How these skillets stack up

Test Kitchen

November 09, 2005|By DONNA DEANE AND JUDY YAO | DONNA DEANE AND JUDY YAO,LOS ANGELES TIMES

You can flirt with a silly pepper grinder or have a brief fling with an amusing but impractical cake pan, but a cook's relationship with a 12-inch skillet is no casual affair - it's a long-term commitment.

This pan is your significant other in the kitchen. Day in, day out, it sears, sautes and deglazes for you. It stays with you step by step, from browning to braising, as you work on a multistep recipe.

If it's not a great match, you notice every time you cook that it's too heavy or a pain to clean. If it's an ideal partner, the honeymoon can go on for years. It can make or break a dinner party. And you can fry eggs in it, too.

Whether you're an active home cook or just starting out, the large skillet is the single most important piece of cookware you can purchase for your kitchen. You depend on this all-around basic pan to conduct heat quickly and evenly, to retain heat well, to be easy to handle and clean. It's something you'll use all the time, so it's worth investing in a good, durable model that performs the way you want it to.

We tested seven 11- or 12-inch skillets that met our criteria in terms of materials - i.e., they were made with metals that are great heat conductors - and likely durability (we eliminated any with exposed copper or that enhanced conductivity with less-durable bottom disks). The price range was about $70 (Sur La Table) to about $200 (Demeyere).

Six of the skillets tested are clad, or made with fused layers of bonded metal. In general, aluminum and copper are good heat conductors, but aluminum tends to react with acids, and copper exteriors can be difficult to clean. This is where stainless steel comes in: Though not the best conductor, it is durable and makes a good interior and exterior surface.

A good 12-inch skillet is solid and balanced but not too heavy. It should not dent easily. It should conduct heat evenly with no hot spots. Its oven-safe handle should stay cool on the stove top, be comfortable to hold and be securely attached. The best are also easy to clean and don't stain or react with acid.

Think about what matters most to you when shopping for your skillet. Go to the store and take the time to get to know a few that seem to fit the bill: Pick them up, give them a swing or two. Imagine spending a good portion of your life with one. Then settle in for the long haul.

Donna Deane and Judy Yao write for the Los Angeles Times.

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