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Find a frying pan for every task.
When it comes to essential pieces of cookware, the frying pan is a true multitasker. From searing meats to scrambling eggs, sautéeing mushrooms to simmering sauces, these pans are easy to handle and often painless to clean. We’ve tested dozens of frying pans — cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel, and ceramic — evaluating them on their overall performance, design, maintenance needs, and more. We narrowed this list down to the best pan of each material, plus one we recommend splurging on. Read on to find the right fit for your kitchen.
Best Carbon Steel: Merten & Storck Pre-Seasoned Carbon Steel Induction 12" Frying Pan Skillet
It’s very affordable, lightweight, and has a riveted handle that allows for safe and secure transport.
Carbon steel requires extra maintenance. It also doesn’t have as high a heat threshold as other models of the same material.
Carbon steel is one of the most popular cookware materials, especially in professional kitchens, thanks to its durability and responsiveness to heat. It can also be used on just about any cooktop. This affordable option from Merten & Storck arrives seasoned, which means it's ready to use out of the box. We found the pan fairly lightweight and easy to maneuver in our tests, which can sometimes be an issue with this heavy-duty material.
The riveted handle felt secure in our hands – it can, however, get a little hot during use, so keep an oven mitt close by. Its surface was surprisingly nonstick when we scrambled eggs, requiring little to no oil, and it performed beautifully when we seared chicken thighs. We also used this pan to bake a skillet cookie that came out chewy and moist. It’s almost as if this pan can do anything. Carbon steel does require some special attention to maintain its seasoning, but with the right care, this pan should last for years.
Price at time of publish: $40
Sizes: 8, 10, and 12 inches
Oven Safe Temperature: 600°F
Cleaning: Hand wash only
Best Cast Iron: Lodge Cast Iron Skillet
Affordable and exceptionally durable, it can be used on any cooking surface, including open flame.
It might be too heavy for anyone with limited strength or mobility issues.
A cast iron skillet from Lodge is a cookware classic – you should be able to rely on it for decades. Available in a variety of sizes, this pan is compatible with just about any cooktop, including induction, grill, and campfire. We’ve used it many times in our test kitchen, successfully turning out skillet cornbread and gorgeous sears on meats, as well as in our home kitchens. (We have found that fried eggs stick, so we’d recommend a more traditional nonstick or ceramic pan for that task.) While cast iron requires some special care to maintain its seasoning, we find it easy to clean with warm water and a non-abrasive scrubber. As a 10.25-inch skillet costs under $30, we recommend it to everyone.
Price at time of publish: $25
Sizes: 8, 10.25, 12, and 15 inches
Oven Safe Temperature: 650°F
Cleaning: Hand wash only
Best Nonstick: Zwilling Madura Plus 11-Inch Non-Stick Aluminum Deep Fry Pan
It’s incredibly nonstick and has a durable, scratch-resistant surface.
Its heat threshold is 300°F, so you can’t finish dishes under high heat in the oven.
This seemingly austere piece of cookware from Zwilling combines Italian craftsmanship and German engineering into one high-performing pan. Our current favorite nonstick frying pan, it passed each test we put it through — flipping fluffy pancakes and omelets, pan-frying salmon, and melting marshmallows — without food clinging. We like how balanced it feels in the hand and appreciate the high sides that give it a little more versatility for braising or shallow frying. It’s also incredibly easy to clean by hand, but you can also place it in the dishwasher if needed.
Price at time of publish: $118
Sizes: 9.5 and 11 inches
Oven Safe Temperature: 300°F
Cleaning: Hand wash only
Best Ceramic: Caraway Nonstick Ceramic Frying Pan
Compatible with every stovetop, this pan performs well and is oven safe to 550°F.
It’s on the expensive side.
Caraway splashed onto the cookware scene in 2018 with ceramic-coated pots and pans in a selection of beautiful colors. But this frying pan isn’t just nice to look at. One of our favorite brands for nontoxic cookware, Caraway coats pans with slick, non-PTFE ceramic that lets stickier foods (think eggs or rice) slide right off. We also tested it with pancakes, salmon, and marshmallows before ranking it as one of the best nonstick pans.
