How to Buy the right Pan: Avoid the Biggest Mistakes

Frying Pan

How to buy the right pan for you? Buying a pan isn’t easy. There are so many manufacturers, materials and names on the market. We try to shed some light into the darkness. This will help you with the selection of your next pan. Based on our criteria, you can find the perfect pan for you.

The Essentials in Brief: How to buy the right Pan

When you buy a pan, you should check the following criteria. You find a detailed explanation when scrolling down. Or find out more about the individual points by clicking on the respective link.

  1. Material: We recommend iron, aluminum or stainless steel.
  2. Non-stick coating/surface: Teflon or baked iron pan
  3. Diameter: 10 inch / 24 cm or 11 inch / 28 cm, depending on requirements
  4. Weight: at 10 inch / 24 cm between 1.8 – 3.3 pound (0.8 – 1.5 kg), at 11 inch / 28 cm between 2.2 – 4 pound (1 – 1.8 kg)
  5. Shape: Round is better than rectangular
  6. Edge height: depending on use. For the vast majority of cooking processes a medium-high pan edge makes sense.
  7. Handle: metal, riveted
  8. Price: good pans are available from approx. 35 $.

The Basic Material of the Pan

The material of which the pan is made is mainly responsible for the price and behavior of the pan on the stove. Frying pans are always largely made of metal, as metal conducts heat relatively well.

Pans are made from this materials or a mix of them:
  • Iron
  • Stainless steel
  • Copper
  • Aluminium

The materials differ mainly in two factors: thermal diffusivity and reactivity.
Copper conducts heat best, followed by aluminum. Stainless steel and iron are far worse off. The heat distribution in copper pans is much more uniform. The food is browned more evenly in all places. Stainless steel pans almost always have a plate of aluminum or copper embedded in them to distribute the heat better.
Since copper and aluminum can react with food, these pans are hardly made of uncoated material. Aluminum is usually coated with PTFE or ceramic, copper with stainless steel. More about the non-stick properties of the individual materials in the next section.
PTFE or Polytetrafluoroethylene is a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene – best known as Teflon.

Iron pans, in particular, can react with acidic foods. We have a separate post on how to choose an iron pan.

The most expensive pans are made of copper. Pans made of stainless steel, aluminum or iron are available in similar price categories (always depending on manufacturer and processing). We do not recommend copper pans because of the steep price tag. Although they are very suitable for cooking (which is why you often see them in upscale restaurants), they are usually many times more expensive than pans made of other metals. But if you can afford them it might make sense to own some. And they do look great.

Coated Pan
Teflon Pan

Non-stick properties/surfaces

Especially protein-rich foods such as pancakes, meat or eggs can combine with the pan under the influence of heat: the fried food sticks.
For this reason, there are non-stick coatings: PTFE (Teflon) and ceramic.
Both materials have little or no bonding with the food, the pans are much easier to clean. Ceramic, however, has the disadvantage that oil heated too high decomposes and the residues remain on the coating. This leads to an extremely reduced non-stick effect. This often happens after only a few months.
PTFE/Teflon, on the other hand, has better non-stick properties than ceramic, normally nothing sticks at all. However, the non-stick coating is rubbed off over time because the forces holding the Teflon to the pan are relatively weak.
If you want to learn more about PTFE-coated pans, you can read our article on Teflon pans.
If you want to buy a coated pan, we recommend that you buy a PTFE coated pan. In our experience, ceramic coated pans have a much shorter service life.
You can read more about this in our guide to ceramic pans. Also with Teflon pans, it is worthwhile to spend a little more money when buying pans. Especially with cheap pans, the Teflon layer wears off very quickly.

Iron pans are only available uncoated (or enameled, but for little use). Iron, however, has the great advantage that it can form a patina of oil residues, which acts like a non-stick layer. It will take some time for a good patina to form, but then iron pans can easily be used for fried eggs, pancakes and the like. If the patina is damaged, it can easily be restored.
All information about this process can be found in our article “Seasoning an Iron Pan”.

Uncoated stainless steel pans are the most difficult to handle. Almost everything will stick easily in them. This is sometimes even desired because the brown remains in the pan give a wonderful sauce when extinguished with water or wine. That’s why you often see them in restaurant kitchens. With a little practice and oil, you can also make fried eggs and pancakes. You can find out more about its use here: Stainless steel pans

What would you like to prepare?

