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Best Frying Pans, Tested by CNET

Frying pan, frypan, sauté pan or skillet? Whatever you call this essential piece of cookware, these are the best.

Upon setting out to find the best skillet available in 2022, I was struck by the wealth of options one has. Quality cookware producers are in no short supply, each one touting differences and advantages (often on a microscopic level) in its offerings with hopes of earning a place atop your range. 

All-Clad's 10-inch D3 frying pan, with its excellent performance and tight-fitting lid, ticked the most boxes, earning the No. 1 spot. While $100 might sound like a splurge, spending a bit more on a workhorse pan you love -- especially one that will last as long as All-Clad's -- is a worthy investment for someone serious about cooking. And if you're going to earmark some extra dough for one piece of cookware, the stainless steel frying pan is it.

If you don't care to spend that much on a pan, don't despair: There are excellent frying pans as inexpensive as $40. To find the best stainless steel skillets for any budget, I put 10 to the test, cooking, browning and temperature-taking to see which frying pans heat fast, cook evenly and feel comfortable in hand.

With most of the pans I tested, the variables unearthed were subtle. A few degrees in handle angle here or a slight edge in even heat distribution there. With so many options for great frying pans come tough choices to make, but finding the right skillet can mean performance improvements even casual home cooks will feel. 

Read moreBest Nonstick Frying Pans, Tested and Reviewed

Best stainless steel skillets for 2022

All-Clad

The All-Clad D3 ticks a whole lot of boxes on my great skillet checklist. It heated up as fast as any other skillet and had remarkably even heat distribution with variances of less than 15 degrees. It's fully clad, as the brand name suggests, and is the only pan I tested that includes a lid.

At just under 3 pounds, the All-Clad D3 is about average in terms of weight but it's significantly lighter than some of the others I tested. It's one of those pans you'll never dread using or second-guess grabbing as you might with heavy cast iron. 

If I had to lodge a complaint about this pan, besides the price, it would be the handle. It wasn't uncomfortable by any means, but it also wasn't my favorite. Some of the more rounded handles, like the ones attached to the Misen, Tuxton Home and Calphalon pans, felt a little softer in my grip. 

There are other skillets in this price range that performed similarly, but since the All-Clad comes with a tight-fitting lid -- something I use often -- that was enough to nudge it over the top. Not to mention, I've used All-Clad pans for years and with much regularity, and can report that they hold up well over time. 

Misen

If you're willing to spend a little but not a lot, I'd recommend Misen's 5-ply skillet, which clocks in at a reasonable $75. The Misen did well in all the tests I ran including heat distribution, where it saw temperature variances of only 12 degrees (some pans varied more than 25 degrees from spot to spot). 

The Misen also has a comfortable rounded handle and gently sloping sides which make it easy to slide food out of the pan and onto a plate or serving platter. It's oven-safe up to 500 degrees F.

The stainless surface released food like skin-on chicken and burger patties fairly effortlessly. One drawback is that this pan did collect more pronounced oil splatter stains around the sides, meaning it might be a tougher pan to keep spotless over time.

Calphalon

Calphalon is another stalwart cookware producer, and the brand's budget-friendly 10-inch skillet proved more than capable, especially for the price.

The 10-inch pan heated evenly and had temperature variations of only 12 degrees at any given time, which was better than some of its far pricier competition. I was afraid the partial cladding would result in uneven cooking but I didn't notice any signs of that in the many tests I ran on the Calphalon.

This pan is sharp-looking and also sports a comfortable stay-cool handle, perhaps my favorite of the entire test group. It has an average weight for a 10-inch frying pan (3 pounds) and is oven-safe up to 450 degrees F. 

One thing to note about the Calphalon is the nearly vertical sides where other pans have more of a gentle slope. The straight sides, not unlike a sauté pan, make it easier to keep wet or saucy contents inside the pan but a bit more difficult to slide food out and onto a platter. 

Other skillets I tested that didn't make the cut

Tramontina: It came down to a photo finish for best budget skillet between the Calphalon and this Tramontina pan. The Calphalon edged out Tramontina's capable 10-inch skillet, which costs about $50, with a bit more even heat distribution in the tests I ran.

