An Expert Guide to Skillet Pans

Published on 11/12/2023 · 23 min readMaster the art of cooking with our expert guide to skillet pans. Delve into the world of materials, sizes, and brands to find the ideal skillet for your kitchen!
Kylee Hazelgren, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Kylee Hazelgren

Photo by Cottonbro Studio

TL;DR: A skillet pan can easily become your best friend in the kitchen. However, it can be tricky to discern what material to choose from, the size, and the design you want. And every brand is marketing that their skillet is “the best.” So what are you supposed to do? What is best for one person might not be your best option. It’ll mostly come down to preferences and the pan diameter that makes sense for you.

Although I’ve been cooking for quite a few years, it took me way longer than I want to admit to figure out what the right skillet pan would be for me. Over the years, I have tested out many materials and brands, and through this experience, I have figured out that, for me, it isn’t just one type of skillet. My go-to's have been stainless steel and cast iron skillets for the last few years.

Now, my go-to might not be your go-to, and that’s fine. I’m not here to convince anyone that my route is the only way to go. I might even change my mind later on down the road as I keep discovering new cooking techniques and recipes!

That’s one of the reasons I started working for Curated. I wanted to share my knowledge and help customers by providing skillet pan recommendations that make sense for them so they can purchase with confidence. I get just as excited as the customer for their future culinary endeavors, whether finding a pan to help them cook their first meal by themselves or assisting the home chef in upgrading their cookware and trying a new cooking technique.

Why Skillet Pans?

Photo by Gary Barnes

Often called “fry pans” or “sauté pans,” skillet pans are one of the most essential cookware pieces. They’re extremely versatile in your ability to cook using different techniques. Skillet pans are most commonly used for browning, frying, and searing meats and vegetables. The wide, flat cooking surface with the low, slanted sides allows you to easily maneuver the pan to perfectly toss, flip, and stir fry your food.

What to Consider When Buying a Skillet Pan?

Photo by Kamji Ogino

When choosing a skillet pan, there will be a few things you’ll want to consider, mainly the material, sizing, aesthetics, cost, and type of stovetop you’re cooking on. These are broken down into sections below to dive deeper into each topic.

1. What material is best for your daily cooking needs?

This mostly comes down to preference, cooking experience, and ease of maintenance. As I mentioned earlier, what is best for one person would not be best for another. Some things that play into this are whether or not you want a pan that can be transferable to the oven, what cooking techniques you plan on using, and whether or not you want to prioritize ease of cleaning.

2. What size is most appropriate for your needs?

The size you decide to go with largely depends on how many people you generally feed. If it’s typically you and a couple of other people, you can get by with an 8-10” skillet pan, and that’ll cover most of your needs rather well. But, if you have a larger family or host frequently, it’d be best to go with a 10-14” skillet pan.

3. Do aesthetics matter to you?

Largely, the design of a skillet pan is based on function, but you should also consider what will fit best within your own personal style or if that even matters to you when you are looking for a pan. For example, a copper pan will add a more elegant look to your kitchen, and a cast iron skillet will make it look a bit more rustic. Some people don’t care about their pan's appearance but are more concerned about its performance.

4. How much should a skillet pan cost?

A series of factors can influence the cost of a skillet pan. These include size, material, and brand. For example, here’s a look at what you can expect:

  • Entry-Level ($20-$100): You can get a high-quality pan at this range. The price point will depend largely on the size you choose, the material, and the brand. Usually, sizes in this price range will vary between 8-10”.
  • Mid-Range ($100-$200): You'll usually find a step up in quality, especially for nonstick. Typically, sizes range from 8-12”.
  • Premium ($200-$400): At this tier, expect top-of-the-line brands, materials, larger sized skillets. Sizes at this price usually range between 10-14”.

5. What type of stovetop are you cooking on?

Ensure that the skillet pan you buy is compatible with your stovetop. If you use cookware incompatible with your stovetop, you mostly risk uneven cooking or potential damage to your pan. Most skillets are compatible with gas, electric smooth top, electric coil, glass ceramic, and modular stovetops.

