How to Pick the Best Frying Pan Material for You

Here’s how to pick out the next addition to your cookware cabinet with ease.

Rachel Robey|Aug 04, 2021
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If you’re on the hunt for a new frying pan, you’ll have more choices than you may know what to do with. With material options like cast iron, Stainless Steel, Non Stick, Copper, or Carbon Steel to choose from, you may feel like your work is cut out for you.

Luckily, it’s actually pretty simple to decide what pan you’ll be adding to your cookware collection—you just need to know what factors to consider ahead of time.

What is the Best Frying Pan Material?

When shopping for a new frying pan, it’s important to keep in mind that no material will be universally perfect for every chef and cooking scenario. Each frying pan material has its own advantages and drawbacks, so you’ll need to think about what you value most and consider the tradeoffs when hunting for your next pan.

For example, if you fry a lot of delicate, sticky foods and want a pan with easy maintenance and clean up, a traditional

Non Stick Frying Pan

would be the best option for you. On the other hand, if you prize durability, want a pan that can deliver a perfect sear, and don’t mind putting aside some extra time to care for your Cookware, you’ll likely want to reach for

Carbon Steel

.

What are the Pros and Considerations of Different Frying Pan Materials?

As you start looking for the newest addition to your cookware, you’ll likely run across the same materials by different brands—here are the pros and considerations of these materials, and who they’re best suited for.

Stainless Clad Frying Pans

You’ll find Stainless Steel (or Stainless Clad) Cookware in professional kitchens around the world for a reason. It’s made from several layers of metal sandwiched together—typically aluminum surrounded (or “cladded”) by stainless steel.  This gives it the outstanding heat transfer properties of aluminum, with steel’s sturdy, non-reactive aspects.

Pros:

It’s highly durable, quick-heating, and almost immune to rust and scratches with proper care.

Stainless steel is safe to use with high heat cooking, meaning it can equally serve on a gas stove range or in an oven.

These pans are incredibly versatile and can be used for many different types of cooking techniques—from a picture-perfect pan sauce to a

Maillard reaction

.

It can handle abrasive materials and utensils during cleanup.

Considerations:

Stainless cookware’s cooking surface is not nonstick.

As a result, you’ll need to use oil every time you cook, and it may not perform well for delicate or sticky foods.

It requires special

maintenance

to retain its shiny surface.

Buy a stainless clad frying pan if:

You want a trusty, versatile pan you can use endlessly, and don’t mind taking some extra time for cleaning and maintenance.

Non Stick Frying Pans

Non Stick Cookware is a staple of most modern kitchens, as its slick surface makes it easy to cook a wide variety of ingredients.

Pros:

Non Stick’s ultra-slippery surface makes it easy to whip up delicate foods like eggs, crêpes, cheesy quesadillas, and more without fear of them sticking.

Cleanup is a breeze thanks to its slick surface — just hand wash your non stick frying pan with warm water and a soft cloth.

Considerations:

The only consideration for Non Stick Cookware is that you’ll need to take extra care to avoid damaging the non-stick coating.

Be vigilant about using soft, non-abrasive utensils, and ensure this piece never goes in the dishwasher.

Buy a Non Stick pan if:

You want an easy-to-clean pan to fry sticky or delicate foods with incredible ease and no extra oil.

Carbon Steel Frying Pans

Carbon Steel

has been used in French kitchens for generations, and has only recently found its way into home and professional kitchens in the U.S.—but it's already gathered a devoted following.

Pros:

Carbon Steel

is like a hybrid of stainless steel and cast iron and offers the best of both worlds: cast iron’s natural non stick slickness with the lightweight and heat control of a stainless steel skillet.

Although you can use a Carbon Steel Frying Pan for almost anything, it truly shines when you need a picture-perfect sear, as you’d see in high-end restaurants.

These pans are incredibly durable, heat safe up to 1200F, and can be used almost anywhere—from a stovetop to in the oven to over an open flame.

Carbon Steel is lighter weight than its cast iron counterparts, making maneuvering it around the kitchen (or packing it for a camping trip) easy.

