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Frying pans are a registry staple, but picking out the right one can be overwhelming. Beyond the questions of which ones are best for specific foods, there are also a lot of questions about the best metals to cook with. Is aluminum unsafe? Will copper leach into the food? Does carbon steel rust? Will cast iron affect the taste of food?
That’s not to mention the growing controversy in the cookware world about toxins in the metals—studies found that old frying pans contained chemicals that could increase health risks such as cancer or liver problems, and the quest for safe frying pans has heightened. Thankfully, many frying pans today are toxin-free but it’s always best to do background research on these before purchasing. There’s also the issue of non-stick pans; no one wants to be left scraping cooked eggs off the bottom! But which coatings will prevent that from happening?
We've answered all these questions and more to help you decide on the best frying pans to add to your registry or buys for your kitchen. You'll be flipping up frittatas and searing steak in no time.
Here, the best frying pans.
Best Cast Iron: Staub Cast Iron Fry Pan
Cast iron may not heat evenly, but it does hold on to it—more so than stainless steel. That makes it perfect for foods that require high heat, like searing steak. This frying pan, in particular, is coated in enamel, which means that it doesn’t require seasoning and provides better browning, braising, and roasting.
An enamel coating may be more expensive than other cast iron options, but you’re paying for some extra benefits. It prevents iron from absorbing into the food, making it more usable with acidic foods like tomatoes and wine. Plus, it adds to the pan’s durability—it’s scratch resistant and rust-resistant. As if cast iron frying pans could get any more durable—they’re known to last forever. They require little maintenance, but the enamel can chip if you’re not careful so you’ll need to make sure you handle it carefully. This frying pan from a classic French brand comes in black or gray—two timeless, modern colors that will match any cookware set.
Best Stainless Steel: All-Clad D5 Brushed Stainless Steel Fry Pan
The best part about stainless steel frying pans is that you can cook just about any kind of food in them! Chefs also love them for their sturdiness and strength as well as their resistance to rust and corrosion, which makes them easy to clean and handle.
Stainless steel can be costly, but it’s worth paying more for—basic stainless steel models have poor heat distribution, but higher quality models fix that problem. All-Clad offers a high-end version with five layers of steel and aluminum to maximize heat strength and distribution. It also prevents food from attaining a metallic taste.
The pan may call for a lower flame on the stovetop, but it can withstand up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit in the broiler or oven. Its flared sides make tossing and turning foods easy and fun. That’s not to mention stainless steel’s classic look, which never goes out of style!
Best Copper: Mauviel Copper Fry Pan
A frying pan that looks just as nice as the meal you’re cooking inside it! Copper pans not only look glamorous sitting on the stovetop, but they also act as a top heat conductor, warming food quickly and keeping it that way. That means your food will cook evenly. Reacting quickly to changing temperatures is part of their charm: Once removed from the stove, the heat can be lost quickly, reducing the odds that your food will overcook. For that reason, copper is great for finicky proteins, such as fish or shrimp, or sauces.
Because copper is so heat-friendly, it’s best to cook on a medium setting and let the metal take over. Otherwise, the pan might discolor. Most copper cookware is lined so the copper doesn’t leach into certain foods.
The French brand Mauviel is famous for its copper cookware. While this one is only 1.5-inches thick, it’s more affordable than the brand’s thicker version—copper frying pans tend to come with a high price tag.
Best Nonstick: Anolon 82243 Advanced Hard Anodized Non-stick Frying Pan
Just how much time do you want to spend hunched over your kitchen sink trying to scrub off egg residue? None. That’s why you should opt for a non-stick frying pan.
Hard anodized frying pans offer just that and more—they’re also scratch-resistant, non-reactive to food, and non-toxic. Its non-stick layer lasts three times longer than a regular nonstick frying pan, requiring very little oil and just a dash of butter to lubricate the food.
This Analon version is coated everywhere but the bottom, which allows for even heating. You’ll never have to worry about losing your grip with its rubber handle, which is a good thing considering the frying pan is just as hard as stainless steel. Sloped sides allow for easy tossing and dripless pouring, but even if that fails, cleanup is beyond easy, as the frying pan is also dishwasher safe.
Best Ceramic: T-fal Endura Granite Ceramic Non-Stick Frying Pan
The biggest upside of a ceramic pan is its non-sticking quality. That’s because it’s not entirely made out of ceramic; instead, it has a ceramic coating that provides a non-stick cooking surface and is non-toxic. This surface also makes it easy to clean—just wash it under warm water with a bit of dishwashing soap.