Induction stovetops stand out of the pack because they use electromagnetic fields, requiring cookware made of magnetic materials such as cast iron or stainless steel. Using an incompatible material can also damage the cookware and lead to ineffective heating.

If you’re unsure if a type of skillet will be compatible with your stovetop, reach out to a Curated Kitchen Expert, and we’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

What Are the Different Types of Skillet Pans?

There are a variety of skillet pans you can get on the market. Let’s break them down based on materials, as that is one of the easiest ways to figure out what type of pan is right for you. These are the most common material options out there:

1. Cast Iron

Photo by Daniela Costantini

Cast iron skillets are uncoated and require seasoning and some maintenance to build and maintain a nonstick quality and avoid rust. These timeless classics are made of raw cast iron and do not have an enamel coating on their surface.

Ideal for:

  • Home cooks who want versatility have a pan that can go from the cooktop to the oven easily and handle extremely high heat.

Features:

  • Material: These skillet pans contain cast iron, which is a type of iron alloy known for excellent heat distribution and retention.
  • Size/Capacity: Offered in various sizes, you can easily find a size that works for you. Sizing typically ranges from 8-14”. The specific size and capacity can vary between brands and models.
  • Lip or Pour Spout: Many cast iron skillets feature a slight lip or pour spout on one or both sides, making it easy to pour liquids or sauces without spilling.
  • Handles: Most cast iron skillets have a long handle to maneuver the pan easily, and some of them even have a smaller helper handle on the opposite side for better balance and support when lifting the skillet.

Benefits:

  • Durability: Cast iron is extremely durable; if maintained properly, your pan will last a lifetime.
  • Nonstick: When properly cared for and seasoned, cast iron will develop a natural coating that prevents foods from sticking. This coating makes cast iron a great option if you want nonstick properties without the chemicals.
  • High-Heat Tolerance: Cast iron can withstand high heat, making it perfect for searing and browning. You can also transfer the pan to the oven to bake a dish to the proper temperature or create a crispier texture to ensure the desired results.
  • Even Heating: Cast iron evenly distributes heat across its surface, eliminating hot spots. The exceptional heat retention ensures that your food cooks uniformly.
  • Versatility: They offer the versatility of crafting delicious meals indoors or outdoors.

Be Aware:

  • Cast iron can be heavy, especially in larger sizes.
  • Requires some maintenance to prevent rust and build and maintain the nonstick seasoning.
  • Not suitable for highly acidic foods.

If you are curious about cast iron but unsure about seasoning or restoring one that has rust, here’s a quick video that makes it easy to understand!

2. Enamel Cast Iron

Photo by Peter Kim

Enameled cast iron skillet pans offer an enamel coating, making them low maintenance and easy to clean.

Ideal for:

  • A home cook who wants the benefits of cast iron without having the maintenance.

Features:

  • Size/Capacity: This type of pan is offered in different sizes, with sizing typically ranging from 8-12”. Keep in mind that the specific size and capacity can vary between brands and models.
  • Material: Like non-enameled cast iron skillet pans, these are made from cast iron. It is an iron alloy known for excellent heat distribution and retention.
  • Color: Depending on the brand, enameled cast iron skillet pans can be offered in several colors, allowing you to choose a color that matches your personal aesthetic and kitchen.
  • Handles: Enameled skillets usually have a long handle to maneuver easily. Sometimes, they will also have a smaller helper handle on the opposite side to aid in lifting the skillet, which especially comes in handy when it is full.
  • Nonstick Interior: The non-reactive enamel coating will not react with acidic ingredients.

Benefits:

  • Versatility: These can be used on the stovetop or in the oven, opening up the door to possibilities for different recipes and cooking techniques.
  • Easy to Clean: The smooth, non-porous interior doesn’t require special techniques and can easily be cleaned with hot water, soap, and a scrub brush. Because of the enamel coating over the top of the cast iron, you don’t have to worry about rust.
  • No Seasoning Required: The enamel coating allows your skillet pan to be ready to use right out of the box and doesn’t require ongoing seasoning maintenance.
  • Lip or Pour Spout: Many enamel cast iron skillets feature a slight lip or pour spout on one of both sides, making it easy to pour liquids or sauces without spilling.
  • Heat Distribution: Cast iron is an excellent heat conductor and retainer, allowing it to maintain a consistent temperature throughout cooking.

