Call it a skillet, call it a frying pan: whatever it is, you need one (or more) to cook the things.
One thing I learned fairly recently is that you really can’t fully rely on whatever comes in the cookware set you buy. You can get by, of course, but it’s worth it to invest in good skillets that don’t come in your full set. For example, I bought a nice set of stainless cookware a few years back. The skillets that it came with are definitely usable (and are the sizes I need), but I needed a good nonstick skillet. I finally spent the money and got one a few months back and it changed my life.
Okay, I might be exaggerating a little, but I am seriously wondering why I didn’t do this sooner. In fact, if you’re still at a place where you’re building your kitchen arsenal, I would recommend budgeting for single pieces of the products (like skillets) you’ll use most often. It’s well worth it to spend a little more to buy singles of the key cookware items you need.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the best skillets and frying pans out there in all different materials. Then, I’ll talk a bit about the different types of pans you might need for your kitchen.
Best Skillets and Frying Pans
Note: For this category, we stuck with 12-inch pans. Most of these will have other size options if you want something smaller.
Top Pick: Kitchara Hard Anodized Nonstick Pan
This is a new top pick for us, and a brand-new pan and company. In my kitchen, I’ve moved from the All-Clad (listed as our runner-up) to this one primarily because of the handle. The U-shaped handle of the All-Clad is not universally appealing. Some cooks think it’s fine, but others have issues with the handle cutting into their hand. After using the All-Clad for quite a while, I’ve found myself frustrated by the handle, so I love the comfort of the Kitchara. Overall, this is a great value and an excellent frying pan that is durable, cooks beautifully, and is under $100. Click here to see it.
Runner Up: All-Clad 12-Inch Hard Anodized Nonstick Pan
The All-Clad is heavy-duty, oven safe to 500 degrees, PFOA-free, and it works beautifully. A 12-inch is fairly large, but I wanted something that could do all the jobs I needed it to. The downside to the size and heavy-duty-ness of it is that it is tricky to put in the dishwasher (it is dishwasher safe). I can, it just fits awkwardly — I’ve taken to hand washing it anyway because of that and to preserve the pan for as long as possible. It is a little spendy for a single pan, but I think it’s worth it given the construction and versatility. Do note that the U-shaped handle poses problems for some cooks. Click here to see it.
For a less expensive (under $40!) option that still has some of the same features our other picks discussed (oven safe, hard-andonized, durable), this Cuisinart is an excellent option for a fantastic price. It has good heat distribution and a cool grip handle, so it’s a pan that you can use for nearly everything. It is NOT induction ready, so steer clear of this one if you have an induction cooktop. There are also a few Amazon reviews that claim the lid broke while in use, which is concerning. I couldn’t find any more about that potential issue in any of my other research, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. Click here to see it.
Stainless can be tricky to cook with and to clean, and it takes time to get to know the proper methods for both. However, buying the right pan can get you off to the best possible start in stainless cooking. The right pan will have the right amount of chromium to avoid rust and it will have a base that heats quickly and evenly. Here are our picks.
Top Pick: Kitchara 5-Ply Stainless Frying Pan
Kitchara’s 5-ply stainless lineup offers beauty, excellent functionality, and a price that’s better than the typical reigning brand, All-Clad. We prefer the handle on the Kitchara pan versus some of the other options, and the brushed stainless helps it look beautiful and resist fingerprints. The frying pan is newly available after only being offered in the brand’s full stainless set. It’s available in 12 and 10 inch sizes. Click here to see it.
All-Clad takes a top spot in this category, too, but it also comes with an even higher price tag. However, it’s a good investment in a solid, well-crafted pan that will last years to come — with proper use and cleaning, of course. It features an aluminum core and durable build, making it cook beautifully and stand up to use. Complaints about this (and ANY stainless steel pan) are consistently about food sticking. It’s frustrating to have food stick to your pan, but stainless pans are NOT nonstick. It takes time and trial and error to learn to cook with stainless! (One quick tip: heat the pan, then add the oil.) This model has 12″ and 10″ options available. Click here to see them.
