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What to Consider When Buying a Frying Pan

by Liam Williams
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A frying pan is a bottom line of what any person should have in their kitchen. It can be used for anything from boiling pasta, frying eggs, searing steak, reducing sauces, or just reheating last night’s dinner. 

Just any frying pan won’t do though. The popularity of multi-packs of pots and pans has put a dent in the good quality of frying pans in the average kitchen. Not many people enjoy buying all their pots and pans separately so here is an easy guide to help you out.

Base

The base of the frying pan is most important for obvious reasons. You can get thin, flimsy frying pans made from aluminum that is made even worse and potentially dangerous by a polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating.

Material

The material is by far the biggest deciding factor when you’re buying a frying pan. Certain materials conduct better than others, some can withstand more heat, some are more ergonomic, and some are more comfortable to use. These are the most common materials plus an extra one you may have never heard of before from my personal favorites to my least desirable.

Carbon Steel

Steel is an alloy made from iron and carbon. Carbon steel is just what it sounds like: it’s steel-reinforced by more carbon. When steel is heated to melting temperatures, much of the carbon will begin to dissolve upon cooling. Rapidly cooling and hardening the metal by quenching it in water will trap the carbon. If carbon steel sounds like it’s right for you; this De Buyer Carbone Plus Frying Pan is the creme de la creme of ovenproof, all-purpose frying pans. If you’re looking for something slightly more affordable that comes in slick back, look no further than this Lodge 12 Inch Black Frying Pan

Pros:

  • Naturally slightly non-stick
  • Phenomenal conductor
  • Affordable yet durable
  • React quickly to temperature change
  • It’s lightweight so easy to use, clean, and store

Cons:

  • It can rust
  • It doesn’t retain as much heat as cast iron
  • Need to be regularly seasoned
  • Not dishwasher safe

Good For:

  • Searing meat
  • Sauteing 
  • Eggs
  • Most other kitchen tasks

Safe For:

  • Stovetop
  • Oven
  • Broiler
Stainless steel

Stainless steel is steel that is treated with chromium to resist tarnishing or rust. Steel and iron are not great conductors which can be good for a few reasons. Some stainless steel pans are treated with aluminum or have a copper core to make them more conducive although this can raise the price significantly. Around $100 for one frying pan. 

Calphalon makes great cookware and there is proof none other like their Premier Stainless Steel 10 Inch Frying Pan. Although pricey I’ve always had great experiences using AllClad cookware. It’ll set you back a couple of bones, but this All-Clad Stainless 12-Inch Tri-Ply Frying Pan.

Pros:

  • Non-reactive to things like acids
  • Durable
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Less expensive

Cons:

  • Doesn’t conduct well
  • Not great for certain tasks like searing meat
  • Price can vary greatly depending on features like a copper core

Good For:

  • Sauteing
  • Braising 
  • Making sauces 

Safe For:

  • Stove
  • Oven 
  • Boiler

 

 

Copper

Copper is one of the best conductors of both electricity and heat making it great for cookware. That’s also why it’s so expensive in comparison to other materials. Not only does it conduct quickly and evenly, it also has antimicrobial properties that keep any dangerous microbes from growing. While this certainly isn’t a huge factor for a frying pan, copper food storage has its advantages. 

The biggest issue most cooks have with copper is that it’s incredibly reactive to things like acid which is why they often have to be lined with another material like stainless steel. You can buy pure copper cookware but it’s almost exclusively for melting sugar. Clean them gently without anything abrasive to ensure you don’t scrub off the lining that prevents it from oxidizing. 

Hestan makes some beautiful copper core cookware, especially this 11 Inch 100% Pure Copper Core Skillet. I generally don’t recommend buying copper if you’re on any kind of budget, but if you do want something slightly cheaper check out this Kila Chef Tri-Ply Copper Bottom Skillet.

Pros:

  • Very quick and evenly conductive
  • Antimicrobial 

Cons:

  • Very expensive
  • Very reactive to certain ingredients 
  • Does not work on induction stoves (because of the materials’ magnetic and electrical properties)
  • Requires regular polishing
  • Very reactive to high-temperature cooking methods

Good For:

  • Boiling
  • Steaming
  • Sauteeing 
  • Braising
  • Melting sugar

Safe for:

  • Gas stovetops
  • Ovens
  • Broiler
Aluminum

Raw aluminum is very soft and very reactive so it’s treated by a process called anodization. It’s a complex process so I’ll try to simplify it: it involves passing a direct current through the aluminum in an electrolytic solution to increase the thickness of the natural oxide layer on the surface of the metal. The current releases hydrogen at the cathode (the negative electrode) and oxygen at the surface of the aluminum anode, creating a build-up of aluminum oxide.

