By Dorothy Long
A skillet is one of the most useful tools in your kitchen, especially when you want to make a quick meal using minimal dishes. Skillets come in a variety of shapes, sizes and finishes and really is a catch all term for a variety of frying, sauté and grill pans.
A basic skillet or fry pan has flared sides, which makes it ideal for quick-cooking techniques like searing, sautéing and stir-frying. A sauté pan has a large flat bottom and straighter sides. A sauté pan is great for browning meats and for recipes with more liquid or sauce that needs to be cooked down. A grill pan has a wide bottom with ridges and shallow sides, which, makes it perfect for cooking meat, vegetables or anything else that you would also put on a grill. The ridges act like a grill and also allow excess fat to drain away while cooking.
All of these skillets come in various finishes, such as cast iron, copper, non-stick or stainless steel. Here are a few tips on using and caring for different types of skillets.
Non-stick skillets are relatively carefree; however, there are a few tips to get the best results and to extend the life of your pan. First, don’t use cooking sprays. Additives in the sprays can build up on the pan and cause foods to stick. If your pan does have build up from cooking sprays gently scrub it with a dishcloth and equal parts baking soda and water. Never use a metal or harsh scrubber. Then season it by rubbing in a small amount of vegetable oil such as canola oil. When it is time to cook, start by adding a small amount of fat or oil to create a layer of fat before the other ingredients are added. This will prevent sticking and is a good tip no matter which type of pan you are using. Use wood or silicone utensils to prevent scratching the non-stick surface. Finally, even if your skillet is dishwasher-safe, wash your pan by hand as high heat and dishwashing detergents will cause premature wear. Once your pan surface starts to peel or pit – it is time to shop for a new one.
Cast Iron Skillet
Cast iron pans take longer to heat but then retain their heat for longer than other pans. Be careful not to heat too fast or too hot as it will take some time to cool off the pan. Cast iron pans also require seasoning. To season a cast iron pan, wash with hot water and dry thoroughly. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Then apply a thin layer of canola oil to the inside of the pan making sure to coat the sides as well. Use a cloth or paper towel to rub in the oil. Place the pan in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off heat and allow pan to cool. Repeat the seasoning process two or three times before first use and then after that as the seasoning wears. To wash a cast iron pan, simply use hot water to remove the food and dry thoroughly to avoid rust. Never soak a cast iron pan as it will rust. You can place the cast iron pan in a hot oven for a few minutes after washing to ensure it is totally dry. For tough messes, use coarse salt as a scrub. Please note that acidic foods like tomatoes can react with metal and this causes off-flavours.
Stainless Steel Skillet
Stainless steel skillets are highly durable and easy to use. To avoid sticking, add oil or fat to a cold pan and then heat on medium temperature for 1 or 2 minutes before adding food. Clean your stainless steel skillet by soaking it in hot soapy water, then rinse and hand dry. If food does stick and you are having trouble cleaning up your stainless steel pan add water and heat to a boil, allow to cool and then the stuck on bits should wash right off. It is best to wash by hand to extend the life of your pan. Never use steel wool or abrasive cleaners. You can use steel utensils but never cut food with a knife in the pan.
Copper itself is not food-safe, so copper pots must be lined with a layer of nickel or stainless steel. Most of the care for copper skillets or pots is about maintaining the lining to ensure your pots are not pitted or develop a blue copper patina (verdigris). If this happens, the pans are no longer safe to use. If food does become stuck on after cooking, soak the copper pan and use a non-abrasive cloth or scrubber to remove it. Copper is prized in cooking because it offers the most even heat. However, because copper conducts heat so well, it also cooks differently than other pots such as cast iron or stainless steel. A good rule of thumb is to use about half the heat you would normally use for a non-copper pan. Also, never heat a copper pan empty.
One more thing to consider: skillet recipes often call for the dish to be finished in the oven, so make sure to choose an oven proof skillet. Other skillet tips include using utensils that won’t scratch your pan such as silicone or bamboo. You can also, try a splatter screen or lid when searing food to avoid greasy splatter going all over your stovetop.
Looking for ways to use your skillet? Try out the recipes in our 8 Tasty Skillet Meals.