Cast Iron Skillets
Versatile and economical, cast iron will serve you well for many years, and maybe your children and grandchildren as well. Although it takes longer to heat than other types of skillets, cast iron retains its heat very well and excels at browning, searing and baking. It goes seamlessly from stovetop to oven and can be used on the grill or over an open flame — making it very popular with campers and tailgaters. When broken in and treated properly, cast iron will develop some natural nonstick properties, although it may never be nonstick enough for that perfect over-easy egg.
Also often referred to as “clad,” stainless steel frying pans have a core of fast-heating aluminum sandwiched between two layers of heat-tempering stainless steel. This material heats evenly on gas or electric stovetops, and experts say it does a superior job of browning food. Stainless steel skillets with oven-safe handles can typically withstand temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven or go under the broiler. These pans are not inherently nonstick, and it may take some trial and error to figure out the correct sequence of heat + oil + added ingredients, but foodies say it’s worth going through the learning curve.
Every kitchen should have at least one nonstick frying pan. They excel at cooking delicate foods like fish, runny-yolked eggs, pancakes and crepes. The best nonstick skillets heat quickly and evenly, and they tend to be lighter and easier to maneuver than either cast iron or stainless. They should be used at lower temperatures than stainless steel or cast iron, and even the most expensive have a limited lifespan — toss them as soon as they begin to lose their nonstick properties or you see any chipping, flaking or scratching to avoid potential safety hazards (see below).
Ceramic skillets are also nonstick, but ceramic is thought to be safer than other types of nonstick pans. However, there are tradeoffs — ceramic is more expensive, doesn’t have the extreme nonstick qualities of some other materials, and the interiors tend to be more delicate. Still, if you take good care of your ceramic frying pan, use it at the appropriate heat settings (no higher than medium), and don’t use metal utensils, it should have a decent lifespan.