Every chef or cook appreciates a good skillet in the kitchen. It should heat and cook evenly, brown nicely, and clean up easily without too much elbow grease. The right cookware makes preparing meals a pleasure.
Although quality nonstick skillets meet the criteria, some consumers choose to avoid nonstick cookware because it has been shown to release toxic fumes when overheated. These fumes can be fatal to pet birds and can cause flu-like symptoms in people. As a result, many consumers are looking for good alternatives to nonstick pans.
Stainless steel skillets are a popular choice among professional chefs for many reasons. Stainless steel does not change the taste or color of foods, and copper or aluminum cores disperse heat to cook evenly and brown foods nicely. A stainless steel pan is not as heavy as a cast iron or enameled one, and many have stay-cool handles.
While some foods have a tendency to stick without sufficient oil, and oil itself can adhere to the pan and cause tiny brown spots, a non-chlorine cleanser and nylon sponge clean up stainless steel skillets nicely. Stainless steel can go from stovetop to oven and is dishwasher safe. Many brands have lifetime warranties.
A carbon steel skillet performs similarly to stainless steel and is also among the lighter pans with a cool handle. One benefit over stainless steel is that cleanup is easier, because oil does not tend to form brown spots on the sides of the pan. Soap is not recommended for carbon steel, so pans are soaked and cleaned with a stiff brush. Note that carbon steel must be seasoned between uses. This involves allowing the pan to dry thoroughly after washing, then applying a thin coat of oil to keep the metal from rusting.
A hard-coat anodized skillet is an aluminum pan that has been electro-chemically treated to harden the surface and make it scratch resistant. Aluminum skillets transfer heat well and are also among the lighter options. They cook and brown foods well, though as with stainless steel, some foods have a tendency to stick.
Because of the anodized finish, aluminum pans are not recommended for the dishwasher. The aluminum skillet commonly has a stay-cool handle. If you enjoy serving from the pan, you might consider cast iron or enamel, as aluminum cools quickly.
A cast iron skillet does an excellent job of cooking food evenly and browning nicely. This type is especially popular for Cajun cooking and for preparing fish. Cast-iron handles become hot, so potholders or oven mitts are required. Cleanup is easy and follows the carbon steel requirements of soaking or using a brush.
Cast-iron can change the taste and color of highly acidic foods, but an iron skillet also adds a bit of iron to the diet, considered beneficial. Cast-iron takes longer to heat up and cool off, making it a popular choice for serving food. An iron skillet requires seasoning between uses and is among the heaviest pans; however, it also holds the distinction of being extremely inexpensive.
Finally, skillets with baked enamel or porcelain interiors provide nonstick cooking. The enamel finish is durable and safe, even if the pan becomes chipped, though many brands have lifetime guarantees against chipping. This type is the top choice of many cooks because of its excellent cooking properties and easy cleanup. An enameled skillet is heavy like cast iron, and the handles remain hot, requiring oven mitts. This cookware is typically dishwasher safe.
Though a quality skillet can be an investment, it will last a lifetime with proper care. A good pan will come with recommended manufacturer instructions for cleaning, seasoning if applicable, and preheating or cooking. Follow all directions to get the most out of it and rediscover the joy of cooking.