Pick a Pan
A great skillet is an indispensable piece of cookware. Choosing the right one is a highly personal process though. You don't need to shop expensively for a skillet that performs well, but quality definitely pays off in the long run. Here are some things our Foods staff recommends you look for when shopping, along with a few of our favorite selections. Cookware often goes on sale in April, so if you got a gift certificate for Christmas, you may want to hang onto it until spring.
The best stainless steel skillets have a heavy bottom with a layer of aluminum and/or copper for good heat distribution. Cuisinart, Emerilware, and most of the professional-quality pans offer this feature. Executive Foods Editor Scott Jones favors All-Clad's 10-inch skillet. "It's more expensive but worth every penny," he avows. Associate Foods Editor Mary Allen Perry finds that Martha Stewart's Tri-Ply offers good value for the money.
Opinions vary among the Foods staff regarding nonstick skillets, though we agree they provide good browning with very little oil. Most like a heavy skillet with a nonstick lining, but others of us find a light, inexpensive pan to be a good choice. Test Kitchens Professional Vanessa McNeil Rocchio says, "Every three years or so I buy a cheap nonstick to use for eggs." So do I. I like the discount store-quality skillets because they heat up quickly. They're good for browning items that cook fast such as crab cakes or fish fillets.
Infused Anodized Aluminum Pan
Test Kitchens Professional Norman King swears by Calphalon's infused anodized aluminum pan for beautiful browning. "There's not a better pan for searing meat," he says. "And the stay-cool handle is a nice addition." These pans are oven- and broiler-safe, letting you brown the meat on the cooktop and finish it in the oven.
Cast Iron Skillet
Cast iron still reigns supreme for certain tasks such as making roux, frying, and baking cornbread. It's inexpensive and virtually indestructible as well. Enameled cast iron offers some advantages over the original. It's great for braised meats and stove-top casseroles, which require browning and then longer cooking. Because it's enameled, the iron doesn't react with tomatoes and other acid ingredients and offers even cooking on the cooktop and in the oven.
"Skillet Suppers" is from the February 2008 issue of Southern Living.