Sear, sauté, and stir-fry foods like a boss with these skillets. They’re affordable, easy to use, and built to last, even when used over high heat.
No time to read it all? Check out our top picks:
- Best stainless steel: Misen Stainless Skillet
- Best cast iron: Lodge Cast Iron Skillet
- Best carbon steel: Matfer Bourgeat Carbon Steel Pan
Whether it’s searing steak, sautéing mushrooms, or stir-frying frozen vegetables, certain recipes call for relatively high heat.
And for good reason: high heat triggers the Maillard reaction, which gives your food a golden-brown color and imparts it with hundreds of aroma and flavor compounds on the surface that weren’t there before.
You’re here, so you know that you shouldn’t crank up the heat on all cookware.
Not all frying pans can withstand high heat: non-stick frying pans outgas toxic fumes at temperatures above 500°F (260°C), and ceramic pans lose their non-stick properties more quickly when constantly cooked with over high heat.
For best results, you need a stainless steel, cast iron or carbon steel skillet. Each has its pros and cons, and finding a dependable pan can be difficult, especially if you’re ordering online.
To help you out, we spent days researching and picking out our favorite skillets so you don’t have to.
Best Skillets for High-Heat Cooking
All of our picks are compatible with gas, electric, and induction cooktops, and capable of moving freely from stovetop to oven or grill.
Best Stainless Steel: Misen Stainless Skillet
Cheap, sturdy, and roomy, the Misen Stainless Skillet has been our go-to stainless steel pan pick ever since we gave it a test, and for good reason. This workhorse of a cooking vessel is made out of five layers of alternating steel and aluminum for fast heating, long retention, and even distribution.
With its 3.0 mm thick body, this frying pan is heavy in the hand as it should be. It’s maneuverable, but it stays firmly in place while cooking, even when you stir in it. The flat frying surface is perfect for thick-cut steaks with a crispy, browned, and flavorsome crust; the rounded edges for pouring.
The elongated handle rests comfortably in the palm and stays cool for a long time. Your hand stays far away from the high heat of the burner or coils of your stove, even when holding the pan with it. The only downside is that, if you want to put this skillet in the oven, you will need to have room for it.
We stand firmly by our opinion when we say that there is no better frypan on the market at this price. If you are considering stainless steel cookware that can withstand high heat, put the Misen Stainless Steel Skillet at the top of your buying list. (Thank us later.)
Runner-up (pricey pick):
If affordability is not a concern, consider the All-Clad D5 Stainless Steel Fry Pan. A favorite among professional chefs and seasoned cooks, this American-made skillet is the best high-end cooking vessel we’ve cooked with.
Best Cast Iron: Lodge Cast Iron Skillet
Everyone loves Lodge. Chefs and cooks swear by its ability to hold on to heat. Bargain hunters reach for it because it’s built to last, and yet it sells for less than a full tank of gas. Patriots opt for it because it’s manufactured at the American company’s foundry in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee, which it built in 1910 and has kept in operation ever since.
One can hardly talk about Lodge cookware without mentioning the 10.25-inch skillet. For 125 years, this humble and uncomplicated cooking vessel has served the trusty workhorse of generations upon generations of cooks.
Made from a single piece of molten iron, the Lodge cast iron skillet is sturdy, nearly indestructible, and particularly suited for cooking over high heat. When out in the wild, you can even use it to prepare a hearty meal over the campfire.
The pan is convenient, if heavy, to lift and carry around. The support handles gives you a good grip of it with both of your hands—highly convenient when you’re roasting a whole bird or a weighty brisket in the oven. With the spouts, pouring fat from the skillet is a cinch.
Expectedly, Lodge skillets have downsides to them, too. Quite a few owners of new skillets remark that their cooking surface is overly rough. It smooths out over time, especially if you stir your food with a wooden or metal spatula. However, some take the shortcut of sanding them down instead.
The factory pre-seasoning is good, but not great, and it takes two or three weeks of searing steaks, browning bacon, caramelizing onions, and shallow-frying latkes in a generous glug of cooking oil to get it to the desired state.
Still, for a skillet that costs so little and lasts so long, we consider these minor inconveniences, and not deal breakers.
