Call them what you may, frying pans, skillets, sauté pans, woks, they exist in the kitchen as the most used of all pans. If you just describe the form there are say 5 or 6 different shapes, multiply by the materials used and add the size alternatives and you end up hundreds from which to choose.
We must say that if you allow yourself only one pan, it may limit you a little. Professional chefs and restaurant kitchens usually stretch to more than a handful, and the choice is decided by its single purpose. Each type of pan has different performance characteristics, so if you can stretch to more than one or two you will have much more fun at the stove. Purchase initially based on what you want to cook. This will direct you to the appropriate shape. Then begin the task of selecting material and size!
Once purchased, get to know your pan, take the time to study what is happening during its time on the heat.
Here we break down the components to consider when purchasing a frypan!
Stainless steel is a generic term that refers to a variety of steel alloys. Most commonly in cooking 18/10 is referred to, and this indicates the percentages of chromium added to reduce rusting, and nickel added to enhance shininess.
Probably the most popular of all, and yet stainless steel is quite an unsuitable material for a frying pan. As stainless steel is an inherently poor conductor, an aluminium diffusing plate must be attached to the base to create heat transfer. The thicker this ‘sandwich’ of aluminium between the stainless ‘sheet’, the hotter and quicker transfer of heat.
On the plus side, stainless steel is almost completely non-reactive and long lasting. This means that food can sit within the pans for extended periods without the worry of the metal tainting certain foods. Maintenance wise, these pans can be scrubbed back to shiny after each use, without causing any degradation to the pan. This is why the addition of oil with each use is mandatory, as no patina builds on the surface as with other metals.
It is prudent to heat these on slow heat and bring them up as you cook. Stainless pans are great for sauces and shallow frying – although pay attention how you place your food in the pan.
A tip for all pans, but critical with stainless!... always pat dry wet food and fish and meat and move the food as soon as you place it on the heat.
Just about every shape of frypan is now available with some form of non-stick coating.
The non-stick coating used on pans is PTFE. This chemical compound has non-stick and heat resistant properties. It was commericially branded Telfon by the DuPont Chemical Company in the 1940’s, and this is commonly how these pans are now referred to.
As these are usually alight aluminium pans, you can achieve the benefit of quick and responsive heat conductivity without any stickiness.
They are however prone to ravages of bad cleaning and usage. Metal objects such as flippers, tongs or turners will scratch the surface of the pan. And whilst PTFE is heat resistant, pans should not be heated while empty, and not be used at extreme high temperatures. The coating is also easily degraded with the use of scourers, or harsh detergents.
These pans vary in cost and the quality of these pans is reflected in the price. Regardless of what you end up with, these pans do require replacing. How often is up to how well it is used and cleaned, but even a well-loved non-stick pan will need an update every now and then.
These pans are almost essential in any kitchen. The benefits are numerous and one of these will save you much grief from things sticking to your pan. Excellent for the cooking of fish and any shallow frying.
These are perfect for intensive restaurant use, and cheap! They seem to thrive at being always on the flame, idling at heat. Always choose ones with plated cast-iron handles as these absorb ‘some’ of the heat from the pan. Aluminium’s cooking performance is second only to copper. It is light and does not corrode. It requires minimal maintenance -we recommend it be washed in soapy water, however dishwashers are a no-no, and undissolved salt in water will pit it as it does to most metals.
These pans are all purpose, sometimes heavy, and the absolute best for really high temperature cooking. Thin ones for quick reheats, such as finishing pasta dishes, and thicker ones for cooking steaks quickly, sweating onions without constant attention, browning vegetables and of course eggs and bacon. These pans are perfect for top to oven cooking.
Seasoning the pan is essential, but not difficult, and once a good season is achieved your pan will be effectively non-stick. New pans are cleaned once only in hot soapy water, then dried and oiled lightly with vegetable oil. Place the pan on a low heat, or in the oven and leave until it begins to smoke, and in places turn black. Once the pan is black take it off the heat and allow to cool. Then wipe out with clean paper towel and hang for use.
