The thing about pan frying is that it’s easy to mess up if you’re using the wrong tool for the job. I spend most of my time in the kitchen cooking 1 or 2 pan meals, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the most important pans to have available.
I really only care about three pans in my kitchen. We have others for niché things (like a grill pan), but they never actually get used because the three staples are at least as good. There are plenty of options available if you want to get super fancy about it, but simpler is better for most of this stuff. You don’t need a pantry full of pans when 1 or 2 can do all the things just fine.
- Cast iron pans are great for almost anything. You can’t destroy them – they’re just enormous hunks of metal, and they hold heat better than any other type of pan. This makes them especially well-suited for cooking steak, which requires constant high temperature to char the outside. Plus, cast iron pans are cheap (like this Lodge one), and they’ll literally last for multiple lifetimes.There are a couple limitations, though, due to their need for a good seasoning. Not sure what that is or how to do it? Read this Serious Eats post for a crash course. A good seasoning will make your cast iron naturally non-stick, and it’s way easier to maintain than most people think. If you’re not mindful and ruin the seasoning, though, food will stick to it like glue. It’s easily fixed, but annoying nevertheless. If you remember one thing about protecting your seasoning, it’s to avoid using it for acidic foods and cleaning it with soap. (…Ok, two things).
- Carbon steel is my favorite. It’s in the cast iron family, which means you’ll also need to build and maintain a good seasoning. Their real benefit is weight. While cast iron pans are incredibly clunky, carbon steel is much lighter. As a result, I cook almost everything in my De Buyer 9.5″ Mineral B fry pan. You can move it around one handed without snapping your wrist in half, the seasoning is super simple to maintain, and it’s non-stickier than anything else I’ve used. After cooking, I just rinse it with water and a soapless sponge, dry it on the stove at high heat for a minute, and then coat the inside with a small bit of oil. Easy peasy, and it takes about 2 minutes.
- Stainless steel is probably the most popular, and for good reason. You can do anything with it. Hot, cold, acid, dairy, whatever. It’s a workhorse in every sense of the word… except for the literal sense, I guess. I still prefer my De Buyer, though, so I mostly use stainless steel for acidic foods, and occasionally just because I feel like it. I recommend the All Clad 10″ tri-ply fry pan because of its build quality and shape – it’s so easy to toss food that it actually makes me look like I know how to cook. Great for entertaining guests, right up until they have to eat my burnt food. Anyway. All Clad does have some other more expensive options, but I think they’re just gimmicks. The tri-ply is about as good as it gets.
There are other options like ceramic or teflon non-stick, but I’m not a fan. Teflon is great if you like eating possibly carcinogenic chemicals, and the ceramic ones never hold their non-stick coating for me. Within a couple weeks, they’re basically garbage. So if you’re looking for a pan, I vote for one of the above.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and let me know what you think 🙂