Aluminum/stainless steel combination is great for cooking. Safe for oven and dishwasher.
Expensive. Overheating could lead to discoloration/scorch marks.
Made of quality anodized aluminum. Two types of finish for two types of cooking. Easy to clean.
These pans are smaller than some other contenders. The usual Teflon-related precautions must be taken.
Solid steel construction is made to last. Sturdy handle. Heats evenly, allowing precise cooking times and excellent results.
It's heavy and pricey. Requires seasoning to prevent foods from sticking to the surface.
A solid cast iron skillet with traditional construction by a top manufacturer. Comes pre-seasoned. Can withstand high cooking temperatures. Available in several sizes.
A few owners complain about defective pans with misshapen bottoms. Requires a learning curve for those who are new to cooking in cast iron.
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Think of pots and pans, and what you picture is almost certainly a skillet. This kitchen essential is one of the most versatile pieces of stovetop cookware. You can use it to fry hamburgers, sear steak, scramble eggs, or whip up a quick vegetable stir-fry. Indeed, you’ll find that you reach for your skillet more often than any other cooking vessel.
When it comes to choosing the right skillet, there are quite a few decisions to be made. Should you choose cast iron, nonstick, or stainless steel? What size skillet should you purchase? What type of handle would work best for you?
If you’re looking for a new skillet, check out our five recommendations. If you’d like to learn more about skillets in general, including how to choose and use them, read on.
There are a lot of different types of cookware, so if you’re just starting to stock your kitchen, you might wonder which stovetop pieces are most essential. As a general rule, unless you are an avid chef, you can get by just fine with a skillet, a sauce pan, and a stock pot.
Also referred to as a frying pan or a fry pan, a skillet is the most basic type of stovetop pan. While it’s very handy to have two or three skillets of different sizes, if you have to settle for just one, a 12-inch skillet would be suitable for most cooking needs.
With straight sides, a long handle, a fitted lid, and a range of sizes measured in quarts, a sauce pan is ideal for warming up soup, sauce, beans, vegetables, and other soft dishes. While it’s convenient to have both a small and large sauce pan, if you are only going to choose one, you’ll likely find a four-quart sauce pan to be the most versatile choice.
A stock pot is similar to a sauce pan, but it is larger and does not have the same type of handle. For one-pot meals like stew, chili, and soup, a stock pot is your go-to cookware. You can also use it to cook large items like corn on the cob.
Stock pot capacity is measured in quarts. For most cooks, an eight-quart stock pot is sufficient.
A skillet is not the same as a sauté pan. A sauté pan has straight sides, whereas a skillet has slightly sloped sides. And a sauté pan typically comes with a lid, whereas a skillet typically does not.
Skillets and other cookware come in a variety of metals. There’s no reason to stick with just one; each material has its own pros and cons. In fact, it can be beneficial to own a few different skillets of different materials.
One of the most popular skillet materials, stainless steel is very durable, doesn’t react with acidic foods, and is easy to maintain. It’s not a great conductor of heat, however, so many stainless steel pans have copper or aluminum bonded to the bottom to improve conductivity.
Excellent for browning foods
Suitable for induction cooktops
Usually safe for dishwasher and oven, depending on the handle material
Food may stick
Scrubbing often required
Although some cooks find cast iron intimidating, this old-fashioned material is a great addition to any kitchen. It’s durable, retains heat for a long time, and even adds a bit of iron to your food as it cooks. Enameled cast iron is easier to care for, but it is also more expensive.
Goes from stovetop to oven
Excellent for searing meat
Keeps food warm for a long time
Develops a naturally nonstick coating
Takes longer to heat up
If uncoated, requires periodic seasoning
If uncoated, may rust
Not dishwasher safe
Inexpensive and easy to find, aluminum cookware is a good choice for the kitchen novice. Because the metal can discolor food and is prone to staining, it’s usually anodized as a preventative. Aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat.
Cooks quickly and evenly
Strong and durable if anodized, and has a somewhat nonstick finish
Some food safety concerns
Although there is some dispute about the safety of aluminum cookware, studies have not shown that it leaches into food excessively during cooking or is dangerous to use.
Typically layered over aluminum, a nonstick coating like Teflon releases food easily, making cleanup a breeze. And since you don’t need to add oil, you can reduce your calorie consumption a bit. Nonstick pans heat up quickly and evenly.
Food cooks evenly, quickly
Usually oven safe
Usually dishwasher safe (hand-washing still recommended)
Coating prone to scratching and wear
Food doesn’t brown well
It’s hard to match the beauty of copper cookware, but you’ll pay a hefty price for this lovely metal. Copper heats up quickly and evenly. It also cools down fast, providing excellent control as you cook. A copper skillet can handle just about every cooking method.
Excellent heat conductivity
Can react with acidic foods
Not dishwasher safe
Nonstick pans are designed to be used on low to medium heat. If you plan to cook at a high temperature, use your stainless steel, cast iron, or aluminum skillet instead.
Once you’ve determined which metal you want, there are a few other things to look for in a good skillet.
A cheap skillet won’t hold up to regular use. A good skillet is solidly built, and the handle is firmly attached.
Unless it’s made of cast iron, you should be able to hold your skillet by its handle without burning yourself. A silicone handle or other stay-cool material stays comfortable to the touch throughout the cooking process.
The right frying pan is easy to handle with a comfortable weight. It’s not too light and not too heavy. (Cast iron is the exception to this rule.)
If you cook on a smooth-top electric range, your skillet needs a perfectly flat bottom. Induction stovetops – which create a magnetic field to cook food – are only compatible with materials that have magnetic properties. That means cast iron and most stainless steel skillets are suitable for use on an induction stovetop.
Most skillets do not include lids. If you can buy one separately, we advise you to do so. Many dishes call for a cover while simmering, and a properly fitted lid will keep your dinner from drying out as it cooks.
There’s a very wide price range for frying pans. As a general rule, you can expect to pay the following for a good-quality 12-inch skillet.
Cast Iron: $20 to $40
Stainless Steel: $40 to $80, although high-end brands can cost more than $100
Aluminum: $20 to $40
Nonstick: $20 to $50
Copper: $50+ (Several hundred dollars for solid copper)
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