Keep in Mind:

  • Enameled cast iron can sometimes be heavier than other skillet pans.
  • Enamel is very durable. However, it can chip or get cracks if subjected to rapid temperature changes or sharp objects.
  • Enameled cast iron is not suitable for cooking at extremely high temperatures. Doing so can cause discoloration or damage to the enamel coating over time. It’s best to cook at medium-low temps for longevity.

3. Nonstick

Photo by Rdne stock project

Nonstick-coated skillet pans are excellent for a range of cooking tasks and are well-loved by many because of their convenience and easy cleanup.

Ideal for:

  • Those who are new to cooking and are intimidated by other material options. Or if you are busy and need a skillet that requires no maintenance and can clean up easily.

Features:

  • Size/Capacity: Similar to other pans, nonstick skillet pans come in various sizes, typically ranging from 8-12”. However, the specific size can vary between brands and models.
  • Material: The core of nonstick pans can be made from a variety of materials, including aluminum, stainless steel, or hard-anodized aluminum. Each material has its advantages in heat conductivity and durability.
  • Handles: Typically, nonstick pans have heat-resistant handles for safe and comfortable handling. Some designs feature ergonomic handles designed to stay cool on the stovetop.
  • Nonstick Interior: Nonstick pans feature a nonstick coating typically made of PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) or ceramic coatings.

Benefits:

  • Minimal Oil: Because of the nonstick coating, your food won’t stick to the pan, allowing you to use less cooking oil.
  • Easy to Clean: Food residue is less likely to adhere to the pan, making cleanup a breeze. Also, many nonstick pans are dishwasher safe to make cleanup even easier.
  • Versatility: These pans can be used for a variety of cooking methods, such as frying and sautéing, and if your skillet is oven-safe, then you can finish baking in the oven.
  • Accessibility: Finding a nonstick pan at a lower price point is fairly easy, making it a solid option if you’re on a tight budget.

Keep in Mind:

  • Sometimes, people are concerned about the safety of nonstick coatings, especially at very high temperatures. Ensure you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to avoid overheating your pan. Overheating a nonstick pan can break the nonstick coating faster and potentially emit harmful fumes as nonstick coatings are commonly made from a layer of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or similar coatings. To avoid this, ensure you are primarily cooking on a medium-medium low setting.
  • Depending on the brand, quality, how it is used, and maintained, the nonstick coatings may wear out over time, which requires you to replace it sooner than other material options.
  • Avoid using metal utensils that could scratch the coating. Instead, use wooden or silicone utensils and avoid using aerosol cooking sprays, as they can often lead to a sticky residue over time on your cooking surface. Although many nonstick pans boast being dishwasher safe, to improve the longevity of your nonstick pans, it is recommended to hand-wash them to avoid exposing your pans to extreme temperature changes.

4. Ceramic

Photo by Eldar Nurkovic

Ceramic skillet pans are a great alternative to traditional PTFE nonstick cookware. They’re known for their natural, environmentally friendly, nonstick properties and have gained a lot of popularity over the last few years. Ideal for:

  • Someone who feels they still want nonstick properties but aren’t sold on traditional PTFE nonstick pans.

Features:

  • Size/Capacity: These pans are offered in a variety of sizes, usually ranging from 8-12”, with the off chance that they could go up to 14”. The specific size will vary depending on the brand and model.
  • Material: Ceramic pans are primarily made from metal: stainless steel, aluminum, or hard-anodized aluminum. These metals provide a structural foundation for even heat distribution.
  • Handles: Typically, nonstick pans have heat-resistant handles for safe and comfortable handling. Some designs feature ergonomic handles designed to stay cool on the stovetop.
  • Nonstick Coating: The nonstick property comes from the ceramic-based coating on the cooking surface.

