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Jun 28, 2005 06:50 PM

Fry pans: what's the diff? stainless steel vs. nonstick vs. blue steel

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I'm torn. Which is the best all-purpose fry pan? I don't want to get more than one because I really don't do any of the below very often, but when I do it's almost impossible because all I have is a cast iron skillet, nonstick wok, a carbon steel wok, and pots (shocking, no?). I'm deciding among:

stainless steel, because I can use it to brown things, caramelize onions, and put a lid on it to finish dishes in the oven.

nonstick, because it's easy to clean and makes omlettes/pancakes easy. Will batter/eggs stick to the stainless steel a lot?

a crepe pan, because I really do like that it's oh-so-flat. My friend has one and says it came with instructions never to cook anything else on it. Does anyone know why?

I'm leaning toward a good stainless 9" or 10" frypan with a copper core, but can I:

sear fish
make an omlette
create a resonably thin crepe (small is okay)
cook up a pancake
fry eggs without making a sticky mess

I've been to a few stores and talked to some not-too-helpful clerks. Any ideas? Thanks so much!!

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  1. Stainless steel is softer than you think and is prone to scratching which is why it is not really the best pan for eggs and other foods that are prone to sticking. You can brown and sear in your cast iron pan, I am assuming that it has an integrated iron handle and can go into the oven. You don't say what size cast iron skillet you have but it is small you might want to buy one that is 10"-12" and a non-stick skillet. The cast iron is cheap enough and probably even less expensive in a thrift store. I buy my non-stick skillets at TJ Maxx and now that I have learned not to use cooking spray in them and ruin them they last quite a long time and are very affordable. I have cast iron in 8", 10" and 14" and a 8" non-stick for omelettes, a 10" which I use occasionally and 2 12" that I use a lot.

    I have had my 8" for 30 years and it is well seasoned and cooks wonderfully and does not stick. I got rid of my stainless pans a long time ago when I started buying Calphalon. Yes I do have a lot of cooking equipment and a lot of experience with it, but it is all well chosen.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Candy

      What is it about cooking spray and non-stick?

      1. re: sbp

        Never the twain shall meet; the spray bonds to the nonstick in an unholy congress.

        1. re: Karl S.

          Although that is probably good (and undeniably pithy!) counsel, IMNSHO cooking spray is unholy all on its own.

        2. re: sbp

          The propellants in Pam etc. burn very quickly and become bonded to non-stick surfaces. I ruined several skillets before I bothered to read the instructions that came with them.

        3. re: Candy

          I have three pans: a 10" tri-ply stainless skillet (Calphalon?) and two iron skillets in 10" and 12" (I recommend Lodge brand). I could easily get rid of the smaller iron skillet and not miss it and I would love a bigger stainless pan for bigger quantity cooking but otherwise they're prefect for pretty much everything.
          Crepes are a breeeze with my stainless. Either can handle an omlette, though I prefer the stainless. Either can handle a pancake, though I prefer the iron (I wipe on just a bit of olive oil, NEVER butter because it burns too fast). Eggs are fine in either one though I think the stainless may require a little more fat.
          I've never seared fish but I'd guess, based on other foods I cook, that either would handle it fine as long as you use just enough (not too much or it's a greasy, soggy mess!) of the right fat (olive oil is a really great all purpose oil, I'd guess it would work well here) and preheat properly.

          In my limited experience with non-stick, they've been just as sticky as cast iron with a mediocre seasoning and I don't like the idea of a pan that won't last for very long. I'd rather spend a little more and buy something really nice, once. It's cheaper in the long run and more satisfactory to use.

          1. re: AmandaHa

            Not being a professional at all, not even a dedicated cook, just a guy kinda forced into the role, I took an interest in this question out of desire to know, in a state of ignorance.

            Nearly ten years later on a regime of daily cooking for a family I can say for me at least stainless steel wins hands down, hands down.

            It just needs one thing to be virtually perfect: a quick method to get over that initial sticky surface you get on a newly clean pan.

            Fried eggs will stick. Have to cook them either very slow or very hot (make a crisp bottom) to get around it.

            Just need to cook something else, anything, couple of onion rings, half cook a sausage, almost anything, first, and then there'll be no sticking, then the pan will be good.

            Must add, I guess, that I'm talking heavy bottomed pan, helps make mine perfect for me. But just plain aluminium, heavy bottomed or not, beats the rusty taste of steel and the hassles of cast iron greasiness and cleaning and the unfortunate chipping of enamel.

            And - what's being discussed right here - non-sticks - well, they're just a pain. Just when you've got accustomed to it and motoring along well the coating begins to fail and then aren't you in a world of disgusting dubious chemical mayhem...

            Cooking. Ten years of stumbling along doing what I must.. it gets at you in the end, doesn't it? Becomes an art and a craft, a skill and an enjoyment. Isn't it good when the kids call your cooking, this or that particular thing..


