A signature frying pan is the heart of the kitchen. Every budding chef wants to have the right pan to prepare the perfect home-cooked meal, so finding the right one is important.
When you are ready to choose a frying pan, there are many things to consider. First, what kind of pan do you want: nonstick, cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel or copper?
Other considerations include matching the right pan to your hob type. Think about what type of cooking you do the most. Will you use the pan to serve food? Which size and shape is right for you? How are you planning to store your new frying pan? What handle is the best?
Let’s start by taking a look at different kinds of pans and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
|Category||Nonstick||Cast Iron||Stainless Steel||Carbon Steel||Copper|
|Cleaning and Maintenance||5||2||3||2||3|
|Ease of Use||5||3||4||3||4|
The most popular pans fall into the nonstick category. The reason for this is simple—they are super easy to cook with. We are basically lazy and/or busy people, and anything that makes our lives easier is a sure bet. In our tests, the best nonstick pans made preparing just about any dish simple. It was great to see eggs sliding around leaving little residue.
|Durability||2||Nonstick pans will wear out over time, and you should be careful to avoid using metal utensils, clean carefully and store without scratching.|
|Cleaning and Maintenance||5||Most nonstick pans are very easy to clean and require no maintenance.|
|Ease of Use||5||Nonstick pans are popular because they are very easy to use. Choosing a quality nonstick pan will make cooking a breeze.|
|Versatility||4||Nonstick pans are good for most jobs, but have limited oven use and are not the best for sauce preparation.|
|Aesthetics||3||Nonstick pans have coatings and are built with plastic fittings making them less appealing than traditional metal pans.|
|Cost||17-50||You can get a quality nonstick pan for a relatively low price.|
Nonstick pan pros and cons
- Food does not stick
- Easy to use
- Easy to cook with
- Easy to clean
- Can cook without added oil
- Not durable
- Not great for searing meat or making sauces
- Lower temperature limits
You can cook the stickiest foods in these pans without leaving a big mess burnt to the bottom of the pan.
Most of the time, clean-up is as easy as just wiping the pan out with a paper towel.
Another advantage is that you can prepare most foods without any added fat. We found that a little butter or oil does improve the taste, but we could get by frying eggs on a completely dry nonstick pan. So if you are cutting back on added calories, this is another reason to choose one.
On the other hand, the big downside to any nonstick pan is that no matter how fancy or expensive, eventually, that nonstick coating will wear out and the pan will become another hunk of metal for a landfill. In our tests, we found that the higher-end nonstick pans did seem more durable than cheap ones, but our research says that they will not last more than a few years.
If you are okay with buying and rebuying pans when they wear out, then consider a nonstick pan.
Another issue is that nonstick pans have heat limits, so they aren’t great for searing foods at high heats, and oven and grill use is limited.
And because they are nonstick, if you cook meat in them and want to make a pan sauce, there will be very little fond left in the pan to give your sauce body and flavor.
How much should you spend?
Nonstick pans range in price from less than 7 pounds to over 100 pounds.
As with all things, you get what you pay for, but there is a point of diminishing returns. The best nonstick pan in our test also happened to be the most expensive one.
For a quality nonstick, expect to pay 35-50 pounds, but you can get a usable pan for under 25 pounds. We wouldn’t go below that unless you are on a strict budget because pans that cost less than 15 pounds were more likely to scratch in our tests.
Based on our research, nonstick pan warranties are pretty sketchy. Companies will honour the warranty ifj and only if you can prove that any damage done to the pan wasn’t your fault, and wasn’t the result of standard wear and tear over time. We found a mixed bag in our own experience when asking manufacturers about pans that were damaged during our tests.
We recommend ignoring the warranty when you make a choice to buy a pan. Even if it says that the pan is guaranteed for life, this will not mean that if it wears out you will get a new pan in 5 years. The best thing to do is buy a quality product initially so you don’t have to worry about trying to deal with a complicated warranty later.
Most nonstick pans are coated with some form of PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) most commonly known as Teflon. The other type of coating that is becoming more popular is usually referred to as ceramic. When buying a pan, you should make sure to know which coating you want. Some people want to avoid the chemicals in a PTFE pan, so they will opt for a more natural ceramic coating.
