(Photo, clockwise from top left: Stainless Steel, Non-stick, Carbon Steel, Cast Iron)
Choosing the right frying pan can be daunting. Here’s a little cheat sheet to help you pick the right pan for the job.
First, let’s talk about what a frying pan is.
Frying pans are often sold without lids. They have sloping sides which are ideal to help get a turner spatula into the pan to flip your flapjacks.
A pan that has a lid and sides that are straight up-and-down, is a sautee pan. If the sides are rounded, it’s probably a chef’s pan or a saucier.
For now, let’s look at frying pans.
Different frying pan materials have different functions in the kitchen, and each have their own pros and cons. To pick the right tool, you have to think about what you want to cook, how you want to cook it, and how you like to clean your pans.
Disclaimers: “Dishwasher safe” doesn’t mean “dishwasher proof.” The high temperatures and harsh chemical dishwasher detergents can shorten the life of your cookware and/or cause aesthetic blemishes.
All frying pans should be preheated before use. Using the “high” setting on your stovetop is never recommended for cooking without liquid.
Searing requires higher heats so you need a pan that can handle this. You also need to pre-heat your pan until it reaches a high temperature. Cast iron, carbon steel or stainless steel will do the job.
My pick for searing is carbon steel. It’s thinner than cast iron so it heats up faster. It requires seasoning so don’t turn it to high heat (9/10 or MAX on your stove). The seasoning will smoke and potentially catch fire. Need help with seasoning? Read this.
Now, if your stove gives off uneven heat, you’ll want to use cast iron. The thick material takes longer to pre-heat but it will heat more evenly and hold the heat for a longer period of time.
Do you want to make a sauce using the meat “drippings” after searing? Read on, you saucy home cook, you.
Usually you’d use a saucier, pot or sautee pan to make a sauce, but maybe you just want something to drizzle over that perfectly seared steak.
Use a stainless steel pan. I find that using a metal whisk on a cast iron or carbon steel pan can strip the seasoning. This isn’t an issue if you have a really good build up of seasoning, but if you’re still working on that seasoning, protect it.
3. High acid food
This includes cooking with tomatoes, lemons, or even an acidic marinade you’ve used on chicken, etc.
Don’t use a pan that needs to be seasoned. The acid can eat away at your hard work. If your high-acid food needs high-heat, go stainless steel. Otherwise, your non-stick will do just fine.
Eggs make things stick together. They are the “glue” in your baking.
My pick for eggs is non-stick. If you don’t like the idea of non-stick, you can use your cast iron. But you will have to use a bit more oil/butter/margarine.
5. Cutting the fat
If you want to cut the use of fat in your cooking, go with non-stick. Carbon steel and cast iron can also help with this, but you’ll need a good, solid seasoning on that pan.
6. Broiling and BBQ
Cooking a thick steak? Want to sear and broil? Want to cook pancakes on the BBQ so they get a hint of that smoky flavour?
Cast iron all the way!
Dishwashers are like smoking. One cigarette probably won’t kill you, but it will decrease your life span. Same goes for dishwashers and your cookware’s lifespan.
Some non-sticks can handle the occasional trip through the dishwasher, but please don’t ever stick your carbon steel or cast iron in the dishwasher.
If you really need to use the dishwasher, use your stainless steel pan.