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The Worst Type of Frying Pan

A reader recently asked, “What’s the worst type of frying pan?” That’s such a good question!

We often talk about the best pans and pots out there and which we should use for what… but it’s just as important to address the products that are not worth our time and money.

The worst type of frying pan is made from cheap metal, and it’s so thin and poorly engineered that it won’t conduct heat well and is prone to warping.

You know what I’m talking about:

The type of pan that sells so cheap, it seems too good to be true, especially when at a discount.

The type of pan that feels too light on your wrist because it’s made from metal that’s too thin and the handle’s cheap.

The type of pan that, after a few uses, will warp on your stove, and you’ll have a hard time getting the terms and conditions of the warranty to work in your favor.

Unfortunately, way too many of the cooking vessels out there fit that description. The days of artistry and craftsmanship are long gone, with almost every cookware company outsourcing its manufacturing (and, as of late, design and engineering) to Chinese subcontractors.

Pressured by the lower prices of their competitors, even some of the oldest companies in America and Europe have started to give in to the trend—and consumers like you and me are feeling it.

Pick any random piece of cookware made by a brand that’s been around for a while and look at the most recent reviews. I guarantee you’ll see too many long-time customers complaining that the product quality’s gone down.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to tell you that you should go for the most expensive cookware set that you can find.

There are still a few cast-iron skillet manufacturers in the U.S., for example, and their products don’t necessarily have the highest price tags. And Tefal (or T-fal), who invented the Teflon-coated frying pan, continues to make fantastic pans and pots.

So there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel. And, when it comes to cookware, 99.9% of the time, the smarter thing to do is “buy it nice or buy it twice.”

At the same time, the worst type of frying pan is one which you paid a lot of money for yet, for one reason or another, you wound up not using.

I’m serious.

A year ago, a friend bought an expensive (and excellent) Finex cast-iron skillet only to learn, to his great disappointment, that using it would scratch his glass cooktop.

Another inherited the most incredible tinned copper cooking vessels from her late grandmother. Unfortunately, she discovered over the course of time that she wasn’t as keen on cooking with and caring for them. Now, they’re collecting dust in her cabinets.

In other words, choose wisely. An expensive piece of cookware can be just as useless as a cheap one if you pick it wrong. While I’ve written a fair share of guides on the topic, a good place to start is “All the Basic Cookware You Need.”

As a general rule of thumb, a frying pan should be (1) fit for purpose and (2) fit for use.

“Fit for purpose” means it’s compatible with your stove, addresses your cooking needs, and doesn’t require more maintenance from you than you’re willing to put in.

For example, not all cooking vessels are compatible with induction cooktops. Cooking eggs in a non-stick pan is a different experience than searing steak in stainless steel. And cast iron must only be cleaned by hand, with soapy water (lazy-cleaning in the dishwasher is a no-no).

“Fit for use” means it’s in a shape that makes it usable. Suppose that, four or five years ago, you bought the most expensive non-stick pan on the market. That won’t stop the coating from wearing off and eventually starting to peel.

When that happens, your non-stick pan is no longer fit for use. You should throw it away immediately and buy a replacement.

So that’s that, folks. The worst frying pan is one that you don’t use, no matter how much you paid for it.

To use freely, choose wisely.

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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.