However, don’t be fooled by gimmick coatings that claim to be made of copper, marble, diamonds, granite, etc. Most of these are just PTFE with some added colours and textures.
Teflon is by far the most common coating, but it has come under some scrutiny lately. We love a good Teflon coating because almost nothing will stick to it, and it is flexible and durable. The advantages to buying Teflon are that you will have a much larger selection of Teflon pans than other types of nonstick, and prices are generally lower as well.
Teflon is the brand name of the original nonstick chemical created by Dupont. There are other variations. Swiss Diamond makes their own PTFE nonstick surface as do other manufacturers.
If you are concerned about whether or not Teflon is healthy, you can read more here
Also you should be aware that there are countless different variations of PTFE coatings out there and some are better than others. Manufacturers use all kinds of names and labels to make their coatings sound the best such as Titanium (Tefal), Eterna (PPG), Stratanium (Scanpan), among many others. We found in our test that the pans which were triple-layered did better than single-layered pans. The price you pay for a nonstick pan is also reflected in the quality of the coating.
We recommend ceramic as an alternative to Teflon/PTFE if you have any health concerns or are environmentally conscious. The ceramic pans we tested proved to be good alternatives to PTFE-coated pans.
True ceramic coatings are not that common. Many Teflon-coated pans will claim that they are “stoneware” or “granite” or some other mineral, but most often they are still coated with PTFE. If you want a true ceramic coated pan, you need to double check to make sure the manufacturer specifically says “PTFE-free.” Most pans will advertise that they are PFOA or PFAS-free. These are banned chemicals that were once used to bond PTFE to pans, but even Teflon-coated pans have stopped using PFOAs, so this language doesn’t really mean anything.
Most ceramic coatings are made of natural silicon (sand), so there are no harmful chemicals. The most common type we found was a Sol-Gel (Solution Gel) that bonds the natural coating to an aluminium base. The drawback of ceramic coatings is that they tend to be more brittle than Teflon and, according to our research, will wear out more quickly; although after all of our testing, the ceramic pans we purchased were still in great shape.
What is the pan made of?
Another consideration is the actual material of the pan. Most nonstick pans are made aluminium, but you can also find nonstick pans made of stainless steel.
Aluminium is the most common material for nonstick pans because it is cheap and easy to work with and it has great inherent heating properties. It is nonferrous (not magnetic) by nature, so it does not work on induction hobs without some modification, usually an added plate. It heats quickly and is very responsive to temperature changes. There are a few types of aluminium pans, and this is important to know. Usually the manufacturer will tell you how the pan is made. If they don’t specifically say, it is most likely a stamped pan.
Stamped: If you pick up a pan and it weighs almost nothing, it is most likely a stamped aluminium pan. You can also tell by the generic shapes of these pans. They are a uniform thickness from lip to base with no features like a rolled pouring lip.
These are the cheapest and lowest quality aluminium pans. We would recommend avoiding them for the most part. They are more likely to lose their shape and warp over time.
Forged: Unlike stamped pans, forged aluminium pans are pressed at high heat so they retain their shape and last longer than stamped pans. They are heavier, more durable, and less likely to warp.
Cast: Cast aluminium are the heaviest and highest quality aluminium pans. These start with molten aluminium poured into casts. These pans will have custom shapes, thicker bodies and be the heaviest of all aluminium pans. They are more expensive and take a bit longer to heat up, but they will also last the longest.
Anodized: You may also see pans that are made of anodized aluminium. This means that the pan has been made using one of the methods above and then the aluminium has gone through a special process that makes it harder and more durable. In our experience, anodized pans are quality pans.
Stainless nonstick pans will be shiny on the outside and coated with Teflon on the inside, for the most part. The only advantage is the pan may look more premium because of the stainless exterior. Stainless steel is not a good conductor of heat, so in order to work well, these pans usually have a disc bonded to the base which will have an aluminium or copper core to distribute heat better. In our experience, these nonstick pans did not perform as well as aluminium nonstick pans.
If you are considering buying a nonstick pan you want to choose a quality pan that will last as long as possible. Choosing forged or cast aluminium is better than getting a cheap stamped pan. Pay attention to the coating, and make sure you get one that meets your specific cooking needs. Finally, remember that no nonstick pan will last for very long, so spend wisely.
