How to choose the right pan
Wrought iron, carbon steel, cast iron - what do they mean, and what’s the practical difference? You’ll know that all our pans are made to last a lifetime and more. But understanding different cookware materials can be confusing, and their properties vary greatly.
We thought we’d demystify the terms, picking out the pros and cons of each material. Whether you’re looking for something that’s heavy duty, low-maintenance or super-versatile, we want you to find the best pan material for your needs.
Our beautiful Skeppshult pans, such as this Traditional Cast Iron Frying Pan, are handmade in Sweden by Scandinavia’s last iron cookware foundry.
Suitable for: all hob types including induction, open fires and oven use (keep wooden handles out of the oven).
Choose for: excellent searing, versatility and longevity. An elegant, rustic aesthetic.
Avoid if: you’d struggle with a heavy pan, or want to use little to no oil when cooking.
Versatile and solid, a classic cast iron pan is a trusty go-to that will last a lifetime. Cast iron pans are black, thick and heavy. They’re made by pouring molten iron that has a high carbon content into a mould, and can have handles made of different materials.
Cast iron performs best when it's preheated for several minutes - it’s slow to heat and slow to cool, so once it gets hot, it stays hot. This is why skillets are well-known for giving an incredible sear to meat.
The iron also emits a lot of heat, so as well as cooking the food directly in contact with the pan’s surface, it’s cooking the food above it too. It’s these self-regulating properties that makes cooking with cast iron very easy.
To protect the iron from rust and to build up a natural non-stick surface, cast iron has to be seasoned. Seasoning is nothing mysterious - it’s just layers of cooked-on oil that constantly develop the more you cook. Cast iron pans usually arrive pre-seasoned, so it’s simply a matter of getting stuck in with cooking.
When your seasoning is still young, it’s best to use a decent amount of oil when you’re cooking to help build up seasoning and prevent sticking. If you’re used to non-stick pans, bear in mind that seasoning won’t be as slippery as Teflon. However, preheating your pan and using oil will prevent sticking disasters.
These seamless iron Solidteknics pans offer a very similar cooking experience to cast iron, but with a more lightweight construction.
Suitable for: All hob types (including induction), open fires and oven use.
Choose for: a pan to last forever, excellent searing and versatility.
Avoid if: you want to use little to no oil when cooking.
When we talk about wrought iron pans, we refer specifically to the Solidteknics seamless iron range - simply because we don’t know of anyone else making wrought iron pans like this. A wrought iron pan cooks in a very similar way to cast iron, but with less material.
Whereas cast iron is made by pouring molten metal into a mould, wrought iron pans are stamped into shape whilst hot. The high carbon content of cast iron makes it brittle, so a thick pan is necessary to retain strength. Wrought iron, on the other hand, has a lower carbon content, so these pans are stronger as well as thinner (and thus more lightweight).
Solidteknics wrought iron pans are just 3mm thick, and behave almost identically to cast iron: they require seasoning and preheating, and are excellent for searing. Bear in mind that these pans are still heavy compared to aluminium or stainless steel, but are around half the weight of cast iron.
Carbon steel pans (see below) are an even more lightweight alternative to cast iron, whilst offering a similar cooking experience. However, their thinness makes them more prone to hotspots and warping. Wrought iron pans offer an ideal balance of weight and durability.
Stainless steel pans, such as this Classic Tri-Ply Frying Pan by Samuel Groves, offer a low-maintenance option.
Suitable for: gas and electric hobs. Check to see if the individual pan is suitable for induction or oven use.
Choose for: cooking acidic foods, low-maintenance (doesn’t require seasoning), highly versatile and durable.
Avoid if: you want a non-stick surface, or a pan that can achieve very high searing temperatures.
Look into any kitchen - domestic or professional alike - and you’ll likely find a few stainless steel pans. Offering a highly versatile and hardwearing cooking surface, they’re an absolute staple when it comes to stewing, boiling and other cooking methods.
The ‘stainless’ properties of this material come from adding chromium and nickel to steel, which makes it highly resistant to corrosion. 18/10 stainless steel is considered to be the best. The two numbers here refer to the percentages of chromium and nickel added to prevent rust, and enhance shine and durability.
Unlike iron, stainless steel won’t be corroded by acidic foods, doesn’t scratch easily and has a light-coloured cooking surface, enabling you to easily see colour changes in your food. However, stainless steel isn’t non-stick, and can’t be seasoned to become low-stick like iron.
Stainless steel is also a very poor conductor of heat, which is why most stainless steel pans will tend to have a layer of conductive material (aluminium or copper) sandwiched inside the base. This helps to spread heat quickly and evenly throughout the pan. Our Stellar, Judge and Samuel Groves stainless steel pans all have an aluminium core, in a triple layer base.
Of course, stainless steel isn't one homogenous material, and different variations of the alloy have different properties. Ferritic stainless steel - without the nickel - has reduced corrosion resistance but is twice as conductive as 18/10. These pans don’t require a conductive inner layer, feeling a lot like cooking with iron, but with stainless steel’s easy maintenance.
Copper pans, such as these stainless steel-lined beauties from Samuel Groves, offer an unparalleled cooking experience due to the super-conductive material.
Suitable for: gas and electric hobs, and oven use.
