything I cook, but it’s still light enough to handle easily. I find myself searching for that pan for just about anything that needs an intense searing: steaks, burgers, or chicken with the skin on. Fish is the exception as I find the seasoned surface can affect the delicate flavor of cod or tuna in ways that I don’t want.
The main disadvantage of carbon steel is that it is sensitive and susceptible to rust and corrosion and therefore needs to be cared for differently. This means that you should not scrub with soap or soak in water. It is also essential to completely dry your carbon steel cookware before putting it away.
Nonstick pans have had a bad reputation over the years, mainly due to the use of a chemical polytetrafluoroethylene, aka PFOA, sometimes referred to as Teflon. The good news about nonstick coatings is that most pans no longer use the potentially harmful chemical.
You can pay close to $ 100 for a premium nonstick skillet, but you probably shouldn’t, especially since the nonstick coating will eventually break down no matter how careful you are. This PFOA-Free All-Clad Two-Piece Set can be purchased for under $ 50.
I don’t use it as much as my other casseroles but for sticky foods like eggs and pancakes, or to reheat the pasta dish from the night before, there is nothing better or simpler. I also love the steeply sloping sides of this model as I often cook omelets or quickly heat up a stew or rice dish in my non-stick pan.
All-Clad only sells these stoves in sets of two. While you may not need them, if you split the use across two pans, they will last longer. Plus, you’ll have the smallest 10.5-inch size – perfect for a three-egg omelet – and the larger 12-inch would be good for bigger stir-frying jobs.
I will level up with you. I use my cast iron a little less now that I have the blue charcoal pan in my cupboard, but I still can’t imagine cooking life without it.
To cook a big batch of homemade Sunday fries or the crispiest stuffing, cast iron is king. Yes, it is heavy. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain to maintain, but if you do, the cast iron rewards you with a naturally seasoned, naturally non-stick cooking surface that transmits more contact heat than any other.
The best part is that cast iron is quite cheap, even from a traditional producer like Lodge. You can brand the brand’s signature Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet for just $ 25 and have it for decades.
If you’re only buying one frying pan, you should probably make it out of stainless steel. Stainless steel pans are a great choice for frying meat, fish, and vegetables, and there’s not much you can’t cook in a stainless steel pan.
Stainless steel pans are extremely versatile. They get hot, and a quality saucepan will retain the heat and disperse it evenly. The heat is also easier to control in both directions. Stainless steel cookware is also relatively lightweight compared to other materials, as most are constructed with an aluminum core. While they can be susceptible to knocks and bumps, a good one should hold its shape for years, even with regular use.
You can spend a lot on stainless steel cookware. While you shouldn’t buy a cheap dish, you can get a quality skillet for $ 50 to $ 75. Misen’s 12-inch stainless steel is a great five-layer frying pan for the money. It has a good weight but is not heavy and heats extremely evenly. The rounded handle is one of the most comfortable I have wrapped my fingers on.
Because you’ll be using this pan more than most, you might consider going for the larger 12-inch pan, but even a 10-inch pan ($ 75) will do for most jobs.
If you’ve got a few extra bucks to throw away, All-Clad makes a great, lightweight stainless steel skillet with a graphite core instead of aluminum.
I love using this three layer pan for veg and ground meat because you can throw out the contents like air. This makes uniform browning of food a simple task. It’s also my go-to pan for searing a piece of fresh salmon or tuna, as the stainless steel doesn’t impart any unwanted flavor to the fish. Graphite is light but also a fierce conductor of heat, and therefore this pan gets hot in seconds. This means that you will have to be very careful not to burn your cooking oil or the foods in the pan.
Granted, the All-Clad G5 cookware collection doesn’t come cheap, but if you covet an extremely light pan that can handle high heat, this is a great one to add to your grill.