Whenever I want to change or upgrade my cookware, I remind myself of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. One skillet seems too small. The other too big. Until you get to one that looks just right—and you hope you got it right, because buying good cookware is an investment.
As a food blogger, I’ve bought a fair share of skillets in my cooking experience and done my fair share of research about them. And, if there’s one thing I’ve seen, it’s that a lot of home cooks out there are wondering about what size skillet is best for them to buy.
This is why I decided to write this post and share everything I’ve concluded about the three most common skillet sizes—8, 10, and 12 inches—to date. If, as you read my guide, you found it useful, or have tips and experiences of your own to share, hit me up with a comment below.
Choose a Skillet Size Based on the Food You Cook
Skillets with a diameter of 10″ to 12″ provide you with enough cooking surface for most of your home cooking needs, on the stovetop and in the oven. As a rule of thumb, 10″ skillets are best for households of two and 12″ skillets for families of three or more.
Yet most home cooks, as I’m going to show you later on in this post, prefer the extra space and unrivaled versatility of 12-inch skillets—no matter if they live by themselves, are part of a two-person household, or cook for 3+ family members on a daily basis.
Here’s how an 8″, 10″, and 12″ frying pan compare in terms of the foods that you can comfortably cook in them:
By “cooking comfortably,” I mean having enough cooking surface in your pan to move your food around. Like pan-frying salmon without needing to slice the filet in two, so that it fits in the frying pan. Or stirring pasta sauce without worrying if some tomato chunks will spill over or not because the skillet is too small.
Too much cooking surface can also be a bad thing. This is why I don’t talk about 14″ skillets all that much. They’re too wide for most stovetops, which means they heat up too much in the center and too little on the periphery. This can cause your food to stuck, burn, or require too much maneuvering in the pan to cook thoroughly.
Okay, I promise, enough chit-chat from me on the topic. Let’s take a look at what kind of meals you can cook up in an 8-, 10-, and 12-inch skillet, so that you can make a better-informed decision on which one is truly right for you.
On average, an 8-inch skillet weighs 1-3 pounds and has dimensions of approx. 13x9x2 inches. Weight and dimensions vary with the manufacturer, material, and model of the pan.
An 8″ skillet gives you just the right amount of space for frying up an egg, preparing an omelet, and searing a small steak or salmon fillet. You can also use it to sauté veg for a side dish.
Don’t overlook the smallest skillet in the set, Sr. Food Editor Anna Stockwell says at Epicurious. It’s great for making omelets, tortilla bread, and smaller versions of your favorite desserts.
Personally, I like 8-inch skillets and I think they should have a place in every home kitchen. They heat up quickly and evenly. And they’re ridiculously easy to clean.
But that place shouldn’t be as your primary frying pan. The diameter is simply too small to accommodate most of your cooking, no matter what cuisines you cook or diet you follow.
The average 10-inch skillet weighs 4-6 pounds and has dimensions of approx. 16x10x2 inches. Weight and dimensions vary with the manufacturer, material, and model of the pan.
A 10″ skillet is often used for frying 2-3 eggs, making sauces from canned tomatoes, searing one normal-sized salmon fillet, and comfortably sautéing a whole pack of frozen veggies.
10 inches is a good diameter for a pan, but it’s still a little snug. For example, just enough to cook up pasta sauce with a can of San Marzano tomatoes without the sauce overflowing. But it is a close call.
I do 90% of my home cooking on a set of 10-inch frying pans; one from cast iron (mainly for searing meat and baking chili) and another from stainless steel (for most of my day-to-day cooking, especially for acidic foods).
The reason why is pretty simple: it challenges me to cook food in smaller portions. That way, we end up eating less (and staying healthier) and rarely have leftovers. But, as I’m going to show you further down in this post, the choice between 10″ and 12″ is a pretty personal one. And most home cooks choose the latter.
On average, a 12-inch skillet weighs 7-9 pounds and has dimensions of approx. 18x13x2.5 inches. Weight and dimensions vary with the manufacturer, material, and model of the pan.
A 12″ skillet is best for frying 3-4 eggs, searing large cuts of meat, poultry, and seafood, or making deep-dish pan pizza at home.
This is the most versatile skillet size; it fits on most cooktops and you’ll have enough space to cook up a meal for two—as well as dinner for a big and hungry family of three or more.
In my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that most home cooks go for 12-inch frying pans.
Choose What Size Skillet to Buy Based on Your Household
Cooking for yourself and for the occasional friend or fling at home is one thing. Making dinner for a hungry household of three or four is another.
The amount of food and the space you need in your skillet grows proportionally to the number of folks you’re cooking for. This is why one of the ways to decide what size skillet to buy is to consider the size of your household.
