Are you confused by all the different frying pan sizes there are to choose from? If so, we’re here to help.
When it comes to buying pots and pans, it isn’t enough to just know which specific products you want — you also must know the specific sizes you want. We find this fact to ring especially true for frying pans.
Why? Because frying pans (also called skillets) are a kitchen product for which there are many different sizes to choose from, and the differences between these sizes aren’t as apparent as they are with volume-based cookware like saucepans.
While it’s true that our 10-inch stainless steel pans can do many of the same tasks as our 12 inch pan, they are not always interchangeable. In this guide, we’ll first discuss cookware materials and how they relate to frying pan sizes, then go into how frying pan sizes are measured, and finally we’ll run through the three most common sizes. Once you master this, you'll be able to tell what separates high quality cookware from cookware that won't be able to produce restaurant quality food.
What frying pan size is best for me?
Oftentimes the only thing you need to consider when deciding between frying pan sizes is, “What’s the smallest possible pan I can use without risking overcrowding?” The prevention of overcrowding should be the first order of business when it comes to deciding between sizes.
However, there are some cases in which having a larger or smaller sized pan matters for more than just the volume of what’s being cooked. We discuss a few of those cases in the frying pan size breakdown later in this article.
How are frying pan sizes measured?
Frying pan sizes are determined by a pan’s overall diameter (wall top to wall top), not the diameter of its cooking surface (base edge to base edge).
Due to design differences with regard to how steeply their walls rise, it’s very common to have two 12 inch pans that have different cooking surface measurements. For example, the cooking surface of Made In’s 12” Stainless Steel Frying Pan is 9.5 inches whereas the cooking surface of Made In’s 12" Blue Carbon Steel Frying Pan is 9.25 inches.
Furthermore, cookware size categorization oftentimes includes rounding down to the nearest inch (but never up). It's very common for a frying pan to measure in at slightly above its marketed length — a 12 inch designation simply means the pan measures in between 12 and 13 inches. This elongated window allows for more freedom of design.
For the sake of consistency in this article, when referencing general frying pan sizes we’ll be using the measurements of Made In’s Stainless Steel Frying Pans.
8 inch frying pan
Benefits of this size: A smaller pan means more evenly distributed heat and the ability to reach high temperatures due to collateral heat exposure from the pan’s sloped sides.
Commonly used for: One fried egg, steak, or chicken breast, making thick, fluffy omelettes (the eggs are forced upward due to the smaller cooking surface), sauteing vegetables for a side dish.
Example: Made In’s Stainless Steel 8 Inch Frying Pan
10 inch frying pan
Benefits of this size: A medium pan means a middle ground where more can fit in the pan without overcrowding with a minimal sacrifice of heat retention.
Commonly used for: Frying 3 eggs or 2 chicken breasts, frying latkes, reheating leftovers, sautéing a large amount of vegetables.
12 inch frying pan
Benefits of this size: A large pan obviously means a large amount of food can be cooked in it at once without overcrowding the pan. It also means greater heat retention, as there is more material available to hold heat.
Commonly used for: Frying 4 eggs or 3 chicken breasts, frying bacon strips without having to trim the ends, making a pan pizza, galette, or Dutch baby (12 inches is the ideal size for baking pans).
Example: Made In’s Stainless Steel 12 Inch Frying Pan
What matters more, the material or size?
What your frying pan is made of and how big your frying pan is are the two most important qualities when it comes to selecting the skillet for you. Typically, the selection process starts with material and then gets more specific with size. This is because the difference material makes is larger than the difference made by size.
Below is a brief snapshot of the differences between the most common frying pan materials.
- Stainless steel: The classic all-around pan that can accomplish a wide variety of kitchen tasks like sautéing and pan frying.
- Nonstick fry pan: Due to their nonstick coating, nonstick pans are ideal for cooking delicate foods with a tendency to stick such as fish and fried eggs.
- Carbon steel frying pan: Heavy duty and perfect for accomplishing stovetop and grill sears, chars, and crispy textures.
- Cast iron skillet: Similar to a carbon steel frying pan except it seasons in slower, doesn’t conduct heat as well, and is less reactive to changes in temperature.
Whichever material you select, be sure it has standard features such as being oven safe, a stay cool handle, and a lifetime warranty that covers defects.
For a more in-depth look at the unique characteristics of each material, check out our blog comparing and contrasting cookware materials.