What Frying Pan Best Fits My Needs?
September 7, 2017 7:26 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for a frying pan.

I am looking for a frying pan. I am very health conscious, so I don't want anything that is harmful. I make everything in a fan - veggies, meats,etc

I am looking for something that is
-Healthy (not going to put metal or toxins in my food
-Reasonably priced (ideally less than $50, though I am flexible)
-Easy to maintain and clean. I just want to be able to use soap, water and a sponge to clean. I hear that some pans )(cast iron?) require "treating"

I usually use pam or olive oil. I had one of those copper frying pans and I hated it.

Thank you in advance
posted by kbbbo to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd just do a cast iron skillet. Ignore the people that obsess over their care and finish, just buy a pre-seasoned lodge brand and gently scrub it with water and a scouring pad after use, then dry on the stove top. Occasionally get it hot and rub it down with canola oil. There's really nothing more to it.
posted by Think_Long at 7:30 AM on September 7, 2017 [8 favorites]

Depending on your cooking style I would go with cast iron. You should note though that they will leach iron into acidic foods (this is a feature and not a bug it means you get extra iron in your diet)

As far as seasoning it, it essentially will require a bit of seasoning to get it to a good standard, but in reality all it needs is to not be put away wet and every so often give it a very light coat of oil. By light I mean a tiny bit of oil on some paper towel and rub it into the cooking surface. Otherwise it is impervious to use. If it gets really bad then you can just scrub it down to metal using steel wool and then reseason it in an afternoon.
posted by koolkat at 7:36 AM on September 7, 2017

not going to put metal or toxins in my food

For what it's worth, cast iron will leach a small amount of iron into your food if you cook acidic ingredients (like tomatoes) in it. But, most people consider that a bonus.
posted by quaking fajita at 7:37 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, cast iron. It's not reasonable to expect a pan to do everything you're asking for it to do and require that it needs no care from you, so this should do the trick.
posted by Capri at 7:37 AM on September 7, 2017

The Sweethome likes a $30 Tramontina that will be very easy to clean and durable. Detailed review and comparisons here.
posted by ftm at 7:38 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is an area where, in my experience, stepping up to nicer kit pays off. I'm not sure you can get a great, keep-it-forever pan for $50, at least new.

You do actually need to be somewhat careful with a regular cast iron pan, or you ruin the seasoning and food starts to stick.

If you can step up a little in your budget, though, you can get an enameled cast iron pan; Le Cruset is the "canonical" example. I have a cast iron that belonged to my grandmother, but since I got the Le Cruset I have used it almost exclusively because I don't worry about it -- I just use it. It cooks beautifully, and still retains the cooking behavior of cast iron without any anxiety about seasoning.

OTOH, cast iron pans have drawbacks: for example, they don't heat evenly to start, and it's harder to adjust the cook temp on the fly because the iron holds heat so well. I also have a high-quality stainless pan from a company that went out of business, but if I needed to replace it I'd look at All-Clad. I've cooked with AC stuff at friends' houses, and they heat VERY evenly, respond to changes in temp rapidly, and clean up with minimal effort (and I'm not talking about non-stick here, either).

Both of these are more than $50, but if you watch sales you can get closer. This is absolutely an area where you can "Buy it for life" if you're careful, though.
posted by uberchet at 7:39 AM on September 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Of the various pans I have, my first thought was a stainless steel skillet (simple, easy, stuff sticks to it sometimes but not much). I use my stainless steel pans for almost everything that ends up in a sauce (curries, chicken in a sauce, etc). The liquid added to the pan pretty well cleans off any bits that were stuck on in the earlier stages of cooking, and makes it easy to clean.

But the first pan I reach for for almost everything that *isn't* in a sauce - browned potatoes, vegetables, fried eggs - is my cast iron skillet. It does almost everything I'd have used a nonstick skillet for before (though I still haven't tried it for fish). So both are good options depending on what you want to do.

Both have some maintenance peculiarities: you can't soak cast iron for long or put it away wet, because it can rust (though you can always steel wool it down and reseason if it does, but that's some effort). And the stainless tends to get oil baked onto it if I use it for things not in a sauce, though I find that to be really only cosmetic and usually ignore it (until it starts to annoy me and I get out the baking soda and/or steel wool). But then again every pan I've ever owned has gotten that crusted on oil stuff, so that might just be unavoidable.
posted by Lady Li at 7:43 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

A cast iron skillet - taken care of as basically as Think_Long says - will be more nonstick than your other good option, which is a stainless steel "clad" or 3-ply pan (it's a sandwich of stainless steel around an aluminum core, for better heat control but none of the reactivity issues of exposed aluminum). There are a bunch of luxury-brand high-end clad cookware brands, but discount brands like Tramontina, Cook's Standard, Cuisinart are all perfectly good brands at sub-$100 prices. I got an entire set of Tramontina as a wedding present 14 years ago, and aside from the bottoms looking like they've touched all kinds of rental stoves, they otherwise look brand new still.

