We are reader-supported. If you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.

How to Choose the Best Frying Pan

Frying pans: which one is best for you?

When selecting a frying pan, you’re faced with two fundamental choices:

  1. What size frying pan to buy?
  2. Which material is the best one for you?

By the time you’re done reading this post, I’m going to make these choices easier for you.

I’ll also share my best frying pan picks. Some of them I cook with daily in my kitchen. Others, I’ve tested for reviews on this blog or cooked with over at friends’ summer houses.

Things to Consider

What Range Do You Cook With?

As most of you probably know by now, not all frying pans are made equal. To select the right one for your needs, start with your stove.

Gas and electric coil ranges conduct heat somewhat unevenly. So, if you have one in your kitchen, go for a frying pan that’s heavy on the wrist and comes with a thick bottom (think cast iron iron or clad stainless steel) as they’re significantly better at distributing heat than their thinner counterparts (non-stick, ceramic).

Induction ranges only work with ferromagnetic cookware—the kind that contains iron in an amount high enough, a magnet will stick to it. If you cook on induction at home, look for the terms “induction-compatible” or “induction-friendly” before buying a cooking vessel.

What Kind of Foods Do You Cook the Most?

Delicate and tender foods like eggs, fish fillet, and pancakes are prone to sticking. When they stick, it becomes almost impossible for you not to mangle them, even if you have the right spatula at hand.

So if that’s what you cook the most, think about getting a non-stick frying pan, or ceramic, or a cast iron skillet. The former comes with a slick surface by design, the latter needs to be seasoned before the first use, which gives it non-stick properties.

Steak, sausage, and burger patties should be well-browned, which requires a thick-bottom skillet that heats evenly and radiates that heat well. If you’re a carnivore, chances are that cast iron, its lighter cousin carbon steel, or its distant and shiny (albeit sticky) relative stainless steel are some of your best choices.

If you cook veggies, the chances are you either sauté or stir-fry them.

Sautéing is a technique for briefly cooking foods over medium high heat, in a small amount of oil or butter. Typically, it requires you to toss the food in the pan, so look for a light aluminum (cheaper and gets the job done) or copper (expensive and gives you superior control over cooking temperature) pan for the job.

Stir-frying requires a wok, and the best wok pans are made of carbon steel.

How Many People Do You Cook For?

Frying pans tend to come in one of three sizes: 8″, 10″, and 12″.

How do you know which size is the right one for you? An excellent place to start is to think about the number of people you cook for daily.

Pans with a diameter of 8″ are ideal for those who cook primarily for themselves, and don’t invite family or friends over all that often. Most households of two cook with 10″ pans, whereas families of three or more need the extra space that only a 12″ pan can offer.

Unless you’re cooking for a crowd, don’t rush to get a 14″ pan. They’re bigger in diameter than the largest burners on some stovetops and are prone to having cold spots, which can lead to food sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan or cooking unevenly.

I’ve written extensively on the topic in a post titled, “What Skillet Size Is Right for Me?” When in doubt, head on over and use it as a guide.

What Is the Best Type of Frying Pan?

Go to the department store, and you’ll see that there are five types of frying pans on the shelves: non-stick, stainless steel, carbon steel, cast iron, and copper.

The best frying pan is one that works with your stove, gives you plenty of surface for your daily cooking, is comfortable for you to carry and handle, and comes from a cookware maker that you can trust.

Non-stick and stainless steel pans are great choices for newbies and professional chefs alike. The slippery surface of non-stick makes them ideal for cooking “stickier” foods like eggs and pancakes. Food sticks to stainless steel, but that can also be an advantage; you can brown meats and veggies perfectly and make delicious pan sauces.

Cast iron skillets and their lighterweight counterparts made of carbon steel are great for searing red meat and poultry at high heat or making pizza in the oven. But they need to be seasoned a few times per year, and cooking highly acidic foods (wine, vinegar, tomato, lemon sauces) with them can wear that seasoning off quickly.

Copper pans are like the sports cars of cookware; they’re not for everyone. Dense and heavy, cookware made of copper heats up surprisingly evenly and gives you the best control over temperature. You can cook hash browns on the sides of the pan, and it will come out just as well-browned as if you made them in the pan’s center.

Non-Stick (PTFE & Ceramic) Frying Pans

PTFE (left) and ceramic (right) frying pans

Non-stick frying pans are made of an aluminum or stainless steel base coated with a slippery surface, which keeps food from sticking to the bottom and sides. They’re great for cooking more delicate foods like eggs, fish, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pancakes.

