Best Skillets of 2020
A skillet is an essential piece of equipment that every kitchen needs. Our shopping guide is here to help you find the best skillet for your cooking needs.
What's Cooking? Finding the Right Skillet for Your Kitchen
Whether you're making scrambled eggs, browning meat for stew, sautéing veggies as a healthy side, or whipping up a one-dish meal for dinner, a skillet is an essential piece of cooking equipment.
Ideally, your kitchen should have two or three skillets to allow for versatility—and to keep you from having to stop and wash your pan in the middle of meal prep. But whether you're buying several skillets or just one, it's important to choose wisely.
Because there are so many options to consider, shopping for a skillet can be a little tricky. You must decide between different sizes, materials, and other features, such as whether the skillet is oven-safe or not. If you're not entirely sure how these factors affect a pan's performance, it can be tough to choose the right skillet for your kitchen.
At BestReviews, we conduct deep research that allows us to examine the products on today's market up close. And because we never accept free products or other incentives from manufacturers, we're confident in our ability to provide unbiased recommendations and reviews that will help you make an educated purchasing decision.
If you're ready to shop for a skillet, check out the matrix above for three of our top recommendations. For general tips on shopping for skillets, please continue reading this guide.
Separating Skillets and Sauté Pans
A skillet is a pan with a flat bottom and slanted sides. It is sometimes called a frying pan (or a fry pan) because its slanted design makes it ideal for stir-frying and other quick cooking methods.
A skillet is sometimes confused with a sauté pan, which is similar but features straight sides and a larger surface area. The two pans can usually be used interchangeably, but if you're only purchasing one pan, a skillet is typically the best option. In general, it's a more versatile choice, as its slanted sides allow you to access the food easily.
Delicious Skillet Dishes
The cooking applications for skillets are seemingly endless. Here are just a few mouthwatering ideas.
- Use a skillet to prepare a variety of breakfast foods, including scrambled eggs, omelets, pancakes, French toast, and home fries.
- Ready for lunch? You can make fresh, tasty grilled cheese sandwiches or paninis in a skillet.
- Are you making a sauce, soup, or stew? Use a skillet to sear your meat and sauté your vegetables.
- Hungry for steak or fried chicken? A skillet can be used to prepare delectable main courses.
- A skillet is also ideal for preparing healthy vegetable sides such as sautéed asparagus or broccoli.
- One-dish meals such as macaroni and cheese, lasagna, pork chops and rice, and steak tips with mushrooms and onions cook up nicely in a skillet.
- If your skillet is oven-safe, you can use it to make baked goods such as cornbread, cobbler, and skillet sugar cookies.
What Are Good Skillets Made Of?
Now that we've got your mouth watering, let's talk about the details. Before you invest in a skillet, take time to understand the different materials with which it can be made. As you shop, you'll be faced with a choice between stainless steel, cast iron, aluminum, and copper. You'll also have to decide if you want a nonstick pan.
- Stainless steel is a nonreactive material, so you can cook any type of food on it.
- Stainless steel is a heavy, durable material that will last a long time.
- Stainless steel is usually dishwasher-safe.
- Most stainless-steel skillets are inexpensive.
- Low-quality stainless-steel skillets don't transfer and distribute heat well.
If you're considering a stainless-steel skillet, opt for a high-quality model with an inner core of aluminum or copper. The inner core will help distribute and transfer the heat more effectively.
- Cast iron is an extremely durable material. A cast-iron skillet should last for years.
- Cast iron heats evenly and maintains its heat well. As a result, it is especially good for browning foods and dishes that require long simmering sessions.
- When properly seasoned, a cast-iron skillet is naturally nonstick.
- Cast-iron skillets are usually very inexpensive.
- Cast iron is a reactive material, so it doesn't work well with acidic foods like tomato sauce.
- Cast iron requires a long time to heat up.
- Cast iron is extremely heavy, which makes it somewhat awkward to move around the stove.
- A cast-iron skillet can be difficult to clean, and it requires more maintenance than other skillets.
Despite the work required to maintain a cast-iron skillet, it is an extremely popular choice among home cooks. It's oven-safe, which allows you to start dishes on the stove and finish them in the oven. You can even use a cast-iron skillet to make baked dishes like cornbread.
- Aluminum skillets are lightweight and easy to maneuver on the stove.
- Aluminum conducts heat extremely well.
- Aluminum skillets are usually very affordable.
- Aluminum is a reactive material, so it doesn't work well with acidic or alkaline ingredients.
- Aluminum is a soft material. It isn't very durable, and it scratches easily.
If you're thinking about purchasing an aluminum skillet, choose one that uses anodized aluminum. Anodized aluminum is harder than traditional aluminum; it's also a bit more expensive.
- A copper skillet conducts heat extremely well.
- Food tends to cook evenly in a copper skillet.
- Copper is a reactive material, so you shouldn't cook acidic or alkaline foods on it.
- The copper compounds in the skillet can change the color of some foods.
- Like cast iron, copper skillets require more maintenance than other pans.
- Copper cookware can be very expensive.