The pan conducts heat so efficiently that you may be able to use a lower burner than usual to cook. You can use it on every stovetop as well as in the oven thanks to a heat threshold of 550°F, higher than just about any other nonstick frying pan out there. While it’s pricier than other frying pans, its versatility and functionality make it worth the splurge.
Price at time of publish: $86
Sizes: 8 and 10.5 inches
Oven Safe Temperature: 550°F
Cleaning: Dishwasher-safe, but hand wash recommended
Best Stainless Steel: Made in Cookware 10-Inch Stainless Clad Frying Pan
Perfectly balanced and durable enough for heavy use, this is as good as it gets for stainless steel.
It’s on the pricier side.
Made In prides itself on designing cookware with input from chefs, and it shows. This Italian-made, multi-clad frying pan is constructed of five layers of metal, giving it just enough heft for steadiness on the stove. It’s also oven safe to a whopping 800°F, and you can use it on an induction range. It heats very evenly, and the comfortable flat handle made it easy to flip and toss foods in our tests, from mushrooms to salmon. We also really like the shape of this pan, with its gently flared lip to aid in pouring and sliding food onto a serving platter. We can’t find complaints, except for its higher cost, perhaps. Still, its quality, performance, and lifetime warranty against defects all justify the price tag.
Price at time of publish: $109
Sizes: 8, 10, and 12 inches
Oven Safe Temperature: 800°F
Cleaning: Dishwasher safe
Best Splurge: All-Clad 10-Inch D3 Stainless 3-Ply Bonded Cookware
Excellent heat distribution and conductivity meets beautiful design in this high-quality pan.
Newer cooks may find there is a learning curve to using this pan.
If you’re looking to splurge on a pan, All-Clad has a reputation for high-quality cookware that can last a lifetime with proper care. This pan from the brand’s D3 line is made of two layers of stainless steel sandwiching an aluminum core, and you can use it on just about any cooktop, including induction. We love how evenly it distributes heat, as we saw when we cooked chicken piccata in our tests. Moreover, it conducts heat so well that you’ll want to keep an eye on more delicate applications — like browning butter or making a beurre blanc — to avoid scorching. Experienced cooks can certainly benefit from a pan like this, and we recommend it as a gift for the culinarily inclined.
Price at time of publish: $130
Sizes: 8, 10, 12, and 14 inches
Oven Safe Temperature: 600°F
Cleaning: Hand wash recommended
Other Frying Pans We Tested
Misen Stainless Skillet ($75 at Amazon)
We love this stainless steel pan almost as much as we love the Made In version, thanks to its excellent heat distribution, easy clean up, and a lower price tag. It’s a bit heavier than its competitors, and we did notice some minor warping at the base during our durability test. But, it still did much better than the dozens of other pans we tested.
Le Creuset Nonstick Pan ($175 at Amazon)
This pan did extremely well in our tests, with a slick surface that gave us a no-fuss performance when dealing with pan-frying salmon, melting marshmallows, making omelets, and more. It’s well-built, durable, and induction-ready — just about everything you could ask for. The one con? It’s one of the most expensive nonstick pans we’ve tested.
Nordic Ware Restaurant Cookware 10-Inch Nonstick Frying Pan ($42 at Walmart)
We like this budget-friendly pan because it’s lightweight, easy to handle, and very nonstick. It’s not compatible with induction, but if that isn’t a deal-breaker for you, it’s a great find at a very easy price.
Mauviel M'Steel Black Carbon Natural Nonstick Frying Pan With Iron Handle ($95 at Mauviel)
This French-made model came very close to our top carbon steel pick in performance and cleanup. But it needs to be seasoned before use, so if you’re not used to having to strip and season a carbon steel pan, you’ll have to learn.
Made In 10-Inch Blue Carbon Steel Fry Pan ($89 at Amazon)
We liked the nonstick aspect of this pan since it made scrambling eggs a breeze. We also found it very easy to maneuver since it’s lighter and has an ergonomic handle. It’s oven-safe up to 1,200°F — higher than a home oven could ever get — so you can use this under the broiler to turn out picture-perfect frittatas.
