Whether you want to fry up some eggs for a big breakfast or practice searing steak for a fancy dinner, frying pans can be used for many dishes. Read our complete guide to frying pans and learn what materials may best fit your needs.
What Is a Frying Pan?
Many people wonder about the difference between a skillet and a frying pan. Though they are very similar and people often use the terms to refer to the same thing, a frying pan and a skillet have slight differences.
A frying pan has a flat bottom and a long handle. It also has angled, sloped sides to keep food from sliding out of the pan. Frying pans are versatile cookware you can use for many food and cooking needs. On the other hand, skillets are often deeper than frying pans and are made from a heavy or thick material.
When Do You Use a Frying Pan?
From frying up some eggs, fish or bacon to searing a steak or browning taco meat, frying pans allow you to cook many types of food and dishes through these techniques:
One of the most common frying pan uses is shallow frying. This means you won't have to submerge the food in oil and can cook basic foods like bacon, potatoes, eggs or steak. Shallow frying allows you to keep moisture out of food to create that typical brown, crispy food you want from frying.
Frying pans are great for a quick saute or other hands-on cooking needs. A shallow frying pan is a great tool if you need to stir or flip certain foods.
If you have a frying pan made of material that can handle very high heat, you can sear certain foods and create that signature brown crust. You might sear foods like chicken or steak, which require a delicate crust before finishing the dish.
If your pan's material can handle high temperatures, consider using it for oven finishing. You can place materials like cast iron or pure ceramic cookware in the oven after starting a dish on the stovetop. After searing or sauteing on the stove, you can bake chicken or one-pan meals in the oven.
Some meals require you to brown meat, such as stews, tacos or enchiladas. A frying pan is valuable when making a dish with pre-cooked meat. Frying pans allow you to brown meat and create a dish with juice and flavor.
A frying pan is a great kitchen tool for creating sauces after browning, searing, sauteing and frying other meals. Shallow pans help create pan sauces, which use bits of leftover or burnt food, also called fond, to make a smooth sauce. Cooks often mix fond with aromatics, deglazing liquid like citrus, wine or vinegar, stock, and butter.
What Frying Pan Material Is the Best?
When choosing between frying pans, you might wonder which material is the best for cooking. While many pan materials may offer various benefits, you'll want to compare the pros and cons of each type before investing in new cookware. Here are six common frying pan materials to choose from.
Nonstick pans use a Teflon coating, allowing foods to slide around easily on the pan without sticking. These pans are great for cooking delicate foods like pancakes, eggs, fish or fried foods. Due to their coating, nonstick pans only require a little oil or fat, and cleaning is easy.
Use low or medium heat when cooking with nonstick pans, as overheating could cause damage to the coating, which would then end up in your food. If you notice any smoke stains, peeling or flaking, you should no longer use your nonstick pan.
Stainless steel frying pans last a long time and are very durable. They are also easy to clean and, due to their non-reactive features, can handle acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus. Many cooks like using stainless steel pans to simmer foods like sauces, soups and stews.
Keep in mind that stainless steel on its own is not a great heat conductor. As such, many manufacturers sell stainless steel pans with an aluminum-clad bottom for better heat retention and distribution. With the addition of those metals, the pans can better heat your food and reduce hot spots.
Cast iron pans are thick, durable pans that take longer to heat up but cook evenly and consistently over long periods. They are naturally nonstick when seasoned and can stand very high temperatures. Cast iron pans retain heat well and can be transferred from oven to stovetop to grill without fear of warping or breakage.
This type of frying pan needs to be well-seasoned — coated in a neutral oil and baked in the oven — and maintained to prevent damage. With the proper cleaning and seasoning, they can last generations.
Copper pans are made from copper material and are often tinned with other metals to protect the customer from potentially toxic copper exposure. Copper is a great heat conductor and copper pans are known for their excellent heat distribution and retention. These pans last long with proper care and re-tinning and are very durable.
You can sear or brown food well when using copper cookware. While copper pans might be heavier than most, they provide many benefits your family will enjoy. Remember that you won't be able to cook acidic foods and will have to handwash the pans to keep them rust-free. Because copper is a delicate metal, you must be careful not to chip or scratch the material, as any copper in your food could be toxic.
Ceramic-coated pans have a nonstick coating made from ceramic materials. Unlike pure ceramic pans, they have a short life span and will need replacing once the coating wears down. Like nonstick pans, ceramic-coated frying pans are easy to use and can be quickly cleaned.
Ceramic-coated pans need careful maintenance and cleaning to ensure longevity. Always use soft cleansers like soap and water and non-abrasive utensils and brushes.
Pure ceramic frying pans are made from natural materials like clay, water, minerals and oxides. Fully ceramic cookware has no metal core and no nonstick coating. Using oil, fat and heat properly, ceramic pans have natural nonstick features without containing any PFOA, PFAS or PTFE.
Pure ceramic pans are not the same as ceramic-coated. They have many benefits and advantages that ceramic-coated pans do not. For example, ceramic pans can handle high heat and are safe in the oven, microwave or dishwasher. When properly maintained, they can last through generations and are easier to use than stainless steel. With longer heat retention and fresh-tasting dishes, you can be sure that pure ceramic cookware won't break down, scratch or flake.
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What Size Frying Pan Should You Purchase?
Many home cooks wonder what size frying pans there are and what frying pan sizes would fit their needs. The most popular sizes of frying pans tend to be between 8 and 12 inches. Smaller frying pans heat faster than larger ones and evenly distribute heat. However, they might lose heat more quickly. Larger pans may heat slower but retain heat for longer.
