A skillet is a catch-all term for a flat-bottomed, shallow pan with flared sides (if it has straight sides, it’s called a “saute pan”). It’s commonly used for pan-searing, pan-roasting and pan-frying over moderate to high heat. That means that whichever you choose should be sturdy enough to stand up to high heat and thick enough to conduct heat evenly. Beyond that, the choices are many. But here’s how to sort through your options to pick the perfect pan—after all, you want the right tools for these skillet dinners.
Skillets come in many diameters, but the most popular sizes are 8-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch. For family-sized recipes—like these easy one-skillet dinners—you’ll want something on the larger side. Same if you plan on searing larger (or multiple) cuts of meat like chicken cutlets, steaks and pork chops. Remember: You don’t want to overcrowd the pan, so larger is typically better.
If you plan on using a skillet just for scrambling an egg or two, you can get by with a smaller option. Reserve this 8″ Calphalon non-stick skillet ($30) for your scrambles and sunny-side-ups.
When you’re choosing a skillet, make sure it isn’t uncomfortably heavy to use (though a good quality skillet will have some heft). The exception, of course, is cast iron skillets. They are always on the heavy side, but they are incredibly versatile. Just look at these tasty cast iron recipes.
The thickness of the metal used in the skillet’s construction impacts how sturdy it is and how well it conducts heat. The thicker the skillet, the sturdier it will be and the better it will conduct heat. When the thickness is measured in gauge, look for lower numbers. When the thickness is measured in mils, look for higher numbers.
A skillet can be made of many different materials, including aluminum, stainless steel, copper and cast-iron. Of all of these, only a stainless steel skillet is dishwasher safe and rust-resistant, and only hardcoat/anodized aluminum is scratch- and dent-resistant.
While cast iron pans aren’t dishwasher safe or rust resistant, they are incredibly durable. Just be sure to season them well and take care of them. We recommend this sturdy cast-iron skillet from Lodge. The company takes time to ensure that every product is crafted to perfection.
Non-stick or not
A non-stick coating makes a skillet a cinch to clean, reduces the need for cooking with oils and other fats and is virtually unparalleled for whipping up any kind of eggs. But a non-stick coating can’t withstand heat above 500 degrees Fahrenheit, scratches easily and requires replacement over time due to scratching and wearing away of the non-stick finish.
Skillets without the non-stick coating are perfect for searing meats, browning vegetables, and for deglazing (which comes in handy when you’re trying to make the perfect gravy). They’re also less expensive than non-stick skillets. That said, they are more difficult to clean than non-stick, require fats to reduce sticking and will sometimes cause your food to stick.
Like to cook with non-stick? Try Taste of Home’s new non-stick skillet.
Riveted handles are the sturdiest, but they also are more difficult to clean because food can become encrusted around the rivets. Beyond rivets, consider whether you want your skillet to be able to go from stovetop to oven. If so, then you’ll want handles that are made of oven-proof material. But oven-proof material conducts heat, so you’ll need to be sure to use pot-holders when cooking. And if you have kids who want to help out with the cooking (here are easy dinner recipes that your kids can help you cook tonight), then you might want to steer clear of them altogether.