What’s in a Pan
HOW DO WE CHOOSE A PAN
Should your kitchen have nonstick pans, or stainless steel, or cast iron—or one of each? Let’s break them all down so you can decide
Budget-friendly, lightweight and easy to clean, nonstick pans are extremely popular. The majority are coated with Teflon (aka polytetrafluoroethylene), the secret behind nonstick surfaces. While the safety of Teflon has been called into question, several studies have shown it’s safe for low- or medium-heat cooking, like scrambled eggs or light stir-frys. (Just sear your meat on something else—at 500˚F or more, Teflon starts to decompose, giving off toxic particles and fumes.) You can also find nonstick pans with ceramic-based coatings that can handle more heat, up to 800˚F. Hard-anodized aluminum is another durable option, but not completely nonstick.
- Size: 8” is a good choice for one or two people; larger family meals could use 12”. Because lighter pans heat up faster, and nonstick is best below 500˚F, opt for heavier-weight pans if you can.
- Care: Avoid cooking with metal utensils that can scratch the surface. Same goes for metal scouring pads. Nonstick is typically dishwasher-safe, although the high heat can degrade surfaces faster. If pans are scratched or start to flake, it’s time to toss, even if they’re new (sorry). Nonstick should be replaced every three to five years.
- Storage: Protect your pans by storing them where they won’t get bumped or scratched. A towel on the surface can help preserve the coating while in storage.
These pans can handle the heat, and last a long time, making them perfect for searing meat or impatient cooking of any kind. They easily go from stovetop to oven, and you don’t have to babysit the surface as you do with a nonstick pan, although food will stick if not watched properly. The biggest drawback is they can stain easily (despite the name).
- Size: Because they’re a great option for meat, err on the size of larger, starting with 10” and up.
- Care: You can toss stainless steel into the dishwasher without worry, just dry it off afterwards to avoid water spots. Overheating can also cause stains or rainbow tints to the surface. Sprinkle stains with baking soda, cover with vinegar and leave for 30 minutes; wash with soapy water.
- Storage: Hanging these shiny pans on a rack is ideal, but they can be stored just about anywhere, and can also stack with a towel between each one.
From stovetop to oven to campfire, cast iron is as durable as it is versatile, and more affordable than stainless steel. While heavy, cast iron can become naturally nonstick when seasoned properly. Some newer cast iron pans also come enameled, making seasoning less of an issue.
- Size: Opt for 12” so your pan can do anything from steaks to roasted veggies to pizzas to deep-dish brownies.
- Care: Let the pan cool before washing, then wipe it out with a cloth and coarse salt to scrub out any caked-on food. Rinse with a little water and dry on the hot stove to allow all water to evaporate. Rub once more with oil to keep it seasoned. Rust is the enemy, so avoid soaking or submerging cast iron.
- Storage: The stovetop is ideal, or line with a paper towel before storing in a cupboard to help draw away any moisture.