Benefits:

  • Minimal Oil: Because of the nonstick coating, your food won’t stick to the pan, allowing you to use significantly less oil when cooking.
  • Easy to Clean: Food residue is less likely to adhere to the pan, making cleanup a breeze.
  • Environmentally Friendly: The environmentally friendly ceramic coating is made from natural materials and does not contain synthetic compounds.
  • Durability: With proper care, a ceramic skillet can be long-lasting.
  • Health: Generally considered a safer option than PTFE-based nonstick pans that can release fumes when overheated.

Keep in Mind:

  • While generally scratch-resistant, metal utensils can damage the ceramic coating. Instead, it is recommended to use wood or silicone utensils to extend your pan's lifespan.
  • Depending on the brand, quality, how it is used, and maintained, the nonstick coatings may wear out over time, requiring you to replace it sooner than other material options.
  • Nonstick pans are not designed for high-heat cooking. Cooking in extremely high temperatures can cause the coating to degrade over time.

5. Aluminum

Photo by Mdbildes

Aluminum pans are known for their great heat conductivity, affordability, and lightweight design.

Ideal for:

  • Someone on a budget who is looking for an option that offers excellent heat conductivity.

Features:

  • Size/Capacity: Sizes typically range from 8-12”, which can vary depending on the brand or model.
  • Material: Primarily constructed with aluminum. There can be some variety in aluminum pans. Sometimes, they feature a nonstick coating, and some go through anodization to create a hard, non-reactive surface. Anodized aluminum pans are well known to be durable, offer even heating, and even resist sticking.
  • Lightweight Design: Aluminum is a very lightweight material, making it easy to handle and maneuver while cooking.
  • Variety: Aluminum pans can be found in different styles and finishes.

Benefits:

  • Affordability: Aluminum is a great budget-friendly cookware option compared to other materials, such as stainless steel or copper.
  • Versatility: Can be used on various stovetops, including gas, electric, and induction.
  • Quick Heating: Heats up rapidly, saving you time in the kitchen. This makes an aluminum pan a great option for frying, sauteing, or stir-frying.

Keep in Mind:

  • It is less durable than other materials. However, many modern aluminum skillet pans will feature additional coatings and/or treatments that can extend their lifespan.
  • Although these pans can heat up quickly, they are suitable to stand up to extremely high temperatures. Doing so can lead to warping.
  • Aluminum skillet pans do not retain heat as well as other heavier materials, which can limit some cooking techniques, including braising and searing.

6. Carbon Steel

Photo by AM-Stock

Carbon steel skillet pans are a popular cookware option as they are excellent at retaining heat, distributing it evenly, and being very durable.

Ideal for:

  • Someone who likes the idea of cast iron pans but doesn’t want to deal with the weight. Carbon steel pans are lighter and easier to maneuver.

Features:

  • Size/Capacity: Sizing typically ranges between 8-12”, suitable for most households. However, sizing can vary between brands and models.
  • Material: The main element of carbon steel pans is iron, an excellent heat conductor.
  • Long Handles: Feature long handles that will remain cool on the stovetop so you can easily and safely handle them.
  • Variety: Carbon steel pans can be found in different styles and finishes.
  • No Coating: Carbon steel pans don’t have a nonstick coating that will wear out over time.

Benefits:

  • Natural Nonstick: Like cast iron, carbon steel pans can develop a natural nonstick property with proper seasoning over time.
  • Affordability: This can be a more budget-friendly option compared to other materials.
  • Versatility: These pans can be used on most stovetops, including gas, electric, and induction. Carbon steel pans are also oven-safe.
  • Heat Conductivity: Carbon steel is a great heat conductor, which will heat up quickly and evenly across the cooking surface. This can even prevent hot spots on your pan, allowing for even and consistent cooking results.
  • High Heat: Carbon steel pans are excellent at holding up to high-heat cooking, and they’re extremely durable.
  • Lightweight: Carbon steel pans are relatively more lightweight when compared to cast iron pans.