If you like the performance of copper, look for a copper skillet that's lined with stainless steel to provide excellent heat conduction and a non-reactive cooking surface.
- Food doesn't stick as easily to the surface of a nonstick skillet. This makes cleanup a lot easier.
- Because the surface is nonstick, you don't need to use as much oil or butter during food prep. This allows for healthier cooking.
- Nonstick skillets are lightweight and easy to move around the stove.
- Nonstick skillets can scratch easily. To prevent scratches, you shouldn't use metal utensils on them.
- Nonstick skillets are usually oven-safe only up to 350°F.
- There are some health concerns associated with the chemicals used in nonstick coating. You should throw away a nonstick skillet if you notice that the coating has scratches, chips, or flakes.
Instead of a Teflon-coated nonstick pan, consider an aluminum skillet that's coated with PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene). PTFE is a nonstick coating that some experts believe to be less toxic.
Sizing Up Skillet Quality: What to Look For
The material with which a skillet is made is not your only consideration. You'll also want to think about what size and weight you prefer. Pay attention to the physical configuration of your potential new skillet too—particularly its handles and lid.
Skillets are available in a variety of sizes. Three of the most common options are 8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch skillets.
The size that will work best for you depends on what you plan to use the skillet for. In most cases, it's a good idea to keep skillets of several different sizes on hand in your kitchen. That way, you'll have all your bases covered.
For most kitchens, the basics include a 10-inch skillet and a 12-inch skillet. If you only plan to buy one skillet, we recommend that you opt for a 12-inch skillet to maximize versatility.
A good skillet should be somewhat heavy in the hand; the weight enables it to retain heat. However, you don't want the pan to be too heavy, or you'll have trouble moving it around the stove. If possible, test out the weight of a skillet you're considering before you buy it. That way, you can make sure it doesn't weigh too much.
Skillets made of heavier materials often feature an extra handle on the side. This is helpful, as you can hold the skillet with two hands for better stability.
A skillet's handle should be well-made and sturdy so you don't have to worry about it breaking off. It should also be comfortable to hold.
Some people prefer skillets with stay-cool handles. A stay-cool handle helps ensure safety. It's particularly valuable in kitchens where children may be helping adults prepare food.
If you purchase an individual skillet separately (as opposed to buying an entire cookware set), it may not come with a lid. But a lid is a useful piece to have on hand, so if your potential purchase does not include one, you may wish to keep shopping.
Skillet Heating Options
Depending on how you plan to use your skillet, it may be important to find a model that is oven-safe or broiler-safe. Skillets that can be transferred to the oven are nice because you can start a dish on the stovetop, then transfer it to the oven to finish cooking.
Many skillets are oven-safe up to certain temperatures, but they're not all able to withstand the heat of a broiler. Always check a skillet's temperature guidelines so you know how hot the skillet can be heated inside your oven.
How Much Should I Pay for a Skillet?
Skillets are sold at a variety of price points based on their size, material, and whether you're purchasing a single pan or a set of multiple skillets. The cost of a single skillet can range from as little as $12 to as much as $300.
- For a budget-friendly skillet, expect to pay $15 to $25.
- For a large, durable skillet, expect to pay $40 to $60.
- For a large, high-end skillet with a lid, expect to pay $100 to $150 or more.
Skillet Tips and Tricks
- When you pan-fry, use tongs or a spatula to turn meat and other foods over. Flipping the food with a fork could splatter the grease.
- To season a cast-iron skillet, scrub it with hot, soapy water and a brush. Rinse and dry it completely, and then wipe down the interior with vegetable oil. Place the pan in the oven on the top rack and bake for an hour at 350°F. Allow it to cool in the oven.
- When cooking with a stainless-steel skillet, begin at medium heat. Stainless-steel skillets are especially good at maintaining heat, so if you set the temperature too high, you'll have a hard time bringing the temperature back down for effective cooking.
- Choose a neutral oil that can withstand high heat when you're frying food in a skillet. Olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil are good options. Butter works well if you're cooking at medium-high heat or only cooking for a short period of time.
- To keep food from sticking to your skillet, heat the pan before you add the oil or butter. Also, avoid overcrowding the pan.
Q. What type of skillet is easiest to clean?
A. As the name implies, a nonstick skillet is designed to limit the amount of food and residue that sticks to its surface. That usually makes it easier to clean. However, some stainless-steel skillets are dishwasher-safe, which make them very easy to clean too.
Q. I'm only buying one skillet, so I need it to be a versatile one. What features should I look for?
A. If you want to get the most out of a skillet, look for a model that's oven-safe. With an oven-safe skillet, you can start a dish on the stove and finish it in the oven. However, be sure to check the temperature limits on oven-safe skillets. You may only be able to heat the skillet up to 350°F, which would limit your cooking options.
Q. What material is the most durable for a skillet?
A. You can't get any more durable than cast iron. In some families, cast-iron skillets are handed down from generation to generation because they last for years. However, it's important to remember that proper maintenance is key with cast iron. You must season it, re-season it periodically, and never let it soak in the sink.