How to Choose the Perfect Frying Pan

An essential tool in any chef’s kitchen arsenal, a frying pan must prove its mettle through years of durability and reliable service. This basic piece of cookware serves many functions. It might be enlisted to prepare a sautéed shrimp and vegetable dish for dinner, and then turn around and serve up a hearty bacon-and-eggs breakfast the next morning.

Here are some expert tips to consider before adding new frying pans to your inventory of restaurant kitchen supplies.

Metals & Manufacturing

Frying pans are available in a variety of metals, including copper, cast iron, stainless steel and aluminum. The last two are the most popular, and both materials have their advantages and disadvantages.

“Aluminum is ideal for cookware, because it is lightweight, corrosion resistant and has excellent thermal conductivity,” says Mark Harris, president of Swiss Gourmet USA in Charlotte, NC. Stainless steel cookware is stronger and tends to last longer, but it’s also more expensive.

Another consideration is the production method used to form the pan. “A cast metal will not warp and distributes heat evenly, while a stamped or spun metal pan warps easily when exposed to heat,” says Harris.

Nonstick Options

A variety of nonstick surfaces cuts down on prep time and allow for easy, quick cleanup. These coatings also facilitate healthier cooking, requiring less fat and oil to prepare foods. But nonstick cookware also tends to scratch more easily and has other limitations.

“Nonstick coatings should not be used with high heat settings, so food may take slightly longer to cook,” Harris says. “And users should avoid coatings made with PFOA, a carcinogenic chemical.”

These pans also require special care while cleaning. Don’t use a corrosive or stainless steel scrubber on nonstick pans. It scratches the finish, ruining their nonstick ability.

Size & Thickness

Frying pans are available in a variety of sizes, with 8-, 10- and 12-inch being the most common. “I recommend getting a 12-inch pan,” says Ivan Flowers, executive chef at Top of the Market restaurant in San Diego, CA. “It's a good, functional size for most uses.”

Thickness is another factor, with most cookware falling between a thick 10-gauge construction and a thinner 22-gauge construction. While thicker metal is sturdier, provides more even heating and is more resistant to denting and warping, it’s also more expensive and heavier and takes longer to heat up.

“If you choose a pan with a bottom that isn't thick enough, you'll wind up with food that cooks too fast, so the outside is burnt while the inside isn't done yet,” says Deborah Niemann, a Chicago-based lifestyle author and speaker. “I love cast iron because it's thick and cooks evenly. But because it conducts heat very well, you don't want to use it over a high heat.”

Handles

It’s also crucial to check out the pan’s handle. Stainless steel and other hollow metal handles don’t conduct heat as well as aluminum handles, remaining cooler than the pan during use.

“Make sure the handle is thick and riveted,” Flowers says. Riveted handles are permanently attached, so they never need to be tightened. But they do require more thorough cleaning to prevent bacterial buildup around the fasteners.

Versatile Cookware

Chefs and restaurant owners on a budget prefer commercial kitchen equipment that multi-tasks. Look for frying pans that have lids and are oven safe, so you can use them for many applications.

“Perfect-fitting lids are often hard to match after purchase,” Harris says. “And a pan that’s safe to use in the oven reduces the number of cookware pieces you need and the energy used for washing pots and pans.”

But Niemann cautions against selecting the least expensive pan and expecting it to function well. “You don't want to buy the cheapest thing available,” she says. “It's easy to assume that because cookware is metal that it is all heavy-duty and will last, but that's not the case.”

Regardless of which pan you choose, it’s important to treat it with care. As chefs like to say, “If you take care of your pans, they’ll take care of you.”

Mike Plotnick is a writer, publicist and social media convert who helps businesses elevate their stories. Based in St. Louis, Mike has overseen PR and communications programs for a diverse range of organizations. He enjoys fitness, chocolate and the St. Louis Cardinals. Follow Mike on Google+.

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