What do I like to cook?
If you prefer to cook over higher heats as you often fry, chargrill or stirfry you should definitely consider cast iron (either enamel coated like Le Creuset or preseasoned like American made Lodge). A preseasoned pan will last longer and is ‘reseasonable’ but an enamel coated pan will be more ‘low stick’ and therefore easier to clean. These pans are incredibly tough and will take an absolute hiding. Stainless and carbon steel are also very robust and are much lighter but because of this don’t hold the heat quite as well. Also, food has a tendency to stick a little more readily to these pans (see How to Stop Your Food from Sticking) which often necessitates added cooking fat.
Or, do you prefer to cook chicken breasts, eggs, fish, fritters or one-pan-meals where more of a low to medium heat and careful cooking methods are desirable? Non-stick pans come with a few ‘rules of engagement’ but when these are followed, the user is rewarded with cookware that cooks and browns food brilliantly with minimal oil or fat and is an absolute doddle to clean. (Tips for looking after non-stick)
How many people do you regularly cook for?
Think about who you regularly cook for – a 20-24cm skillet is good for two, 24-26 cm skillet for around four and a big 28-30cm for more. Don’t be tempted to buy a skillet that is too big - too much empty pan surface can result in over-reduction of sauces as the empty surface area causes too rapid evaporation which can also damage your pan.
What heat source am I using?
Gas or induction? Regular radiant electric elements or ceramic? Do you want to be able to use your pan on the BBQ or to go from hob to oven to table? Look for a handle (and lid) that is heatproof so that you can use your skillet in the oven as well.
How much time am I willing to invest in caring for my pan
You may be a careful cook who looks after their cookware but do you have teenagers or others in the house who may be less careful and therefore need something more robust? Go for cast iron, stainless or carbon steel. Almost all cookware will benefit from a regular cleaning with our new Barkeeper’s Friend range.
Other things to think about:
1. Look for a heavy gauge material that conducts heat efficiently. A thin gauge pan will do you no favours as they dent and warp easily and spread and hold heat less effectively which can result in scorching. A heavy ‘thick’ pan will absorb heat evenly and spread it over the entire surface more consistently resulting in better browning, faster reducing and hotter frying.
2. If you cook a lot of acidic foods like tomato or wine sauces or fruit, then your pan should be ‘non-reactive’ and you should choose from either stainless steel, enamel, anodised aluminium or non-stick. Plain aluminium pans will discolour those sauces and acidic foods may end up tasting metallic. Eggs, some vegetables and baking soda can also be affected so we recommend staying away from aluminium if you cook these foods frequently. Incidentally, aluminium has in the past caused concern regarding Alzeimer’s but evidence around this has never been conclusive.
3.Consider whether you make a lot of ‘one pan meals’ as I do. If you do, invest in a skillet with higher sides so you can just toss everything in as you go without spillage and if your skillet comes with a lid then this makes it ideal for the oven as well. If you’re more likely to cook fritters, cutlets, frittatas etc then perhaps choose something with lower sides to facilitate easier turning.
4. If you do a lot of pan sauces or caramels where it’s important to watch the colour of what you’re cooking then consider stainless steel as it is often hard to see how dark things are getting on a dark cast iron or carbon steel pan.
5. If cooking with less fat is a driver, then definitely give a non-stick pan some consideration. Non-stick technology has come a very long way in the last few years – and what they are great at and not so good for. Non-stick pans these days are much heavier (generally anodised aluminium or stainless steel and with a more robust coating process that can withstand higher heats and more abrasion so no more peeling pans). Non-stick pans make a fabulous job of ‘sticky’ proteins like delicate fish fillets, eggs, skinless chicken, fritters and bacon to name a few.
6. Can your pan go in the dishwasher? But, really, do you need it to? Stainless steel will dishwash perfectly well but at Milly’s we counsel against putting cast iron and non-stick through the dishwasher. We recommend you purchase quality pans that will last a lifetime and we believe they deserve a quick hand wash to get the best life from them.
7. A good quality skillet will be a pleasure to cook with for many years and it’s worth doing your homework before making your purchase. If you have any doubts, please get in touch with us either instore or online and we will be delighted to help you further.