Cast iron pans
Cast iron pans have been making a huge comeback in the last few years. For a while, it seemed that you only saw them in your grandma’s kitchen, but now they are the coolest cookware and there is a reason for that.
|Durability||5||Cast iron pans can literally last for decades.|
|Cleaning and Maintenance||2||These pans do take regular maintenance and care to keep them in good condition. Cleaning is done by hand and takes a little time.|
|Ease of Use||3||Because they are heavy and bulky, they can be harder to work with than other pans.|
|Versatility||4||You can do almost anything with a cast iron pan, but they are not good for stovetop manoeuvres like flipping with the flick of the wrist. You can make most kinds of pan sauces in cast iron as well.|
|Aesthetics||4||Cast iron pans can be beautiful, but some may find them to be rustic or dated.|
|Cost||25-45||You can buy more expensive pans, but a quality cast iron pan is affordable.|
Cast iron skillet pros and cons
- Super durable
- Great cooking results
- Versatile with no temperature limits
- Well-seasoned=virtually nonstick
- Good value
- Require routine maintenance
- Heavy and hard to store
- Uneven heating
We love cast iron because it is built to last. People are finding and restoring pans that are over 100 years old. With care, your cast iron pan will serve you well for a lifetime. When properly seasoned, they act like a nonstick pan requiring only a little oil to keep food from sticking.
They can be used on any type of hob as well as in the oven and even on outdoor grills. If you find the right shape for your needs, one cast iron pan can do almost every cooking chore without any added chemicals or coatings.
Once heated, a cast iron pan will hold its heat for a long time because of its mass. This means you can prepare food and then keep it warm in the pan before serving without any additional heating and reheating.
The downside to cast iron is that it is heavy, and honestly, the heating properties are not that great. Generally, these pans heat unevenly and they take awhile to get up to temperature.
Many people do not like working with cast iron pans because they require maintenance with each use. After cleaning, you need to dry and oil them to keep them from rusting. Now and then, you may need to re-season the pan to keep its nonstick properties in tact.
How much should you spend?
Cast iron is a relatively inexpensive material, so the cost of the pan really comes down to the name on the label and the time and effort put into production.
For most people, there is no reason to spend more than 35 pounds. However, you can find cast iron pans well in excess of 90 pounds, and we have seen pans for over 260 pounds.
More expensive pans are usually polished more smoothly and seasoned more than standard pans, and they may include design features that give them some unique character such as Finex’s octagonal shape.
Seasoned or enamelled ?
Back in the old days, when you bought a cast iron pan, it was raw iron. You would have to learn how to season it to cook with it properly. Nowadays, most manufacturers save you the trouble by seasoning the pan in the factory before they even ship it out. If you do buy a raw iron pan, that isn’t a problem because you can season it yourself in just a few hours.
The other option for buying a pan is to buy enamelled cast iron. What is the difference?
Cast iron pans are not coated with any chemicals like nonstick pans are, but instead, they are naturally seasoned using polymerized oil which acts as a seal against moisture and helps these pans to release food almost as well as PTFE coatings.
Most modern cast iron pans will come from the manufacturer with a pre-seasoned coating, which means that you can start using the pan right out of the box. Some people find this acceptable, while true cast iron aficionados will immediately strip and re-season the pan following their own system.
However, depending on what you cook and how often you cook, the seasoning can deteriorate, and you may need to re-season the pan. This is not a big deal, but it does take some time and an oven. The more you cook in a cast iron pan, the better the seasoning will become. Frying fatty foods like bacon are really good for keeping the pan in good shape.
Some cast iron cookware, like Le Creuset, comes with a baked-on enamel coating. This enamel is basically a coating of porcelain that is bonded to the cast iron. It is permanent and will generally last for the life of the pan, but it can be damaged with misuse such as overheating or using metal utensils.
The nice thing about enamel is that it keeps the cast iron from rusting or reacting with any foods that it comes in contact with. It is easy to clean and maintain.
We prefer natural cast iron over the enamel-coated pans because we like the idea of being able to use the pan forever without any worries. Some people prefer enamel because you never have to re-season it, and it takes less care and maintenance.
How to choose?
There are a few factors to consider when choosing a cast iron pan: the thickness and surface finish.
