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4 Frying Pans I Couldn't Live Without

Cooking at home is far more fun when you've got the proper skillets.

Whether you're a serious chef or simply cooking for fun, the process can be rewarding and can open up a whole new world of delicious dishes to try. But no matter what you're cooking, you'll need the right tools and equipment to get started, which is why having a quality frying pan or skillet is so essential. The best frying pan and skillet options are worth the investment, because they can help you whip up new and exciting dishes to impress your friends and family and are often the most important part of getting a recipe exactly right. 

Roughly 75% of recipes require the use of a frying pan. OK, that's a number I made up, but you get the idea. Having the best frying pan or skillet for various types of cooking -- a cast-iron skillet for searing, a stainless steel sauté pan for sautéing and a nonstick frying pan for scrambling, for instance -- can help you nail your next recipe. There are countless types of frying pans made from all sorts of materials, with new ones being introduced all the time. Each type of skillet has its strengths and weaknesses, but there are four, in particular, I simply couldn't live without.

My essential foursome of frying pan types consist of blue carbon steel, five-ply stainless steel, hearty cast iron and basic nonstick. If you're wary of Teflon, there are alternative nonstick coating options, from PFOA-free variant materials to ceramic. Be it for searing a strip steak, flipping fluffy omelets or cooking a filet of salmon, these are the four skillets I think every home chef should have on the rack. 

Read more: I Tried Two Lighter Cast-Iron Alternatives to See if They Get the Job Done

Made In

Carbon steel is the one type of cookware that gets overlooked, and I think it's a crying shame. Think of it as a lighter version of your favorite cast-iron skillet. It gets really hot, and does so far faster than cast iron. Like the cumbersome cast-iron pan set of yesteryear, it's perfect for searing steaks and chicken, but weighs about half as much. 

Because of the lighter weight, I find it far more enjoyable to use than an unwieldy cast-iron skillet or a hefty griddle. You can actually maneuver it around your gas, electric, or induction stovetop without spraining a wrist. It's the best frying pan for someone who wants to save both time and their carpals. Just like cast iron, it will develop a natural seasoning and nonstick patina with continued use. But be warned, carbon steel won't ever get as nonstick as actual nonstick cookware, so be careful when making eggs or pancakes.

Made In makes my favorite 10-inch blue carbon steel skillet for $79. It has a cool-touch handle and slightly higher sides to keep steak splatter to a minimum. While Made In also makes a smaller 8-inch and larger 12-inch model, I love the 10-inch size. It's large enough for almost anything I ever cook but is still light enough to handle with ease. I find myself reaching for this pan for just about anything that needs an intense sear: steaks, burgers or skin-on chicken. Fish is the exception since I find the seasoned surface can affect the delicate flavor of cod or tuna in a way I don't want.

The major downside to carbon steel is that it's sensitive and susceptible to rust and corrosion and so must be cared for differently. That means no scrubbing with soap or soaking in water. It's also critical to dry your carbon steel cookware completely before storing it. Carbon steel also reacts to certain acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus and can alter their flavor. So you might be cautious about what you cook in your carbon steel skillet and avoid those where possible.

All-Clad

Nonstick pans have gotten a bad rap over the years, mainly due to the use of a chemical Polytetrafluoroethylene, aka PFOA, sometimes called Teflon. The good news on nonstick is that most pans no longer use the potentially harmful chemical. 

You can pay close to $100 for a high-end nonstick frying pan, but you probably shouldn't. Especially since the nonstick coating will eventually break down, no matter how careful you are. Which is why I'm delighted that this set of two PFOA-free All-Clad skillets can be had for $70 or less. 

I don't use it as much as my other pans, but it is the best frying pan for sticky foods like eggs and pancakes, or reheating last night's pasta dish. There's nothing better or easier to work with. I also like this model's high sloped sides, since I'm often cooking omelets or quickly reheating a stew or rice dish in my nonstick skillet.

All-Clad only sells these skillets in a set of two. While you may not need two, if you spread the use over two pans, they will last longer. Plus, you'll have the smaller 10.5-inch size -- ideal for a three-egg omelet -- and the larger 12-inch would be good for bigger saute jobs.

Lodge

I'll level with you. I use my cast iron quite a bit less now that I've got the blue carbon skillet in my cupboard, but I still can't imagine kitchen life without it. 

For cooking a big batch of Sunday home fries or the crustiest stuffing, cast iron is king. Yes, it's heavy. Yes, it's a bit of a pain to care for, but if you do, cast iron rewards you with a naturally seasoned and naturally nonstick cooking surface that imparts more contact heat than any other. The natural nonstick coating it develops over use and the fact that it's oven safe at remarkable temperatures, make cast iron one of the best kinds of frying pans for myriad cooking adventures.

The best part is cast iron is pretty cheap, even from a legacy producer like Lodge. You can score the brand's signature preseasoned cast-iron skillet for less than $30 and use it for decades.

Misen

If you're going to buy just one frying pan, you should probably make it stainless steel. Stainless-steel skillets are an excellent choice for pan-frying meat, fish and vegetables and there's not a lot you can't cook in a stainless-steel skillet. 

Stainless-steel skillets are extremely versatile. They get hot and a quality pan will retain heat and disperse it evenly. The heat is also easier to control in both directions. Stainless-steel cookware is also relatively light compared with other materials since most are built with an aluminum core. While they can be susceptible to dings and dents, a good one should keep its shape for years even with regular use. They're also non-reactive and so won't impart any unwanted flavor on food, even acidic ingredients. 

You can spend lots on stainless-steel cookware. While you shouldn't cheap out, you can get a quality pan for $50 to $75. Misen's 12-inch stainless steel is an excellent five-ply frying pan for the money. It has good heft but isn't heavy and heats extremely evenly. The rounded handle is one of the most comfortable I've wrapped my fingers around. For more stainless steel recommendations, including a budget pick, see my list of the best stainless steel skillets for 2022.

Because you'll be using this skillet more than most, you might consider opting for the larger 12-inch pan, but even a 10-inch skillet ($75) will be enough square inches for most jobs.

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