Food & Nutrition

Your Guide to Every Type of Frying Pan

With so many choices, it’s hard to know the best kind of frying pan to buy. We’re breaking down each type of material to look for when making your next purchase.

Shopping for cookware can be a pain. There are all kinds of shapes, sizes, and materials to choose from, all at varying price points. How do you know which is the best kind of frying pan to buy? It all comes down to assessing your needs and what type of cooking you do most.

Let’s start with the basics and move on to look at each material in depth.

Before buying a frying pan, you should consider:

Size

There’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” pan; different cooking tasks require specific sizes. It would be overboard to fry a single egg in a 12-inch pan, and you wouldn’t want to crowd enough food for a dinner party in a 6-inch pan. For most people, it works best to have two sizes of frying pans: a large, 10- or 12-inch pan for larger tasks like searing meat and making stir-fry dishes, and a smaller, 8-inch frying pan for melting butter or cooking eggs.

Material

Unfortunately, like pan size, one frying pan material doesn’t stand out as the best for every task. We’d recommend having at least one nonstick frying pan for things like cooking eggs and making crepes, and another for searing foods like meat and vegetables. If you have a well-seasoned cast-iron frying pan, you may be able to get away with having only one pan, but nonstick pans are generally inexpensive. If you can pick up a cheap nonstick pan to add to your set, we’d definitely suggest going for it. Make sure you take a look at these safest cookware options, too.

Find the best kind of frying pan to buy

Aluminum

We don’t recommend a straight-up aluminum frying pan. These pans are lightweight and heat up very quickly, but they can’t be used on induction burners and they don’t have even heat distribution. They’re also reactive to acidic ingredients like tomatoes, so they can’t be used to cook just anything. If you’re looking for an aluminum pan, we’d recommend getting one that’s coated with a nonstick finish or a tri-ply stainless steel pan that has aluminum included in its layers.

Nonstick

There are two major types of nonstick pans: aluminum pans with PTFE coating (commonly known as Teflon) and hard-anodized aluminum pans. Both finishes create a slippery surface that prevents food from sticking, even if you use little to no oil. That makes them ideal for making delicate foods like fish, eggs, pancakes, or crepes. On the other hand, that nonstick surface can’t be heated to hot temperatures and it won’t allow you to get a golden-brown sear on meats.

Pros

  • Heats up quickly
  • Food won’t stick
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to clean
  • Conducive to low-fat or low-oil cooking
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Easily scratched and damaged
  • Plastic and silicone utensils only; metal utensils can scratch the coating
  • Low- and medium-heat only
  • Cannot be used in the oven
  • Handwash only, even if the pan says dishwasher safe

RD Recommended Pans:

Ceramic

These “green” nonstick pans are coated with a silica-based gel made from sand, creating a slick, nonstick surface without the use of chemical coatings. They share most of the pros and cons of Teflon-coated pans, although they’re reported to be less durable and have a shorter lifespan.

Pros

  • Environmentally friendly and free of chemicals
  • Food won’t stick
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • Shorter lifespan than other nonstick pans
  • Not built for high-heat cooking
  • Easily scratched and damaged
  • Cannot be used in the oven
  • Handwash only, even if the pan says dishwasher safe

Recommended Pans:

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a great all-purpose frying pan material, although stainless steel alone is not a good conductor of heat. Look for tri-ply or multi-ply pans made by fusing multiple layers of metal, usually stainless steel, aluminum and sometimes copper. This makes them heavier than the single-layered pans, but they’re still lighter-weight than cast iron. Stainless steel pans are ideal for searing meat, making pan sauces and cooking foods in the oven.

Pros

  • Durable and with a long lifespan
  • Non-reactive
  • Rust and scratch-resistant
  • Safe for use at high temperatures
  • Oven-safe
  • Easy to clean and dishwasher safe

Cons

  • Poor conductor of heat, unless it has a copper bottom
  • Multi-ply pans can get very heavy
  • Discolors with heat stains when used at higher temperatures
  • Can be expensive, especially tri-ply and multi-ply pans

Recommended Pans:

Cast-Iron

You’ll find both uncoated and enameled cast iron frying pans. The bare, uncoated versions need to be seasoned (keep your cast-iron in tip-top shape by avoiding these mistakes) while enameled pans have a coating that makes them non-reactive to acidic foods. These pans are extremely versatile; they’re almost as nonstick as Teflon or ceramic pans but they can be used anytime you might reach for a stainless steel pan. You should definitely make these foods in your cast-iron if you opt for this style!

Pros

  • Durable
  • Versatile
  • Easy to clean (Yes, even uncoated pans!)
  • Safe for use at high temperatures
  • Oven-safe
  • Stays hot for extended periods of time

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Uneven heating
  • Ongoing care and maintenance required
  • Reactive to acidic foods, unless it has an enameled finish
  • Uncoated cast iron is prone to rust if not cared for properly
  • Not dishwasher safe

Recommended Pans:

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is most popular for its use in woks, but they make excellent frying pans. They’re more lightweight and durable than cast-iron—if you drop a carbon steel pan, it’s unlikely to crack in half—but they have similar seasoning requirements. If they’re seasoned properly, they can be used for anything from fish and eggs to meats and vegetables.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Heats quickly and evenly
  • Durable
  • Affordable
  • Safe for use at high temperatures
  • Oven-safe

Cons

  • Difficult to achieve the initial seasoning
  • Doesn’t retain heat well
  • Prone to rust if not cared for properly
  • Can rust if used in the dishwasher

Recommended Pans:

Couldn’t pick just one? Having multiple types of pans isn’t a bad idea—just know the right way to store them all so you don’t have an unorganized mess on your hands!

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