Considerations:

The considerations of Carbon Steel are similar to those of traditional cast iron. You’ll need to keep it

seasoned

and cared for carefully to avoid

rusting

and corrosion.

Like cast iron, this pan won’t work great for acidic foods, as they can easily strip the pan of its seasoning.

Buy a Carbon Steel Frying Pan if:

You want a lightweight skillet with a natural non stick interior surface, you don’t need it for highly acidic foods, and you don’t mind seasoning and other maintenance requirements.

Cast Iron Frying Pans

When you think of truly durable and versatile cookware, chances are a cast iron skillet comes to mind—there’s a reason these pans are often passed down for generations of use.

Pros:

Thanks to cast iron’s superb heat retention properties and natural nonstick surface, many chefs consider these old-school frying pans a culinary must-have.

These pans are safe to use at high temperatures, meaning you can bake breads, desserts, and more.

These pans are almost indestructible, and can be used in a variety of locations—from the oven to over a campfire.

Considerations:

The downsides of cast iron are similar to those of carbon steel: The natural nonstick surface requires seasoning and ongoing maintenance.

You can’t wash these pans with soap, or use it for cooking highly acidic foods.

It’s also important to note that cast iron is strong but brittle — meaning it can crack or even shatter if dropped on a hard surface.

Of course, cast iron is heavy. This makes it slow to heat up and cool down and sometimes unwieldy to work with. However, it is considered

induction compatible cookware

.

Buy a cast iron frying pan if:

You want a highly durable piece with heat retention, and don’t mind the extra weight and special care it requires.

Copper Frying Pans

Though pricey, Copper Pans are unparalleled in their heat retention, meaning these pans heat up and cool down in a flash.

Pros:

Copper Pans give chefs incredible control over the cooking process, allowing you to precisely fry and simmer foods and avoid burning.

From a purely aesthetic perspective, copper is gorgeous, brightening your kitchen with its lustrous mirror sheen.

Considerations:

It’s crucial to buy from a trusted manufacturer when buying copper pans, as copper cookware requires a steel or tin lining to make it food-safe.

It should be gently

hand-washed

to protect this special lining, and may need to be periodically resurfaced by an expert.

Note that copper is a very expensive metal, so these top-of-the-line pans tend to be pricey.

Buy a copper frying pan if:

You value precise, heat-responsive cooking above all else, and you don’t mind paying top dollar for it.

Ceramic Frying Pans

Ceramic cookware

is often marketed as a “clean” alternative to PTFE nonstick cookware since its silicon-based ceramic pan coating is made of natural materials.

Pros:

Ceramic cookware is offered in a variety of different colors that help brighten up a stovetop.

At the beginning of its lifetime, ceramic cookware’s surface is nicely non stick before its sol-gel lining wears off.

Cons:

As

ceramic pans

are used, their sol-gel “non stick” coating wears out over time and will eventually require cooking oil like any metal frying pan.

These pans are usually pure aluminum under the ceramic finish—and aluminum cookware doesn’t heat very evenly.

Buy a ceramic frying pan if:

You want colorful cookware and understand that it won’t have a very long lifespan, and will end up in a landfill sooner rather than later.

Enameled Cast Iron Frying Pans

Manufacturers can give cast iron skillets a strong, resilient skin by lining it with a layer of hard, scratch-resistant enamel, similar to the construction of an

Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

.

Pros:

The enameled interior helps protect against the major weak points of “naked” cast iron — a high-maintenance seasoning layer and vulnerability to rust.

Possesses the same great properties as traditional cast iron, including excellent heat retention and safe use at high oven temperatures.

Considerations:

One major downside of enameled cast iron cookware is its heaviness, as enameling adds more weight to the already hefty cast iron.

Cast iron is susceptible to chipping if handled improperly. Even a small break in the enamel surface can lead to rust and corrosion.

Note that enameled cast iron tends to be made by legacy manufacturers who charge steep prices.

Buy an enameled cast iron frying pan if:

You want a beautiful skillet that retains heat well and you don’t mind the high weight.

Now that you’re well versed with the different types of frying pan materials, their advantages, and their considerations, you should feel confident in making a selection that best suits you (and your kitchen’s) needs.