The downside of stainless is it'll stick like superglue if you don't use best practices. Rule #1 is "hot pan + cold oil" - heat your pan first dry, then put in cold (room temp) oil, and that will create the best possible nonstick barrier. Rule #2 is to let sticky food (generally protein of any kind) stick at first, and it will eventually release itself when the molecules are cooked enough, so don't force chicken to flip until it moves freely etc.

If I only had one large skillet, it would be stainless. If I had two, I would have one xl (12-14") stainless and one 10" Lodge cast iron.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:43 AM on September 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh, and my experience with seasoning cast iron is that cooking with oil in it seems to be good enough. I didn't find enameled cast iron to be as non-stick as I was expecting, personally.
posted by Lady Li at 7:44 AM on September 7, 2017

enameled cast iron isn't supposed to be non-stick.

OP wants a relatively affordable stainless frying pan. Go to a store and look for one that has a weight you like in your price point - or order that Tramantina.
posted by JPD at 7:46 AM on September 7, 2017

As an example of the type of pan I'm talking about, Cuisinart 5.5qt, Cuisinart 12".

It looks like it's harder than it used to be to get the Tramontina in individual pieces, and it looks like Walmart is the primary vendor now. This set is the modern equivalent of the set I have.

While there are pretty good aftermarket lids, I do recommend getting a pan with a companion lid that fits it exactly if you can. I prefer a glass lid myself for visibility.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:12 AM on September 7, 2017

Don't get cast iron if you don't want to (have to) worry about it.

Echoing stainless clad. The Tramontina is fine, or $100 for an All-Clad that will last lifetimes. It needs to be hotter than you think-- this is how to check. Then add high-temp oil, then meat, and then wait (again, longer than you think) for it to release. Copper scouring pad to clean anything that sticks.

I use stainless for almost everything. Cast iron for high-temp quick searing and cooking fried eggs. Nonstick for omelets and fish. (The searing could be done in steel and the fried eggs could be done in nonstick or steel.)
posted by supercres at 8:36 AM on September 7, 2017

I have a Greenpan and love it.
posted by greenish at 8:37 AM on September 7, 2017

I use a cast iron pan that once belonged to my late bf's grandmother. She passed away in the 1980s. It is exactly as good as new, if not better.

There have been times when I somehow screwed up the seasoning and everything started to stick. I just washed it, dried it on the stove, and then put some oil in it, heated it up some, and then turned off the heat and let it sit with the oil in it overnight, and it was fine again. I can wash it now every time I use it and it still doesn't stick. I do dry it on the stove.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 8:39 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

You want a plain old stainless steel frying pan/skillet, aka "stainless clad" per Lyn Never and supercres, probably 12"-14" depending on how much you tend to cook at a time. [I wouldn't do 10"; most recipes aren't sized for that small a pan. Also, look for a "helper handle" across from the main handle if you get one of these; we cheaped out on this feature and every time our 14" pan is full and I have to pick it up, I regret not bumping the budget up for that; consequently, it's fairly high on our "kitchen replacement" list.]

Brands like Calphalon, Tramontina, Cuisinart, and Anolon make up the low-mid range on these; All Clad and Mauviel are the high-end lifetime guarantees. You'll probably want to bump your budget up a little, but there are reasonable options out there well under a hundred bucks.

I love my cast iron pan for what it does well [read: searing], and it's going to be the most durable pan you can get for your stated budget, but it is not an all-around versatile pan, it's a specialist. Given your desire for versatility, even before we get to the "iron leaching is a feature not a bug!" argument, I'd pick the stainless steel skillet hands down - I do most of my everyday sauteeing in mine, as well as doing things with sauces when I'm in a hurry, and with a metal handle, it also covers most of my meals that spend time both on the stovetop and in the oven.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 10:17 AM on September 7, 2017

I am a BAD MeFite because I hate cast iron. Not least due to the weight. I finally bought these frying pans years back. Treat them right (i.e. never use anything abrasive on them, they clean with a soft sponge) and they will probably last you the rest of your life. Which is worth more than $50 now.
posted by bearwife at 10:18 AM on September 7, 2017

Sorry, meant to direct you to the Cephalon fry pans. (Though the All Clad would be good too.) Note the excellent current prices.
posted by bearwife at 10:20 AM on September 7, 2017

Scanpan. Seriously.

I've completely abandoned all my other pans, including the cast iron and all-clad stainless.