Non-stick frying pans have two types of coatings: polytetrafluoroethylene, abbreviated PTFE, and ceramic.

Are you confused about the difference between PTFE and Teflon? You’re not alone.

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is the name of the chemical compound used to make non-stick coatings, and “Teflon” is the brand of DuPont, the company that invented it.

Since PTFE pans are not dishwasher-safe, they should only be cleaned by hand.

Ceramic cookware brands say that their pans can be cleaned in the dishwasher but advise you to do so mainly by hand. The harshness of dishwater detergent, it turns out, can wear off its non-stick coating pretty quickly.

When buying non-stick, look for a pan from a reputable brand with a heavy aluminum base, so that it heats up evenly. Whether the non-stick coating is PTFE or ceramic is a personal preference (I’ve outlined the ups and downs of each below).

If you plan to use your pan in the oven, look for one with a metal handle. Wood, plastic, and silicone are the most common materials for handles on non-stick pan, but they can sustain damage easily in the high heat of your oven.

In recent years, there have been growing health concerns about PTFE coatings’ safety, which has caused some consumers to seek alternatives. Ceramic cookware marketers are quick to position their products as a “natural” alternative to PTFE. Still, their claims are not backed by research.

While it’s true that ceramic is made of clay, stone, and earthen elements applied onto metal cookware using sol-gel technology, their non-stick coating is actually made of silicone oil. In case you’re wondering, silicone oil is also added to industrial lubricants and hydraulic fluid.

Small amounts of silicone oil get released every time you cook with the pan, until the slippery coating eventually wears off.

From that moment on, you can safely keep on using your ceramic pan, but you’ll have to use cooking oil or fat every single time, as it will no longer have non-stick properties. For some, this kind of defies the purpose of buying non-stick pans in the first place (and I don’t blame them).

Which non-stick coating is better; PTFE or ceramic?

Non-stick was invented in 1938 when a scientist working at an American company discovered it by accident while working on refrigerant liquid. Its first uses were for the U.S. Military, in coating the insides of military aircraft and tank engines.

Ceramic cookware is a more recent invention that came about in the late 2000s. The jury’s out on its superiority to PTFE or its safety in comparison to it. The consensus among cookware geeks is that ceramic coatings are the newer (and probably) safer alternative to PTFE.

Still, these concerns are not shared by everyone. In 2018, 70% of all frying pans sold in the United States had a non-stick coating. As with many other things, it’s best to do your due diligence—and decide whether or not to use it for yourself.

What You Need to Know About Cooking With Non-Stick

PTFE Frying PansCeramic Frying Pans
Best forDelicate foods like eggs, fish, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pancakes.Delicate foods like eggs, fish, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pancakes.
Price rangeModerateModerate
Oven-safeGenerally notGenerally not
Dishwasher-safeNoYes. But most cookware companies advise to clean ceramic pans mostly by hand.
Induction-compatibleGenerally not. However, some higher-end models will have a ferromagnetic base that makes them induction-friendly.
To confirm if a particular pan is induction compatible or not, look for the product specifications for the specific brand, model, and size.
Generally not. However, some higher-end models will have a ferromagnetic base that makes them induction-friendly.
To confirm if a particular pan is induction compatible or not, look for the product specifications for the specific brand, model, and size.
LifespanMost PTFE coatings typically peel off after 2-3 years. When that happens, you should replace the pan immediately.The non-stick coating wears off after 100 uses. You can keep cooking with the pan for 2-3 years after, but you’ll need to use oil or fat.
Non-stick cookware factsheet

My Non-Stick Frying Pan Pick

I’m not a fan of non-stick pans and I don’t cook with one at home. But I’ve tested this one over at a friend’s house and it’s as good as this type of cookware gets. It comes in three sizes, 8″, 10″, and 12″, and seven color variants to suit the taste even for the pickiest of home cooks.

It has a German-made ceramic coating from ground stone and has a scratch-resistant coating that’s easy to clean. The interior is made of aluminium with a magnetized base that makes it induction-friendly. All in all, you get good quality and excellent value with Stone Earth pans.

Stainless Steel Frying Pans

Stainless steel pan

Stainless steel frying pans are made of food-grade steel that contains chromium and nickel, which protect it from rust. They’re perfect for searing steaks, sautéing vegetables, and making the most decadent and delicious pan sauces you could think of.