However, the ceramic coating does have its downsides. It’s slow to heat and doesn’t do so evenly, and it’s delicate. That means metal utensils can easily scratch the surface and it sometimes is more susceptible to wear and tear than other types of pans. It’s a good thing, then, that this Endura frying pan, in particular, has a lifetime warranty. We’re also loving it for its design—a stone-inspired look will bring an old-world vibe to your kitchen.
Best Aluminum: SCANPAN Professional Frying Pan
Aluminum gets a bad reputation for being unsafe because it supposedly leaches into food, but studies show only a minimal amount of aluminum is released if the surface corrodes. That said, many say they’re safe to use but do note that cooking with aluminum can affect the food’s flavor or discolor the pan. You may want to save acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus for a different kind of frying pan!
Aluminum frying pans have plenty of perks though, like the fact that they’re excellent heat conductors (although not as well as copper frying pans). That said, they are a more affordable version that still gets the job done. They’re also strong and lightweight. In fact, this SCANPAN option has a non-stick surface that’s 10 times harder than steel and has a thick base so food cooks evenly. Even better, the surface is free of toxins and the pan is made of recycled aluminum, so it’s eco-friendly to boot!
Best Carbon Steel: Japanese Carbon Steel Frying Pan
Carbon steel is versatile: eggs, steak, cake, fried rice. You name it, it can cook, sear, bake, or saute it. But the pros extend far beyond that: carbon steel pans are lightweight, have longevity, keep food warm, and can handle high heat without damaging the pan. They’re also non-stick, and who can argue with that?
On the flip side, they require seasoning—you’ll need to coat the pan with vegetable oil, slowly bringing it to heat. They’re also prone to rust, so you’ll need to take special care by gently handwashing it and toweling it dry. Any rust can typically be removed by wiping it clean with heated oil.
Carbon steel pans can also be hot to handle, but the beechwood handles on this one are supposed to combat that problem. Want to put it in the oven? Just slip those handles right off. Available in deep and shallow styles for your preferred cooking method.
Best Eco-Friendly: GreenPan Paris Ceramic Non-Stick Fry Pan
When it comes to eco-friendly frying pans, there are a few things to look for. You’ll want it to be free of lead, cadmium, PFAS, and PFOA, chemicals or elements that studies have found to be associated with health risks such as cancer, liver problems, and thyroid dysfunctions. For this reason, it’s best to stay away from traditional non-stick pans and opt for something like ceramic coated non-stick, which is supposed to be safer.
This frying pan fulfills all of these requirements, and its coating is reinforced with minerals and is safe to use with metal utensils. An anodized exterior also works to prevent scratching, releasing harmful fumes, and blistering, regardless of how hot the pan gets. It also promises to provide strength.
Best Budget: Tramontina Professional Aluminum Non-stick Restaurant Fry Pan
There’s a lot of bang for your buck in this frying pan. It checks off all the major boxes—it’s PFOA free, dishwasher safe, oven safe, and has a non-stick interior. It’s also compatible with gas, ceramic glass, and electric stoves.
That’s because it’s NSF certified, meaning it’s designed for a professional kitchen environment that can easily adapt to your range at home. It distributes heat quickly and evenly and can do everything from fry and sear to saute and scramble—perfect for whipping up some eggs for breakfast in bed. Handling is also made easy with a removable silicone soft-grip, perfect for moving the pan in and out of the oven. If it can work for a professional chef, it can work for you—especially at such a low price point.
Best Splurge: de Buyer French Copper Fry Pan
We’ve already established that copper is the best heat conductor, so if you’re a chef at heart, this exclusive copper frying pan from Food52 is worth adding to your registry. They say the good stuff is worth it when it comes to copper, and this one proves it
Unlike other copper cookware, it’s induction friendly. It also has a stainless steel lining that’s perfect for non-reactive foods and durability, but not so much for stick-free cooking. But it won’t just produce delicious food, it’ll look beautiful doing so. Who can resist that sleek silhouette, eye-catching shine, and cast iron handles?
Copper frying pans may be expensive, but when it’s worthy of belonging in a restaurant kitchen, it’s also worthy of an investment. Just make sure you take good care of it—copper is known to be a bit high-maintenance and you’ll have to wash and polish that baby with a copper cleaner to prevent it from tarnishing.