Steel then requires an easy but essential cleaning routine, and kept hung up with thin layer of grease on its surface to avoid rusting or corrosion
Any ‘sticks’ that occur can be spot scrubbed, then the pan just needs a good wipe out and rinse with super hot water. Beware ..detergent is the enemy of any steel pan.
All frypans shouldn’t be too clean, even Teflon ones. It is best to rinse and brush quickly under the tap and hang up to dry. The surface gets better and better, more and more non-stick. Keep them slightly oily.
Perfect for searing meat and finishing off in hot oven!
Cast iron is use widely for its slow heat conductivity, and the same applies for frypans or skillet, made from this material.
The 'American' skillet, short handled design harks from the days when you just moved the pans sideways to control the heat from the fuel stove. Not for tossing!
These are good for slow frying things like thick pikelets or flapjacks, and particularly for stove top to slow oven cooking.
Like steel cast iron will rust if left ungreased, or scrubbed too hard when cleaning. It will build up a lovely non-stick patina as you use it, and these pans are legendary for their longevity.
The queen of pan if you’re strong and rich! Copper brings to the cooking process unrivalled heat transfer, temperature, and stability. These pans can deliver high temperatures, quick temperature change response, and unlike just about every other material, rarely develop hotspots on their surface even after many years of use.
Most modern pans will be lined with spun stainless steel, and this makes maintenance much easier. Copper does not need to be kept shiny to maintain its performance. This is just an aesthetic choice, and due to the stainless steel insides are generally fairly easy to clean.
They are however HEAVY, and unfortunately now very expensive.
SOME FOOD SPECIFIC SHAPES
Crepe & Blinis
Obviously, used for crêpes, pancakes, flapjacks and the glorious blini.
Crepe pans typically have low sides to make the turning easier and also so crepes can smoothly slide out the pan once cooked.
Blinis Pans are a tiny frypan, usually around 10cm in diameter that allows for one perfectly formed blini to be cooked and flipped easily. These are also perfect for a singular perfectly fried egg!
Traditionally, these are made from plain steel, however with the advent of PTFE most are now coated aluminium.
The steel ones will over time develop their own non stick patina. The key to achieving this is once seasoned, your pan is then never washed but simply wiped out after each use. They are much cheaper and less prone to damage than the Teflon coated.
Coated ones PFTE (see above) will be gloriously non stick from the get go.
Until you get the rhythm right, overheating is easy and of course be ready to sacrifice your first crepe in the name of preparing the pan for the batch!
The Mighty WOK!
Woks like most other pans now come in a multitude of materials. However the original curved piece of blue steel really cannot be beaten for its flash cooking performance over extremely high heat. The steel used is thin enough to transfer and respond to heat quickly, but robust enough to withstand constant bashing without damage. Woks will need to be seasoned before first use, as per instructions in STEEL pans. Woks get better with time, and the purchase of a relatively cheap one should see you through your lifetime. Even if these develop rust this can easily be removed with a scourer and the pan re seasoned, ready to start again!
A Word on Induction
Induction Heat is a non-radiant heat.
Very basically, this means that heat is created not via heat transfer – flame to metal - but rather by using the powers of magnetism, to create currents in the metal pan, which in turn heats what is in it! The induction plate heats the base of the pan by magnetic induction. Heat then travels up the sides of the pan. This heat is transferred through the contents of the pan.
Its benefits are precision heat setting, and the reduced level of heat created in kitchens through burning hotplates.
Non-magnetic material such as copper and aluminium are not able to use induction heat. However you can now benefit from the heat conductivity of aluminium or copper, as many are fitted with a base that contains a magnetic steel plate.
Induction hot plates look the same as an electric hotplate. Unlike traditional radiant electric or gas hotplate, which sit burning and emitting heat, an induction hotplate will not 'turn on' until the pot is placed on it. It is the magnetic connection that creates the heat.
If you are unsure as to whether a pan is able to be used on induction, look for the symbol above. Alternatively you can check the base of a pan by putting a magnet to it. If it is magnetic it will work on induction. This is the fool proof way to confirm this - although we agree not everyone carries a magnet around with them!