What size of skillet/pan to get? And what material?
I turn to those who would know best for this. I need to buy myself a smallish skillet or omelet pan for my little student apartment. I have a great big beast of a covered frying pan that I use for preparing large dishes like curries. What I want, though, is a smaller pan handy for the little jobs like omelets and frying onions and garlic, and other kinds of prep cooking for more complex dishes. Space is at a premium in my apartment, so I thought perhaps I'd just get an 8-inch pan, rather than a 10-inch that might be impractical for the smaller jobs. Am I miscalculating here?
Also, I hate nonstick stuff, so I assumed that I should go for a nice, mid-range stainless steel pan. Several knowledgeable friends, though, expressed a preference for cast iron. I've never cooked on cast iron in my life, and I only have a vague impression of its proper care and maintenance. OTOH, I notice that good-quality cast iron seems much cheaper than even a lot of so-so stainless steel, which attracts me. Assuming that I would have been content to take my chances with a $20 Cuisinart stainless steel 8-inch, should I re-orient toward that size (or larger) in cast iron?
Here are the details that seem worth mentioning:
The apartment is small, and I already have a bunch of pots and saucepans.
I'm cheap (ah, the life of a grad student!).
I move around a good bit, so I'm more interested in something mid-grade and relatively convenient than, say, some awfully heavy Le Creuset thing that will survive the apocalypse.
My stove is electric.
I have no dishwasher, so I wash everything by hand in any case.
Please help me, o 'hounds!
I have two stainless steel All-Clad pans and I hate them, for frying. I adore all the rest of my All-Clad, but the frying pans are just a pain in the ass...
That said, I suggest you go on Ebay and buy yourself a nice, older Griswold or WagnerWare skillet, go to Black Iron Dude's amazing blog and learn how to season it properly http://blackirondude.blogspot.com/ ) and enjoy using this pan for everything but--possibly--scrambled eggs (fried eggs slide right out; scrambled still are a bit of a pain but a five minute soak in hot water usually cleans the pan right up) for the rest of your life!
I'd stick with a 10 inch as it will be much more versatile. I actually use both an 8 in and 10 in regularly and think that the 8 in does have utility, but if I had to choose between the two, I wouldn't even consider the 8 in.
As for material, again for versatility, I'd go with either stainless clad or non-stick clad. I love cast iron and use cast iron regularly as well, but I don't find it as versatile for 2 reasons: (1) it responds very slowly to temperature changes compared to clad steel, and (2) it's best not to cook fish in a cast iron pan unless it's a dedicated seafood pan because the seasoned surface will retain the fishy flavors and smell.
I actually have a 6 inch cast iron skillet that I find extremely useful. When that is hot I can cook eggs for one person in 1 minute. Sometimes I just make a succession of eggs for my family of five and it takes no time at all. However, it wouldn't even hold a strip of bacon lengthwise, so I'd compromise with the 8 inch. I agree, get the Lodge pre-seasoned. After I use my pan I wash it with hot water. I find if I use soap, then it's not as 'non-stick' the next time. After washing I don't dry with a towel, I just set it on the stove for a minute to dry it out. You can pour a little oil in it if you want and wipe it around with a spatula. Some people will wipe the oil in it with a paper towel, but cheap paper towels may leave some lint, which would bug me though others may not even notice it. I used to worry that if I didn't t wash the pan with soap, (which everyone says not to do with cast-iron) that it would be unsanitary, but my new theory is if you are using it almost daily, it won't have a chance to get rancid. I've had all-clad non stick and stainless, but I think there is nothing like a well seasoned cast iron pan. I would consider it an honor for someone to hand me down an old well seasoned fry pan. You may want to ask a grandma or other older relative if they have one they are willing to part with!
Personally, I've never seen the point of frying pans smaller than 10". Yeah, they're kind of cute, but just too limited. A 10" pan would be more practical and better complement your "great big beast", IMO.
As for the material, I'd suggest either Lodge preseasoned cast iron or carbon steel. Either will be much more nonstick than stainless steel if you want to make omelets. Cheap, too.
My only though on small frypans for other than eggs....very messy from food spilling out. Irealize you have other pots and pans, but consider a saucier.....very versatile... acts as a sauce pot, fry pan, dutch oven and wok.......go to a cookware store to see which size is best for your needs....a 3 quart is about 9 inches if I am not mistaken. The links are for reference only. I would just say to purchase the best one you can afford