As important as a well-tested recipe, the right skillet can make all the difference between a crispy, pan-fried piece of fish and a soggy mess.
Picking the perfect frying pan should be easy, right? You may think all you need is a skillet for making eggs and bacon and a soup pot for heating soup and boiling pasta. However, if you have been wondering what's the best type of skillet, and what's the difference between a stock pot and a Dutch oven (it has been keeping you up at night, right?), keep reading for a quick review of the various pots and pans you need in the kitchen, and the different materials they are made from. Don’t worry—you really don’t need dozens of pots and pans to be a good cook—just the right one.
Best for making pancakes, eggs, crepes, vegetables, delicate foods. It is ideal for flipping things, like pancakes, or redistributing vegetables while they're cooking.
Best pan-frying and searing meats, deglazing cooking liquids for a pan sauce. Cooking oil won’t splatter or slosh out of the sides.
Best for boiling pasta, making stocks, blanching vegetables. The tall sides of the stock pot keep boiling water from bubbling out, and give you enough room for large meat and poultry bones when making stock.
Best for low and slow braises, pot roasts, soups and stews. Squat and either round or oval, a dutch oven can hold the heat and is better for one-pot cooking than a lightweight saucepan.
Best for puddings, custards, and sauces, combining flavors while retaining moisture. With a single handle and a heavy bottom, a good saucepan is ideal when you need to blend and stir for long minutes at time.
Once you've got the right pan nailed down, make sure it is made of the right material to get the job done.
Holds heat extremely well. When taken care of, it is virtually indestructible and will last for generations. Cast iron straight-sided skillets and Dutch ovens are popular for frying, sautéing, and baking.
Sturdy, durable, and versatile. Stainless steel is ideal for frying or searing, making gravies and pan sauces. If you want to invest in just one quality pan, let it be a multi-tasking 12-inch stainless-steel skillet.
Food doesn’t stick, so you can use less oil when cooking. Use nonstick-safe utensils, such as a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, so you won’t damage the nonstick surface. Do not use a nonstick skillet over extreme high heat, as some of the coating may break down and release potentially harmful fumes.
Cast iron or steel that's coated with enamel; must be cleaned with nonabrasive cleansers so enamel doesn't scratch or chip.
Manufacturers will sandwich good conductors, like aluminum or copper, with stainless steel.
A few other items to consider when buying a pan: You don’t want a light and flimsy pan. If the metal is too thin, there is a chance for hot spots and warping over time. But you don’t want the pan to be so heavy you can’t lift it when it is filled with food. The pan and handles should be oven safe and, lastly, the handles should be comfortable in your hand.