Cast iron pans are always heavy, but some are heavier than others. One gauge of the quality of the pan is the thickness of the iron.
A high-quality pan should be in the range of 3-5 mm thick at the base. The big issue is that the thicker the pan, the heavier it is and the longer it will take to heat up. But once a thick cast iron pan is heated, it will hold that heat and cook food brilliantly with no hot spots.
Thinner cast iron will have hot spots and feel unsteady, but it will be lighter, so there is a trade-off.
The biggest difference between poorly cast iron pans and quality ones is the level of attention paid to finishing the pan once it comes out of the mould.
Cheap pans have rough edges and the surface is left fairly coarse because every level of finishing takes time and costs money. The average to above average cast iron pan will have a surface that feels a bit like leather. It is coarse, but not rough. With cheaper pans, you can actually feel the grains, and it is like running your hands over sand.
Very high quality pans will be almost completely smooth, and these come at a higher price point. The smoother the pan, the better it will release food.
The disadvantage of having an overly smooth pan is it will not hold its seasoning as well, so manufacturers have tried to find a sweet spot with a pan that is coarse enough to hold the seasoning, but smooth enough to be mostly nonstick.
We recommend avoiding pans that are clearly poorly finished because these likely denote the lack of quality and attention to detail of the manufacturer.
Buying a cast iron pan means making a commitment. You want to choose one that you will actually use and won’t end up hiding in the oven most of the time. Cast iron can bring you long-lasting cooking joy if you find a pan that meets your cooking needs. Spending a little more making a careful selection will assure that you are buying a pan that will not disappoint you or your dinner guests. So if the extra weight and maintenance are not a problem, then cast iron is a great choice!
Stainless steel pans
Stainless steel has been used in cooking for a long time because it is wear-resistant and virtually indestructible.
|Durability||4||Stainless is very durable by itself, but unfortunately handles can fail over time especially handles coated with silicone or plastic.|
|Cleaning and Maintenance||3||While stainless is relatively easy to clean, food can stick and may need to be scrubbed out. The shiny exteriors also take maintenance to keep clean.|
|Ease of Use||4||Stainless pans are pretty light and easy to manoeuvre . However, they can be tricky to keep at a stable temperature.|
|Versatility||5||Stainless is the most versatile material because there is literally nothing you cannot cook in a stainless steel pan. Although they are not as good for baking as cast iron.|
|Aesthetics||4||Stainless are among the best looking pans with clean lines and uniform materials.|
|Cost||50-100||These pans are more expensive than others, but they have lasting value.|
Stainless steel pan pros and cons
- Great cooking results
- Versatile with high temperature limits
- Good looking pans
- More expensive
- Learning curve
- Sticky surface
- Unsteady heating
- Pan quality varies greatly
The great thing about stainless steel is its simplicity. This is a pan that you do not have to care for. It isn’t like a nonstick pan where you have to worry about scratching it, and it takes no maintenance like cast iron.
Because food does adhere to the stainless surface, these pans develop a wonderful fond for making sauces. Fond is what is left in the pan after cooking various foods, especially when searing meats. By deglazing the pan with a liquid, the fond releases from the hot pan and can be used as the base for a sauce. This is something that no nonstick pans nor cast iron can do as well.
These pans look and feel professional providing a beautiful kitchen aesthetic, and a quality steel pan will last a lifetime.
Because stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat, manufacturers have to add other metals to make them work well. The build-quality of this process can determine the overall quality of the pan, so stainless pans do vary widely in their cooking ability. We will explain this more later, but again, the old adage “you get what you pay for” applies with stainless pans as well.
With that said, we saw some uneven heating of stainless pans in our tests.
These added features make good stainless pans more expensive on average than both cast iron and nonstick.
In addition, many people who buy and try stainless pans for the first time are disappointed and complain that everything sticks! These pans do take time to learn how to use correctly, but it is worth it!
How much should you spend?
We found that to get a quality stainless pan, you should expect to spend over 75 pounds to get a good pan.
You can get lower-cost pans, but if you are going to invest in a stainless pan that will last for decades, then it is wise to find one that you will enjoy and that will perform well. If you are on a tight budget, then a disposable nonstick pan or lower-cost cast iron is a better option.
