Frying Pan Basics: The Sizzling Truth

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You brought home the bacon, now you have to decide what kind of frying pan you’ll use to fry it up. Frying pans come in almost every type of metal and nonstick finish known to cooking. Will you choose a cast iron frying pan or one made of hard-anodized aluminum? Will you plug your pan in or use it on the stovetop? How will you decide?

A good pan should fit the number of people you generally cook for and the type of foods you want to fry. If you normally cook for one or two, a small fry pan (seven- or eight-inch diameter) might be all you need. If you have a family to fry for, a 10- or 12-inch pan is more appropriate. To fry fish, flank steak or other long foods, consider an oval fry pan.

A good fry pan should also fit your hand. Pick up the pan and see how it feels. Is the pan too heavy for you to comfortably lift off the stove? Does the pan feel flimsy? How does the handle fit your grip? Choose a fry pan that has a stay-cool handle and feels well balanced.

What should your pan be made of? Aluminum is a great heat conductor and will fry foods evenly but reacts with food. Food also has a nasty habit of sticking to uncoated aluminum fry pans. Hard-anodized aluminum pans with a nonstick coating address both of these problems. The anodized pans are more durable and also non-reactive.

Stainless steel fry pans are heavier than aluminum and won’t interact with food. On the downside, stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat. Look for stainless steel pans that have an aluminum or copper base (sometimes this feature will be layered inside the stainless steel pan where you can’t see it) to improve heat conductivity.

Cast iron frying pans are heavy and require some work in terms of seasoning, but will last a lifetime. Copper pans have superior heat conductivity but react with food. Copper pans require some type of interior lining.

Now you have to decide whether you want to go with a stovetop fry pan, electric frying pan or both (my personal choice). Electric frying pans have several advantages:

  • Temperature Control. The settings on an electric fry pan offer far more control than you have when frying over a stovetop burner.
  • Portability. You can take this pan with you to the potluck dinner and even on a picnic or camping trip. Your electric frying pan will work anyplace you have an outlet.
  • Ambient Temperature. An electric frying pan won’t heat up the air around it like a stovetop or oven will. Use the electric frying pan when you want to keep the kitchen cool.

The downside to going electric is clean up. Electric fry pans cannot be immersed in water. If you happen to burn food on to the surface, cleaning the pan can be cumbersome.