Chances are, you will use a frying pan a lot during the course of your life. The right one can save you repeated disappointments, expense and enable you to cook in ways and create culinary masterpieces that would otherwise be impossible. Here is everything you need to know. If it all seems too much, just pop into one of our stores – our staff are experts on furnishing you with the perfect pan for your needs.
Non stick frying pans need to do two things well; not stick and cook evenly. The better the pan, the better they do these two things. In a nutshell, here’s how:
The vast majority of non-stick pans are Teflon coated; a spray-on plastic that’s quick and cheap to produce, so Teflon pans aren’t usually expensive. The downside of Teflon is that, being a plastic, if it gets too hot, it can blister and come away from the surface of the pan. The other downside of Teflon is the amount of horrible, toxic chemicals that are usually used in its application and can leak. Not enough to damage a human apparently, but doesn’t seem to do parrots any favours, according to some reports.
Pans with a ceramic coating are becoming increasingly available, a natural mineral coating, usually with no horrible chemicals needed in its application. A big upside of ceramic is that it doesn’t degrade at higher temperatures, so will never peel away from the surface of the pan. The vast majority of our pans are ceramic. The better the ceramic (not all are created equal), the longer it will stay non-stick.
Spreading the warmth
A poor quality pan will have heat-spots, and when frying eggs for example, some eggs may sizzle while others will remain plain warm.
Frying pans have two main ways of distributing heat evenly. One is the material they use in the body. Most good pans have aluminium bodies – a fantastic conductor of heat. In addition, the better pans will either use thick aluminium to retain heat and give an even spread, or will be made up of layers. Steel is tougher than aluminium, but not as good at spreading heat, so many pans have steel on the outsides with an aluminium core (tri-ply) to capitalise on the strengths of both.
The better pans usually have a steel handle that will enable you to put the pan in the oven without it melting. This can be useful – there’s a great Hugh Fearnley brunch recipe where he fries loads of spiced peppers, cracked some eggs over and bakes the lot in the oven for example.
Steel interior pans
Chefs love steel interior pans, partially because metal utensils can be used in them without fear of taking the lining off (only the very best non stick pans are metal utensil friendly, and even then it’s not ideal), partly because the steel produces different results when cooking to non-stick. When you stick a steak in a hot steel pan, it will indeed stick initially, and this first minute or so caramelises the steak’s surface beautifully, before the steak relaxes and releases its vice-like grip, enabling you to turn it. Mushrooms particularly take on a lovely, autumnal colour when sautéed in a steel pan. Scrambled egg however will take on the characteristic of glue in a stainless steel pan when attempted by anyone with less than advanced cooking skills, and a non-stick for such duties will suit most people far better.
Cast iron pans
Cast iron pans will take more heat than any other type of pan, so they’re great for searing. They’re incredibly durable, and you may love the ‘built like a tank’ nature of cast iron, despite their heavy weight. Instead of a non-stick lining, cast iron will build-up ‘patena’, which provides a non-stick coating. This is done by cleaning the pan after use without washing-up liquid, so the oils are retained and ‘season’ the surface. (If you cook meat, you will build up a layer of animal fat; take note if you have vegetarians over for dinner)
The pan can be seasoned (which starts the non-stick process) by rubbing it with vegetable oil all over and placing in a medium to hot oven for an hour or so. Without this coating, cast iron pans may rust. Some customers find this a bit of a faff, but for some this has an enjoyable sense of the campfire to it.
At the top end of the price spectrum, Copper is a brilliant conductor of heat, and copper pans are often the first choice for chefs who accept nothing less than perfection. Care must also be taken to keep them looking polished (although some love them looking weathered and discoloured), but if you’re prepared to do the requisite buffing and polishing, and you want something to look beautiful as well as perform, the unique sight of a set of copper pans in the kitchen may be worth the extra effort.
Caring for your pans
If you have a non-stick pan, there are two ways to keep it non-stick; hand-wash it and don’t overheat it. Dishwashers fire salt and corrosives at non-stick surfaces that will reduce the non-stick’s lifespan.
No non-stick pan likes high heat. If you sear and cook things at high temperatures in a non-stick pan, the lifespan of its non-stick will be greatly reduced. Frying pans are for frying, which is quite a different thing to searing. If you want to sear things, buy a steel or cast iron pan to do so and you won’t have to keep throwing your non-stick pans away.
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