From cast iron to Teflon, frying pans come in dozens of varieties from hundreds of brands. So it’s extra disappointing when you pull out your best frying pan to make a big ol’ breakfast on the weekend, only to realize your skillet’s gotten too hot on one side and turned your eggs to rubber before the other side is even set. Even worse, those eggs have somehow bonded to the pan, meaning you’ve got some soaking and scrubbing to do before you can kick your feet up.
Frying pans are arguably the most important pan in your kitchen, a critical component of nearly every meal and snack you whip up; it doesn’t make sense to suffer through a crummy pan that makes every recipe a million times more difficult. We’d say it’s time to treat yourself (it is), but a good frying pan isn’t just a treat — it’s a necessity.
What You Need To Know Before Buying Cookware
A note about numbers here: These aren’t bottom of the line knockoffs. We looked for brands that are trusted, proven, safe, and affordable — not cheap. After all, when we’re cooking for friends, family, or just ourselves with these pans over the next couple of years, we’re thinking about how well it performs and how safe the final product is. No one’s ever found flakes of metal in their food and thought, “I’m glad I saved $15 on this brand.”
That being said, we’re not rich. With a few exceptions for the near-professionals, this list was made with your average income and skill level in mind. They won’t break the bank, and they’ll pay for themselves with their years of service and quality. A cheap pan that breaks in four months will make you buy a new one at full price — a good pan that you can leave to your grandkids (or just use a lot on your own) is worth its weight in gold.
The Best Stainless Steel Frying Pan
The frying pan, also known as the skillet, is the classic flat pan that’s used for sautéing, searing, light frying, some roasting, and a dozen other things. Like we said, it’s the workhorse of the kitchen, and it’s going to be the most used pan for a vast majority of people. Standards are high.
The handle needs to be strong, grippable, and not prone to slipping or rolling in a hand that could be covered in an oven mitt or grease. The pan needs a heavy bottom so it can heat evenly and then retain that heat. Well-angled sides make sauteéing, flipping, and cleaning easier.
We’d recommend a 12-inch for pretty much every occasion, although some of these options also come in 8- or 10-inch varieties. The extra two inches add to the versatility of the pan, and it’s always better to end up with too much room than too little.
Some people swear by cast iron frying pans, some prefer non-stick — both have their place, we’ll cover them extensively in a bit — but the truth is that stainless steel is the best choice for the versatility, quality, and ease of use you need to step up your cooking game.
For The Amateur And Intermediate Chef
The Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Skillet is an all-around winner: good price, good construction, and great versatility. At only $35.49, it’s a perfect price point for someone looking for their first piece of quality equipment without worrying about their wallet. It’s got a core of aluminum covered with stainless steel that mimics our choice for professionals (more on that in a bit).
This composition allows you to cook fearlessly, knowing that you don’t have to worry about unevenly heated spots in the pan. It’s easy to clean, safe to throw in the oven or the freezer, and a special timeless kind of gorgeous.
We’ve gone through vegetables, steaks, frittatas, caramel, and a bunch of different recipes with this pan, and it’s made even the hardest recipes leagues easier. Nothing burns (unless we get distracted) or cooks unevenly, and we even managed to flip a pancake with it one time. It’s seriously a dream.
For The Pro Chef
If you’ve done any research on chef-quality pans, this should come as no surprise: the All-Clad Stainless Steel Fry Pan. This is the metallic miracle that serves as the standard to which we should hold all frying pans to.
All-Clad are the pioneers of the three layers that turn a good pan great. A stainless steel exterior is complemented by a core of quick-heating aluminum that ensures an even heat throughout the entire frying surface, including the sides of the pan. Its flat and solid handle ensures that it’s easy to transfer from the stove to the oven even if you’ve got three oven mitts covered in oil on.
It’s what most chefs use at home, and it’s something that’s capable of lasting generations. It includes a limited lifetime warranty, but this thing is so hearty and solid, we’re not sure what would damage it enough to need a replacement.
All that being said, it’s still a little uncomfortable to look at that price tag: $119.99. It’s well worth it for its quality, and if there’s one pan you splurge on, make it this one.
The Best Cast Iron Skillet
Cast iron is heavy, can’t be soaked, can’t be used with acidic components for too long, and need to be re-oiled and reasoned. That being said, we love using our cast iron pans when the situation calls for it, but they’re not as beginner-friendly as they seem.
If you’re prepared, they’re the perfect vehicles for pizza, cookies, shallow frying, and tons of other things that do well with cast iron’s capability for maintaining even and high temperatures. After enough seasoning and care, they basically become non-stick pans capable of handling even the stickiest of eggs.
For The Amateur And Intermediate Chefs
Much like All-Clad’s legendary status for stainless steel, Lodge is the brand to beat for modern cast iron.
The Lodge Cast Iron 12-Inch Skillet is absurdly affordable at $20, and it’s capable of lasting for literal generations. While it comes pre-seasoned, we’d advise cleaning and seasoning it yourself once you get it for best results. Keep it out of the dishwasher and don’t drop it and you’ll have a magical piece of equipment that’s as versatile as it is heavy.
For The Pro Chef
Most pros will have some lump of cast iron that’s older than they are, seasoned with generations of cooking. The tough answer here would be to scope out thrift stores and second-hand shops for the next few weeks to see if an old legend of a pan comes in. But that takes time, luck, and patience, and we want to make our giant cookie now.
The Le Creuset Signature Iron Handle Skillet is top of the line when it comes to cast iron (and at $199.95, it should be). With an enameled interior, this skillet doesn’t need extra seasoning and oiling, skipping the worst part about cast iron entirely. From stirfry to steak, the Le Creuset is an ideal partner in your cooking adventure.
The Best Non-Stick Frying Pan
For The Amateur Chef For The Intermediate Chef
Here’s the big twist of non-stick: It’s the one piece of kitchen equipment that you should cheap out on. As Daniel Gratzer at Serious Eats points out, the non-stick coating can only last so long, and there aren’t really any standouts that are all that impressive for their cost. You can get anywhere from a few months to a few years with non-stick, but you can’t expect it to last for too long. It’s why we’d call it a non-necessity when compared to stainless steel (or even cast iron) skillet.
The Farberware Restaurant Pro Aluminum Non-Stick 8-Inch Skillet is only $16, but it cooks like it costs $30. It’s completely serviceable and doesn’t get any complaints from us. It’s a good starter pan that you can abuse and misuse since, after all, it’s $16.
The T-fal Professional Fry Pan, at $31.99, is going to be your best bet for oil-free cooking. At 12 inches, it’s good for more than just eggs — it’s perfect for crepes and fish, too. T-fal’s quality is well-known at this point, so there’s no reason to worry about any part of the nonstick coating peeling or chipping (unless you’re hacking at it with metal).
For The Pro Chef
The Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 8-Inch Nonstick Stainless Steel Skillet is an incredibly solid choice here at $35, but to be honest, you’re just as well off with the Farberware. Like we said, this is a unique category.
If you really want luxury, the 10-inch Ballarini Parma Forged Aluminum Nonstick Fry Pan is a prime option. Although aesthetics are arguably the least important part of good cookware, this pan is chic enough to make us want to repaint our cabinets so they can be on-par with it. Ceramic particles give it a light speckled look that’s a great modern twist on the traditional pan.
As far the cooking capabilities, it’s just as good: The aluminum body heats quickly, and the non-stick coating means our weekend omelette only needs a teaspoon or two of oil. It’s our go-to egg pan for a good reason, so we’re able to look past its $40 price tag.
Still, don’t forget that these pans have a limited lifetime and are guaranteed to need replacing, and a $16 pan isn’t going to do you wrong.