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 skillet you choose it 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 best skillet for you—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-dish 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 frying an egg or two, you can get by with a smaller option, like an 8-inch skillet.
Best Skillet to Have in Every Size: This Calphalon nonstick skillet ($30-45) is available in 8-, 10- and 12-inches, covering all your bases.
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.
Best Lightweight Skillet: The 10-inch stainless steel skillet and lid ($100) weighs just 3.5 pounds, meaning you can transfer a full skillet from stovetop to oven with ease.
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.
Best Last-Forever Skillet: We recommend this sturdy 10″ cast-iron skillet ($15) from Lodge. The company takes time to ensure that every product is crafted to perfection. Just be sure to season them well and take care of them.
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.
Best Copper Skillet: If you’re looking for a skillet that heats up (and cools down) quickly the Mauviel 2.5mm Copper Frying Pan ($240) is for you.
Nonstick or not
A nonstick 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 nonstick coating can’t withstand heat above 500 degrees Fahrenheit, can scratch easily and requires replacement over time due to wearing away of the nonstick finish.
Skillets without the nonstick coating, like stainless steel, copper and cast-iron, are perfect for searing meats, browning vegetables and for deglazing. That said, they are more difficult to clean than nonstick, require fats to reduce sticking and will sometimes cause your food to stick.
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.
Best Skillet Accessory: This hot handle holder from Lodge ($19) is also a great way to protect your hands from oven-proof handles.