The big drawback of stainless steel is that foods high in protein and low in fat, such as eggs and fish, are generally prone to sticking to it. But you can counter this by preheating your pan for 2-3 minutes before using it and always preparing your food with enough cooking oil or fat.

There’s a reason why many professional chefs and seasoned home cooks have stainless steel cookware in their kitchens.

This type of pans and pots have a cooking surface made of bare metal, which makes them ridiculously easy to use and a walk in the park to take care of. You can cook with them on your stovetop, transfer them to the oven, and even use them on the outside grill. With no non-stick coating or natural seasoning to worry about, stainless steel pans are also dishwasher-safe.

The downside, you may ask? Research has shown that stainless steel can leach nickel and chromium into your food.

As a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry put it, “stainless steel cookware is an under-recognized source which can potentially contribute to overall nickel and chromium consumption.”

Some, me included, find this acceptable. I do 90% of my cooking in stainless steel and, when I’m craving steak or salmon fillet browned to perfection, I use my trusty ol’ cast iron skillet.

Though they won’t set you back as much as copper cookware (see below), good stainless steel pans can be somewhat expensive. The price usually depends on two things:

  1. Where the frying pan is made
  2. Whether it’s made of 100% stainless steel or clad around another metal

Since they’re made by some of the oldest cookware companies on earth, European pans are the most expensive. American cookware is just as good and tends to come in the mid-high range.

Pans and pots made in Asian countries are always the cheapest. But many brands that sub-contract to third-party manufacturers there tend to lack consistency and have quality control issues. Read the warranty carefully before buying. Otherwise, you may have to buy it twice.

My 2¢?

You can hardly go wrong if you buy French, Dutch, German, or American stainless steel cookware.

I cook with All-Clad (made in the USA; my special occasion pan), BEKA (made in the Netherlands; my daily pan), and Lodge (made in the USA; my cast iron skillet).

And I’ve had to throw away plenty of peeling pans or warped skillets made elsewhere over the years, so I’m telling you this out of personal experience.

When it comes to pure vs. clad stainless steel, here’s everything you need to know.

Pans made from 100% stainless steel are the most affordable. However, stainless steel isn’t a good conductor of heat. So they don’t heat up well and are prone to having cold spots. They’re also not induction-friendly, as stainless steel isn’t ferromagnetic (it doesn’t contain much iron).

This is the reason why most manufacturers make clad pans. Most clad pans are made of two layers of stainless steel, wrapped around a magnetized aluminum or copper core. They’re often referred to as “tri-ply,” as it takes three plies of metal to produce them.

Tri-ply gives you the best price/quality ratio. Some higher-end brands will make five-ply, even seven-ply pans, but they are very expensive and you won’t notice that big of a difference.

As a home cook, you’ll end up spending a lot of money on cookware, yet probably won’t notice much of a difference by using them once or twice a day in your home kitchen.

What You Need to Know About Cooking With Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel Frying Pans
Varieties100% stainless steel and clad steel (tri-ply, five-ply, or seven-ply)
Best forSearing meat, sautéing vegetables, and making pan sauces (by deglazing the pan).
Price rangeHigh
Oven-safeYes, typically up to 500°F on lower-end and 600°F on higher-end models.
Induction-compatible100% stainless steel cookware is not induction compatible. However, clad stainless steel cookware typically is.
To confirm if a particular pan is induction compatible or not, look for the product specifications for the specific brand, model, and size.
LifespanStainless steel cookware can last you a lifetime.
Stainless steel cookware factsheet

My Stainless Steel Frying Pan Pick

Stainless steel pans don’t get much better than All-Clad. Equally beloved among chefs and home cooks, All-Clad is an American cookware company founded in 1971 that makes 100% of its all-clad pans in the small town of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

This is their staple frying pan from the D3 series, which means it has a construction of two stainless steel sheets fully clad around an aluminum core. The aluminum makes the pan much more responsive to heat compared to its 100% stainless steel counterparts.

It’s oven- and broiler-safe up to 600°F and, thanks to the magnetized base, induction-friendly. As any piece of stainless steel cookware, you can clean it in the dishwasher after each use and not have to worry about its longevity.

Carbon Steel Skillets

Carbon steel skillet

Carbon steel pans are made of food-grade steel with a high concentration of carbon. Most types of steel have a carbon content of 0.05%-0.3%. Carbon steel, on the other hand, can have a carbon content of up to 2.5%.