Quality of the steel
Not all stainless steel is created equally. There are several different kinds of steel that can be referred to as stainless, but if you want the highest quality cookware, then you should look for pans made of 18/10 steel. This steel is made of iron, 18% chrome and 10% nickel. It will be shinier and have better cooking properties than lesser steel.
However, 18/10 steel is not magnetic, so to work on induction, manufacturers either clad the pan with a ferrous steel like 18/0 or 430, or they add a disc.
If the manufacturer does not state what steel they use in the production of the pan, you should inquire before purchasing to make sure you know what you are getting.
Strictly speaking, stainless pans are uncoated and you are cooking on raw stainless steel—which is great because it is a nonreactive, highly durable material.
However, some manufacturers use special processes to alter the steel to make it look shinier or more matte, and even to help it release food and clean up better.
These are not coatings that will wear off like PTFE or ceramic, but a treatment of the steel surface itself. Examples include Demeyere’s Silvinox® coating which, they claim, helps to keep the pan shiny and clean. Fissler has a Novogrill® surface that is corrugated which they say allows you to use less fat when cooking. In our tests, the pans with some surface treatment did release food better and clean up easier than pans that were raw steel.
Disc or clad?
The biggest question when choosing stainless steel is whether to buy a clad pan or a disc pan. As we mentioned before, stainless itself does not conduct heat well, so the workaround is to layer it with other metals like aluminium or copper. There are two main ways of doing this: cladding or adding a disc.
Clad pans have layers of stainless steel pressed with layers of aluminium or copper. Three layers is the minimum. Think of it like a sandwich with stainless being the bread, and a more responsive metal being the meat and cheese
The advantage to clad pans is that, if done properly, they will heat evenly from the bottom all the way up the sides because the pan is the same thickness with the same materials all the way through. This leads to more responsive pans that heat faster.
These pans are generally more expensive than disc pans, but we found that the cooking quality was not always better.
Disc pans are more common and less expensive than clad. When making these pans, the manufacturer bonds a metal disc to the bottom of the stainless pan. The disc contains a sandwich of responsive metals like aluminium or copper which helps the pan distribute the heat from the hob evenly and quickly to the surface of the pan.
The quality of the discs can vary greatly, so you want to make sure you choose a reputable pan company. A problem with poorly made discs is that they can eventually dislodge from the pan.
The discs do give amazingly even heat distribution, as we saw in our tests. These pans were generally easier to cook with overall because they heated more predictably.
An issue with discs is that they can heat too efficiently and get very hot. We noticed some problems with our disc pans, especially on induction. They tended to reach high temperatures if left on the hob too long. You do need to pay attention and adjust the heat setting whilst cooking.
The disc also only heats the bottom of the pan evenly while the sides may be a different temperature. This can make sauce preparation less than ideal when you want the temperature to be uniform throughout.
We think that stainless steel is a great option for just about any chef. A good stainless pan will give you professional results and years of maintenance-free cooking. These are not the best pans for eggs or other sticky foods, but you can learn to make anything in them with a bit of patience. Take time to find a stainless pan that meets your style of cooking and personal aesthetic. It will be worth it.
Carbon steel pans
Carbon steel has never been as popular with home chefs as cast iron or stainless steel, but it has qualities of both that make it an intriguing option, and one that is becoming more and more mainstream.
|Durability||5||Carbon steel is just about as indestructible as cast iron and can be seasoned and re-seasoned time and time again.|
|Cleaning and Maintenance||3||Carbon steel takes almost as much care and maintenance as cast iron. The pan needs to be seasoned, and after cooking it needs to be oiled to prevent rust. Seasoning these pans is much easier than cast iron.|
|Ease of Use||3||Carbon steel pans are a bit heavy and can take some getting used to.|
|Versatility||4||Carbon steel is a very versatile material and the pan shapes are generally deep and accommodating. The only thing you have to be careful with are acidic sauces which can strip the seasoning.|
|Aesthetics and Design||3||These pans will discolour with use and they will never have the uniform appeal of cast iron or steel pans.|
|Cost||30-50||A quality carbon steel pan will be a bit more expensive than cast iron, but they are still affordable.|
Carbon steel pan pros and cons
- Great cooking results
- Versatile with high temperature limits
- Great nonstick capability
- Require routine maintenance
- Discolour with use
- Heating can be uneven
- Long handles make storing more difficult
The selling point of carbon steel is the promise of cast iron durability and stainless versatility in a super durable combination.
