I do a lot of cooking at home, in a variety of pots and pans. Ninety percent of what I do is in a frying pan. Big stew pots and stock pots are universally interchangeable in my experience, but for the mechanics of the way I cook, I like to be close in on the action, and the shallow frying pan is the way to go. Not all fry pans operate in the same fashion, though, so it’s important to have more than one. These are in my bullpen.
Here’s the honest truth: You don’t have to spend more than $40 on a non-stick pan. Moreover, these days most manufacturers of non-stick cookware are constructing them without the use of carcinogenic PFOAs, so that shouldn’t be a concern. However, most manufacturers of non-stick pans use some form of a coating called PTFE, which has been linked to flu-like symptoms, if you overheat them.
No matter how well you baby it, no matter how careful you are avoiding the use of metal utensils or moderating the amount of heat you use, eventually the coating will fail. I find that I get a good three to four years of hard use out of mine before my omelets start to cling to the bottom of them.
That said, it’s hard to go wrong with the T-Fal 10”. Inexpensive and ubiquitous (it can be found at many local retailers), the aluminum Signature has what T-fal dubs their “Thermo-Spot”, a patterned dot at the center of the pan that turns solid red when it reaches optimum pre-heating temp. Lightweight with a comfy soft-touch plastic handle and tall sides, it keeps my eggs sliding and does a credible job of browning my hashes. Buy it here.
Moving slightly upscale, (an odd concept when referencing IKEA products), we have the 11” Trovärdig— the Swedish word for “credible”— and this pan is just that. Made in Italy, this non-stick pan sports thick aluminum walls with good heat retention and a durable surface. It’s biggest advantage is the large stainless steel plate affixed to the bottom, lending it more rigidity and making it compatible with induction cook surfaces, which rely on a magnetic field to get the pan hot. (Aluminum by itself is non-magnetic)IKEA sells a compatible glass lid for $7.99 called the Stabil, which also fits the 10” T-fal above perfectly. Buy it here.
A lot of people find the care and feeding of cast iron pans—which do not have a non-stick coating—to be too finicky, but with just a modicum of clean-up this warhorse of a pan proves its worth. Pre-seasoned, this bad boy is ready to roll from day one and only gets more non-stick as it gets used (taking into account proper technique as well). It doubles as a roasting pan in a pinch and can even be used on a grill. Want a personal pan pizza? The tall sides of the Lodge and its heavy thermal mass make it a winner for baked goods of all sorts. Once properly seasoned, clean up isn’t as complicated as you may think. Hint: polymerized oil, the building block of pan seasoning, scoffs at mild dish soap and a soft sponge. Any scouring needs can be accomplished with a healthy dose of kosher salt. Thoroughly dry it, heat it and lightly oil it and you’re all set for your next cook! Buy it here.
$65 Darto Republica Argentina
Carbon steel is cast iron’s more expensive, sexier cousin. They share the same level of maintenance, (and are also without a non-stick coating) but carbon steel’s super smooth surface has the potential to be much more non-stick with enough seasoning. Carbon steel’s thinner profile means that pans are lighter and more maneuverable than cast iron. The Darto No 27 (for its 27cm diameter), however, is a 3mm thick behemoth. You can still sling it about, provided you didn’t skip Arm Day, and you’ll want to sling it about. It may not be my most used pan but it’s the one I have the most fun with. It’s pressed from a single sheet of metal so there are no seams or rivets to snag food or utensils on, it has massive heat retention and the sloped sides make it easy to sauté and stir fry with. It has a long, almost unwieldy handle but the end furthest away stays nice and cool no matter how blistering hot the pan it. The Darto is imported from Argentina, and so far only available directly from their website. Shipping is very expensive so go in on a couple with a friend to take advantage of their free shipping for orders over $100. Note, if you go to their website, make sure you click on the American flag icon in the upper right hand corner, otherwise the prices will be in Argentinian pesos and the sticker shock is bound to cause heart palpitations. Buy it here
All-Clad cookware is for people who:
Really, really like to cook.
Have a prominent pot-rack suspended in their barely utilized showroom kitchen.
Have a shameless wedding registry and very generous guests.
This 3-quart sauté pan is expensive, huge, tall, heavy and gorgeous, with an aluminum core sandwiched between two thick layers of stainless steel. It heats super evenly, sports a generous capacity and is easily transferable from stove-top to oven. It’s my weapon of choice if I’m doing a long cooking Bolognese or searing off a big bundle of chicken thighs (stainless can be pretty sticky, but that’s essential for building fond, the browned bits of food on the bottom of the pan you dissolve into a pan sauce). This model sports a helper handle up front and a tight fitting lid. In the event of the Apocalypse, this will be the pan you want to grab. Buy it here.
(Wish List is a new feature at the INDY that reviews the best gear and stuff. Our reviewers are experts in their field and are asked to provide honest and independent assessments. When readers choose to purchase our editorial picks, we earn affiliate commissions that support our journalism.)