Carbon steel heats up quickly and can hold on to heat relatively well. But, like cast iron, it catches rust and reacts with acidic foods, so it needs to be seasoned (see “seasoning your carbon steel or cast iron skillet” below) to avoid corrosion.

Seasoned carbon steel skillets and woks have a natural non-stick surface. They’re also tough enough to go in your oven, including at the highest temperatures. Since steel has a very high melting point, it’s practically impossible to overheat a good carbon steel pan in your oven.

Compared to cast iron, carbon steel is lighter. Those of you who want a lightweight pan that’s as good as cast iron in retaining heat should definitely consider carbon steel cookware.

This type of pan should only be cleaned by hand, ideally with a soapy rag or with as little running water as possible. When seasoned well, its surface is very slick, which makes cleaning easy. Don’t soak it in water for long periods and never put it in the dishwasher—or it will catch rust.

Like cast iron and copper cookware, rusty carbon steel skillets can be restored. In fact, some folks have a hobby of restoring long-forgotten cookware to perfection in their garages (and make a pretty penny off of it).

What You Need to Know About Cooking With Carbon Steel

Carbon Steel Skillets
Best forSearing meat and sautéing vegetables
Price rangeCheap
Non-stickYes, when seasoned.
Oven-safeYes (typically up to 900°F).
Induction-compatibleYes, carbon steel is ferromagnetic and therefore induction compatible.
LifespanCarbon steel cookware can last you a lifetime.
Carbon steel cookware factsheet

My Carbon Steel Skillet Pick

Established in 1873 and located in Drensteinfurt, Germany, Merten & Storck is a German cookware company that makes pre-seasoned carbon steel pans and Dutch ovens. This is their signature carbon steel frying pan that comes in three sizes: 8″, 10″, and 12″.

It’s pre-seasoned and ready to use. As you cook more and more with it, it develops a natural patina that acts as a non-stick surface. This model is oven-safe up to 600°F, a temperature high enough for baking the most amazing pan pizza.

It works on all cooktops, including induction, and you can use it on the outside grill or over a campfire.

Cast Iron Skillets

Cast iron skillet

Cast iron skillets are heavy and heat up slowly. But once you’ve brought them up to heat, they’ll hold on to it well. This is what makes them excellent for browning steak, pork chops, and poultry.

This type of cookware is virtually indestructible. Sear with it on your cooktop, bake with it in the oven, make beer brats on the outside grill with it, or take it camping with you and cook over a campfire—so sturdy and rigid, it won’t bend or warp in any way.

It’s dirt cheap. Seriously, few bargains out there can top that of a cast iron skillet. And, even though it won’t break the bank, it can last you for a lifetime.

In some families, cast iron cookware has turned into a functional family relic that’s handed down from one generation to the next.

Since cast iron skillets are made of bare metal, they’re prone to rust. This is why, like carbon steel skillets, they need to be seasoned every now and then. Seasoning gives the metal a protective coating and creates a naturally non-stick surface for you to cook food in.

If you cook acidic foods, like wine-, tomato-, and vinegar-based sauces often, don’t buy carbon steel or cast iron. Simmering acidic foods can wear off their seasoning as fast as in one use. 

Stainless steel, ceramic, or PTFE pans are probably a much better choice for you—unless you buy your cast iron cookware enameled.

Enameled cast iron is a lesser-known, higher-end variety of cast iron coated with vitreous enamel (glass particles fused onto the iron at an extremely high temperature).

The secret benefit of enameled cast iron cookware is that it’s naturally non-stick, and it doesn’t require any seasoning whatsoever. That’s right; you can cook acidic foods with it and put it in the dishwasher.

In a way, you get the benefits of cast iron combined with the care-free maintenance of stainless steel.

But some cooks genuinely like to care for their cast iron pans and Dutch ovens. Once you get the hang of it, seasoning a skillet isn’t that daunting.

Seasoning Your Carbon Steel or Cast Iron Skillet

For one reason or another, people get easily intimidated by the idea of having to season their carbon steel or cast iron cookware. In reality, this is a process that only takes a few steps. With enough care and attention from your side in your day-to-day cooking, it only needs to be done a couple of times a year.

To season your carbon steel or cast iron skillet:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F
  2. Clean it by hand with soapy water
  3. Pat it dry completely with a paper towel
  4. Coat the bottom and sides with cooking oil
  5. Place it upside-down in the oven and bake it for an hour

Use a cooking oil with a high smoke point, like avocado oil or rice bran oil. As soon as your pan has cooled down, it’s seasoned and ready to cook with for at least a few months.