Carbon steel can withstand any temperatures and can be used, like cast iron, on the stove, in the oven and even on grills.
You can cook just about anything in a carbon steel pan. The only thing to be wary of are highly acidic foods which can strip away the seasoning.
They heat up faster than cast iron, and yet they will still hold heat after you finish cooking to keep food warm before serving.
A well-seasoned carbon steel pan is virtually nonstick and makes most cooking tasks a breeze.
Like cast iron, these pans require general maintenance and care when cleaning. You cannot wash them in the dishwasher. After cleaning with as little soap as possible, you need to dry them on the stovetop and oil them down to keep them from rusting.
You also need to season carbon steel. The good news is that seasoning can be done in less than 20 minutes on the stove top rather than hours in the oven like cast iron.
These pans are generally lighter than cast iron, but they are still relatively heavy pans and take some strength to manoeuvre .
As you cook with carbon steel, it becomes darker and darker with each use. While some may find this patina charming, others will think it looks dirty.
How much should I spend?
The good news is that even the highest quality carbon pans are relatively affordable. You can expect to find a nice pan for about 35 pounds. Remember, this is a pan that will last virtually forever.
Unlike cast iron, there is not a huge following for carbon steel, so you don’t see as many artisan crafters as you do with cast iron, but they are out there. We have seen pans for as much as 240 pounds, but you really don’t get better cooking results from these pans. They are more about aesthetics and style.
While carbon steel is pretty much the same material from pan to pan (99% iron 1% carbon), and most pans look similar in construction, one difference to pay attention to is the thickness or gauge of the steel itself. For example, the Lodge carbon steel pan is advertised as 12-gauge steel which is about 2.4 mm. The Mineral B pan by Debuyer is 2.5 mm thick. Either of these are decent thicknesses for a carbon steel pan.
You want to avoid the 16-gauge pans which are just 1.6 mm thick, and this can lead to uneven heating and even scorching on the bottom. The thicker the steel the more steady the pan will be and the longer it will hold heat.
In our tests, we didn’t think that carbon steel was the miracle metal that you may see advertised online. It does fill a nice niche between stainless and cast iron, and it really is versatile enough for most of your cooking needs. If you are okay with a little maintenance and the industrial aesthetic, then a carbon steel pan is a great option!
At the top of the cooking mountain resides the copper frying pan. Copper is legendary for its distinctive look and incredible heating properties.
|Durability||4||Copper pans are very durable and will last a lifetime with some care.|
|Cleaning and Maintenance||2||Copper is a bit harder to maintain than steel because copper tarnishes. If you want to keep the pan shiny, it takes a lot of elbow grease.|
|Ease of Use||4||We found copper to be generally easy to use. The rapid heating takes some getting used to.|
|Versatility||4||These pans are just as versatile as stainless steel. You can cook just about anything in them.|
|Aesthetics and Design||5||Copper pans are naturally beautiful.|
|Cost||130-250||Copper is the most expensive frying pan material.|
Copper pan pros and cons
- Natural beauty
- Very fast heating
- Responsive to heat changes
- Versatile with high temperature limits
- Sticky surface
- Learning curve
- Heavier than they look
- Do not work on induction (without additional disc)
Having a copper pan puts you in an exclusive club. While this privilege does cost you initially, the pan will last forever and look beautiful all the while.
Not only that, but copper is an incredibly good conductor of heat. A copper pan will heat up in less than a minute, ready to cook whatever you have planned. They are also very responsive to heat adjustments.
These pans are revered for making delicate sauces and other foods that require precise heat control.
Copper is a premium metal, so these pans are expensive. They are also coated with tin or stainless steel, so the cooking surface itself will be sticky like a stainless pan.
Keeping the copper exterior shiny and clean takes work. We recommend letting the pan take on a natural patina over time, but some people will want to show off that shine by spending hours scrubbing away.
Copper is denser than you think, and a thick, quality pan will be heavy and not very manoeuvrable.
Unfortunately, a full copper pan will not work on induction. The pan will have to have an additional plate or disc in order to work on induction and this would take away from the innate heating qualities of copper.
