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There’s a reason the frying pan is the go-to piece of equipment for so many cooks: versatility. You can use it to make everything from a grilled cheese sandwich to a gourmet sauce.
Consumer Reports tests five types of frying pans, including nonstick and copper, and we can help you zero in on the one to get. “We test all frying pans for cooking evenness, but many of the other tests are type-specific,” says Tara Casaregola, who oversees our frying pan ratings. “For example, we test cast-iron and carbon steel pans for cornbread baking and searing steaks, since they’re suited to high temperatures. Nonstick pans, on the other hand, are tested for their food-release performance and the durability of the nonstick coating.”
Nonstick frying pans are the most popular type by far, but cast-iron skillets are making a comeback. If you’re stocking your kitchen from scratch, you can’t go wrong with either one. As you raise your cooking game, you may want to branch out into stainless, carbon steel, or copper—but don’t feel like you have to own every type just to make a good meal. (To find out which frying pan is best suited for you, check out “Best Frying Pans for the Way You Cook.”)
For details on the top-scoring pan among every type we test, feast your eyes on the recommendations below. Bon appétit!
Best Nonstick Frying Pan
CR’s take: The 10-inch GreenPan Padova Reserve frying pan is part of a 10-piece set, but you can buy it separately in open stock. (It’s part of a two-skillet set that includes an 8-inch version.) And like the cookware set it comes with, the GreenPan tops our list of nonstick cookware. Eggs easily slid out of the pan one after another, leaving nothing behind and earning an Excellent rating on the food-release test. Cooking evenness was also top-notch. The handle stays cool to the touch and is sturdy. And while the nonstick ceramic coating did well in our durability tests, some other skillets fared better.
For more choices, see “Best Nonstick Frying Pans From Consumer Reports’ Tests.”
Best Uncoated Cast-Iron Frying Pan
CR’s take: The pricey Butter Pat, $295, is worth every penny. It aces our tests for baking cornbread and searing a juicy New York strip steak, and is the only cast-iron pan that earns a Very Good rating for heating evenness. At just over 6 pounds, it’s also one of the lighter models in our tests. Its handle gets hotter than the handles of other frying pans in our labs, though, so you’ll want to be careful handling it while cooking. The Butter Pat is sold only on the company’s website.
Check out other options in “Best Cast-Iron Frying Pans From Consumer Reports’ Tests.”
Best Coated Cast-Iron Frying Pan
CR’s take: The Tramontina 80131/066DS excels at two crucial tasks for a cast-iron skillet: searing and browning. In our tests, we seared a New York strip steak and browned scallops. We also baked cornbread, for which this pan earns a Very Good rating, on a par with most of the top cast-iron pans we’ve tested.
Find more models in “Best Cast-Iron Frying Pans From Consumer Reports’ Tests.”
Best Stainless Steel Frying Pan
CR’s take: The Le Creuset Poele is the newest winner in the stainless steel skillet category. What pushed it over the finish line was an Excellent rating for heating evenness, which means pancakes come out nicely browned. Sautéing was only so-so. The handle stays cool to the touch when you’re cooking and doesn’t get too wobbly over time, scoring Very Good on that test. Some stainless pans are a bit easier to clean, but none are as easy to clean as a nonstick.
For more, see our completed stainless steel frying pan ratings.
Best Carbon Steel Frying Pan
CR’s take: Carbon steel pans have properties similar to cast iron in that they can take high heat and are great for searing. But they’re lighter and easier to lift when shifting from stovetop to oven, which is a great use for this pan. Like cast iron, they need to be seasoned, but then they develop a fine nonstick patina. In addition to searing meat, the De Buyer Mineral B French is good for baking, browning, and sautéing, earning Very Good ratings in those tests.
For more on the carbon steel pans we test, see our carbon steel frying pan ratings.
Best Copper Frying Pan
CR’s take: The Brooklyn Copper Sauté is made by a small 10-year-old company. Each piece is handmade, which accounts for the $480 price. The 9.5-inch pan is the only one in our copper skillet tests to earn an Excellent rating for cooking evenness. Sautéing performance was on a par with the four other copper pans in our tests; all earned a Good rating. The handle is sturdy and stays cool to the touch when the pan is in use. The pans are sold only on the company’s website.
Not all copper pans cost this much. You’ll find some less-expensive options in “Best Copper Frying Pans From Consumer Reports’ Tests.”
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