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Best All-Purpose Frying Pans (Carbon Steel, Tin-Lined Copper, or Other)

The title says it, but I will limit it a bit. Assuming one already has any cast iron pans needed for high heat searing, what is the best option for an all-purpose frying pan? (Not Non-Stick Aluminum!) By general purpose, I mean a pan you would grab to make eggs, grilled cheese, an omeIette, or any other quick frying task that doesn't require ripping high heat. I am thinking primarily about Carbon Steel or Tin-Lined Copper here, but would be interested in other thoughts if you feel strongly that something else is better. Also, I am more concerned about performance on the stove than either a cost analysis or a maintenance analysis, because apart from stainless-lined copper, old and used pans of any type can usually be scrounged on the cheap, and I really do not mind taking care of my cookware. Thanks!

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  1. I am really happy with my De Buyer Mineral pans. The crepe pan seems to get a lot of use for eggs (and related stuff), pancakes in my case, and a lot of similar things. For hot plate steaks, I like the "Fry Pan" with it's higher sides to help contain the grease "pops". When I get moved into a house, I can see the Fry Pan getting a lot more use to brown steaks and finish them in the oven.

    I have also used an aluminum "ceramic" coated Bialetti skillet with satisfaction. It is great for eggs over easy or a quick fry or saute.

    I love my Lodge Cast Iron but, I find egg dishes to be much easier to cook in the De Buyer pans with their smoother surface. I also really like the low (no?) sides of the crepe pan which makes flipping an egg or pancake much easier.

    1. If you don't need to deglaze, then a carbon steel pan or cast iron pan is pretty good. Tinned copper pans are good too if you never going to use at high heat. If you do, then a stainless steel cladded pan (copper or aluminum core) is good, but it is not so good for eggs and omelette.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Why wouldn't you deglaze in a carbon steel pan?

        1. re: GH1618


          I think it depends on what to deglaze it with. Once I tried undiluted vinegar and it ate away my seasoning surface in one shot. I believe wine will slowly eat away the seasoning surface too. Now, even if the seasoning surface is intact. Wine has the ability to dissolve the iron from the pan, which many people are able to taste the metal.

          What is your experience? I will admit that I have not used wine to deglaze my carbon steel or cast iron pan.

        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

          As something of a followup question, I recognize that there is a specific melting point for tin, but apart from accidentally boiling a pan dry, putting an empty pan on a high burner, or placing a pan an oven set to a temp higher than tin's melting point, how much of a concern is melting tin? I have a tin-lined saute that I use to sear with no issues. For example, a few nights ago, I put some butter and EVOO in the pan, and placed it over medium heat until I got the first wisps of smoke. Then I seared a batch of scallops. I'd love to have a surface thermometer, but I'm guessing we were in the 350 degree range. Any hotter and I'd have had lots of smoke before I hit tin's melting point. So, apart from the obvious caveats I mention above, how much of a concern is this really?

          1. re: jljohn

            My opinion is that tin is an impractical cooking surface. I have one copper frying pan which I've had for many years, but used only a few times, because the tin surface got overheated (I don't remember how) and is now rough. I've been pondering whether I can restore it, but I'm not in a big hurry, because I have plenty of pans which work better.

            I was in a restaurant a while back which has a clock made from a copper frying pan. That's always an option.

            1. re: GH1618

              But why? Tin has temp concerns in the same way that any non-stainless iron based metal has moisture and acidity concerns. Why embrace one while calling the other impractical?

              1. re: jljohn

                Impractical for me because the pan was relatively expensive, easily damaged, and not significantly better for cooking most things. My experience is that certain other pans are better at lower cost. My small aluminum/Teflon pan is the best thing going for frying eggs. My cast-iron skillet was dirt cheap, is practically indestructible, and is good for a multiplicity of things—the epitome of practicality.

                1. re: jljohn

                  <Why embrace one while calling the other impractical?>

                  Again, it comes to your own style. What is impractical for you, may not be impractical for another person. Some people love nonstick Teflon cookware which is why they sell so well. Other love cast iron cookware.

              2. re: jljohn

                First, everyone has a different definition of high heat. What is high heat cooking to may be medium heat cooking for another person. So someone here will tell you that tinned cookware is fine for high temperature cooking, while someone else will tell you no. Tin melts at 232 oC, but it started to soften before that. This is same for other metals too (steel soften before it melts). Several types of cooking oil start to smoke also at around 200 oC as well. So the rule of thumb that I usually advise people is that if you are the kind of person who routinely see smoke coming off your pan, you are also near the melting point of tin.

                <putting an empty pan on a high burner, or placing a pan an oven set to a temp higher than tin's melting point>

                Placing an empty pan on high burner is a real concern. I do that intentionally especially for searing steak. I would intentionally heat a pan very high, then quickly add oil and then a steak (beef steak or tuna or whatever). The oven is almost never a real concern. It really comes down to your own cooking style.

                <So, apart from the obvious caveats I mention above, how much of a concern is this really?>

                Probably not a concern from the way you described your cooking style. Again, everyone is different, but it won't work well for my style of cooking.

                1. re: jljohn

                  Hi, Jeremy:

                  Good follow-up. You have now used your copperware long enough to know that you do not need to worry incessantly about melting the tin. Yes, the lining in an *empty* pan left on high heat will eventually degrade, blister and/or melt. But as you have discovered, oil or food in the pan effectively prevents this, at all but high sear temperatures.

                  I have mentioned this in another thread, but I have mistakenly boiled the same tinned copper saucepan dry TWICE. As in a *long* time on high heat--the smoke detector triggered and the pan was so hot you could not touch the handle even with a side towel. In both cases, the lining did not melt or blister, except on the very top edge of the rim. The tin was visibly darkened, but it remained intact.

