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The skillet is a marvelous piece of cookware and must-have for anyone who loves to cook. Constructed with straight sides (as opposed to the flared sides of a frying pan), a skillet allows you to cook with more liquid and keep it from splashing out while cooking. While there is some debate on the technical name for this vessel, you may see it referred to as a French skillet, sauté pan, or sauteuse in French. It is extremely versatile and can be used for browning proteins, braising, reducing sauces, and even roasting. Deeper than a frying pan and often accompanied by a tight-fitting lid, it is ideal for keeping moisture and heat during longer cooking periods.
If you’re in the market for this multitasking pan, we compiled a list of the best skillets to fit any budget and cooking style.
Best Overall: All-Clad d5 Covered Saute Pan
Sturdy 5-ply construction
Can use on any cooktop, including induction
Oven- and broiler-safe
Can be bulky to store
All-Clad has a solid reputation for quality cookware, and this saute pan from the d5 series is no exception. Made with five alternating layers of aluminum and 18/10 stainless steel, it has a nice weight and heats evenly with no hot spots. The handles are riveted for security, so you can transport it from the stovetop to the oven or table.
Stainless steel is known for being non-reactive, so you can cook acidic sauces. Use this to brown proteins and add liquid for braising—the included lid will make sure your dish doesn’t dry out during a long simmering process.
This pan can be used on every cooktop, including induction, and is oven- and broiler-safe (without the lid) up to 600 degrees. All-Clad recommends washing this pan by hand, though it is dishwasher safe if you prefer to clean that way. The polished finish will stay looking brand new with proper maintenance for years to come.
Material: Stainless steel and aluminum | Max Heat: 600 degrees | Induction Ready: Yes | Dishwasher Safe: Yes | Available Sizes: 3 and 6 quarts
Best Cast Iron: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
Retains heat very well
Additional care required to maintain seasoning
Hand wash only
Not recommended for acidic foods
Lodge is one of the oldest foundries in the U.S., having earned a reputation for long-lasting, affordable cast iron goods. This 10.25-inch skillet is one of the company's most iconic items and a pan that you can certainly pass down as an heirloom. Since it is already pre-seasoned, it is ready to use out of the box, and continued use will encourage the buildup of even more seasoning, which will make the surface feel almost like a nonstick pan—suitable for cooking eggs and other notoriously sticky foods. These skillets don't come with lids, but if you want one, you can purchase one separately (view on Amazon).
Cast iron is prized for the ability to achieve high heat, so it's an ideal pan for searing steaks or browning other proteins. Cast iron is also known for heat retention and even heating, so it will keep its temperature longer than comparable stainless steel or aluminum pans. It can withstand temperatures that are higher than any home cooktop can achieve, so you can use it under the broiler or on top of the grill without damaging it. As with all cast iron cookware, some special care is required to keep it in top condition, but it is a workhorse of a pan that won't cost you a lot of money.
Material: Cast iron | Max Heat: More than 600 degrees | Induction Ready: Yes | Dishwasher Safe: No | Sizes Available: 3.5, 6, 8, 9, 10.5, 12, and 15 inches
"Weighing a pound less than competitors puts this Lodge skillet in a class of its own, and I'm more likely to reach for this pan time and again." — Gayle L. Squires, Product Tester
Best Enameled Cast Iron: Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Deep Sauté Pan
Very durable construction
Retains heat very well
Stain- and scratch-resistant enamel coating
Fun selection of finishes
Just like its signature Dutch ovens, this deep sauté pan by Le Creuset is made from the same enameled cast iron and performs beautifully. While this pan heats slower than copper or stainless steel, its cast iron construction retains heat much longer and provides the searing hot surface needed to effectively brown meats and other proteins. Available in 3.75- and 4.25-quart versions, it’s large enough to cook for multiple people, but not so large that it takes up too much space on the cooktop.
Since it’s made of cast iron, you can use this stylish sauté pan on just about any surface, including induction, and you can also transfer it into the oven for slow braises or to finish a dish under the broiler. Like much of Le Creuset’s enameled cast iron cookware, this model is available in a variety of finishes to add a pop of color to your kitchen. The only real downside to this piece of cookware is that it’s hefty, both in weight and price, but since it comes backed by a lifetime guarantee, we think it is worth every penny.
Material: Enameled cast iron | Max Heat: 500 degrees | Induction Ready: Yes | Dishwasher Safe: Yes | Available Sizes: 3.75 and 4.25 quarts
Best Without a Lid: Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless 14-Inch Open Skillet
Non-reactive, durable material
Great heat distribution
Oven- and broiler-safe
Easy to clean
Difficult to store if limited on space
Stainless steel is an ideal choice for cookware because of its non-reactive quality and durable finish that stands up to sharp cooking tools. This classic skillet is made from 18/10 stainless steel and features riveted cast aluminum handles that make it easy to transport on and off the stove. The encapsulated aluminum base provides quick and even heat distribution, and the entire pan is oven safe up to 550 degrees, making it a versatile pan that lets you sear, fry, braise, and roast.