If you live by yourself, an 8″ or 10″ skillet will work for practically all of your home cooking. My advice to you is to go for the second option, especially if you cook a lot of one-skillet meals at home. A skillet with a diameter of 8″ doesn’t give you much maneuvering space for your food. You’ll probably end up upgrading to a larger size later on.
10″ to 12 ″skillets are the perfect size for households of two. I say that confidently because my wife and I are such a household—and we do 90% of our home cooking in our 10″ frying pans. This is also a great option if you cook on a cooktop with two burners and don’t have much heating surface for your skillets.
Families of three or four should consider 12″ to 14″ skillets. Though skillets of this size take up much more space in your cabinets and are noticeably heavier, they give you the space you need to comfortably cook up a meal for three or more. Here, I’d go for a 12″ pan. 14″ is a little too big of a diameter for most cooktops, causing your skillet will heat very unevenly.
Ideally, you should have an 8″, 10″, and 12″ frying pan in your home kitchen. This allows you to cook eggs, pan-fry meals for two, or sear steaks and sauté vegetables for a bunch of hungry family members.
What’s the Best Skillet Size?
If you can only buy one skillet, choose between 10″ and 12″.
I came across a good thread on the topic on ChowHound as I was doing my research for this post. Most members of the community recommend 12″ skillets as the most versatile of all.
“Frequently you need the extra space around the food you cook for many things. For instance in frying,” one user writes.
“If you squeeze too many items into the pan, you wind up with too much condensation forming—and the food won’t cook properly. With a larger pan, the steam has a chance to evaporate, and, therefore, the pan-frying process is achieved properly.”
Most cast-iron skillet owners in the thread agreed that 10″ skillets were great for making frittatas, whereas 12″ skillets were more suitable for searing meat.
12″ skillets seemed to be the predominant choice for home cooks in the thread, including those who lived in households of two.
As you make your choice, one factor to keep in mind is your skillet’s weight. “Depending on use, the 12-inch cast-iron gets to be heavy,” one user wrote.
“I can lift a good deal of weight but I still find myself picking up the lightest one except when I need the extra area.”
Looking for a Skillet? (My Two Best Picks)
Below are my two best picks for 12-inch skillets that you can buy.
One is a bargain, but requires more maintenance as it’s made of cast iron.
The other is an investment, but one that will take your home cooking to the next level and, by that definition, is worth every single penny.Lodge 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet
The Lodge cast iron skillet is affordable, durable, and sturdy. It’s made in the U.S. by Lodge Cast Iron, a South Pittsburg, TN, company that’s been around since 1896.
For less than $50, you can get a skillet that can last you a lifetime—as long as you care for it. In fact, some folks have a hobby of restoring cast iron cookware passed down to them from previous generations.
Pros: Cast iron skillets take some time to heat up, but once they get there, they’re capable of holding on to heat really well. That makes them excellent for searing meats and sautéing veggies. But what I really love about them is their versatility. You can use them on the cooktop, in the oven, and even over a campfire.
Cons: Cast iron cookware is high maintenance. Not in terms of money, but in terms of time. Every now and then, you need to season your cast iron skillet by rubbing its cooking surface with oil and baking it in the oven. And cooking acidic foods in them easily wears out their seasoning.All-Clad 12-Inch Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Lidded Skillet
Ask anyone who knows their cookware about All-Clad, and they can go on for hours telling you about the qualities of the skillets made by this American manufacturer.
Without a doubt, All-Clad makes some of the best cookware that you can buy on the market today. Only rivaled by some French and German cookware makers like Mauviel or Zwilling. It also shows in the price; All-Clad’s 12-inch stainless steel skillet tends to sell for $150 a piece.
Pros: If you’re willing to make the investment, this is one of the best and most versatile 12-inch skillets that you can buy. It’s high quality and made in the USA. And you can use it for practically any cooking technique and recipe that involves a frying pan.
Cons: It’s expensive. And the limited lifetime warranty doesn’t cover that many use cases that could end up scratching or damaging your pan.
So is there a one-size-fits-all when it comes to skillets?
The general consensus among home cooks is that a 12-inch diameter skillet provides plenty of room for searing, sautéing, and frying, without hogging half the cooktop or being so compact that you can’t turn foods in it.
With that being said, many cooks opt for the more compact and almost as spacious 10-inch skillets, especially if their home has a postage-stamp kitchen.
That doesn’t mean that 8-inch skillets shouldn’t have a place on your cooktop. On the contrary; they’re perfect for cooking 1-2 eggs or making fluffy omelets. And they’re just about the right size if you’re cooking for one person, a.k.a. yourself.