* Non-stick surface, but it's titanium ceramic, not teflon. It won't kill you or your birds, it doesn't flake off, and you can use metal utensils (gently, but reasonably).
* Can go into the oven up to 500deg F. That covers most of what I used cast iron for.
* Cleanup is exactly as you describe: rinse with hot water and soap, then let it dry (or wipe it dry). Bonus: they're dishwasher safe.
* The aluminum core on the underside does a great job of heat distribution.

I've got the 8", 10" and 14". The 14" changed my life, but the others are great too. I have a gas stove, so I haven't tested on electric if that's your situation, but my guess is they're still awesome.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:22 AM on September 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

* Non-stick surface, but it's titanium ceramic, not teflon. It won't kill you or your birds, it doesn't flake off, and you can use metal utensils (gently, but reasonably).

Scanpans do use teflon in their non-stick surface:
PTFE (short for polytetrafluoroethylene) is the base compound for any and all nonstick coatings. PTFE provides the food release. The SCANPAN formula works with the patented ceramic titanium surface construction to provide long lasting nonstick performance. This PTFE is safe to use for food preparation and is FDA approved. Only if the pan is accidentally overheated or cooked dry could temperatures be reached that may cause the PTFE portion to break down and emit fumes that have been known to be harmful to exotic birds, due to their extra sensitive respiratory system (they would, for instance, be harmed by burnt butter fumes, as well). It is a good idea to keep birds away from the kitchen!
posted by jamjam at 11:34 AM on September 7, 2017

I so strongly disagree with the suggestions of cast iron for someone who wants low-maintenance. All the "Just [wash it in a different way and do several extra steps of care]" advice is great for somoene who doesn't mind doing that, but the inability to just wash it with everything else (can't put it in the sink with the spatulas in it and add some soap and leave it for an hour or whatever) drove me completely nuts.

I agree with stainless steel skillet if you are referring to "toxins". Simple, straightforward, versatile. Not non-stick but that's what oil is for. I actually recommend a simple non-stick skillet (there are tons of reviews online - I'd probably trust the Sweethome's reviews. But it sounds like you're not comfortable with the fact that there are like... products involved in making a non-stick coating. But if you're already using Pam it doesn't sound like that's really a problem for you? Though definitely don't use Pam and a non-stick pan, Pam messes with the coating.
posted by brainmouse at 1:01 PM on September 7, 2017

I use these: (link goes to 14pc set, you can find the single pans in your preferred size)
They stay non-stick a good long time are are good and cheap.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:21 PM on September 7, 2017

I agree that there are many advantages to cast iron, including cheap (I bought several sizes at yard sales for an average of $3.00 each. There are always cast-iron skillets at yard sales!), even heating, straight-forward cleaning, ability to use both as a baking pan and on top of the stove. Cornbread made in a cast iron skillet is traditional and makes a wonderfully crispy crust underneath if you pour the batter into a preheated skillet. A cast iron grill pan, with ridges, to "grill" on the stove-top, is really useful when using the grill is too much trouble or the weather is not cooperative. However, cast iron is heavy to lift for its size and require some minimal care when cleaning, mostly that if left in the bottom of the sink for a few hours to soak you will probably find rust marks on the sink. But, they cook like a dream and rubbing a little oil into a dry pan after washing and drying is all the routine care needed. I always dry over a low flame to get the pans really dry, then rub in a little oil while warm. This is my go-to skillet.

Le Cruset is enameled cast iron, so still heavy. If you are careless with storage the edge of the pan may chip and a flake of enamel will come off. Le Cruset famously guarantees their pans forever, and will replace pans if they fail, but I'm not positive flaked edges are covered. (A Le Cruset devotee may know, though). They need to be HOT before you put oil in the pan, and because of the two materials need to be heated on medium heat, not hot, until the pan is hot, when you can turn the flame up as high as you want. I have a Le Cruset small stockpot, and use it to heat milk to make ricotta cheese, where I don't want any flecks of anything in my cheese and want very even heating to avoid scorching. I also use it to make baked beans, where it is absolutely excellent. Cleanup is easy and very straightforward, but sometimes the white enamel interior surface can become stained from dark foods. Doesn't seem to affect performance, as far as I can tell. If you don't mind a chipped edge, you can sometimes find these cheaply in stores like TJ Maxx, where lightly imperfect cookware is sold. I got another larger Le Cruset stockpot and lid with a small chip on the lid there for about $25.00. It would have been $150 at Williams Sonoma. TJ Maxx also often has competitors like Cuisinart brand enameled pans for very reasonable prices, too. BTW, I got a set of fabulous Trident steak knives at TJ for under $15.00, so sometimes you can really score, whatever cookware you are looking for. It's just hit-or-miss.
posted by citygirl at 3:05 PM on September 7, 2017

I have many vintage cast iron pans and enameled iron Le Creuset/Descoware, but I also have a couple of those inexpensive Tramontina skillets that The Sweethome likes, and I like 'em a lot too. Particularly for chicken breasts, fish fillets and such. Yes, food cooked in nonstick browns less deeply than in cast iron, but it's a trade-off I'm often willing to make for the insane ease of cleanup and minimal addition of oil that nonstick affords.

