While stockpots, Dutch ovens, and roasting pans have their place in the culinary world, the one piece of cookware that's absolutely indispensable is the skillet. Most of us use one every day to, say, scramble our morning eggs, make grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, or sauté some chicken for dinner. Is there one perfect skillet for all those uses? Not exactly-it depends on what you want to achieve. In our own Test Kitchens, we reach for a trusty heavy skillet almost as often as the nonstick variety. Here's a quick guide to both types.
General uses: quick sautéing and stir-frying meats, seafood, and vegetables
Best for: cooking with very little fat, sautéing delicate foods like fish, or cooking recipes that have lots of liquid
Absolutely necessary for: scrambled eggs, pancakes, and crepes
Limitations: don't brown foods or conduct heat as well as stainless steel; shouldn't be placed over high heat; many have plastic handles that can't go in the oven
"Heavy" Skillets: Stainless Steel or Cast-Iron
General uses: searing, sautéing, and stir-frying meats, seafood, and vegetables
Best for: browning and creating "crusts" on foods
Absolutely necessary for: deglazing (scraping off browned bits stuck to the pan to use in flavoring the sauce)
Limitations: can't cook completely fat-free (some oil must be added to the pan); delicate foods tend to stick
WHAT TO SEEK IN A SKILLET
Heavy-gauge bottom: This ensures consistent, uniform heat and reduces scorching and hot spots.
Size: We use 10-inch pans most often.
Lid: A lid isn't absolutely necessary because you'll use the skillet primarily to sear, sauté, and stir-fry. In a pinch, use a lid from another pan.
Handle: It's nice to have one that's heat resistant so your skillet can go in the oven-to finish a meat dish seared on the stovetop, for example. Many manufacturers produce heat-resistant plastic handles, but make sure to check the handle's temperature tolerance before you purchase the skillet.