Material: Material's $105 10-inch sauté pan is a great option if you're looking for a more robust (read, heavier) pan with a lid. It's technically a sauté pan and not a skillet since it has straight sides, and it performed well across the board. 

de Buyer: This legacy French producer makes an excellent 11-inch skillet, but it might be better suited for a professional kitchen. It's heavier than most and costs a whopping $158. This all makes it hard to recommend to the casual home cook. 

Demeyere: This Belgian-made 7-ply skillet was the heaviest of all the pans I tested, despite being just 9 inches across. The 4-pound frying pan heated evenly and seared food well, but that weight coupled with a bloated $230 price tag means it's probably not a great pick for most people.

360 Cookware: This 5-ply American-made skillet performed about as well as any other, but at $139, there are other pans that'll give you a better bang for your buck.

Tuxton Home: I don't have much bad to say about this budget-friendly skillet, but it was a little harder to clean than some of the others. The Tuxton home 3-ply pan can be had for under $40 and will definitely get the job done.

All-Clad Graphite Core: This All-Clad skillet has a light graphite core, so it might be a good pick for someone who struggles to wield a standard frying pan. That said, it's not cheap -- $170 for a 10-inch -- and it distributes more unevenly than its aluminum-core counterparts.

Why stainless steel frying pans are king of the kitchen 

As much as we all love cast iron for searing steaks and nonstick cookware for bailing us out of sticky situations -- omelets, pancakes -- there isn't a more versatile piece of stovetop cookware than the stainless steel skillet. A good stainless steel frying pan can do just about any sizzle or sauté job you ask of it.

Poke your head into any top restaurant kitchen and you're bound to see the flash of stainless steel before anything else. The beauty of well-made stainless cookware is that it's relatively light and durable, and it's easy to control the heat, from a low simmering sauce to a seared steak or a piece of bone-in chicken. If you find one or two you really love and learn to use them, it'll mean more consistency and better overall results whenever you find yourself working through a recipe.

A good stainless steel skillet is about as trusty and versatile as kitchen sidekicks get. 

David Watsky/CNET

Most stainless steel frying pans are made by sandwiching a highly conductive metal such as aluminum or copper in between layers of stainless steel. The middle layer or layers helps the pan heat faster and retain that heat while the more durable stainless steel shell can take a beating from the heat below and cooking utensils above. Stainless steel is also a clean and non-corrosive metal so it'll last longer than those inner layers would and it won't leech unwanted flavors onto food. Stainless steel is easy to care for, although it's very much not nonstick, so there will occasionally be left-on food that requires some elbow grease to remove. 

What is fully clad cookware and do you need it?

While just about any skillet you find online or in the store will have the above breakdown -- two layers of steel surrounding a conductive metal -- not all of them are fully clad. Fully clad frying pans have all three layers (sometimes more) of metal running to the top of the sides and not just around the bottom or base. This often results in faster and more even heat distribution throughout the entire pan. Fully clad has become a standard for professional chefs but an amateur or even novice home cook may not notice the difference.

Pictured left is All-Clad's fully-clad three-ply cookware. On the right is a five-ply construction with an extra layer both of aluminum and stainless steel.

All-Clad

3-ply, 5-ply or 7-ply: Are more layers better?

The amount of layers of steel and aluminum also varies from pan to pan. The better producers, including All-Clad and Made In, can make cookware with as many as five or even seven layers. The claim is that more layers of conductive material mean more even heat conduction and distribution. In truth, the difference in performance results is likely to be negligible and even unnoticeable to the majority of home cooks, myself included. I'd contend it's probably not worth the extra cost to go beyond five-ply which, incidentally, also makes for slower heating and a heavier pan.

Speaking of which…

Frying pan weight is critical

One of the biggest differences between the pans I tested was the weight. The seven-ply Demeyere was the heaviest at nearly 4 pounds while most three- and five-ply skillets were closer to 3 pounds. You'd be surprised how much of a difference that extra pound makes, especially when you're trying to fling food around with one hand. 

The benefit of a thick, heavy seven-ply pan is that it should heat slightly more evenly and will almost certainly take longer to bend or warp. That said, a quality three- or five-ply pan should still last many years if you care for it properly. There are also lighter options, including an All-Clad line with graphite core that weighs even less than aluminum or copper core cookware. 

If you're especially hard on your frying pans (and have a strong forearm), you might want a heavier pan like a Demeyere or De Buyer, but I'd say most home chefs should shoot for a 3-pounder when selecting a 10-inch skillet.

