Our Guide to the Best Stainless Steel Frying Pans
We discovered which stainless steel pans really sizzle, not to mention shallow fry, steam and saute!
Every home cook needs a frying pan, whether they're making skillet suppers, or looking to cook a single egg. The real choice is between materials, from inexpensive, non-stick aluminum, to impenetrable cast iron and — the professional chef's pan of choice — all-purpose, high performance stainless steel.
Stainless steel has the ability to beautifully brown meat, yet is relatively simple to clean. It can seamlessly transition from the stovetop to the oven, and while stainless steel pans tend to be expensive, with the right care, they can last a lifetime.
So, can you get away with purchasing a more no-frills, rough-and-ready fry pan, or is it worth it to make a monetary investment on a culinary Cadillac of a skillet? Read on, to find the very best stainless steel pan for you.
How to Care for a Stainless Steel Pan
Take a look at the instruction booklet that comes with a stainless steel frying pan, and you’ll feel like you brought a brand new baby into the house! Yes, the number of dos and don'ts when it comes to stainless steel can be intimidating, but once you get wise to a few unbreakable rules, you’ll be in possession of a pan you may never need to replace.
Wash it well: Before first use, hand wash it with warm, soapy water, then gently towel it dry.
Avoid high heat: Try to only cook over low and medium heat — stainless steel should have superior conductivity anyway, and high flames can scorch or discolor the pan.
Say "no" to metal utensils: Silicone, wood or plastic utensils are ideally used with stainless steel, as metal can scratch, and the same goes for cleaning implements; abrasive scouring pans can damage surfaces.
Cool it gradually: Be careful not to plunge a hot pan into cold water after using — extreme differences in temperature may cause a pan to warp.
All-Clad has been schooling the stainless steel market for years. The proof is in the pudding (or, in this case, gorgeously seared chicken and evenly browned crepe), as it emerged the top performer after all of our tests.
Composed of five layers of bonded steel and aluminum, it's highly conductive, — reaching temps of 193 degrees F after just 5 minutes — resistant to warping and solid as a rock, yet light enough to maneuver with one hand. The sides are low but flared, facilitating drip-free pouring, and the flipping of delicate items such as pancakes or fish.
While it only requires low flame on the stove top, this pan can really withstand the heat in the broiler or oven, remaining safe up to 600 degrees F (its competitors generally top out at 500 degrees F).
That said, not all All-Clads are created equal. We also tested the D3, which didn’t make it into our rankings, due to the fact that it didn’t get nearly as hot as its sizzling sibling, and didn’t cook quite as consistently.
There’s no question about it: Stainless steel pans can cost a pretty penny. But there’s no shame in saving $100 or more on a slightly less swanky pan, with the understanding that you’ll likely have to replace it somewhere along the line. That said, this Tramontina pan actually has a lifetime warranty, and — in the short term at least — performs nearly as admirably as its pricier competitors.
Made of three layers of bonded metals, it reached 182 degrees F after 5 minutes, and quickly cooled down to 105 degrees F once removed from the stove. The riveted, tapered handle is comfortable to hold, and since the pan is on the lighter side, it’s relatively easy to manipulate one-handed.
Watch your back, All-Clad! The Belgium-made Demeyere is fast becoming the pro-chef's preferred pan. But is it worth it for home cooks to shell out that kind of cash for a single vessel? Considering that it offers 12.6 inches of searing and frying action, and those oversized dimensions really make a difference, maybe.
While the other pans we tested provided a snug fit for four chicken breasts, the luxuriously proportioned Demeyere could actually handle a roast, not to mention the makings of entire skillet supper. You’d think that would translate to an unwieldy amount of weight, yet the pan felt incredibly balanced, and even had a cast iron "helper handle" on the other side, to assist when maneuvering it in and out of the oven. Not to mention the fact that it comes to temperature incredibly quickly, and produced beautiful, campaign-worthy color on our meat.
Not only can you feel good about the purchase price ($85 is nothing in the rarified, stainless steel world!) you can rest assured that these pans are manufactured exclusively in the USA at every stage of production. They're also sold exclusively by the company. Which means instead of squandering money on resellers, distributors and retailers, Made In can dedicate funds towards sourcing premium materials (anything unused gets recycled), and collaborating with top quality makers.
And, oh yeah, these 5-ply pans are killer conductors too, reaching a sweltering 195 degrees F (over low heat) after 5 minutes, and turning out perfectly browned crepes.
How We Tested
We scoured reputable consumer buying guides and consulted with our in-house test kitchen to find 10 well-regarded pans for review. Working with only 12-inch models (except for the Demeyere, which offers a 12.6), we scrutinized the weight of each pan, determining how comfortable and balanced they felt in our hand, before being filled with hot food.
Stainless steel pans can require a fair amount of upkeep, so we checked to see how exhaustive each accompanying manual was, pertaining to the care of their product. We also noted if any special claims were made (such as "unsurpassed heat distribution!"), to see if they stood up during testing.