Pantastic Options – A Guide to Frying Pans

Stainless steel or aluminium? Cast iron or copper? With so many types of frying pans to choose from, buying one can be somewhat of a minefield. What you plan to use the pan for should dictate the type of material the pan is made from. Ideally you’ll want a selection of high-quality pans in your collection to suit a wide variety of culinary needs.

Chef Dylan Benoit explains the various different types of frying pans available and the most important things to consider when making your purchase.

Conductivity
Conductivity refers to how easily a pan heats up and how evenly the heat is distributed throughout the cooking surface. Certain materials conduct heat better than others and will retain their heat longer, providing a better cooking area. The downside is that the best metals for conductivity are often the most reactive to foods.

Reactivity
Certain materials react negatively with foods that are highly acidic or alkaline such as wine, lemon juice or spinach. These materials can sometime impart undesirable metallic flavors and/or colors during the cooking process. I recommend having at least one non-reactive pan and one other pan in your culinary toolbox.

Corrosion
The most highly conductive (and reactive) materials are often the most prone to corrosion. This just means that the pans require a little extra care and should be properly seasoned before the first use. Heavy duty chemicals and abrasives should be avoided at all costs to protect the “seasoning” (natural non-stick coating) of the pan that develops with proper use and care.

Cost
This is definitely a factor for most of us, whether you are a home cook or a restaurant owner. Unfortunately, we can’t all have our shelves stacked with beautiful stainless steel lined copper pots and pans. Even if you do, copper pans still can’t beat the flavor and non-stick traits of a decades old, well-seasoned cast iron pan. So just because they are expensive, doesn’t mean they are the best.

 

Pick Your Pan

 

Carbon Steel

Carbon-steel-frying-panPros
•     Thin material that heats quickly to very high temperatures
•    With proper care and regular use creates a natural non-stick layer
•    Great for searing meats

Cons
•    Thin material results in uneven heat distribution
•    Requires more maintenance to prevent rust and corrosion
•    Reactive with acidic and alkaline foods

*Carbon steel is not a common household pan choice, and instead are typically found in professional environments.

 

Stainless Steel

stainless-steel-frying-panPros
•    Non reactive and inexpensive
•    Very resilient to rust and corrosion

Cons
•    Food tends to stick a lot so more oil/butter is required
•    Conducts heat poorly and has uneven heat distribution

*A better option is a stainless steel pan with an aluminum or copper core in the base. The core helps conduct and retain heat while the outer stainless steel prevents corrosion and requires less maintenance.

 

Cast Iron

cast-iron-frying-panPros
•    Affordable and durable
•    Will last a lifetime (or two)
•    Great heat distribution and retains heat for a long time
•    Develops a natural non-stick layer if properly seasoned and maintained

Cons
•    Very heavy
•    Takes a long time to heat up
•    Prone to rust and corrosion if improperly treated
•    Reactive to acidic and alkaline foods

*A good option is enamel cast iron which has a layer of enamel on the inside and outside of the pan.This greatly reduces the risk of corrosion, but also greatly increases the price.

 

Copper

copperPros
•    Best heat conductivity
•    Reacts well to increases or decreases in temperature resulting in excellent cooking control
•    Lasts a very long time if properly maintained

Cons
•    Very expensive
•    Extremely reactive to acidic and alkaline foods
•    Prone to corrosion if not properly cared for
•    Requires regular polishing

*A good option is a copper pan lined with stainless steel. Stainless is a poor conductor of heat but is incredibly resistant to corrosion, and copper is the opposite, so together they make a great cooking tool.

 

Aluminum

aluminum-frying-panPros
•    Inexpensive
•    Lightweight
•    Good heat conduction
•    Very resistant to rust and corrosion

Cons
•    Usually has a thin base that scratches, dents and warps easily
•    Uneven heat distribution
•    Slightly reactive to acidic and alkaline foods