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Valenciana, marisco, mixta, vegetariana, negra—there are many kinds of paella, the Spanish dish of rice, saffron, and proteins such as chicken or seafood cooked and served in a large, wide, and shallow pan. The type of pan you need, however, depends on your cooktop, the number of people you are serving, and whether you plan on cooking outdoors.
Most paella pans are made out of either carbon steel, stainless steel, enameled steel, or copper. Any paella pan will work on a gas cooktop. For electric, ceramic, or induction cooktops, you will need a paella pan with a flat bottom so it will transfer heat efficiently. Cooking outdoors or with gas? Go for paella pans that have a rounded bottom. Once you've chosen a material, choose a size that accommodates the number of people you plan to serve. "Paella is like barbecue—it works better when there are people to enjoy it,” says Chef Alex Piñeiro of Bodegón, a Spanish restaurant in New Jersey. We interviewed professional Spanish chefs to find the best paella pans.
Carbon steel is the traditional material for paella pans in Spain because it has the highest thermal conductivity and makes for fast and even heating. This allows you to create the perfect socarrat (the crispy, crusty part of the paella that becomes caramelized and toasted on the bottom of the pan while cooking). Carbon steel cookware does require a little work to keep it seasoned, but if you’re invested in rice, it's a no-brainer.
Made in Valencia, Spain—the birthplace of paella—this Garcima pan has a wide and shallow cooking surface for sautéing meats and vegetables before adding rice. The “dimples” in the base mimic those of traditional paella pans and help with uniform heating.
Have no fear of spilling while stirring thanks to the sloped sides. Large looped handles make it easy to transfer from the stove to the table for serving. What makes this pan so versatile is that it is ideal for use on any type of cooktop—and the price is right.
This affordable dish from El Cid is made from carbon steel, dips slightly in the middle, and is dimpled, allowing oil to collect at the center. It's constructed to withstand the heat and flames of your oven and stove, and the round and shallow shape ensures rice cooks in a thin layer. It has two handles for easy use.
“This is my go-to when I am going somewhere to cook paella and I want to leave the pan as a gift,” says Piñeiro.
When buying a budget paella pan, he recommends not spending more than $20 per person, so about $80 per pan that serves four people. The largest of these El Cid paella pans (15 inches) will cost you way less than that.
“At Boqueria, we use a medium-sized pan (14 to 15 inches in diameter), which is perfect for feeding two to four people," says Yann de Rochefort, the founder of the American-based tapas restaurant. "You can also use a smaller 7 1/8-inch diameter pan for single paellas.” If you’re serving an army, go 16 inches or more. Give your stovetop a quick glance to make sure it will fit. If not, you may want to also invest in an outdoor paella tripod and burner.
Have 40 friends or want a ton of leftovers? This cookware can serve a crowd. The 35.5-inch polished-steel paella pan produced in Spain is great for socially distant backyard parties.
To accommodate a pan of this size, get a large outdoor paella tripod kit that includes a stand and burner. These use outdoor gas grill propane tanks. You can also put this pan on a grill (a thicker pan is better so the paella doesn’t burn as easily). Since a pan this massive may be tough to maneuver, it comes equipped with four red handles—for you and a friend.
While cast iron is not the most common material for paella pans, they do exist. The top pick from our chefs is this Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Paella Pan, beloved for even heat distribution and great heat retention. The large surface area with matte black enamel keeps the rice layer shallow and allows excess moisture to evaporate—perfect for top-notch toasty socarrat.
Cast iron can be used on any heat source, including induction. This pan also works well on the stovetop, oven, or outdoor grill, and the durable matte black enamel finish requires no seasoning. Available in a rainbow of colors, this show-worthy piece looks pretty in your kitchen, too.
“Stainless steel paella pans are the ones that are used in high-end restaurants in Spain,” says Chef Oscar Cabezas of Telefèric Barcelona. "Among the advantages of using this type of material, there is prevention against rust, good conductivity, and minimal toxicity."
Quality stainless steel paella pans like this one are made of 18/10 or 18/8 stainless steel, giving it the ultimate resistance to corrosion. That means you don’t have to season it before use, making it easy to maintain. Unlike enameled pans, you don’t have to worry about chipping, but the thermal conductivity of a stainless steel pan is about a third of a carbon steel pan.
The medium-sized, 16-inch stainless steel Garcima pan serves four to six people and fits over a large stove burner (or can straddle two). It comes with a beautiful mirrored finish and gold handles, making it perfect to hang or show off. This pan is sturdy and rigid with a classic dimpled bottom.
While it can be expensive, copper pans are a chef’s favorite. They have excellent heating conductivity properties, in addition to being shiny, beautiful, and dazzling—but they do require more maintenance. The interior surface of copper pans is made from either tin or stainless steel, as in the case of this Mauviel piece.
Made in France, it features heavy-gauge 2-millimeter copper for better heat conductivity and temperature control, which helps infuse flavors in the rice. It is 90 percent copper and 10 percent 18/10 stainless steel. Two functional and beautiful riveted bronze handles adorn the sides.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Food writer and recipe developer Marisel Salazar interviewed three industry professionals for this comprehensive piece. She has a degree in communications with a concentration in nutrition from Cornell University. Originally from Panama, she has lived all over the world, including Madrid.