By far one of the best things about aluminum cookware is its low price tag and cheap doesn’t have to mean substandard. Proof-like no other is this 10 Inch Natural Finish Aluminum Frying Pan. This OXO Non-Stick Aluminum Frying Pan is of better quality and dishwasher safe be it slightly more expensive. 

Pros:

  • Great Conductivity
  • Lightweight
  • Affordable
  • Scratch-resistant and strong when reinforced

Cons:

  • Regular anodized aluminum won’t work on an induction hob

Good For:

  • Multi-use, depending on the type of pan

Safe For:

  • Stove, oven

Silver

Silver is one of the lesser-known cookware materials mainly because of its price. For anyone who doesn’t know, silver has the highest thermal conductivity of any element and the highest light reflectance. Although it is the best conductor, copper and gold are used more often in electrical applications because copper is less expensive and gold has much higher corrosion resistance.

As you can probably guess though, silver cookware costs a very pretty penny. Not only because of the silver but because silver pans are always handmade. One frying pan can set you back between 2 and 7 grand. Since there is only around a 10% difference in how copper conducts compared to silver, it’s significantly cheaper which is why it’s rare to ever see silver cookware. There are very few manufacturers that produce genuine silver cookware and for good reason. Duparquet is one of the only and most trusted providers of solid silver and silver-lined cookware for the most extravagant of chefs. 

Pros:

  • silver is naturally antimicrobial
  • Pure silver has the best thermal conductivity in the known universe
  • Pure silver will not oxidize unlike copper

Cons:

  • Pure silver scratches easily and is soft
  • It’s very expensive
Ceramic

Ceramic is known to be the ‘safest’ cookware on the market today. Beaten by glass only by its durability. The reason it’s in parentheses is that cookware generally isn’t dangerous when you use it correctly. 

While there is 100% pure ceramic cookware out there which I guess is an acquired taste I’d personally stay far away from it, but most ceramic cookware is made of steel or aluminum with a ceramic coating. Ceramic coatings are pretty much completely non-stick which makes them great for dieters. This Blue Diamond Triple Steel 11 Inch Pan doesn’t just have an awesome color, it’s much stronger and much more durable than most ceramic coating out there. Because ceramic pans are amazing for things like eggs, having a set of different sizes has massive benefits. That’s why if you like making omelets of varying sizes and enjoy dark, sleek cookware, look into this GreenPan Midnight Ceramic Frying Pan Set.

Pros:

  • Non Reactive
  • Heats slowly
  • Is almost always nonstick

Cons:

  • It chips easily 
  • Can’t use high heat cooking methods
  • Scratched by metal utensils

Good For:

  • Oven

Safe For:

  • Casseroles, pies, & gratins
Non-stick

There’s a lot of unfair stigmas that go along with non-stick frying pans such as that they’re toxic, which they by no means are for a number of reasons. Most obvious is that non-stick pans are not intended for incredibly high-temperature cooking to avoid thermolysis or Thermal decomposition.

They also scratch easily so metal utensils are a no-go as are any harsh scouring pads. A lot of health-conscious people like non-stick pans because it allows them to cook using less fat. How fast or efficiently they conduct ultimately depends on the material used. Remember nonstick is just a coating so the actual pan can be made from aluminum, iron, or steel. There are a lot of different non-stick coatings.

Looking for a nonstick frying pan? Personally, I recommend this Ninja Foodi 28cm Frying Pan even if it does come with a stiff price tag, it’s got a tough coating. If you’re looking for something a little cheaper and ‘safer’, I like this 8 Inch Nonstick Triple Steel Frying Pan.

Pros:

  • Lets you cook with less fat
  • Nonreactive 
  • Foods like flaky fish or eggs won’t break in the pan as easily
  • There are a lot of tough nonstick coatings to choose from

Cons:

  • Plastic or woods utensils are a necessity
  • Can’t withstand high heat
  • They don’t last as long as cast iron or stainless steel

Good For:

  • Delicate or sticky foods like eggs, pancakes, or delicate fish

Safe For:

  • Stovetop use, most aren’t suitable for oven cooking although some are.

Thickness

The thickness of a pan is an important factor of 5-star cooking. While it takes a little longer for them to heat, and they’re slightly heavier making it harder to toss, they ultimately conduct heat much more evenly and efficiently. The average thickness of the bottom of a frying pan ranges from 35mm to 50mm. 

Handle

There’s one big deciding factor that comes into play when considering the handle is oven safety. It’s incredibly convenient to have frying pans that can go straight from stovetop to oven and frankly it’s the only kind I own. The only downside is that they cause a slight safety hazard when you grab a hot, seemingly unsuspecting handle in a moment of inattention (it’s happened to me on a number of occasions. 

Another factor is comfort, and it’s definitely no one that should be passed over. A comfortable grip on a frying pan is important for efficient use and safety.

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