I think you're going to have to decide for yourself whether any nonstick surface meets your requirement that it not (potentially) introduce toxins to your food. As The Sweethome notes, any surface is going to start breaking down in 3-5 years, at which point the pan goes in the bin. It's not heirloom-grade like cast iron, but it's damned easy to clean up.

Size-wise, I'm usually just cooking for two, so a 10" is sufficient for entrée proteins, veg dishes, omelets and the like. You'd probably want a 12" or 14" if you cook for more people, or tend to make one-pot meals like jambalayas, curries and such.
posted by mumkin at 3:18 PM on September 7, 2017

They aren't as popular, but you could consider carbon steel. It has to be seasoned like cast iron but it's a lot lighter and they're really cheap comparatively. I don't know why they don't get more use. We have a set of All Clad pots and pans and they're great, but since my husband bought this pan that's usually what I reach for. Within a month I was able to cook eggs in it. You can find videos for how to clean and season it on YouTube. I find it really easy to clean, and I usually wipe it dry with paper towels and regrease it and it's good to go.
posted by Bistyfrass at 3:24 PM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a Castey Induction Fry Pan that is the most satisfying piece of cookware I've ever owned. It has a removable cedar handle so I can put it in the oven. It is absolutely nonstick but has no nicks, scratches, or flakes after at least ten years of use. It looks new. It is a comfortable weight, and big enough without being unwieldy (I have the 26cm version). It's inexpensive.

I wanted to love cast iron, but it was too fussy for me and didn't suit my cooking (or cleanup) style. This pan? I can run water over it, wipe it off with a towel, and it's clean. I can leave it sitting in water and it won't rust. I can ignore it for months and it still loves me hang it from a backpack and take it hiking and use minimal water to prepare and clean up after full meals for 4.

I'll keep this pan until it dies (if ever) and then buy another (if I can).
posted by notquitemaryann at 5:19 PM on September 7, 2017

I'm going to add that the cast iron pan I mentioned earlier is the only pan that I have. (I also have a small aluminum-clad stainless steel pot and a large heavy aluminum pot, which I never use.) It works for everything, from frying eggs to sauteing vegetables to cooking tofu, all without sticking.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 1:43 AM on September 8, 2017

After all the excellent advice above, I'd like to intensify the confusion you must experience by now, by saying: You totally need a DeBuyer pan. The steel pans without coating will behave like nonstick. I have two and use them for everything from pan roasted veggies, to meat, fish. Had them for at least 10 years and they show no signs of wear whatsoever. They're more expensive than in Europe, but still around your price range. Here's what I found on Amazon. Alternatively, go to a pro kitchen shop (for actual restaurants, not for foodies) and see what they have. They sell lots of no brand great stuff in places like that and you will still have some money left for actual food
posted by ouke at 2:00 AM on September 8, 2017

I like this Ozeri stoneware one; it's supposed to be non-toxic, comes in several sizes, and washes easily with a soapy sponge.
posted by RRgal at 7:23 AM on September 8, 2017

If you have a non-induction electric stovetop, I think you should get this surprisingly inexpensive Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless 14-Inch Stir-Fry Pan with Helper Handle and Glass Cover.

It would work with gas too, but if you have a very high output gas burner, I think that could heat the metal rim of the glass lid enough to cause it to put stress on and shatter the glass lid, which would be my explanation for what happened to one reviewer who had the lid shatter while the pan was cooking on the stove.

But if your first priority is a pan which won't put anything at all in your food, you could go with an old Corning Visions pan made entirely out of a transparent glass.

I own a bunch of Visions stuff, and in my opinion it has 3 major drawbacks: it's more breakable than other Corning ware, and a four foot fall onto a linoleum floor is enough to shatter it into a thousand pieces; it doesn't disperse heat any better than light, and you can end up with a perfect image of your hot burner browned into the bottom of anything you cook in it; and the pyrex-like lids it shipped with fit absolutely execrably, clanking back and forth across the top with a nerve-wracking noise as if they're about to break, but old Cuisinart metal lids fit them beautifully, and those are pretty easy to find.
posted by jamjam at 1:39 PM on September 8, 2017

Stainless is the easiest.

Cast iron requires more attention than you want to spend.

You can clean a stainless pan w soap and water most of the time, use Barkeeper's Friend to really clean from time to time. You can get a quality one for a song at someplace like TJ Maxx.
posted by nothing.especially.clever at 5:32 PM on September 8, 2017

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