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
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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.

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Cast Iron

Overhead of Empty Cast Iron Skillet on White Background
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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 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.

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Stainless Steel

Misen Stainless Steel Frying Pan


If you were to buy only one of these skillets, it should be stainless steel. 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 2 cups water and 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar in the pan for 20 minutes, then scrub.

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OXO Good Grips frying pan
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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 are oven-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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