Budget Pick: Cuisinart Professional Stainless Steel Skillet
For an induction-ready, oven-safe skillet for less money, this Cuisinart pan is the way to go. The design is smart and made for easy pouring and cleaning, which is helpful when you’re trying to transfer foods. The PowerBond base heats fast and evenly. Plus, Cuisinart offers a lifetime warranty. Size options include 8″, 10″, and 12″. Click here to see them.
Best Cast Iron
Top Pick: Lodge Cast Iron Skillet
A good cast iron skillet has a few characteristics: It’s inexpensive, comes pre-seasoned, and will last a lifetime (if not many lifetimes — cast iron is a common heirloom). Lodge is THE name in cast iron, and I and basically everyone I know with a cast iron skillet uses this one. Made in the U.S.A. and marked by a rich history of manufacturing, Lodge is the go-to brand for cast iron. The skillet comes pre-seasoned and is a beast of a thing, so it’ll last a long, long time. This particular model comes with a silicone cover for the handle, which is an excellent addition. It’s available in 8″, 10.25″, 12″, and 13 1/4″. Click here to see them all.
If you have a bit (okay, a lot) more to spend and you want an enameled cast iron skillet, Le Creuset is your best bet. Known best for their outstanding dutch ovens, Le Creuset also offers this skillet in a variety of color options. Many reviewers have noted that this pan does a better job of being truly nonstick right out of the box, and it’s easier to care for than bare cast iron. Click here to see it.
Skillets and Frying Pans 101
In case you’re not sure about what size or type to buy, I wanted to talk a little about the basics of skillets and frying pans. First of all, those two terms are used interchangeably — there is no difference between a skillet and a frying pan. A sauté pan, on the other hand, is different: it has higher sides and a larger bottom surface, as well as a tighter-fitting lid.
When stocking your kitchen with the skillets you need to whip up all your favorite dishes, you’ll have a few considerations, such as size, material, and features (dishwasher safe, construction, and so forth).
At minimum, your kitchen should have the following skillets:
- A nonstick skillet (we recommend 12″)
- A stainless skillet (10″ or 12″)
- A cast iron skillet (recommend 12″)
Some cooks like to have a smaller pan for frying eggs, so something like a 6″ is good if you fry eggs frequently (it’s easier to clean, too).
In general, 12″ is the way to go because having more room than you need is better than having not enough. However, for singles or couples, 10″ sometimes makes more sense (especially if you don’t often cook for other people). 10″ pans tend to be easier to throw into the dishwasher and take up less space if you’re short on cupboard space.
As I mentioned, having at least one of each in nonstick, stainless, and cast iron is a good way to have most of your bases covered, especially if you’re just starting out. You’ll be able to figure out pretty quickly what (if any) other sizes or types of skillets make sense for you. Plus, keep in mind that you’ll likely need other cookware that can do double duty for some things (a wok or saute pan, for example).
Also if you’re just starting out, I’d suggest buying nonstick first. This will be the one you’ll use most often early on, and you don’t want to figure out stainless cooking when you just need to fry yourself some eggs for breakfast. But do be sure to learn how to treat your nonstick skillet right so you avoid damaging it (for best results, even if the manufacturer claims otherwise, handwash it and don’t use metal utensils).
I also strongly encourage you to buy a cast iron skillet as soon as possible. They can radically change your cooking, and they are inexpensive and versatile. Nonstick pans aren’t great for high heat, so the cast iron can handle the hot jobs and go in and out of the oven.
Stainless is great to have, especially as you become a better cook. As I talked about above, it takes time and dedication to learn the tricks and tips for cooking with stainless, but it’s well worth it when you’re ready.
Other Features & Construction
How the pan is constructed matters, at least for stainless and nonstick. And, additional features might be important to you. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Thickness, ply, and material (inside and outside)
- Handle construction — whether it gets hot to the touch and whether it’s comfortable or awkward to hold
- Nonstick material and chemicals
- Dishwasher safe
Have a skillet you love? Want to know more about any of this? Let us know in the comments below!