Keep in Mind:

  • You must keep up the seasoning process and use it regularly to help improve the nonstick quality and develop that protective layer on your pan.
  • If not properly maintained, carbon steel can rust.

7. Stainless Steel

Photo by Slatan

Stainless steel is known for being very durable, resistant to staining, and versatile in the kitchen. Ideal for:

  • A wide variety of people at all cooking levels. Stainless steel pans are great for people who appreciate a versatile and durable companion in the kitchen.

Features:

  • Size/Capacity: Stainless steel pans are offered in several sizes but typically range between 8-12”.
  • Material: As the name suggests, these pans are made of stainless steel. This type of alloy is primarily composed of iron, chromium, and sometimes other elements like titanium, molybdenum, and nickel.
  • Handles: These pans feature ergonomic handle designs for a comfortable hold.
  • Lids: Often, stainless steel skillet pans come with a matching lid, providing more versatility for recipes requiring a lid.
  • Multi-Ply Construction: Some stainless steel pans feature multi-ply or clad construction. This means there are combined layers of stainless steel and often other materials like aluminum or copper, which add to the heat conductivity and distribution of heat.

Benefits:

  • Durability: Stainless steel can hold up to high-heat cooking without warping.
  • Lifespan: Stainless steel pans have a long lifespan with proper care and can outlast other pans.
  • Versatility: These pans can be used to create a large variety of recipes with different cooking methods, and they are oven-safe, so you can easily transfer them from stovetop to oven.
  • Health: Stainless steel pans do not release any potentially harmful fumes or chemicals, making them a great choice for healthy cooking.
  • Non-Reactive: This means it won’t interact with acidic ingredients to ensure that the flavor of your food will remain the same.

Keep in Mind:

  • They do not have a natural nonstick coating, so food can stick to the surface if you don’t use enough fat or oil. With proper technique and heat control, you can avoid food sticking.
  • If you want good results with your stainless steel skillet pan, you must practice a little to get familiar with the pan and proper techniques.
  • If you are trying to limit the amount of oil you are cooking with, you might struggle with your food sticking to your stainless steel pan.
  • High-quality stainless steel can be more expensive than other cookware options. However, because they have a long lifespan, you can count on the fact that you won’t replace your pan nearly as often as some other materials.
  • Often, stainless steel pan handles can become hot during cooking. Keep a pot holder or towel nearby for handling.

8. Copper

Photo by Dan Kosmayer

Copper skillet pans are popular with many culinary enthusiasts and professional chefs, providing superior heat conductivity and responsiveness. Ideal for:

  • Experienced home cooks and professional chefs with a deep knowledge of cooking techniques and temperature control.

Features:

  • Size/Capacity: These skillet pans are usually available in sizes 8-12”, although some might be a bit larger, depending on the brand and model.
  • Material: As the name indicates, these pans are made of copper.
  • Exterior Finish: These pans feature a beautiful, usually polished, shiny exterior, enhancing their timeless look.
  • Handles: They are usually designed to have ergonomic handles attached to rivets.
  • Helper Handle: You will often notice a helper handle on the opposite side of the main handle, which makes it easier to lift and maneuver.
  • Interior: Copper pans often have an interior lining made of other materials, usually stainless steel or tin. This is to prevent reactivity with certain foods.

Benefits:

  • Appearance: Copper has a timeless appearance that can look stylish in any kitchen.
  • Lifespan: A high-quality copper skillet pan can last for a lifetime. With proper care, they can be passed on to future generations.
  • Performance: Copper pans are favored by professional chefs because of their consistent performance and precision in the kitchen.
  • Versatility: They can be used for various cooking techniques and recipes, such as sautéing, pan-frying, and deglazing.
  • Oven Safe: May copper skillets are oven-safe, so you can easily transfer from stovetop to oven to table.
  • Heat Conductivity: Copper is one of the best conductors of heat among cookware materials. This means they are ideal for precise cooking and quick temperature adjustment.