Choose for: highly responsive heating, and a beautiful pan for your kitchen.
Avoid if: you’re on a budget, or have an induction hob.
There’s no material to cook with like copper. It heats up rapidly and evenly, and, unlike iron skillets, cools down as soon as it’s removed from the heat. This super-responsive material gives you maximum control over your cooking. As a result, copper pans are prized by chefs the world over.
If used alone, copper will react with acidic foods and impart a metallic taste to your cooking. To prevent this, copper pans are usually lined with a different unreactive metal such as tin or stainless steel (stainless steel being much more hardwearing). For the pan to benefit from copper’s properties, it should be around 90% copper, as with our Samuel Groves copper range. A thin external coating of copper will be purely decorative!
That being said, copper cookware doesn’t come cheap, and the thicker the copper, the higher the price tag will be. But a well-maintained copper pan will certainly retain its value, and whether you keep it polished or let it tarnish, copper is a beautiful addition to any kitchen.
Carbon steel can be tricky to use, but is the professional’s choice for high-heat cooking.
Suitable for: all hob types, open flames and oven use.
Choose for: high-heat techniques such as wok frying and searing. Durable and affordable.
Avoid if: you’re an inexperienced cook, or looking for a low-maintenance pan.
Also called black iron, carbon steel is generally regarded as a specialist cookware material, though it’s gathering popularity with home cooks too. Carbon steel pans have similar properties to other iron pans, but they’re thinner and lighter (though still relatively heavy duty).
Like other iron pans, carbon steel has to be seasoned in order to prevent rust and build up a non-stick surface. They don’t tend to arrive pre-seasoned, and usually come with a layer of protective wax that must be washed off prior to your first seasoning cycle.
Carbon steel pans can achieve blistering temperatures, making them perfect for certain high-heat techniques. Carbon steel woks, for instance, are ideal for creating an authentic smoky stir-fried flavour on a roaring burner. A flat carbon steel skillet is great for searing meat, but once well-seasoned, can whip up perfect omelettes too.
These pans act like a lightweight version of a cast iron skillet - what’s not to love? The downside: iron is not very conductive, so a carbon steel pan will be slow to heat up, and will be prone to hot spots. This is when the pan only gets hot directly above the heat source. This can also make the pan easier to warp, which occurs due to extreme temperature differences within the pan.
Aluminium pans are lightweight and highly conductive, and often come coated with other materials.
Suitable for: gas and electric hobs.
Choose for: an affordable, lightweight and responsive pan. A practical choice to reduce weight on very large pans.
Avoid if: you have an induction cooker.
Pure aluminium pans aren’t common kitchen items, though their lightness makes them practical for camping. However, if you have a non-stick pan, it’s probably made of aluminium.
Aluminium pans are highly conductive, second only to copper, making for responsive cookware that’s also affordable. However, bare aluminium will react with certain acidic foods, imparting a metallic flavour and discolouration. For this reason, aluminium pans are usually non-stick coated, or undergo a process called anodisation.
Anodised aluminium has a hard, dark grey oxide layer on its surface. This layer is non-reactive and tough - three times harder than stainless steel - and it won’t flake off. Anodised aluminium is an ideal choice for bakeware: our hard anodised range is a great alternative to non-stick coated products that eventually start to peel.
More commonly, aluminium pans will have a non-stick coating instead, which protects food from the reactive aluminium and of course prevents food sticking. Some of the best non-stick pans are anodised too, which makes them more hardwearing. Read on for our thoughts on non-stick coatings.
Non-stick pans sacrifice durability for convenience. Whilst non-stick technology is always improving, even a well-maintained pan will have a limited lifespan.
Suitable for: gas and electric hobs. Check individual pans for induction suitability.
Choose for: a low-maintenance pan that’s easy to cook with, particularly with minimal oil.
Avoid if: you want a pan for life, or if you want to take your pan to high searing temperatures.
Non-stick coatings have been truly revolutionary in cookware, allowing us to cook with minimal amounts of oil, and with easy clean-up. Most non-stick pans are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as Teflon. It’s so effective at not sticking to things, entirely new technologies had to be invented to bond it to a metal surface.
However, Teflon’s effectiveness relies on the integrity of the coating’s surface, and even small scratches will reduce its non-stick capabilities. These pans should be used with care, avoiding metal utensils, very high temperatures and stacking pans up to store.
Even a well-maintained non-stick pan will have a limited lifespan, so if you’re after a pan for life, these coatings are to be avoided. This is why we don't stock any non-stick products, whether that's pans or bakeware. However, some manufacturers will offer recoating services, so that your pan can be refurbished again and again.
Whilst historically there have been concerns about the safety of non-stick coatings, nowadays they're considered to be safe. However, never take your non-stick to extremely high temperatures of 300°C (570°F) plus, which is when Teflon starts to break down and release toxic fumes.
Non-stick can’t be beaten when it comes to convenience. If you’re a novice cook or you don’t want to spend time on seasoning and cleaning, it’s a great option. However, we’re of the opinion that iron pans are not only more long-lasting, they offer a cooking experience that’s far superior.
We hope you're feeling more informed about what type of pan is right for you. To see our full range of pans, check out our cookware range, which is full of high-quality pieces you'll be able to rely on for a lifetime and more.
Read more about the Buy Me Once research process here.