Skillet pans 101: A quick guide to choosing and using the best skillet pan for your needs

If you’re looking to up your cooking game, investing in a good skillet is a must. Skillets are versatile kitchen tools that can be used for everything from searing meats to sautéing vegetables to making pancakes.

With so many options on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for your needs. In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about skillets, from the different types available to how to care for them properly.

Where to start

The first thing to consider when choosing a skillet is the material it’s made from. Cast iron skillets are popular for their durability and heat retention, while stainless steel skillets are known for their even heating and non-reactive properties. Nonstick skillets are great for cooking delicate foods that tend to stick, but they require special care to maintain their nonstick surface. In this guide, we’ll explore the pros and cons of each material to help you make an informed decision.

In addition to material, size is another important factor to consider when choosing a skillet. Skillets come in a range of sizes, from small 6-inch pans to large 14-inch pans.

The size you choose will depend on your cooking needs and the size of your household. A larger skillet is great for cooking for a crowd or making one-pan meals, while a smaller skillet is perfect for cooking for one or two people.

Types of skillets

Skillets, also known as frying pans, come in various materials and coatings to suit different cooking needs. Here are the most common types.

Cast iron skillets

Cast iron skillets are known for their durability and versatility. They can be used on the stovetop or in the oven and are great for searing, frying, and baking. Cast iron also retains heat well, making it ideal for cooking dishes that require high temperatures.

However, cast iron skillets require seasoning before use to prevent rust and sticking. To season a cast iron skillet, coat it with a thin layer of oil and bake it in the oven for an hour.

Stainless steel skillets

Stainless steel skillets are durable and easy to clean, making them a popular choice for home cooks. They are also non-reactive, which means they won’t interact with acidic foods like tomatoes and vinegar.

However, stainless steel skillets don’t conduct heat as well as other materials, so they may have hot spots and uneven cooking. To avoid this, look for stainless steel skillets with a copper or aluminum core, which will improve heat distribution.

Non-stick skillets

Non-stick skillets are coated with a layer of PTFE or Teflon, which prevents food from sticking to the surface. They are great for cooking delicate foods like eggs and fish, and they require little to no oil for cooking.

However, non-stick skillets are not as durable as other materials and can scratch easily. They also cannot be used at high temperatures and should not be put in the oven.

Other types of skillets

Other types of skillets include copper and aluminum skillets. Copper skillets are excellent heat conductors, but they are also expensive and require regular polishing to maintain their shine. Aluminum skillets are lightweight and affordable, but they can warp at high temperatures.

Other than skillet pans, there are electric skillets – a type of appliance that plugs into a power outlet and heats up with electrical power. They obviously don’t need a stove to work, and you can put them anywhere, even on the table, and have them cooking during the meal.
If you’d rather go for electric skillets, check out
our Electric skillets: Quick buying guide

When choosing a skillet, consider the type of cooking you will be doing and the level of maintenance you are willing to undertake. Each type of skillet has its own advantages and disadvantages, so choose the one that best suits your needs.

Choosing the right skillet

When it comes to choosing the right skillet, there are several factors to consider. From size and material to handle design and heat distribution, each element plays a crucial role in determining the quality and performance of your skillet. Here is what you need to know to make an informed decision.

Size considerations

Skillets come in a variety of sizes, ranging from small omelet pans to large 12-inch frying pans. When choosing the size of your skillet, consider how many people you are cooking for and what type of dishes you will be preparing. A 10-inch skillet is ideal for cooking for one or two people, while a 12-inch skillet is better suited for larger families or cooking multiple dishes at once.


The material of your skillet is another important factor to consider. Skillets can be made of various materials, including stainless steel, cast iron, and copper. Each material has its own unique properties, such as heat retention, weight, and durability. 

MaterialHeat RetentionWeightDurabilityMaintenanceOther Features
Cast IronExcellentHeavyVery durableRequires seasoningOven safe
Carbon SteelGoodLightweightVery durableRequires seasoningOven safe
Stainless SteelFair to goodMediumVery durableEasy to cleanOven safe
CopperExcellentMediumVery durableRequires polishingExcellent heat conductor
AluminumFairLightweightLess durableEasy to cleanInexpensive
Anodized AluminumFair to goodLightweightMore durableEasy to cleanNon-reactive, scratch-resistant
Non-StickFairLightweightLess durableEasy to clean, no seasoning requiredAvoid high heat, may need replacement after some time

Handle design 

The handle design of your skillet is also important. Look for a handle that is comfortable to grip and securely attached to the skillet. A riveted handle is a good choice as it is more durable than a welded handle. Additionally, consider the length of the handle, especially if you plan to use your skillet in the oven.

Heat distribution 

Uniform heating is essential for a quality skillet. Look for a skillet that has minimal hot spots and even heat distribution. Skillets with multiple layers of metal, such as tri-ply or alloy, are great at providing even heat distribution.

Compatibility with cooktops

Consider the type of cooktop you have when choosing a skillet. Gas ranges work well with most skillets, but induction cooktops require a magnetic skillet to work properly. Additionally, make sure your skillet is the appropriate size for your cooktop.

Cast IronYesYesYes
Enameled Cast IronYesYesYes
Stainless SteelDepends on the compositionYesYes
AluminumNo, unless it has a magnetic layerYesYes
CopperNo, unless it has a magnetic layerYesYes
GlassNoSome brandsSome brands


Finally, consider the maintenance of your skillet. Look for a skillet that is dishwasher safe if you prefer easy cleaning. Avoid using harsh chemicals or detergents on your skillet, as they can damage the surface. Instead, use paper towels or a soft cloth to clean your skillet. Additionally, store your skillet properly to prevent warping and damage.