What You Need to Know About Cooking With Cast Iron

Cast Iron Skillets
VarietiesCast iron, enameled cast iron
Best forSearing meat, sautéing vegetables, baking and braising goods, cooking over the grill or campfire
Price rangeCheap
Non-stickYes, when seasoned.
Oven-safeYes (typically up to 900°F).
Induction-compatibleYes, cast iron is ferromagnetic and therefore induction compatible.
LifespanCast iron cookware can last you a lifetime and be handed down for generations.
Cast iron cookware factsheet

My Cast Iron & Enameled Cast Iron Picks

Since some of you will be looking for a cast iron pick and others for enameled cast iron, I’m simply going to recommend two of my favorite skillets to you: one American, one European.

If you’re looking for a cheap and sturdy cast iron skillet, look no further than those made by Lodge. A fifth-generation family company, Lodge has been making cast iron cookware in its foundry in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, since 1986.

This pan comes pre-seasoned with vegetable oil and ready to use. Simply remove the yellow care instructions, turn the heat up on your stove, and get cooking. Be sure to get a silicone handle holder or cook with a kitchen towel by your side; the handles get scorching hot.

If you want the advantages of cast iron cooking and none of the drawbacks, it will come more expensive. Those of you willing to pay the price of enameled cast iron cookware should definitely consider Le Creuset’s Enameled 10.25″ cast iron skillet.

It’s 15.4″ in length, 12.9″ in width, and 2.6″ in height, and weighs 5.4 lb. Made in France by Le Creuset, a cookware maker from Fresnoy-le-Grand, France known for its colorful and long-lasing enameled cast iron pans, pots, and French ovens.

Copper Frying Pans

Copper frying pan

Copper pans are made of copper, a metal that’s capable of heating up really quickly and evenly. 

The precise control over cooking temperature that copper pans give you makes them perfect for making sauces and risottos, where always cooking with the right level of heat can be essential.

If carbon steel and cast iron are the cheap and sturdy workhorses of a kitchen, copper is the expensive and capricious sports car. New copper pans and pots typically retail for hundreds of dollars a piece, and old sets have the tendency to turn into rare and pricey collectibles.

One thing you need to know about copper pans is that they’re highly reactive with acidic foods. Simmer wine, vinegar, tomato, and lemon sauces often and long enough, and they’ll easily leach a toxic amount of the metal into your food.

This is the reason why the bottom and sides of most copper pans are traditionally lined with tin and, more recently, stainless steel. Eventually, the lining wears off, and you’ll have to have them retinned (at home or, preferably, by a cookware specialist).

Copper is a dense and heavy metal, which is why it’s not the best material for sauté pans and woks. Most copper pans are skillets and saucepans. A relatively thin 10″ pan can weigh as much as 2.5 lb.

What You Need to Know About Cooking With Copper

Copper pans
VarietiesTine lined and stainless steel lined
Best forSearing meat, sautéing vegetables, making pan sauces, risottos, and jam.
Price rangeVery expensive
Oven-safeYes, typically up to 500°F.
Dishwasher-safeGenerally not
Induction-compatibleGenerally not. Some newer and more modern copper pans have a magnetized iron base that makes them induction-friendly, but most don’t.
LifespanCopper cookware can last you a lifetime and be handed down for generations.
Copper cookware factsheet

My Copper Frying Pan Pick

No other cookware company can make pans as good as Mauviel’s. A French family-run business in the Normandy town of Villedieu-les-Poeles, Mauviel has been making copper cookware since 1830.

This Mauviel M’Heritage M250C frying pan is made of 100% copper 2.5 mm thick and 10.2″ in diameter. It’s lined with a thin layer of stainless steel and comes with a black stainless steel handle that stays cool as you heat the rest of the pan.

You can use this frying pan on all cooking surfaces apart from induction cooktops (you could, but you’d need a special cast iron plate in-between the pan and the cooktop, which kind of defies the purpose of having one or the other in your home kitchen).

The Bottom Line

Choosing cookware is as personal as selecting what clothes to wear or which car to buy. Everyone has an opinion on it, and there’s no right or wrong answers.

What kind of frying pan did you end up choosing? Which brand and model did you get—and why? And how satisfied are you with your choice? Share your experience with me and the rest of this post’s readers by leaving a comment in the form below.


Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *