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Nov 18, 2008 02:52 AM

Best Frying Pan?

I mostly cook steaks with my frying pan, so from that point of view, what would you consider the best pan to buy? I'm a little concerned that a cast-iron might take too long to heat. do they do cast-iron with a copper base?
Looking at the heat transferrence of metals, it seems to me that the best combination is a copper base (highest) Alumunium pan (half that of copper) and stainless steel handle (far lower). Does this exist? The handle must be metal.

Lastly, any experiences with certain brands, good or bad, are welcome.

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  1. i think cast iron is a good choice for steak. they do take a little while to heat, but not that long, and once they do, they retain the heat pretty well. Also, I like to sear on the top and finish in the oven and cast iron works well for this,. Copper and stainless, either sandwiched or disk, also work fine. and might be a little nicer if you're planning to deglaze and make a sauce. I have an all clad saute that I use for this, as well as other things, and its a very versatile pan, as well as mauviel copper and wagner cast iron. If price is an issue, cast iron is by far the cheapest way to go

    1 Reply
    1. re: chuckl

      Thanks man. Didn't realise cast iron was cheap. I suppose it would be economical for a first seasoning if I were to bake a cake at the same time ^__^

      I think my favorite pan at home might be cast iron actually. If that's the case, I cook with that all the time anyway. I'll check.

    2. Cast iron is real cheap. And to answer about the copper: no, there is no such thing as cast iron with a copper bottom.

      Not sure if you have one, huh?! Cast iron is typically going to be black or near-black in color (depending on the age and use of the pan). It will also rust if it isn't properly taken care of. That means no dishwasher, no long soaking; not sure how you take care of your mystery pan. It will also be pretty heavy. Take a look at the bottom of the pan and give us the brand name and that will help ID it.

      4 Replies
      1. re: HaagenDazs

        It is pretty heavy. Heavier than the other pans. What I was gonna do was just go to a store and lift sdome pans; if the weight compares, it was cast iron I was using all along!

        1. re: Soop

          Weight doesn't necessarily equal cast iron... There's pictures of cast iron online and for the most part, they all look the same. You should be able to tell by looking, not by weight.

          1. re: HaagenDazs

            You know what, I'm still no closer. I think the best way might to be to get 3; a small non-stick for omelettes, a cast iron for steaks, onions, sauteed potatoes etc, and an aluminium one for things like sauces and deglazing etc.

            So far I'm pretty sold on the le creuset pans and the marco pierre white ones

            1. re: Soop

              I would skip the aluminum pan and go for something like stainless. Aluminum will react with certain foods. Aluminum isn't good in the dishwasher and anodized aluminum will be irreversibly ruined by putting it in the dishwasher. Stainless steel with an aluminum core (something like All-Clad or Calphalon Tri-Ply stainless) or a copper sandwiched bottom (like Sitram) is a far better option.

      2. If you have a decent enough hood system, cast iron all the way for steaks. There is no substitute. I recently came back to the cast iron world and I forgot what I was missing! Best 25 bucks I've spent in a long time!

        I sear outside cuz my hood system is non existent but definitely go cast iron for steaks. You can't make a pan sauce with it, but you won't need it! I usually throw in a bunch of butter at the very end and baste the meat with the browned butter. It's all the sauce you'll need :)

        5 Replies
        1. re: Kleraudio

          I agree cast iron is superlative for a sear, and since most cast iron fry pans are thick and heavy, the heat retention is good, but I have a large heavy carbon steel pan, from the DeBuyer Au Carbone line, that is about the same thickness as my cast iron, maybe even a tad thicker on the bottom, that I prefer using for steaks and chops. I'd eyeball it at about 3mm. Anyway, do you or any of the regular heavy on the technical data posters know if there would be any (or any meaningful) performance characteristics differences between a CI and a CS of the same thickness? Also I concur on the butter, strongly!

          1. re: tim irvine

            Hi, Tim:

            Carbon steel has a marginally-higher specific heat than cast iron. 0.49 kJ/kg K versus 0.46 kJ/kg K. Compare with copper at 0.39 kJ/kg K. So CS would store and hold slightly more heat by weight than CI.

            But carbon steel also has a significantly lower thermal conductivity than CI. 21 Btu/(hr oF ft) vs. 27-46 Btu/(hr oF ft). Compare to copper's 231. So CS would give up its heat to the food more slowly than would CI.

