On a good frying pan, the handle will give you the right balance between style, durability and safety.
Have you ever wondered what frying pan handles are made of? If so, you aren’t alone; I receive questions from readers on this subject almost every day.
Frying pans come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. There are many features to consider when choosing a pan—and the handle is definitely one of them.
The handles of a frying pan can be plastic or metal. Plastic handles are the cheapest, but also the least practical. They shouldn’t be used in the oven and can melt from the flames on a gas stove. Metal handles are the better choice, as they yield oven- and gas-friendly cookware.
Frying pans made of aluminum, stainless steel, and copper have handles that are usually made of steel. The handles are welded on high-end models, riveted on most, and screwed on the cheapest.
Here’s how they differ:
- Frying pans with welded handles last the longest and are the easiest to clean, as there are no rivets or screws on the interior of the pan. When buying such a pan, make sure it’s made of 304-grade (18/8) stainless steel and has at least three welds on the handle;
- Frying pans with riveted handles are the most common. They offer the best balance between durability and price. However, food debris can stick to the rivets, making them difficult to clean—and rivets made of cheaper metals can wear out and break;
- Frying pans with screw-on handles are the cheapest and should generally be avoided. The screws can quickly corrode, rust, and loosen, making the pan potentially dangerous to use, especially when turning and flipping food or moving the pan from the stove to the oven.
The handles of these pans can made of be bare metal or out of metal coated with bakelite, a type of plastic, or heat-resistant silicone. The cheapest pans and pots have handles made entirely out of plastic.
When in doubt, go for bare metal. Bare-metal handles won’t melt in high heat, making your pans gas stove- and oven-friendly, and will give you a much better grip over the cooking vessel.
Speaking of grip, the shape of the handle is just as important.
For aluminum, stainless steel, and lined copper pans, the handles can be flat and dense, giving you a firm grip, or they can be round and hollow, so that they fit better in your hand.
Experts agree that flat handles are a better choice than their round counterparts, especially if you toss and flip food in your pan often:
A flat handle is thin and sharp, so it’s not the most comfortable thing to hold. But, as Lisa McManus of America’s Test Kitchen puts it, “it literally locks the pan into place in your hand, so it stays put.”
A flat handle “gives you a firm grip and allows the pan to stay firm in your hand without tweaking to the left and right,” Tim Mussig of J.B. Prince Company tells Epicurious.
Bakelite and silicone handles heat more slowly and make holding the pan more comfortable for the home cook, but they aren’t safe for use at temperatures above 400°F in the oven, and the flame on gas ranges can cause them to melt.
In contrast, most frying pans with metal handles are usually oven-safe at temperatures of 500-600°F, turning them into much more versatile cookware for your everyday cooking.
Cast iron skillets and grill pans are single-piece cooking vessels. They’re made by pouring molten iron into sand molds. The mold incorporates the handles so that everything is joined together in one piece.
The handle of cast iron cooking vessels is short and girthy. This makes the vessels themselves harder to lift, but you won’t be tossing food in them anyway, as they’re too heavy for that. For the same reason, there’s an added helper handle on the other side of the skillet.
Also, these handles get incredibly hot, so hot cast iron cookware should always, without exception, be held with the protection of a kitchen towel.
Oven mitts or paper towels?
Some people will advise you to use oven mitts; don’t listen. As Elazar Sontag of Serious Eats explains, kitchen towels are cheaper, easier to clean, and give you a much better grip over cookware than oven mitts do. Basically, they are a no-brainer.
Some cast iron skillets and grill pans are sold with silicone handle holders. These holders slide in and out and supposedly eliminate the need for a kitchen towel.
However, be careful when using a pan with a silicone holder: if the holder slips when you move a full pan, you can easily injure yourself and break your pan into pieces.
Avoid cast-iron cookware with wooden handles, especially when cooking with gas. The wood can splinter or break, greatly shortening the life of a pan that could last a lifetime without it.
You’ve probably noticed that the typical cast iron skillet or grill pan has a large hole at the end of the handle. This hole isn’t only useful for hanging the vessel on the wall, but also serves to diffuse the heat so that the handle doesn’t get hot too quickly.