Some common frying pan sizes include:
- Seven inches: Seven-inch pans heat fast and provide great spaces for single-serving meals like eggs or pancakes.
- Eight inches: Eight-inch pans are perfect for making classic omelets, single-serving crepes or small steaks and fillets. You can also saute vegetables in this medium-sized pan.
- Ten inches: Many cooks use 10-inch pans for cooking entrees. This pan offers the best of both worlds, as it heats up fast but has a larger surface for meals.
- Twelve inches: A 12-inch pan can cook entrees and larger foods while offering other cooking applications like browning and searing.
- Fourteen inches: Fourteen-inch pans are perfect for cooking for many people or preparing large quantities of food.
Measuring a Frying Pan
When measuring a frying pan, measure the diameter from rim to rim. In some cases, the manufacturers won't advertise the actual diameter of the cooking surface. If you want to find out the exact size of your pan, then this measuring method can be helpful.
Frying Pan Thicknesses
You can also measure a frying pan's thickness. You might be interested in thickness if you want a pan with better heat retention. Thickness is measured in gauges or mils. The higher the pan's mils, the thicker its metal will be. A higher gauge measurement means a thinner metal. Thicker pans are often more durable but won't heat as quickly. Comparing and contrasting pan thicknesses can be helpful when choosing new cookware.
Maintaining Your Frying Pans
Caring for your frying pans is essential to increasing their life span and reducing the chance of warping, breakage or flaking coatings. Here are a few things you can do to maintain your frying pan properly:
- Regular seasoning: If you have a cast iron pan, season the material to maintain its nonstick properties and prevent rust.
- Proper storage: Store all frying pans safely to prevent scratches or warping. You can stack multiple pans using protective fabric layering.
- Proper heating: Always heat frying pans according to the manufacturer's instructions. Overheating could cause damage or warping.
- Following instructions: Follow all manufacturer's instructions relating to maintenance and cleaning.
How to Clean Frying Pans
Cleaning frying pans can prevent excess damage, scratches or warping. Here are a few cleaning tips to keep in mind:
- Cooling: The pan needs to cool before you wash it to avoid damage or distortion.
- Soap and water: Generally, you can use soap and water to clean pan materials. Sponges and soft brushes are usually preferred. For cast iron, you'll need to clean it with salt and half a lemon or potato — don't use soap, as that'll wash away the seasoning.
- Cleaners: Use soft cleaners that won't damage the pan's surface. Abrasive cleaners may affect the coatings on nonstick or ceramic-coated pans.
- Drying: Always dry frying pans thoroughly before putting them away. Proper drying prevents rust or water spots.
How Long Does a Frying Pan Last?
The life span of a frying pan depends on its material and how well you clean and maintain the product. For example, many materials require consistent seasoning or cleaning with non-abrasive materials. Other pans allow you to cook with metal utensils without fear of scratches or flaking. It all depends on the frying pans' requirements and material.
Here's how long each kind of frying pan lasts.
Life Span of Cast Iron Frying Pans
Cast iron pans may last decades when correctly seasoned and cleaned consistently. When seasoning a cast iron pan, scrub the frying pan in hot water with soap and rinse with warm water.
Dry the pan with a paper towel and cover the surface with some vegetable oil. You can turn the pan upside down on a dish or oven rack and place a rimmed baking sheet or foil below to catch drips.
After seasoning with oil, bake the pan in the oven for over an hour until no dry patches are left. Properly seasoned pans add flavor and increase the life span of your cast iron.
Life Span of Ceramic Frying Pans
Pure ceramic frying pans may last generations when properly maintained and cleaned. Their long-lasting abilities make them a popular choice for family cooks. Due to their lack of coatings or additional materials, they can be passed down through families when stored and used safely.
Life Span of Ceramic-Coated Frying Pans
Ceramic-coated pans only last a few months or years due to their nonstick coating, which may wear down over time. A ceramic-coated frying pan may last longer if you properly care for the coating and avoid using metal utensils or high heat.
Life Span of Stainless Steel Frying Pans
Stainless steel frying pans will last several years or decades with proper cleaning and maintenance. Ensure you hand wash stainless steel pans to keep their shine, and avoid putting these pans in the dishwasher.
Life Span of Copper Frying Pans
Copper frying pans may last several years or decades with proper care and maintenance. T life span could vary depending on how well you clean the pan or how frequently you use it.
Another aspect of copper pans that affects their life span is whether they're unlined or lined. Lined copper needs re-tinning every few years to ensure that copper maintains its polished appearance and health. Copper is always susceptible to degradation, so avoid scraping the pan as much as possible to keep it clean and polished.
Life Span of Nonstick Frying Pans
Nonstick frying pans may only last for a short time compared to other cookware materials. They have a definite life span and only last around five years when properly maintained.
If you see any scratches, warping or flaking on the pan, it is time to throw the product away. Using metal utensils or high heat on a nonstick pan might reduce the life span. Always clean the product thoroughly and use soft utensils made of silicone, plastic or wood.
Purchase an All-Ceramic Frying Pan!
Xtrema is a family-owned and operated business with pure ceramic and handcrafted cookware made with natural, nontoxic materials. Our long-lasting ceramic pots and pans will last generations and are safe to use, easy to clean and sustainable. If you want to invest in reliable frying pans with long-lasting capabilities and no toxic properties, consider products from Xtrema.