Knowing Skillet Sizes Actually Does Matter: Here's How to Measure a Skillet

Experts explain how to measure a skillet the right way so you can stop wondering if it’s rim to rim or across the base, because yes, skillet sizes matter to recipe success.

If you're anything like me, you have that one skillet that gets used for most everything that gets cooked on the stove top. It's your go-to pan for a number of reasons. My skillet of choice earned its position as most-loved because it's a large skillet, has decently-tall sides, and is lightweight. What size is my skillet? Um, is that something I was supposed to know? It's not small, I'm certain of that. When I recently made a frittata recipe that called for a 10-inch skillet, I hesitated when grabbing for my usual skillet. It certainly seems larger than that, but I wasn't yet certain how to measure a skillet. I went to the experts to be sure I did it correctly.

cast iron skillet with ruler on top on white background
Carson Downing

How to Measure Skillet Size

Occasionally you'll get lucky and the skillet size will be stamped on the bottom of the pan. Turns out I had a skillet clearly labeled as 10.5-inch in my kitchen (close enough for frittata purposes, I figured) so I didn't even need to get out a tape measure or ruler.

When your pan doesn't list the size and you need to know how to measure a skillet, here's what Kristin Billingsley, Senior Director of Product Management at Meyer Corp. (they make brands like Anolon, Circulon, and Farberware) says to do. "The industry standard is to measure the skillet across the top. So when a recipe calls for an 8-, 10-, or 12-inch skillet, measure it across the top rim to rim," she instructs.

A simple ruler ($2, Walmart) or tape measure ($6, Target) will do the job. "Based on design differences, it is common to have different cooking surface measurements for the same size skillet," Billingsley adds. Meaning the base measurement could differ from the rim to rim measurement.

Measuring Cast-Iron Skillets

If you own cast-iron cookware, you've likely noticed a different numbering system marked on the pans. Kris Stubblefield, chef at Lodge Cast Iron explains their system: "Lodge's numbering system dates back to the days of woodstoves." At that time, pots and pans were numbered to fit corresponding openings (called "stove eyes") on the stove. For example, Stubblefield says, "Number 10 in our L10SK3 refers to the #10 stove eye." The L10SK3 measures 12 inches across the top and, hence, is a 12-inch cast-iron skillet.

So yes, you can measure cast-iron skillets the same way. "Skillets are measured across the top of the cookware, not including handles. Lodge's skillets are measured across the top from outside rim to outside rim," says Stubblefield.

stack of cast iron skillets
Blaine Moats

What's a Large Skillet, Extra-Large Skillet, etc?

Other recipes may not specify an inch measurement but instead call for a medium skillet, large skillet, or extra-large skillet. It varies a bit from brand to brand here. Our Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen defines skillet size like this:

  • Small skillet = 6 inches
  • Medium skillet = 8 inches
  • Large skillet = 10 inches
  • Extra-large skillet = 12 inches

Billingsley says Meyer Corp. defines a large skillet as any skillet 12 inches or larger rim to rim.

"Lodge's two most popular skillet sizes are our beloved 10.25-inch ($25, Target) and 12-inch ($30, Target) skillets. I would consider both of these skillets large. Extra-large would be anything north of 12 inches," Stubblefield says.

Why Skillet Sizes Matter

Yes, I have my favorite skillet, but that doesn't mean its large size is best suited to every recipe I make. "The prevention of overcrowding should be the first consideration when it comes to deciding between sizes," Billingsley says. And our Test Kitchen agrees. An overcrowded pan will cause food to steam instead of brown, resulting in an inferior texture and possibly flavor.

Billingsley continues, "A smaller, 8-inch skillet produces more evenly distributed heat and the ability to reach high temperatures. A 10-inch pan offers more room without overcrowding and minimal sacrifice of heat retention. A 12-inch skillet means large amounts of food can be cooked at once and greater heat retention simply because there is more material to maintain heat." It really all comes down to how full the pan will be with all your ingredients added.

Burner size is also a consideration in choosing the best skillet size. "If the skillet is too large for the burner, you are likely to see uneven heating. Conversely, if the skillet is too small, you're wasting energy," says Stubblefield.

If you didn't already keep a tape measure in your kitchen exclusively for tasks like measuring a skillet and rolling out dough, it's about time to get one.

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