Finding the right size and weight is critical, especially if you're springing for only one good stainless steel skillet. Choose one that's too small or too heavy and you'll find excuses not to use it. 

David Watsky/CNET

What size skillet should you get?

This all depends on how many people you're generally cooking for. If it's not often more than three or four people, a 10- to 11-inch skillet is probably right in the sweet spot. It will be light enough to handle with ease and still large enough to fit three chicken breasts. Most producers make 12-inch skillets too, which may be a better fit for the serial dinner party host or for someone with a large family or crew to cook for. 

How we test stainless steel skillets

I hauled in 10 stainless steel skillets. For consistency, I tried to test 10-inch skillets or pans as close to 10 inches as the producer offered. Sometimes that meant 9.5 inches, but with other cookware brands, it was as wide as 11 inches. 

Note the dramatic difference in handle angles on these two skillets. I prefer the All-Clad's (bottom) which is raised further from the heat source than the De Buyer handle (top) and so is less likely to burn your hand. 

David Watsky/CNET

There are several factors to consider when evaluating skillets. Many things, like handle shape, angle and design, weight and size are subjective and will be something you'll have to decide on for yourself. For the objective, more scientific performance metrics, there are two main considerations: How fast a pan conducts heat, and how evenly it spreads that heat across the surface area. While speed is always nice, a skillet that distributes heat evenly is the single most important thing for an average home cook. 

To test for even cooking, I ran several tests on each skillet. 

Follow a trail of (evenly toasted) breadcrumbs 

The first test was to brown a single layer of finely crushed panko breadcrumbs on medium heat to see how evenly each pan toasted them. Bread crumbs become visibly browned so it wasn't hard to detect spots that heated up more quickly or slowly than the rest of the pan. Hot spots and cold spots can be managed but, in general, you want a pan that has as few as possible so whatever you're cooking (fish, chicken, vegetables, eggs) all cook at the same rate.

Toasting breadcrumbs is an easy way to tell how evenly a pan distributes heat.

David Watsky/CNET

I also used an infrared thermometer to test for even heat distribution. In this test, I heated each pan on medium for five minutes. At the 5-minute mark, I took five surface readings with the thermometer from six inches away, including the very center of the pan and one reading on each of the pan's four sides. The reading in the center was uniformly higher than the sides since it was being pummeled more directly with heat, but the closer all five readings were together, the more even the pan's heat distribution.

An infrared thermometer helped in detecting any hot or cold spots on each pan.

David Watsky/CNET

None of the pans bombed either of the tests for even cooking although some recorded differences from spot to spot as high as 25 degrees F. The All-Clad D3 did exceptionally well with temperature variances never exceeding 10 degrees F. The Calphalon skillet and Misen frying pan also performed at a high level with the widest deltas still under 15 degrees F. 

Conduction speed

To test how quickly a pan conducted heat, I timed how long it took each skillet to boil one cup of room temperature water on medium heat. I used the same burner for each test and made sure the water started at the same temp. All the pans performed well with no one single pan lagging too far behind. Unsurprisingly, the thicker, heavier frying pans including the De Buyer and Demeyere took a bit longer than the others. The Calphalon and All-Clad D3 were the fastest at just over four minutes. 

To test how conductive each pan was when cooling, I then turned off the heat and waited two minutes for the pans to cool. I took the temperature again in the same spots to see how fast they cooled. The faster a pan can get rid of its heat, the better. When you're finished cooking and you want the heat off, it's best for the pan to react as quickly as possible so as not to overcook a protein or break a delicate sauce.

Enough with the stats, what about cooking?

The final test was to cook with each pan (groundbreaking, I know). First, I pan-seared a skin-on chicken thigh in each pan. I waited until the pan came to medium heat (about three minutes) and added a teaspoon of olive oil. I cooked the chicken for five minutes on each side to see how well the skin browned. In truth, all the skillets performed well in this test, but the All-Clad and Misen produced the most color after cooking the thighs.

All-Clad's D3 skillet passed every test with flying colors. 

David Watsky/CNET

I also seared a 4-ounce burger patty on each skillet using roughly the same method, heat and cooking time as above. None of the pans botched this test but the Misen, Calphalon and All-Clad D3 all imparted an above-average sear. I imagine the thicker De Buyer and Demeyere pans may have matched those results had they been given more time to heat up. But, hey, who has time for that?

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