Smithey Carbon Steel Farmhouse Skillet, 12 Inch ($295 at Amazon)
This gorgeous skillet is hand-forged, making it just as much of a piece of art as it is a top-performing piece of cookware. We liked how quickly and evenly this pan heats, though we suggest seasoning it a bit more to make it a little more nonstick. It is pricey, but it’s an heirloom quality piece that should last for generations.
Butter Pat Industries Heather Cast Iron Skillet ($245 at Butter Pat Industries)
An excellent alternative to Lodge in terms of performance, this skillet did a great job in our tests. It’s also incredibly easy to clean. It is much more expensive, but worth the splurge if you’re up for it.
Stargazer 10.5-Inch Cast Iron Skillet ($115 at Stargazer)
We liked this skillet particularly because of its comfortable curved handle and the larger helper handle that made it easy to transport on and off the stove. Though we did detect a little unevenness during searing, we found this to be a pretty versatile performer in our tests when it came to all-around cooking.
Factors to Consider
Choosing a material comes down to personal preference. You’ll want to consider your cooking style and what you need your frying pan for. You may find you need more than one type of frying pan to complete your kitchen setup.
Stainless steel pans are perhaps the most popular and versatile, as they can typically handle a wide range of cooking styles, from high-heat searing to the gentle simmering of pan sauces.
Nonstick pans are a must-have for cooking foods that stick, like eggs, crepes, and pancakes, but do not do well with high-heat applications.
Cast iron pans are the best performers when it comes to heat retention and shine when it comes to searing steaks or making cornbread since they keep a consistent temperature.
Carbon steel performs similarly to cast iron in that it can achieve high temperatures, but since it’s thinner and lighter, it’s more responsive to changes in heat.
Frying pans can come in all sizes, but the most average size is around 10 inches, which is large enough to cook a frittata, four burger patties, or to sear a decent sized cut of meat. An 8-inch frying pan is a great size for toasting nuts and spices or frying a single egg, while larger families might opt for a 12-inch or 14-inch pan.
The material of your pan will determine how you should clean it. For example, cast iron and carbon steel should be cleaned by hand with hot water and a non-abrasive scrubber to avoid stripping off any existing seasoning. Nonstick pans typically last the longest when cleaned by hand, as dishwashing detergent can deteriorate nonstick coating. Stainless steel is often dishwasher-safe, but will usually benefit from being hand-washed to avoid any staining or pitting that the dishwasher cycle might cause.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best type of frying pan for everyday use?
Again, it really depends on what you’re cooking. For a lot of newer cooks, we recommend a nonstick pan that isn’t too lightweight. It will give you some stability and is more likely to have better heat distribution, and the nonstick surface will be easy to maintain. If you’re a more experienced cook, we would recommend a stainless steel skillet, as it is versatile, non-reactive, and easy to clean.
What kind of frying pan do professionals use?
Since professional chefs need pans that can withstand heavy use, they often turn to stainless steel when equipping their commercial kitchens. Stainless steel doesn’t react with acidic foods, so it can be used to cook tomato sauces or dishes with lemon or vinegar — so, you don’t have to worry that the pan may cause “off” flavors. These pans are also typically dishwasher-safe, which comes in handy when you need to send cookware through the sanitizer.
Another popular material in a professional kitchen is carbon steel because of its ability to handle extremely high heat. (This is why it’s the preferred material for woks.) It’s ideal for creating hard sears on steaks and other cuts of protein. The caveat is that carbon steel requires extra maintenance to maintain its seasoning, so if you’re not prepared for the extra care, you’ll likely want the ease of cleaning of stainless steel instead.
Bernadette Machard de Gramont is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer specializing in food, wine, cookware, and other kitchen products. After a two-year stint at Williams Sonoma headquarters in San Francisco, she now researches and tests a variety of cookware, bakeware, and wine tools, and interviews field experts for their insight.
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