Frying up a big country breakfast or making a grilled cheese sandwich is probably one of the first things we learned in the kitchen after stepping up from pouring milk over a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Whether searing a steak, browning a burger, or sauteing onions, using a fry or saute pan is Cooking 101.
There are several options when it comes to frying pans, each with its own distinctive qualities. My first fry pan was part of three-piece set of cast-iron cookware bought at Target my sophomore year of college. Twenty years later, I’m still using it. I also have a non-stick pan I use mostly for scrambled eggs and omelettes or sauteing vegetables. The third choice is non-coated pan made of copper, anodized aluminum, or stainless steel.
These non-coated pans probably hold the most fear-factor for new users and, admittedly, the learning curve can be quite steep. However, they really are a must-have for cooks who truly care about flavor. The fond–or browned bits left on the bottom of the pan–are a required ingredient for making a truly great pan sauce. Non-stick pans just don’t compare.
The trick is having browned bits rather than something burnt and blackened stuck to the bottom of the pan. The key to this–and really all pan-frying no matter the vessel–is proper temperature control and using the right amount of oil. Thankfully, the folks at Rouxbe, an online cooking school, have a great (and free!) tutorial on pan-frying. It’s worth checking out, especially if you’ve been thinking about making the leap from non-stick.
Seasoned well and cared for properly, cast-iron gets better with age. While it takes a while to heat up, it holds that heat well and goes from stovetop to oven with no worries, making it great for brown-and-braise jobs. Well cared for, a cast-iron pan will last your lifetime, as well as the lifetime of your children.