Skillet care and maintenance

Taking care of your skillet is essential to ensure it lasts for years to come. Proper cleaning, seasoning, and storing techniques will help maintain your skillet’s quality and prevent warping. Here are some tips for caring for your skillet:

Cleaning tips

Cleaning your skillet after each use is crucial to prevent food residue from building up and affecting the flavor of your next dish. Here are some cleaning tips to keep in mind:

  • Clean your skillet while it’s still hot. This will help prevent food from sticking to the surface.
  • Use a soft sponge or brush to scrub the skillet. Avoid using abrasive materials that can scratch the surface.
  • Do not use soap when cleaning your skillet. Soap can strip the skillet’s seasoning and affect its non-stick properties.
  • Rinse the skillet with hot water and dry it thoroughly with a clean towel.

For particularly stuck-on foods, you can use a mixture of kosher salt and water to scrub the surface.

Seasoning cast iron skillets

Seasoning your skillet is crucial to maintain its non-stick properties and prevent rusting. Here’s how to season your skillet:

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).
  • Apply a thin layer of vegetable oil or melted shortening to the skillet’s surface. Make sure to coat the entire surface, including the handle.
  • Place the skillet upside down on the oven’s middle rack and bake it for one hour.
  • Turn off the oven and let the skillet cool inside.

Repeat this process every six months or as needed to maintain the skillet’s seasoning.

Frank Proto here run a nice demonstration and an explanation on how this can be done:

Storing skillets

Proper storage is essential to prevent your skillet from rusting or warping:

  • Store your skillet in a dry place to prevent moisture from building up.
  • Place a paper towel or cloth inside the skillet to absorb any moisture.
  • Do not stack your skillets on top of each other. This can cause them to warp or scratch.

Common mistakes to avoid

Here are some common mistakes to avoid when caring for your skillet:

  • Do not put your skillet in the dishwasher. The high heat and harsh detergents can damage the skillet’s surface and seasoning.
  • Avoid cooking delicate foods, such as fish or eggs, in your skillet until it’s properly seasoned. Otherwise, the food may stick to the surface.
  • Do not use metal utensils on your skillet’s surface. This can scratch the surface and damage the seasoning.

Cooking techniques with skillets

Skillets are versatile cooking tools that can be used for a variety of cooking techniques. From searing to baking, skillets are a must-have in any kitchen. 


Searing is a high-heat cooking technique that is used to brown the surface of meats, such as steak, and create a flavorful crust. To sear meat in a skillet, first, make sure that your skillet is hot. You can tell if your skillet is hot enough by sprinkling a few drops of water on the surface. If the water sizzles and evaporates immediately, your skillet is ready.

Next, add a small amount of cooking oil to the skillet and swirl it around to coat the cooking surface. Then, add the meat and let it cook undisturbed for a few minutes until a brown crust forms. Flip the meat and repeat the process on the other side. Searing creates fond, which is the browned bits of meat that stick to the skillet. You can use the fond to make pan sauces or gravies.

Check out how to sear with this video from Tasty:


Frying is a cooking technique that involves cooking food in hot oil. To fry in a skillet, first, heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add enough cooking oil to cover the bottom of the skillet. Once the oil is hot, add the food and cook until it is golden brown and crispy. Use a slotted spoon or spatula to remove the food from the skillet and place it on a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.


Sautéing is a cooking technique that involves cooking food quickly in a small amount of fat over high heat. To sauté in a skillet, first, heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add a small amount of butter or oil. Once the butter or oil is hot, add the food and cook until it is browned and tender. Sautéing is a great technique for cooking vegetables, meat, and making sauces.


Some skillets are oven-safe, which means that you can use them to bake dishes in the oven. To bake in a skillet, first, make sure that your skillet is oven-safe. Then, prepare the dish and place it in the skillet. Bake the dish in the oven according to the recipe instructions.

Other techniques

Skillets can also be used for other cooking techniques, such as roasting, braising, and making one-pan meals. For example, you can use a skillet to roast vegetables or cook pasta sauce. You can also use a skillet to braise meat or make crepes.

In conclusion, skillets are versatile cooking tools that can be used for a variety of cooking techniques. From searing to baking, skillets can help you create delicious meals with ease.

One-pan skillet meal, anyone?


If you are in the market for a new skillet, there are several options available, including cast iron skillets, tri-ply pans, and nonstick frying pans. Each type of skillet has its own unique benefits and drawbacks, so it is important to consider your cooking needs and preferences before making a purchase.

When it comes to specific brands, All-Clad is a popular choice among home cooks and professional chefs alike. Their high-quality skillets are durable, heat evenly, and are easy to clean. However, there are many other reputable brands on the market, so be sure to do your research and read reviews before making a decision.

In addition to investing in a high-quality skillet, there are several additional resources and recommendations that can help you improve your skillet cooking skills. Cookbooks, online tutorials, and cooking classes can all provide valuable insights and techniques for using your skillet to its full potential.

It is worth noting that there has been a recent class action lawsuit against some nonstick frying pan manufacturers regarding the safety of their products. If you are concerned about potential health risks associated with nonstick coatings, consider opting for a cast iron skillet or tri-ply pan instead.

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