The rim of the pan is designed so you can pour liquids from the pan with fewer drips and spills, and the helper handle makes it easier to move the pan or pour, even when the pan is very full. Though some might find a pan of this size quite bulky, if you have the storage space and need for a generously sized skillet, it could be a useful addition to your cookware collection.
Material: 18/10 stainless steel | Max Heat: 550 degrees | Induction Ready: Yes | Dishwasher Safe: Yes | Sizes Available: 14 inches
"I found the contoured handle immensely helpful as it made easy work of maneuvering the pan whether serving, pouring, or even hand washing it in the sink." — Meredith Hurd, Product Tester
Best Nonstick: Cuisinart Chef's Classic Nonstick Hard-Anodized 12-Inch Skillet
Long-lasting nonstick interior resists scratches
Oven safe to 500 degrees
Securely riveted handles
Hand wash only
Exterior appearance will deteriorate over time
This 12-inch pan has a hard-anodized exterior and proprietary Quantanium nonstick interior, a nonstick surface reinforced with titanium that withstand use with metal utensils. Hard-anodized aluminum is harder than stainless steel and will last much longer than the nonstick pans for sale at the grocery store. The glass cover is useful for steaming foods while the drip-free rim makes it easy to pour sauces or drippings without creating a mess.
The handles are designed to stay cool during cooking and are riveted for security. This pan is oven safe to 500 degrees and is approved for use with metal utensils. On the contrary, it's not oven- or dishwasher-safe.
Material: Hard-anodized aluminum | Max Heat: Up to 500 degrees | Induction Ready: No | Dishwasher Safe: No | Available sizes: 12 inches
Best Ceramic: Caraway Saute Pan
Ceramic nonstick coating
Versatile 4.5-quart size
Chic color palette
Handles tend to get hot
Expensive for single pan
Caraway is a fairly new company, but it has made a splash with its line of ceramic-coated cookware with a modernist aesthetic and chic color palette. This includes a 4.5-quart skillet that can be used on any stovetop, including induction—a rare characteristic when it comes to nonstick pans. It measures nearly 12 inches in diameter, comes with a matching lid to contain heat and moisture, heats evenly, and is oven safe up to 550 degrees, which is higher than your typical nonstick or ceramic pan.
Because of the ceramic coating, this pan is truly nonstick and lets you cook with less oil than usual. Our tester noted that the stainless steel handles can get hot when the pan is in use, but having an oven mitt on standby will easily solve that problem. Cleanup is hassle-free thanks to the slick ceramic interior—use a non-abrasive scrubber to get rid of any debris and wash with dish soap and warm water. You can run it through the dishwasher once in a while, but as with most coated pans, hand washing will aid in the longevity of your cookware.
Material: Ceramic-coated aluminum | Max Heat: 550 degrees | Induction Ready: Yes | Dishwasher Safe: Yes | Available Sizes: 4.5 quarts
"It didn’t matter if I was sautéing onions, heating butter, frying eggs, searing steaks, or simmering a pasta sauce—not one single piece of food stuck to the bottom of the pan." — Lindsay Boyers, Product Tester
Best Copper: All-Clad Copper Core Deep Sauté Pan
Oven safe to 600 degrees
Copper core gives great heat responsiveness
Easier to maintain than traditional copper
Takes up a lot of storage space
If you love the performance of copper, but don't love the maintenance that comes with it, then this pan is a wonderful compromise. Featuring stainless steel on its outermost layers for easy cleaning and a layer of aluminum (for heat conduction) surrounding a heat-responsive copper core, this combination creates quick heat-up time, exceptional temperature control, and fast and even heat distribution.
The riveted handle stays cool on the stove and is quite comfortable to hold due to its curved design. It is oven safe up to 600 degrees and can be used on just about any cooktop, including induction. Unlike full copper pans, this sauté pan won't require extra care. Just pop it into the dishwasher or hand wash to clean.
Material: Stainless steel and aluminum with copper core | Max Heat: 600 degrees | Induction Ready: Yes | Dishwasher safe: Yes | Sizes Available: 13 inches
Best Electric: Presto 06857 Foldaway Electric Skillet
Weighted, sturdy construction
Easy to cook with
Dishwasher safe with power supply removed
Nonstick surface is susceptible to scratches
The Presto 16-Inch Electric Foldaway Skillet is a top-rated product that boasts a variety of cutting-edge, yet dependable features—and it won't break the bank. Made of heavy cast aluminum that’s nonstick on both the inside and outside, this versatile skillet can be used to cook for a large family without having to turn on your stovetop. With a maximum temperature of 400 degrees, you can sear meats and make stir-fry or adjust the heat control as necessary for batches of scrambled eggs or hash browns. This skillet can also double as a buffet server, keeping food warm without taking up space in the oven or occupying an extra burner.