How much should I spend?
To get a decent copper pan that is made of real copper and is thick enough to heat evenly and steadily, you can expect to spend around 180 pounds for the privilege.
Be careful when buying copper because many companies claim to make “copper” pans, but these may be plated or with a copper coating rather than actual copper. Copper is an expensive metal, so you cannot get one on the cheap. A hand-crafted copper pan can cost as much as 450 pounds, and an antique will go for even more.
What else to consider?
One main variable you will see when choosing a copper pan is the thickness of the actual copper. Popular options are 1.5 mm and 2.5 mm, but we have seen even thicker pans. We recommend going for the thickest copper pan you can afford for the best results. Thinner pans will heat quickly and unevenly, and you won’t get all the benefits of cooking with copper, but you will get the frustration.
Raw copper is a toxin and you should never cook on it over high heat. It is reactive, so cookware companies have been lining it with other metals.
Tin is the traditional lining. A thin layer is melted onto the surface and it bonds with the copper as it cools giving you a shiny layer of tin to cook on. The disadvantage of tin is that it will wear out eventually, and the pan will have to be re-tinned. Tin also has a low melting point, meaning you have to keep the pan under 230°C or risk damaging the lining.
We prefer the more modern stainless steel lining. Stainless steel is bonded to the surface of the copper creating a nonreactive metallic layer that will not wear out or melt over heat. The stainless steel does take away from some of the responsiveness of copper, but because these linings are so thin (usually about 0.2 mm), this isn’t really an issue.
If you want the best heat responsiveness and a pan that you can brag about, then copper is for you. We can imagine a nice dinner party when a copper pan filled with a delicious entree is brought to the table for everyone to enjoy. Having one of these hanging on the wall of your kitchen is a sure way to tell everyone, “Here resides a chef.”
Other pan features
Once you have chosen the material of the pan you want, there are a couple of other things to think about including handle options, pan shapes, and hob types.
One of the most important but often overlooked features when considering a frying pan is the handle. The handle is the interface that allows you to connect with your pan, so you want it to be comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, and, most of all, safe.
Handle quality test
A simple test to gauge the quality of the handle is the “Press Test.” With one hand, hold the pan in place, and then with the other, push down on the handle. If it moves easily or the pan flexes as you push, then this is likely a low-quality pan and it should be avoided. Just be careful not to break the handle off! Use light force.
These handles are very common on higher-end pans, and usually made of stainless steel. They are nice because they are durable and attractive, but metal tends to transfer heat, so depending on how they are made they tend to get hot when you cook for a long period of time. We prefer a long metal handle with a nice flat thumb rest to give us a solid grip on the pan. Usually these handles are riveted to the body of the pan. We prefer strong welds that avoid the interior rivets making for easier clean up, but rivets are more common and are usually very strong.
Most low-cost frying pans have some form of plastic handle, usually made of bakelite, which means they are safe up to a certain temperature, usually around 200 degrees celsius, but you will want to check your pan’s oven limits.
One thing we noticed while testing was that the plastic handles all have a heat shield made of metal at the base of the pan to protect the plastic from coming in direct contact with the pan itself. Be warned that this spot will get very hot when cooking, so you want a handle that will keep your thumb from accidentally slipping and burning. Look for a nice thumb rest to grip while you cook.
These handles are nice because they do not retain heat and are generally comfortable. But, if you plan on keeping your pan for a long time, the plastic can and will break or begin to deteriorate. These are also usually attached to the pan using a weld and screw which can and will loosen over time.
Cast iron pans usually have handles that are a part of the pan. These are non-removable, usually fairly short, and will generally last as long as the pan.
Some steel pan makers and even cast aluminium pans also have handles that are made as a part of the pan itself.
The downside is that they can get hot quickly, and you almost always want to have an oven mitt handy when you are using a pan with these types of handles. They are also generally less comfortable than attached handles.
Some pans, especially cast iron, can be found with wooden handles. These are usually detachable allowing you to put the pan in the oven to cook or season. These are great because they are attractive and transfer no heat at all. One downside is that you may have to detach and reattach them now and then. Most wood handles are round, so they may not fit in the hand as well and will not give a firm a grip. Finally, they may break or deteriorate over time.