                  The same is true of gratins and roasters. If the pan is not grossly oversized for the food, you can flirt with 450-475 in the oven without worry. Just not empty and not with a rack.

                  This will probably get me flamed, but the "tin melting" issue is more a justification for not having tinned copper, than it is for folks who actually have and use it.


              3. I prefer having several kinds of pan, but if I had to have only one, it would be a heavy-weight medium size carbon steel pan, without a doubt.

                1. For me, it's Tri-ply stainless. There is a joy in pulling out a shiny stainless pan, I like deglazing in it for chops, chicken chests or whatever with no worries. I do use a De Buyer crepe pan rarely for buckwheat pancakes or crepes. The best omelettes I've ever made come out of my little 8 inch 2nd All Clad fry pan. Took a little learning curve, but they come out awesome, no sticking at all. I even enjoy shining them up after use, something I can't do with the De Buyer or my cast iron.

                  1. If you can get hold of a 2mm or thicker tin-lined skillet cheaply, then that's the technically best option for the least $ -- most responsive and even heating.

                    If you're willing to pay $125-150 on the big online auction site, then a stainless-lined 2mm copper frying pan seems to me the best option. You compromise a tiny bit of the responsiveness for a big increase in ease of care (ability to use metal utensils, easier to clean thoroughly).

                    Those advantages for stainless lining have depressed the prices of tin-lined frying pans new and old, so there definitely are bargains out there. But while you search, it's hard to beat the performance and durability for price of carbon steel pans.

                    1. If high heat (searing) is not part of what the pan needs to handle heavy tin- lined copper wins my vote. It cooks evenly, releases nicely, and deglazes beautifully. However, if careful heat modulation is not a big need, my DeBuyer steel pans perform fine. They are very easy to clean, deglaze fine, and reseason almost instantly. They can be made virtually nonstick almost immediately...next would be enameled cast iron.

                      I would put anything SS at the bottom of the list. (Teflon is not even on the list.)

                      My closest thing to all purpose pan is a hammered 2.5-3 mm BIA copper with tin lining, 37 years old and still fine, thanks to French beechwood spatulas (buck apiece).

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: tim irvine

                        I agree with Tim. Tin lined heavy copper (3mm+) wins for me.

                        However, I admit that a few months ago I bought a DeBuyer (Mineral line) frying pan, and I have been using it every day. It has developed heavy seasoning, and except that it doesn't have the temperature control of copper, functions for my uses really really well. I cook meat dishes (steak, chicken, fish) and vegetable side dishes (green beans, sauteed broccoli, etc) for dinner almost nightly.

                        Since I am not so expert to use temperature control to its fullest, I don't mind giving a bit of that up in order to be able to get the pan rip roaring hot to sear a steak without being concerned about the tin whatsoever, though I agree with my friend Kaleo that the concern for melting tin is generally overstated.

                      2. I have multiple pans, and grab what seems to be most appropriate in terms of size and material.

                        I have cast iron, but tend not to use it - except that the 8" skillet makes a nice baking dish for 2 in the toaster oven.

                        I have a beater carbon steel that I use for high heat. It's a bit warped, and hasn't taken a good seasoning, so I don't worry about babying it.

                        I have a carbon steel crepe pan that is well seasoned, and my choice for pancakes, crepes, and omelets

                        I have several good quality nonstick aluminum pans (thick induction compatible) that I like to use for eggs and starchy things that tend to stick. I'm not afraid of nonstick coatings, but know from experience that they do wear with time. By limiting its use to where it is really needed I can extend the life of the coating. This induction compatible aluminum has the best heat distribution of any pans that I own.

                        I use stainless steel for everything else. Sauteeing vegetables,frying meat, making sauces, cooking rice, oatmeal, etc.

                        I have one copper pot, a 3 qt sauce pan. But with a coil stove, supplemented by an induction hotplate, I can't make good use of its conductivity.

                        1. Kind of like asking what the best all-purpose drinking glass is, IMO. (BTW, the answer to that question is a 12-oz Duralex Picardie tumbler FWIW.)

                          Seriously, I suppose I would say fully clad stainless steel. It may not do everything the best, but it can at least do everything reasonably well. Also pretty tough, long lasting, low maintenance, not too heavy, and not outrageously expensive.

                          OTOH, for the three things you specifically mention (eggs, grilled cheese, and omelets) -- and also fish -- I'd personally reach for a nonstick aluminum pan.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: tanuki soup

                            No, I'm sorry--you are clearly in the wrong. It is the 16 Ounce Picardie. :) (Actually, I'll admit to preferring the form-factor of the 12 ounce, but I just can't give up that extra 4 ounce capacity, whether I'm drinking coffee, tea, water, or beer.)

                            1. re: jljohn

                              Well, for coffee, tea, water, and beer, I have to agree with your choice. But this is supposed to be an *all-purpose* drinking glass. The 12-oz is better for milk, tomato juice, and (of course) rotgut whiskey. ;-)

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  You're right. That's actually the exact one I use for drinking whiskey! Spill-proof, unbreakable, two handles for a secure grip, bright colors so you can find it easily if (when) it falls onto the floor and bounces under the couch -- all essential features after the fifth or sixth cup.

                                  1. re: tanuki soup

                                    Young people can use it. Old people can use it. All purpose, all around.

                          2. I do eggs, omelets, grilled cheese and other quick frying tasks in cast iron most of the time. I do have a clad frying pan for reactive things but I use my cast iron the most for the uses you listed.

                            1. I actually Love my bare cast iron for eggs, omelets and grill cheese. I cook eggs in my little cast iron skillet every morning. Can't beat it for grill cheese or buttery toast, as far as I am concerned.