The Presto skillet measures 19 x 12 x 8 inches, but the pan itself is approximately 2.75 inches high, making it deep enough for deep frying. It also has a built-in spout, so you can easily pour liquids. The tempered glass lid makes it easy to visually monitor what's cooking, and thanks to the skillet’s stay-cool handles, you don’t need oven mitts when handling it. To clean, detach the heating controls and put the entire pan into the dishwasher.
Material: Nonstick coated cast aluminum | Dishwasher Safe: Yes, when power supply is removed | Size: 19 x 12 inches
When it comes to quality, performance, and ease of maintenance, we chose the All-Clad d5 Covered Saute Pan as our top pick (view on Amazon). If you don't mind the required upkeep, the Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet with Assist Handle is also an outstanding option when it comes to durability and value.
What To Look For in a Skillet
When it comes to skillets, there are options galore. From stainless steel to cast iron to copper, skillets are made from a variety of different materials and have various cooking capabilities. How frequently you cook and the types of food you make will help you narrow your choices. If you cook a lot, you’ll likely want several different types of skillets.
For high-heat cooking, when you're looking to create a beautifully seared steak, for example, you'll want to choose bare or enameled cast iron since this type of pan can hold heat and withstand higher temperatures than most other pans. For making sauces and braising meats, stainless steel will provide plenty of versatility. Nonstick pans will make for easy cleanup, but be mindful of the heat threshold of these types of pans, as it tends to be lower than with other materials.
Do you typically cook for a big family or entertain friends often? Skillets come in a variety of sizes, from those designed to fry a single egg to ones that can cook up grub for a crowd. The size you need will depend on how many people you intend to serve. For feeding one to two people, a 3-quart skillet should be more than enough; for larger families or for those who like to batch prep, you'll want to scale upwards to at least a 4-quart size. It will be bulkier and take up more storage space, but you'll have plenty of room to cook multiple servings.
Ease of Use
How much effort you want to put into cooking (and cleaning up) should also be a factor you consider when choosing a skillet. Some are ready to go out of the box, while others require seasoning and other special maintenance—cast iron and carbon steel pans are probably the most demanding. Certain pans, like cast iron and stainless steel, allow you to use any utensils, while others, like those with nonstick surfaces, require the use of silicone or plastic tools so they don't get scratched. Also, note the type of handle a skillet has and if you’ll need hot pads or other protection while cooking.
What's the difference between a skillet, frying pan, and sauté pan?
It depends on where you are and who you ask. Some people use the terms interchangeably, but for the purpose of this particular roundup, a skillet and sauté pan are nearly identical, featuring high, straight (or very slightly angled) sides and a lid to help keep heat and moisture in the pan.
A frying pan is often referred to as a skillet in everyday vernacular, but regardless of what you call it, these lidless pans typically have lower, flared sides that let you access food easily with a spatula and curved sides that let you slide food—like omelets and pancakes—onto a plate.
How do you clean a cast iron or carbon steel skillet?
Cast iron and carbon steel are very close in material and maintenance, so you'd clean them similarly. The quick version: Let your pan cool, scrub away any debris, and then use a stiff brush or scrubber to clean the pan under hot water. Wipe the skillet dry, add a small amount of cooking oil back to the pan, and reheat it on the stove briefly. Then, use a soft cloth or towel to rub the oil over the interior surface to keep the seasoning intact. For a more detailed set of instructions, head here.
How do you season a cast iron or carbon steel skillet?
Many of today's cast iron and carbon steel pans are available already seasoned, letting you use them right out of the box. If your pan arrives unseasoned, you can easily season the pan yourself. Make sure your pan is clean, then coat it with a thin layer of oil or shortening and place in a 300-degree oven for an hour. Over time, your pan will develop more seasoning with use, so you won't need to reseason it unless you scrub or scrape the surface down to bare metal again. For a guide on how to care for cast iron, read this.
Can you put a skillet in the oven?
Generally speaking, yes. Just ensure that the manufacturer specifies that your pan is oven safe, and take note of the maximum heat threshold. As an overall rule, carbon steel and cast iron can endure very high heat (600 degrees and above), stainless steel typically withstands slightly less (450 to 600 degrees), and nonstick is usually in the lower range (350 to 450 degrees, depending on the type of nonstick coating). Always refer to your manufacturer's instructions as a guide.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This piece was written by Bernadette Machard de Gramont, an LA-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.