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Skillet / fry pan material for browning: black steel, enameled steel, stainless steel, cast iron, copper and stainless?

We have been using oversized Cuisinart 13" frying pans (aluminum core plate on the bottom with stainless interior--they used to be sold by Williams-Sonoma, I think, perhaps 30 years ago when they still had an outlet store south of Greenwich Village in NYC) for more years than I can remember because they can accommodate a lot of food . We have become replete with all kinds of Bourgeat and Falk evasees and saucepans, a 5 qt. casserole, and a brazier, all of which cook beautifully, but for some reason we haven't paid much attention to our skillets. I am very clear about the value of copper with regard to even heat distribution and the ability to regulate temperature quickly, but I am not clear about the merits of one or another of other materials which would favor browning of meat and chicken.

We would appreciate some info for consideration. If copper and stainless steel is the way to go, then that is what we will do, but the decision is one which will be made on performance, not cost. Cooking is our hobby and a way of life for us...

Thanks
Ken K

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  1. They all have their advantages. Like you said, copper over great ability for quick response. Cast iron and carbon steel can take on a seasoning surface, so they are more stickless than other materials and they can be heated up to a very high temperature without damage. Cladded stainless steel cookware can form nice fonds/bits and are great for deglazing and making sauce -- due to its ability to form fonds/bits and being nonreactive. I have to say enameled cast iron is the only one which I cannot think of a good reason for a frying pan.

    It really depends what you want to get out of your frying pan? If even heating is the most important factor, then get a copper or aluminum based cookware. If nonstick ability and high temperature cooking is important, then carbon steel and cast iron skillets are something to look into... etc, etc.

    1. For browning/searing alone CI would probably be your best bet. If you'd want to make a pan sauce and add in something acidic I'd look for something else - clad SS or SS lined Cu would be great. My BIG pan is my 6 qt saute in AC D5 which is 13" - great for browning and cooking up lots of food. I'd definitely recommend it if you need a bigger diameter and you might use the pan for braising sometimes.
      What else are you going to be doing with it besides browning? That could help us make recommendations.

      5 Replies
      1. re: olympia

        Interesting. I did not realize that one of the advantages of CI was that it is non-stick. I know that it can take high heat, and, in fact, we do have a grill pan that we use for beef tenderloin roasts to sear and mark the surface before letting it cool off, then popping it into a low temp oven to finish it off. I am a great fan of pan sauces, particularly for chicken, so the SS is what I have chosen in the past. WRT searing meat, sounds like the CI would really be more ideal for a quick sear before a braise; we have used a casserole most of the time for both. So it sounds like a CI fry pan and one with SS to replace those that we have, either copper and SS or a snazzy 5-layer pan like the AC D5.

        So, Olympia, you ask what we would do with the pan other than browning? I am not sure how many other things to do with it other than to use the pan to finish off meats in the oven, which is one reason we don't have any frying pans/skillets with wooden handles! We have separate skillets for omelets (Bourgeat non-stick) and scrambled eggs. We have a blini pan that I have used once many years ago, and we have 4 black steel pans that I purchased in Paris at Dehillerin 20 years ago with their original plastic wrappers...!!!

        Cheers
        Ken K

        1. re: kdkrone

          I'm not sure that the D5 is all that amazing compared to the regular AC but I really do like the handles, especially on the larger pieces. They'll be updating the 3 ply line with these newer handles later this summer.
          Do you do much braising or one pot meals? I use my saute/brazier pans on the stove top for just about everything from a stir fry to dishes like coq au vin.
          Black steel is similar to blue steel or carbon steel, right? If so, it'd be great for searing.

          1. re: kdkrone

            Cast iron is only non-stick after a good coat of seasoning is on it. You can go through the usual seasoning ritual, or just fry some food items in deep cooking oil a few times and it will start to behave like non-stick in many ways. What you will not be able to do easily, however, unless you are strong, is lift and slide an omelette out with one hand. I need to use two. If you are looking to sear, it is the best as far as I am concerned. I use a lightweight non-stick for eggs.

            1. re: RGC1982

              A cast iron skillet is the only way to go for browning or blackening.

            2. re: kdkrone

              Sounds like you already have what you need! Pull out one of those black steel pans and give it a try.

          2. If you like blackened fish and other foods, by all
            means use cast ron or carbon steel (my favorite).
            Otherwise, I've found no difference in browning
            among various materials. If you like fond (little brown bits)
            good in sauces, don't use non-stick.

            8 Replies
            1. re: mpalmer6c

              I'm down to only two types of pans that I cook with, cast iron and De Buyer mineral steel. Both become nonstick after seasoning although the De Buyer is much more consistent as far as nonstick. The De Buyer is also about 1/3 the weight of the cast iron. I still like the cast iron for high heat browning.

              1. re: STLLifer

                Well, now this is getting interesting. I have checked on the De Buyer and the country pan caught my eye ( debuyer 5514.32) as a possible small wok in additon to a skillet.

                The event that has brought this whole browning issue to center stage has been the crisping of the skin of duck confit, which is one of my great joys in eating. I have found that Bougeat non-stick, contrary to all expressed opinions about how non-stick pans don't brown well, does an incredible job at the task as opposed to my stainless steel/aluminum old Cuisinart pans to which my little duck breast skin sticks. That having been said, I think that I need to play around with allowing those aluminum/ss heat more before using ( whoopee--I may finally have an excuse to purchase one of those snazzy infrared thermometers that Alton Brown uses!)

                So, now I have more considerations in the mix with the option of blue steel, which I had purchased many years ago but which I had never used.

                1. re: kdkrone

                  Why don't you just bust open the blue steel and try it out?

                  1. re: olympia

                    No other reason than sloth. I have already started peeling potato skins to begin the process of removing whatever may or may not have coated the steel and will fry up some bacon ( any excuse...!)

                    1. re: kdkrone

                      There you go! Be sure to report back!

                  2. re: kdkrone

                    Stainless steel surface cookware takes a bit of practice to avoid stick to the pans, but it can be done and there are several posts on CHOWHOUNDS. Nonstick pans do not brown well. They can brown foods, but not as good. Nonstick is easier to use with almost no learning curve, but that does not mean it is better at full potential. Tricycle is also very easy to learn too, but with very limited potentials when compared to a bicycle. Assuming one has the sufficient skills to handle all other materials, then all other cooking surface browns foods better than the nonstick surface. It is not a fair comparison between a person who know how to use a nonstick pan vs"a person who does NOT know how to use a stainless steel cladded cookware. That is almost like having a race between a person who know how to ride a tricycle against a person who does NOT know how to ride a bicycle. In that case, it is really a matter of comparing skills, not comparing tool property.

                    Carbon steel is great but make sure you understand the seasoning process -- otherwise it won't work.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      You know what? Forget all this newfangled expensive junk and just drive out and visit your local yard sales and keep an eye out for old seasoned iron skillets. If you find a really old one you will have discovered a treasure beyond price.

              2. Oh, and don't try and do stir-fry in anything but a stainless steel wok....Non-stick woks just don't do the job and you end up with boiled not fried food.

                1 Reply
                1. re: mikehattan1

                  "don't try and do stir-fry in anything but a stainless steel wok"

                  Do you mean stainless steel woks or carbon steel woks? I like to think a carbon steel wok is the better choice.