While kitchen catalogues and cooking TV shows often show professionals at work with endless tools and supplies, in reality, the savvy home chef knows that only a few essentials are necessary to make incredible food. One of the most important parts of a well-stocked kitchen is a good skillet or frying pan, a vessel with low, slanted sides that aid in evaporation and make it easy to flip food. While it can be fun to have a pan for every situation and every dish, those who are striving for minimalism or frugality can often get by with just a single well-made skillet.
For many people, the best and most cost-effective choice will be a cast-iron skillet. This type of pan can be incredibly versatile in the hands of a creative chef. Most famous for providing steaks with the perfect seared exterior, a cast-iron skillet can also be used to bake pies or pizzas, deep fry vegetables, or roast a whole chicken. These skillets are also extremely affordable, as even the industry leader, Lodge, sells its premier 12-inch skillet for less than $40. The only problem with cast iron is that it requires a bit of extra care, though the difficulty in this is often exaggerated.
Cast iron may be the cheapest high-quality frying-pan material, but the absolute best type of pan is “clad.” Used to describe pans made with a heat-retaining metal sandwiched between sheets of stainless steel, these skillets offer steel’s ease-of-use while retaining the high conductivity of metals like copper or aluminum. While the most affordable options will only be slightly more expensive than cast iron, the industry’s top-of-the-line skillets are made by All-Clad and often have price tags well above $100. Whatever you decide to buy, be sure to get something big enough. Experts generally agree that a 12-inch skillet will be large enough for practically any dish, though those who cook for themselves or just one other person can probably make do with a 10-inch model.