Depending on the food you want to prepare a coating or the non-existent coating in your pan is important. Here are a few examples when to use which pan.
Food that needs a low temperature and sticks easily (eggs, pancakes, fish): PTFE or ceramic coated pan or iron pan.
Food for which high temperatures are necessary: Iron pans, stainless steel pans, ceramic pans
Acidic sauces: Teflon pans, ceramic pans, stainless steel pans Fried potatoes: all
Steaks: ceramic pans, iron pans, stainless steel pans

Weight of the Pan

When it comes to weight, you should pay attention to two things: not too heavy, not too light.

If the pan is very light, this indicates thin material. Pans with thin bottoms deform easily. Especially very cheap pans have this problem. These pans can usually be found in discount stores.

If the pan is too heavy, cooking with it can become difficult. Especially cast iron pans and pans with thick sandwich bottoms are often very heavy.

The handle also plays a role: the longer the handle is (and of course it is gripped further back), the heavier the pan seems to be. More about this in the pan grip section.

Our experience has shown that a 10in pan should weigh more than 1.8 pounds, but less than 3.3 pounds. An 11in pan should weigh more than 2.2 pounds but less than 4.4 pounds. However, these are only guidelines. There are also pans that weigh less or more and are still really good.

The Diameter of the Pan

There are pans from 4″ /10 cm (mostly to present food on them) up to 40″ / 100 cm in diameter (very large paella pans).
Most widespread and most useful are however pans in the size 10″ / 24 cm and 11″ / 28 cm.

For a one- or two-person household we recommend 10″, for more people, there should be an additional 11″ pan in the house. You can find out more about the pan diameter here: Pan diameter

The Shape of the Pan

Round or square: these are the two types of pans there are. We generally recommend buying round pans.
The reasons:

  1. it is harder to get into the corners of the pan when cleaning.
  2. Turning food in the air is much easier with round pans
  3. The heat source (cooking plate, gas ring) is usually round, a square pan gets warmer more slowly in the corners

Edge Height of the Pan

Crepe pans have the lowest edge height. The highest edges have braised pans, fish pans and sauté pans.
However, these are intended for special cases. For most applications a pan with a normal rim is sufficient. The edge is best slightly beveled to facilitate cleaning and allowing the food to slide out. It is particularly good if the pan still has a pouring rim: this facilitates the pouring of liquids.
Pans with a very high rim are usually very heavy, while pans with a low rim can easily lose something during pan stirring.

The Handle of a Pan

Different Pan Handles

Pans have either one handle, a handle and a grip on the other side or two-loop handles. A pan with two-loop handles usually only makes sense with very heavy or large pans. Handle grips become much hotter due to the design. A normal panhandle can still be touched even if the pan is hot. A detailed article on panhandles can be found here: Panhandles

Handle Material of a Pan

The panhandle is usually made of metal, wood or plastic. We recommend a metal handle: then the pan can be placed in the stove without any problems. Some plastic handles can be removed so that the pan can also be placed in the stove. However, these mechanisms often represent a weak point, they wear out faster than normal handles.

The Handle Mounting of the Pan

Handles can be either screwed, riveted, cast or welded to the pan. We have had the best experience with welded and riveted handles. The only disadvantage of riveted handles is that food remains can collect on the rivets, which makes cleaning more difficult. But the handle is also bomb-proof.

The Price of a good Pan

We advise against buying pans under 25 $ in most cases. Good pans are available from about 30 $. An ordinary pan should not cost more than 90 $. However, there are exceptions: Professional pans are clearly more expensive, but also very durable. In addition, there are pans, which are still manufactured by hand and justify thereby a higher price.

Which/how many Pans should I buy?

We recommend two pans: one with non-stick properties and a stainless steel pan.
For difficult dishes (eggs, fish,
etc.) we recommend an iron pan or a PTFE-/Teflon-coated pan.
The stainless steel pan can be used to prepare acidic sauces that will Patina of the iron pan would destroy, on the other hand, it is perfect for quenching residues.

You can find pans that we have tested in use and extensively and can, therefore, recommend here:
Our iron pans recommendations
Our top recommendation: De Buyer Mineral B Element
Read our full review of the pan. Or take a look at our guide: How to choose the best iron pan.
Our Teflon pan recommendations
Our top recommendation: Tefal Jamie Oliver Premium Series
Read our full review of the pan.
Our recommendations for induction-suitable pans
Our top recommendation: also the Tefal Jamie Oliver Premium Series
Our recommendations if you are looking for a steak pan
Our top recommendation: De Buyer Mineral B Element

We hope our guide will help you to form a more informed decision for your next pan purchase!

Filed under: Pan


I'm Ivan - living and recently working in Southern California as a sous chef at various leading hotel chains. I’ve been fascinated by knives since my childhood in the Rocky Mountains. My career has made me passionate about all aspects of knives and I love sharing what I discover.

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