Frying pans: everything you never wanted to know (but should!)

Remember when there was only one kind of frying pan?

Okay, I don’t either, but in light of all the advancements in material, cooking styles and food trends, I thought it might be a good idea to offer a crash course in frying pans, including the different types of material, size, usage, and care and maintenance of your frying pans.

Here we go.

Material and construction

Nonstick. “Nonstick” usually refers to a surface coated with a layer of calphalon, anodized aluminum, or sometimes a proprietary material to keep foods from sticking to the pan while cooking. Another pro: Nonstick pans can be used for lower-calorie cooking because additional oil is not required. Con: May not be as durable as a natural finish due to natural wear-and-tear in a restaurant environment.

Natural. A pan with a natural stainless steel or aluminum finish allows for fast, even heating and can often stand up to heavier abuse in the kitchen than pans with a nonstick coating.

Hard Coat. Some brands advertise a “hard coat” finish, which simply means the pan has an additional layer of anodized aluminum (meaning, aluminum hardened by oxidation) making the surface more durable and resistant to scratches and wear.

Induction-ready. Because induction cooking generates heat via an electromagnetic current, the induction cookware must have a magnetic element to conduct heat. Normally induction fry pans have a layer of carbon steel or magnetic stainless steel. Induction cookware has superior heating capabilities and is ideal for use in buffet and catering environments because there is no open flame.

Carbon Steel. As mentioned above, carbon steel can be used for induction cooking. It conducts heat quickly and evenly, and is also safe for use on gas or electric cook tops, or in an oven or broiler.

Cast Iron. Cast iron is also a sturdy material than conducts and holds heat well. It is heavy, durable, and lasts for years with the proper care. Make sure that your cast iron skillet is properly seasoned before using to prevent oxidation and ensure a nonstick surface.

Copper. Copper cookware is making a comeback, due to its superior heat conduction. It is often combined with a layer of stainless steel for added durability.

Size, Shape and Usage

Ribbed vs. smooth. A ribbed pattern in the pan helps drain away fat and creates grill marks for a more appealing presentation.

French Style. A French style fry pan has a balanced handle and specially curved edge for easily tossing ingredients in the pan.

Woks. A wok is used for stir-frying and traditional Chinese cooking. The pan is wide and round. Woks are most commonly constructed from carbon steel or cast iron.


When cleaning nonstick cookware, or any piece that has additional coating, don’t use abrasive or steel wool sponges or scrubbers, as they will scratch the coating. The best technique is to use soapy water and dry thoroughly.

Never put a hot pan immediately into cold water– this will cause cracking and wear.

Sometimes soaking nonstick cookware in soapy water can actually cause the coating to retain a soapy flavor. Remove stains with a little baking soda or bleach water and rinse immediately with hot water.

Cast iron fry pans should not rust or wear if properly seasoned. Clean cast iron by letting it cool, washing with a little soap and water (never let it soak, as this will break down the seasoning) and dry thoroughly. Then place the clean, dry pan on a warm burner and lightly oil the inside of the pan with a neutral cooking oil.

Just like aluminum, copper cookware can change color with use and exposure to air. Wash with soap and water and remove tarnish with a mixture of salt and lemon juice or a commercial copper polish. Be careful to remove any mixture or polish by rinsing thoroughly and drying.


Never put any piece of cookware away without thoroughly drying it. Store fry pans with the lids off, especially in humid climates. If needed, store with a paper towel in the pan to absorb any excess moisture.

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