        4. Crepes really need a crepe pan. If you're not going to do that (a bit rediculous if you are not French), then anything will work ok. Fish is fine without nonstick. Eggs are too, but you have to use lots of fat. I've never tried pancakes on a sticky surface...probably is similar to the crepes--needs fat!

          1. I would LOVE to settle for just one pan but I really think you need at least two. You should have a heavy duty skillet of some kind that you can sear meat on high heat and to get frond (sp) for deglacing. I have a couple of All Clad's and they work fine. Your cast iron skillet can also work. I've tried to fry eggs, pancakes, fish, among other delicate things on the All Clad's and unless I use a lot of fat, the food sticks. (Fish might be ok if you don't flip them too early). Anyway, I reluctantly had to go back to using a nonstick pan for the delicate stuff.

            I had heard that the nonstick coating can give off residue that might be bad for you. Cooking on high heat on a nonstick is really not a good idea either. I bought some really economical nonstick pans and some really expensive nonstick pans. I've found that the cheap ones do a good enough job to make paying a lot of money for nonsticks pans unjustifiable. Eventually, the nonstick surface of all the pans scratch or deteriorate. So, I guess I feel less guilty throwing away a lower priced pan. The expensive pans had better heat conducting material but I didn't want to cook on high heat in nonstick pans what was the point. In any case, if you can only buy one nonstick pan, I would suggest a high sided skillet. I buy the one from Costco for about $25 and it's about 14 inches across with a 2 inch side and comes with a glass lid. Not only can you fry eggs, fish, etc in it, you can also cook food with sauces which might be prone to sticking to the pan in it. Finally, it is great to make chow mein with minimum amount of oil and everything comes out great. ok, done with wonder my kids say that I am long winded. Margret

            1 Reply
            1. re: Margret
              Epicurious In Fremont

              Looks like you've gotten some great info already. Here's some additional info for you. Hope it helps :)


            2. Based on your stated goals, I personally think that a non-stick pan will serve your needs best and broaden your cooking repertoire more than a SS pan. Non-stick is indispensable for eggs, pancakes, and other wet, sticky things. I can't imagine using my SS for such tasks. Also good when you want to minimize use of oil/butter.

              I'm someone who hates too many pans/pots (it's hard finding space for what I have let alone keeping it all organized!), but find it essential to have 2 non-sticks (10" and 12"). Smaller one for individual omelets, when I'm cooking for one, sauteeing small amount of veggies. Larger pan so that I can make 2 grilled cheese sandwiches, a few fried eggs, or few pancakes at the same time. Great when entertaining. If I had to choose one, I'd go for the 12". Mine are both anodized non-stick from Calphalon but not the pricey line. Got mine from either Linens & Things or Bed, Bath, Beyond for about $20 each. Don't have lids, but I just cover w/ foil when I need a lid. They are both oven-safe and have lasted for about 2 yrs. now and counting...Farberware Millenium was the top non-stick recommended by Cook's Illustrated FWIW.

              For searing fish or meat, your cast iron should be fine w/ a thin layer of oil. If there are times when you need a lid for it, then just cover w/ a piece of foil. Some might disagree, but I sometimes use my non-stick for searing on med. to med-high heat. I try to not abuse my pans, but I'm not at all precious w/ them.

              If you decide to go w/ SS, then don't feel like you have to get "the best." I have one 12" All-Clad saute pan that I like, but sometimes wonder if it was worth the pricetag. Believe CI also did some recent testing on SS pans, but forget which was favored. Good can be challenging sorting through the choices, marketing, hype, etc.

              1. Given that you already have a cast iron pan (to sear fish in) and show an interest in sticky things like omelettes & pancakes, I would go with a nonstick. I purchased a nonstick All-Clad 5 years ago (about $100 from Bed, Bath & Beyond) and it's perfomed wonderfully and is still going strong with almost daily use. Nice solid weight and substantial *feel* and distributes heat very evenly -so less scorching & gently fries eggs hard or scrambled (produces beautiful *curds*), makes omelettes without browning, easily flipped crepes & pancakes.

                3 Replies
                1. re: petradish

                  Aha, you answered my question: a basic nonstick IS a good way to make a crepe. I've been buying into all this hype about THE CREPE PAN. The pan, all holy, which must NOT ever be used to cook anything else. I was skeptical, but when you hear something enough times...

                  Okay, a solid nonstick seems like the way to go. Thanks, all!

                  1. re: nooodles

                    Crepe pans are neat but not essential. If you ladle your batter into the pan in small amounts and swirl to coat, you'll get good results.

                    1. re: nooodles

                      Yup, agree w/ petradish that special crepe pans are unnecessary. The only benefit that I can tell is that the sides are very low, which aids flipping. So consider getting a non-stick pan that has flared as opposed to straight sides if you plan on making crepes quite a bit.

                      I don't make crepes, but my mom makes the very thin Viet rice flour crepes known as "banh cuon." For such a loose batter, she swears by the super slippery Teflon pans (that aren't anodized) that are cheap in cost and construction. They're light, which makes them easier to lift, and she has one pan that she reserves for that sole purpose.