Frying pans come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You need to think about what you will be cooking to make the best choice for your kitchen. Another option is to buy purpose-built pans for various cooking tasks, but we would rather have one pan that can do most anything.
Traditional frying pans, also known as skillets, have flared sides and the opening of the pan is wider than the surface. The lower the sides and flatter the angle, the more evaporation will take place while cooking. When searing and frying meat at high temperatures, moisture is the enemy because if it collects in the pan the meat will boil instead of sear and will not capture the flavors of the Maillard reaction.
Cast iron skillets are deeper than traditional fry pans, but they have flared sides and are generally good for searing meats at high temperatures. The deeper sides mean they are more versatile.
Sauté pans have sides that are straight up and down so the opening of the pan is the same width as the surface. These pans usually come with lids and are great for making sauces and dishes with liquid bases. They do not allow for as much evaporation
Woks are round-bottomed deep pans designed for flash frying food over extremely high heat. A true, traditional wok will have a round bottom that only works on a special wok hob with a very high flame. Many pan companies have adopted the deep sides with rounded corners and a small surface area to pans with flat bottoms that will work on most hobs.
Carbon steel is the metal of choice for woks. It can withstand very high temperatures, is virtually nonstick and is light enough to be manoeuvrable. You can also buy cast iron woks which are a bit heavier, and nonstick woks which are not engineered to handle the high heat of traditional Asian cooking.
Chef’s pans are between the frying pan and sauté pan. They have high sides that are rounded instead of straight up and down. They usually have a long handle for manoeuvring food on the stove top and can be used for all kinds of cooking tasks. The rounded corners make stirring and flipping food simple.
One feature you want to be aware of is the lip of the pan. A well-designed lip will make pouring liquids from the pan much less of a pain. Stamped aluminium pans have no special lip, so these are the worst for pouring.
Thinner pans, especially stainless steel, may have a lip pressed into them when the pan is made. This is a rolled lip that goes all round the pan. You will also see this feature in cast aluminium pans. It helps liquids pour from the pan without leaving a mess on the sides, and because the lip goes all the way around, you can pour from any direction.
Cast iron pans are often cast with two built-in spouts. These spouts are designed to help funnel liquids as you pour keeping messy drips from the sides of the pan.
Most of these pan types will come in various sizes from around 20-30 cm. Our simple guide is as follows:
- 20 cm: 1-2 people. 2-4 eggs.
- 24-26 cm: 2-3 people. 4-6 eggs.
- 28-30 cm: 4-6 people. 8-12 eggs.
One more thing to consider is what type of hob you have at home.
We found that every type of pan worked well on gas. This is the most versatile heating method because it gives you absolute control over the pan’s temperature. The only thing to be careful of is to make sure that the flame is the right size for the pan. If you put a smaller pan on a large flame, it can wrap around the sides and heat unevenly and even be unsafe. A large pan on a small flame will only heat in the centre and give you uneven results.
Traditional electric hobs with coils are also compatible with every pan type. We found that some pans developed hot spots directly over the coil, so you want to make sure that you heat the pan evenly over medium-low heat and not on high.
Ceramic tops work the same as electric coils with one difference. You have to be careful about sliding heavy, rough pans like cast iron and carbon steel on the surface of the ceramic. Most of these pans come with a warning that they can scratch the surface. And if you accidentally slip and drop a heavy pan, it can shatter the surface. Believe me, I have seen it happen!
Induction is tricky because not all pans work natively on induction hobs. Induction uses magnetic coils to heat the pan and only the pan. If you put a nonferrous material, like aluminium, copper or even stainless steel, on an induction hob, it will not heat up at all. Therefore, these pans will need an additional plate made of a magnetic metal in order to work on induction.
Carbon steel and cast iron work perfectly on induction with no modifications.
We noticed that stainless disc pans were the most unpredictable on our induction hob. They heated unsteadily and tended to get hotter and hotter while other pans remained steady.
Before buying a pan, make sure that it is induction compatible if you have an induction hob at home.
TestHut wishes you the best of luck as you pursue the perfect frying pan! This is an important decision, and we feel confident that you now have all the information you need to take the next steps.
*Please let us know if you have any other questions about choosing the right pan.