Skillet pans have been essential pieces of cookware for thousands of years. They can be used for frying, sautéeing (and in the case of cast-iron skillet pans, baking foods). Today’s skillet pans come in a variety of sizes and metals, but their basic form and function has remained virtually untouched.
Skillets are generally 10 or 12 inches in diameter; they are round and have slightly sloping sides so food can be easily removed from the pan. The bottom of the pan is flat and provides a generous surface area for cooking on.
Many people choose their cookware based on their cooking frequency, economic means and how serious they are about the end result. Here are four of the more common types you’ll see on the market.
Cast Iron: The workhorse of the kitchen, cast iron is lauded for its durability and longevity. Some cast iron pans have been handed down through generations of family cooks and still function as if they were brand new. The success of cast iron as a cooking surface comes from its “seasoning.” Over time, cast iron naturally provides a non-stick surface as oils bake into the pan, providing a smooth and ready surface. These skillets also have a wider range of uses, since they can used in the oven or even over an open flame without damage. They also get points for being quite inexpensive and a good value.
Non-stick: These more modern skillets have been popular in recent years. The metal surface of the pan is coated so as to allow foods to come off the pan easily: this makes cleaning them much less of a hassle. One drawback to these types of skillets is that the coating tends to wear off over the years, requiring a replacement product.
Stainless Steel: A good and inexpensive choice, stainless steel holds up fairly well over time, especially if the user is careful in his or her endeavors in the kitchen. Stainless steel is at a disadvantage in that food tends to burn and stick more easily on this surface.
Copper: A favorite with chefs, copper gets points for having the most evenly distributed heat conduction out of any of the other metals. However, the high quality of this metal is often quite expensive.
A good skillet can be used for virtually anything in the kitchen. They are most commonly used for frying eggs or making pancakes. A good skillet will have a couple of inches of depth to them so you can use them for deep frying as well. They are also used for any type of sautée work, stir-frying or pan-searing steaks and fish. And, if you’re using an oven-safe skillet, such as a cast iron skillet, you can use them for baking cakes, quick breads and casseroles.
Modern cast iron skillets can go for under $30.00; a high-end aluminum copper core pan can go for nearly $200. Price can be determined by the materials used, branding and size. Many good working skillet sets can be bought for under $100.
Its historic utility aside, it would be a rare thing to find a kitchen without a single skillet, and many families incorporate two or three skillets that serve a full range of functions.