            Putting the two together, in terms of thermal diffusivity (basically a measure of the ability of a material to conduct thermal energy relative to its ability to store thermal energy), carbon steel is at 11.72 mm2/s and CI is at 23 mm2/s. Compare with copper at 111 mm2/s.

            Is the difference between CS and CI meaningful in pans of equal dimensions and thickness? Theoretically, if you sear steaks and finish in the pan off the heat like my mom used to, they would finish a bit faster in CI. But the difference wouldn't be meaningful to most people, IMO.


            1. re: kaleokahu

              Aloha back, Kaleo. Thanks for the technical explanation in clear fashion. I just know that the large heavy CS pan is great for steaks and chops and seems to me to be worthy as a CI alternative. I just sprinkle kosher salt, get it very hot, and plunk them in. They release nicely. Once they are seared I let the temperature settle, finish with butter, and pull them off and eat while still hot (no resting) at medium rare. Also if I do a skirt or hanger that way I can make a heavily seasoned red wine reduction. Maybe it is the strong taste of those cuts, but I really don't pick up on any iron taste. Of course if frites and mayonnaise are also in the dish (I like to plate that dish in a soup plate), I am probably not processing much detail. Cheers!

              1. re: tim irvine

                Hi, Tim:

                Not processing much detail? That's a good sign I gave too much!

                There's a famous eGullet article by Sam Kinsey called something like "Understanding Stovetop Cookware". Kinsey uses very apt graphics of a reservoir, an "in" pipe, and an "out" pipe to show what happens to the heat in various pan constructions.

                Both CS and CI are big reservoirs. But both have pretty small "in" and "out" pipes relative to aluminum and copper. CS's pipes are even smaller than CI's. This means that CI is a little better able to dump stored heat into your steak at the first flop *and* slightly better at rebounding back for the flip or next steak.

                Thick preheated CS would make an ideal warming trivet at table. Remember the recent discussion about steel pizza sheets? A large area of 1/2 inch of steel preheated to 500F stores a HUGE amount of heat, reducing the cook time of a Neapolitan -style pie to <3minutes. The same thing is happening in your pan to your steak, except your "reservoir" is not much larger than the footprint of the steak (x 3mm or so), and your steak is a much better heatsink than a thin wafer of pizza dough.

                You might try comparing CS and CI pans for steaks and time the finish. Or try simultaneously doing as many steaks as the pan(s) will fit, and see how the crusts compare. But I bet the time or crust difference for a single or 2 steaks would not be great (and who therefore cares?).

                I'm not one who worries about acidic sauces causing off tastes or hurting anything or anyone. IMO, the red wine in CS weakens the seasoning a little, and if you've charred anything in the pan, it can pull it off in specks and chunks. I say So What? Just cook in the pan some more.

                The two greatest thing about CS IMO is its low cost and almost complete invulnerability. If it weren't for the ostensible (and false) "ugly" factor of them and the DW prohibition, I think they'd hold a huge preponderance of the market.


                1. re: kaleokahu

                  #2 use of my new De Buyer... amazed at how non-stick this pan is. Pan held enough heat to get a slight crust to the gnocchi, without over cooking... and the freshly boiled gnocchi, which are prone to sticking, slid around like crazy. Again, so grateful this forum pointed me to these CS pans.

        2. My 10" Griswold, or any decent, restaurant quality, heavy aluminum, non-stick....

          1 Reply
          1. re: 3MTA3

            So either your superior quality vintage American made cast iron skillet (brilliant) or non-stick?

            Stick with the first, forget the second.

          2. 4 mm thick copper saute pan with tin lining, small amount of clarified butter melted and brushed evenly on the bottom of the pan, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper on medium heat for 30 seconds before putting in a couple of high quality steaks and turning the heat up a little closer to med-high, being careful not to touch the steak at all so that it stays still and sears a good long time in place without being manipulated. After several minutes, turn only once to sear the other side similarly for a couple of minutes. Then, transfer to the oven for another 3-4 minutes to finish.

            Alternatively, instead of finishing in the oven, i like the adding a big lump of butter and finishing it in the pan on the stove top idea, but have yet to try it. sounds like it could not be less than fantastic.