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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.
Best Overall: Garcima 16-Inch Pata Negra Double Gauge Steel Paella Pan
Suitable for all stovetops
Even heat distribution
Requires extra maintenance
Made in Valencia, Spain—the birthplace of paella—this Garcima pan is made of extra-thick, professional-grade carbon steel and 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.
Material: Carbon steel | Available Sizes: 13.5, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 32, 36 inches | Suitable For: Gas, electric, induction, grill, oven | Dishwasher Safe: No
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.
Best Budget: Despaña El Cid Paella Pans
Can be used on any stovetop
Available in many sizes
Sizes larger than 15 inches must be special ordered
Requires additional seasoning and maintenance
This affordable pan from El Cid is made from carbon steel, has a dimpled surface, and dips slightly in the middle, allowing oil to collect at the center. It's constructed to withstand the heat and flames of your oven and stove, and the round, 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.
Material: Carbon steel | Available Sizes: 8, 9, 9.5, 10, 11, 12, 12.5, 13.5, 14, 15 inches | Suitable For: Gas, electric, induction, grill, oven | Dishwasher Safe: No
“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.
Best Large-Capacity: La Ideal Polished Steel Paella Pan
Four handles make it easier to carry
Solid steel construction
Requires propane burner or other large flame
Does not fit in a standard oven
Have 40 friends or want a ton of leftovers? This cookware is meant to serve a crowd. The 35.5-inch polished-steel paella pan produced in Spain is great for socially distanced 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.
Material: Carbon steel | Available Sizes: 35.5 inches | Suitable For: Propane burner, grill | Dishwasher Safe: No
Best Cast Iron: Staub Cast Iron Paella Pan
Sturdy pan that is built to last
Doesn't require seasoning
Holds heat very well
Only available in two sizes
While cast iron is not the most common material for paella pans, they do exist. This Staub Enameled Cast Iron Paella Pan is 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. This French-made pan is available in three sizes: 10.25-, 13-, and 15.5 inches, ranging from two to six servings.
Admittedly, this pan is heavy compared to its carbon steel counterparts, but similarly, 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 few different colors, this show-worthy piece looks pretty in your kitchen and is also dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.
Material: Enameled cast iron | Available Sizes: 10.25, 13, 15.5 inches | Suitable For: Gas, electric, induction, grill | Dishwasher Safe: Yes
Best Stainless Steel: Garcima Stainless Steel Paella Pan
Easy to maintain
Available in many sizes
Not as heat conductive as carbon steel
“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."
This high-quality pan is made from 18/10 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 and can be used on gas and electric stoves as well as open flam, but since the bottom is ever-so-slightly convex so it is not recommended for ceramic or induction cooktops because it doesn't make complete contact with the heating surface.
Material: Stainless steel | Available Sizes: 10, 12, 13.5, 15, 16.5, 20, 22, 25.5 inches | Suitable For: Gas, electric, grill | Dishwasher Safe: Yes
Best Copper: Mauviel Copper Paella Pan
Excellent heat conductivity
Very high-quality construction
Requires additional maintenance
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 enough to go from stovetop to table. The interior surface of this copper pan is made from stainless steel, allowing the interior to remain non-reactive to acidic foods.
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. Like most copper pans, this is hand-wash only and will require some special upkeep to maintain a shiny copper appearance, but this pan will last a lifetime with proper care.
Material: Copper and stainless steel | Available Sizes: 16 inches | Suitable For: Gas, electric | Dishwasher Safe: No
What To Look for in a Paella Pan
Even heating is a primary concern for making paella, so the pan you choose should be made of a material that distributes heat evenly with no hot spots. Carbon steel, the most popular material for paella pans, does a wonderful job of heating quickly and evenly and is also very responsive when lowering or increasing the temperature of your heat source. Other materials, like stainless steel and cast iron, may not be as responsive, but they are durable and can often produce beautiful paellas and socarrat. Whatever material you choose, pick one that isn't too thin to avoid scorching.
Size and Weight
For serving one or two people, aim for a pan of 10 to 12 inches (size doesn't include the handles). Pans between 12 and 14 inches can serve up to four full-size portions, and pans 16 to 18 inches are good for six to eight servings. Since paella is a very popular dish for parties, paella pan sizes can be found up to over 55 inches in diameter. Be aware that the larger the pan, the heavier it will be when it is filled, so be sure your vessel isn't so heavy that you can't lift it off of the burner.
A great paella pan with have at least two riveted loop handles attached so you can securely lift and transport it; sometimes they are coated for extra grip, but oftentimes they are simply made of metal. Some paella pans also have dimples on the pan's interior surface. These trap small amounts of liquid and help the pan cook evenly, and most traditional paella pans with dimples have a very slightly convex bottom that allows the oil to pool to assist in the sautéing of ingredients when you first start your paella. Unfortunately, that means this won't sit flat on a ceramic, glass, or induction cooktop. If you're working with either of those types of stoves, choose a pan with a perfectly flat bottom for optimum contact.
How do you season a paella pan?
For new carbon steel paella pans, you'll want to get rid of any residue left over from manufacturing, so simmer some water in it, and then give it a scrub with a nylon scrubber and gentle dish soap. Thoroughly dry the pan, add a few drops of vegetable oil to the surface, and use a paper towel to coat the interior and exterior. Then, place it in the oven at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes to full season it. Pans made of other materials, like stainless steel, enameled cast iron, or copper, typically don't need seasoning.
Be sure to clean the pan thoroughly immediately after each use, and then rub it with olive oil before storing it to prevent rusting.
How do you use a paella pan?
A paella pan is used just like any other large sauté pan in the sense that you will add oil and heat the pan, then begin sautéing your ingredients. The convex shape of some pans will help your oil pool in the center, so you can easily sauté onions, garlic, and meats before adding the rice and broth. If you need a step by step guide, this paella for two recipe is a great place to start.
Can you put a paella pan in the oven?
Most paella pans can be used in the oven—just check the manufacturer's instructions to be sure.
What makes a paella pan different than other pans?
Paella pans are wider and shallower than most other types of cookware, often have sloped sides, and in some cases, feature a dimpled and slightly convex bottom. A paella pan is meant to only have a thin layer of rice—no thicker than half an inch—and the pan's shape and depth works perfectly for this purpose.
Can you cook other meals in a paella pan?
You can certainly use a paella pan for other purposes, like searing steaks or sautéing vegetables. At its core, it's simply a wide, shallow pan. Nearly anything you can do in a frying pan, you can conceivably do with a paella pan.
Can you use a paella pan on the barbecue?
As long as the manufacturer has specified it, yes—paella is often cooked on the grill. When cooking on an open flame, be sure that the pan's handles are not coated with anything that might melt when exposed to the heat of a barbecue grill.
How do you clean a paella pan?
If your pan has a lot of cooked-on food that is difficult to remove, you can soak it for a couple of hours or overnight. Fill the pan with water and allow it to sit. This will let you easily scrub away any debris with a pan scourer and soap. Rinse, then immediately wipe it dry, particularly if it's carbon steel since any moisture that is left to air dry may cause the pan to rust. Rub the pan with vegetable oil and wipe away any excess before putting it away. If you do notice any rust on a carbon steel paella pan, you can scrub it away with steel wool and season it again.
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.
This piece was updated by Bernadette Machard de Gramont, an L.A.-based writer who specializes in global food and wine content. After a two-year stint at Williams-Sonoma Headquarters in San Francisco, she now researches and tests a variety of cookware, bakeware, and wine tools, and interviews field experts for their insight.