Keep in Mind:

  • Copper is fairly soft and can dent if not handled with care.
  • Copper pans might develop a natural patina over time, which some users are not a fan of. This does not affect the performance of the pan.
  • These pans may require regular polishing to maintain their appearance.
  • High-quality copper skillet pans can be expensive because of their craftsmanship and superior heat conductivity.
  • The handles can become hot during cooking, so keep a pot holder or towel handy.

How to Choose the Right Skillet Pan

Selecting the right fit for you can be challenging with many options on the market. Still, you can start narrowing down your options now that you know the features and different material options for skillet pans. Below is a size chart to help you understand an appropriate size for your household. I’ve also provided three examples of people I’ve helped on Curated who represent the primary needs when looking for a skillet pan.erstand an appropriate size for your household. I’ve also provided three examples of people I’ve helped on Curated who represent the primary needs when looking for a skillet pan.

Photo by Klaus Nielson

Syd

Syd has recently gotten more interested in cooking and is looking to upgrade to a pan that’ll last him a long time. His main priority is healthy cookware, and he emphasizes that he doesn’t want a nonstick pan. He primarily cooks on his gas range stovetop and doesn’t mind having to keep up with minor maintenance. He primarily cooks for himself and his girlfriend.

Features Syd should look for:

  • Cast iron or carbon steel
  • An 8-10” skillet

Products to consider:

Ethan

Ethan loves food and doesn’t mind cooking. However, he has a packed schedule with work and his favorite outdoor activities. So when it’s time for him to make a meal, he wants a skillet pan that is easy to clean. Ethan cooks on an induction stovetop. He usually cooks just for himself, so he doesn’t want anything big, bulky, or too expensive.

Features Ethan should look for:

  • An 8” skillet pan compatible with induction stovetops
  • A nonstick frying pan as it is easier to clean than some other materials.

Products to consider:

  • Zwilling Clad CFX 8” Fry Pan: This pan features a ceramic nonstick coating that is 50% longer lasting, three times more durable than previous Zwilling nonstick coatings, and is induction-compatible.
  • Zwilling Vitale 8” Aluminum Nonstick Fry Pan: This pan features an ultra-durable three-layer Granitium nonstick coating made from ceramic particles and reinforced with hardening speckles to help hold up to scratches. This pan is also induction-compatible and easy to clean with a nonstick cooking surface.
  • Le Creuset Toughened Nonstick Pro 8" Fry Pan: This pan delivers excellent results for searing and sautéing vegetables. Its PFOA-free nonstick coating will make cleanup easy.

Jessie

Jessie just completed culinary school and already has a lot of cookware she is happy with. Now, she just wants to purchase a skillet pan that she can rely on daily. Jessie often cooks on high heat, so she needs a pan that will hold up. She also needs her pan to transfer from the stovetop to the oven. Jessie cooks a lot, especially for her family and friends, so she needs a pan to accommodate that.

Features Jessie should look for:

  • An oven-safe pan that can tolerate high heat
  • At least a 10-12” sized skillet

Products to consider:

  • Demeyere Industry Stainless Steel Frying Pan: This 18/10 stainless steel fry pan is designed for people like Jessie who are food enthusiasts looking for high performance.
  • Hestan NanoBond Titanium 12.5" Open Skillet: The 12.5” size will be perfect for making meals for her family and friends she often entertains. The molecular titanium technology bonds thousands of titanium nano-layers to the 18/10 stainless steel construction, which makes this an extremely durable pan and is 400% harder than standard stainless steel.
  • Ruffoni Symphonia Cupra 10” Copper Skillet: A great option for a pan that can handle high-heat cooking. This pan is made of solid copper, which provides superior heat conductivity and even cooking, so Jessie can rely on this pan for consistent results.

Find the Best Skillet Pan for You

Photo by Tatiana Volgutova

Overall, selecting the best skillet pan depends on your preferences and needs. The good news is that there are plenty of options, and hopefully, this guide will be a good reference when looking for your perfect skillet pan.

If you’re looking for extra guidance, send me a message or chat with a Kitchen Expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice! I would love to help give you recommendations that make sense for you and your kitchen setup. Don’t hesitate to reach out, and happy cooking!

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