3 Types of Frying Pans Every Home Chef Should Know—Plus the Best Uses for Each

A quick guide to picking the right pan for the job.

Types of skillets - guide to skillet pan types
Photo: Getty Images

Everyone can appreciate a good frying pan—especially when they turn out your favorite pork chops or soft scrambled eggs. A well-equipped kitchen typically contains several different varieties of frying pans or skillets, including cast iron, stainless steel, and nonstick. (We're not counting the other essential pots and pans you should have, too, like a saucepan or heavy-bottomed pot.) Here is how to use, clean, and care for each.

Types of skillets - guide to pans with pictures, uses, how to clean, and more
RealSimple.com; illustrations by Melinda Josie

3 common types of frying pans

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Cast Iron

Types of skillets - Cast Iron Skillet
Melinda Josie

Cast iron might be heavy, and it must be cleaned correctly, but it turns food brown and crispy like magic. It's easiest to buy one a pre-seasoned skillet, but if you accidentally leave yours soaking in water, you can season it yourself.

Made from: iron, which heats slowly but evenly and stays scorching hot.

Best for: searing a nice crust on meats, such as chops and steak (not good for acidic foods, like tomato sauce, as the iron reacts, imparting a metallic flavor).

How to clean: Detergents strip the seasoning. Instead, wipe clean or scrub with hot water. For stuck-on bits, rub with 1/2 cup kosher salt, then rinse.

RELATED: How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

02 of 03

Stainless Steel

Types of skillets - Stainless Steel Skillet
Melinda Josie

If you were to buy only one of these frying pans of these skillets, it should be stainless steel as it's. Stainless steel is your everyday workhorse. It can cook everything, and doesn't need any special treatment. No time to wash? It's ok to leave stainless steel soaking in water.

Made from: stainless steel, an alloy that doesn't chip, rust, or react with food; heats up moderately, quickly, and evenly.

Best for: everyday cooking: stir-fries, all sorts of vegetables and sauces, and meat.

How to clean: for burned stains, boil two cups water and one tablespoon distilled white vinegar in the pan for 20 minutes, then scrub.

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Types of skillets - Nonstick Skillet illustrated picture
Melinda Josie

While a well-seasoned cast iron skillet is practically nonstick, nothing can beat a true nonstick frying pan when it comes to cooking delicate foods that stick easily. Look for models that have stainless steel or silicone-coated handles, which areoven-safe, rather than plastic ones.

Made from: aluminum, which heats up and cools down quickly, coated in several layers of a nonstick polymer known as PTFE (which is less toxic than Teflon).

Best for: cooking fragile foods such as eggs, fish filets, breaded cutlets, pancakes, and crepes.

How to clean: scrub with a plastic brush, which won't scratch. Before cooking, rub 1/2 teaspoon oil inside to safeguard the nonstick surface.

A note on storage: Our favorite way to store frying pans is to hang them. But if you'd rather stack them, make sure to place a couple of paper towels or reusable pan separators between each so they don't scratch one another.

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