Runner-up (smooth-surface pick):
Looking for a cast iron skillet that’s smooth to the touch? Look for further than the Stargazer Cast Iron Skillet. You can orders yours bare or hand-seasoned with two coats of canola, grapeseed, and sunflower oil blend.
Best Carbon Steel: Matfer Bourgeat Carbon Steel Fry Pan
Carbon steel and cast iron are similar, and yet different. Carbon steel is made out of 99% iron and 1% carbon, whereas cast iron comprises 97-98% iron and 2-3% carbon. This small distinction makes all the difference in the world.
Carbon has the tendency to clump into carbides—bulky blocks of carbon bonded to iron that make your cookware rough and brittle. Since carbon steel has less of them compared to cast iron, it’s more pliable, lightweight, and stronger.
It’s also easier to season. Both cast iron and carbon steel need to be seasoned for protection against corrosion and rust, but the latter is easier to season. All it takes to season a cast iron pan is to give it a good soap down and caramelize a few onions in plenty of cooking oil with it.
This carbon steel fry pan, made in southeastern France by the 200-year, and family ran company Matfer Bourgeat, has everything you need in this type of cookware, and nothing that you don’t.
The slick surface gives you enough room to sear a steak, fry chops, or cook chicken comfortably and without spillage. The sloped walls make tossing and flipping foods easy, even when you’re in a rush. And the ergonomically-angled handle is welded to the body. Without rivets, clean-up is as easy as one, two, three.
A roomy, versatile, well-constructed cooking vessel that doesn’t cost all that much and that’s meant to last you a lifetime.
Runner-up (economical pick):
The is priced low and rated high. Just like our top pick, it heats evenly and holds on to heat well. The key difference is that the handle is riveted, and not welded, onto the body.
How to Decide Which One to Buy
If you have a dishwasher and are looking for a frying pan that you can safely clean in it, you should choose stainless steel—the only type of cookware on our list that’s generally dishwasher safe.
Stainless steel is a great pick provided you can stomach the fact that it’s incredibly sticky. You have to cook with plenty of fat, butter, or cooking oil to keep cuts of meat and scrambled eggs from getting stuck.
Suppose you don’t mind cleaning your frying pan by hand, and you’re looking for one that food won’t stick to. In such a case, you should go for cast iron or carbon steel.
The straight sides of a cast iron skillet make it well suited for baking cornbread and preparing roasts; it doubles up as excellent bakeware. The compact shape and lighter weight of a carbon steel pan makes it easier for stovetop cooking.
An important consideration is the type of food you cook. If you frequently make recipes containing tomatoes, vinegar, and wine, your best bet is stainless steel, as it is least reactive to the acid in your food of all other picks on our list.
The fact of the matter is that cast iron and carbon steel pans don’t get along well with acidic foods. The acidity strips away the seasoning and reacts with the metal, causing it to leach dietary iron into your food and imparting it with a strong metallic aftertaste.
Stainless steel and carbon steel are better choices for those of you who cook on a glass-ceramic cooktop, whether it’s powered by radiant heating panels or induction coils. Cast iron’s rough and porous underside can scratch your cooktop’s surface badly and beyond salvation.
How Much Does the Make and Model Matter?
We rarely recommend cookware that we don’t own or haven’t tested ourselves.
If we do recommend it, it’s because a professional chef recommended it to us or one of you wrote to tell us about your purchase, and we took the time to research and verify that most other customers feel the same way.
If there is one cooking vessel worth spending money on, it is the frying pan:
The difference between a pan that’s built to last and one that’s meant to look good can be as big as night and day, and you will notice it almost as soon as you get cooking.
A well-built pan feels balanced in its weight and doesn’t feel awkward when you’re tossing foods in it or carrying it from stovetop to oven.
The body is thick so it won’t warp easily, and the construction is sturdy, without flimsiness in the handle. The materials are of high quality all around so that they won’t corrode, rust, or discolor with everyday use.
Over the years, readers have occasionally written to us to thank us for our recommendations. Others told horror stories of falling for suspiciously cheap cookware of unknown brands and having to deal with dented, warped, and rusting pans that failed them in the midst of cooking.
When it comes to cookware, we adhere to the saying to “buy it nice, or buy it twice.” This comes from experience we have gained through much trial and error, and an attitude that we wholeheartedly share with our reader base.