By Carolyn Malcoun, contributing food editor for EatingWell Magazine
If my house was burning down, I’d try to lug every single skillet in my kitchen out the door with me (after first making sure my husband and dogs were safe, of course…) Sure, if you ask my husband, I have a few too many pans. But they all serve a purpose (and it’s great to have a few extra on hand when I’m entertaining or developing recipes). I’m not advocating that anyone take up collecting skillets like I do, but it is good to have a variety for different tasks. If you’re wondering which pans you should have on hand in your kitchen, here are 5 tips from the EatingWell Test Kitchen to help you choose.
1. Choose the right size pan for the job.
I have a variety of skillet sizes so I have the right size pan for the cooking task at hand. If you’re sautéing, it’s important to have a large enough pan for the amount of food you’re cooking. If you try to sauté in a pan that’s too crowded, the food will just steam. And that defeats the purpose of sauteing, since the best part about sautéed food is the delicious caramelized bits that form where the food makes contact with the pan! Cook in batches if necessary. I like small skillets for melting butter, toasting nuts and cooking my morning egg, but I tend to use a large skillet for most everything else. (The only medium skillet I have came in the set I bought—I rarely use it.)
Recipes to Try: Simple One-Skillet Suppers
2. Invest in stainless steel.
I love using stainless-steel pans because they’re strong, durable and versatile. If you’re going to drop any substantial money on a pan, let it be on the workhorse of the kitchen—a 12-inch stainless-steel skillet.
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3. Use a nonreactive pan when cooking acidic foods.
When you cook acidic foods, such as tomatoes, lemons or cranberries, make sure to use a nonreactive pan, such as stainless-steel, enamel-coated or glass. Reactive pans, such as aluminum and cast-iron, can impart an off color and/or off flavor in acidic foods.
4. Cook with less fat by using nonstick pans.
Nonstick skillets are great because you can use less oil and because delicate foods, such as fish or eggs, won’t stick to the pan or break apart. When you cook in a nonstick skillet, use nonstick-safe utensils, such as a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon—metal utensils will damage the nonstick surface. Don’t heat an empty skillet or cook over high heat, because the nonstick coating may break down at high temperatures and release potentially toxic fumes. For an alternative to conventional nonstick cookware, look for pans marketed under names like “green cookware” or “eco-friendly cookware” that are made with a nonstick coating that won’t break down when used over high heat. A cast-iron skillet is a good alternative to nonstick skillets for many recipes.
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5. You can keep your aluminum pans.
While old research linked high aluminum intake with Alzheimer’s disease, subsequent studies on aluminum pots are few and circumstantial, and studies on antiperspirants and other aluminum-containing products are similarly slim. Today, most experts believe that aluminum’s role, if any, is small—and that diet and even crossword puzzles are far better places to focus anti-dementia energies.
What pan couldn’t you live without?
By Carolyn Malcoun
Carolyn Malcoun combines her love of food and writing in her position as contributing food editor at EatingWell. Carolyn has a culinary arts degree from New England Culinary Institute and a degree in journalism from University of Wisconsin--Madison. Carolyn lives in Portland, Maine, and enjoys cooking, gardening, hiking and running in her free time.