Choosing the perfect pan size

Shopping for new cookware can be exciting and intimidating especially if you are shopping for your own pans for the first time. When you are faced with pages and pages of options online it can be hard to know what to pick! 

We all know that investing a little more money for a better pan made of quality materials like stainless steel will be a wise long term choice, but what size is best? If you’re investing in one quality piece at a time, what size will be the most versatile while you build your collection? Or maybe you have a small kitchen with very little storage, so you only want one, multipurpose pan? Let’s find out which size of frying pan suits you best! 

Skillet vs Saucepan vs Sauté Pan

First thing’s first: know what you’re buying! If you can only buy one style of the pan, buy a skillet/frying pan. These are the kinds of pans with a sloped side, whereas sauté pans have a straight edge, almost like a shallow pot. Both have their places; a deeper saute pan can be perfect for braising or stand-in for a saucepan (pot) in a pinch. But if you’re looking for something that can be used for everything you could possibly want, go with a frying pan or skillet. The sloped sides allow eggs to slide out of the pan with ease, and have no corners so your sauces are always being stirred evenly- nothing gets stuck or missed by your spoon or spatula! The sloped edges also work great for stir-fries, allowing you to swirl sauce or stir ingredients smoothly without purchasing a separate wok. As you grow your kitchen arsenal you can consider a wok or sauté pan, but start with a skillet! 

Size Matters

When choosing the size of your pan, you must stop to consider three important factors:

  1. What do I cook most often?
  2. How many people do I usually cook for?
  3. How much storage space do I have?
  4. What is my budget?

What do I cook most often?

Are you a steak and eggs person, or do you make veggie stirfries every night of the week? If you are constantly rotating a few staple dishes, pick a pan that will suit your needs. 

Generally, eggs require a medium-sized pan. 10” will give you enough space to evenly fry 3-4 sunny-side up eggs, but will also give you enough room to make an omelette. If you mostly use your stove for eggs or 1-2 portions of meat this is an ideal size. 

Pancakes are a whole other story – unless you want to make a single pancake at a time, you’ll want something larger. A 12” skillet will give you that extra room, fitting 3-4 pancakes, or a couple of portions of bacon. Stirfries for 1-2 portions will fit nicely in a 12” pan, just make sure you do not crowd your ingredients to ensure even cooking. 

If you aren’t making something like paella every week, you’ll rarely need a larger pan for most dishes. If you need to make basic sauces, 12” should give you enough space for a sauce to cook evenly, without overflowing. Soups and stews will require a separate, deep saucepan or pot.

If your cooking style requires multiple pans firing at once, go for a 10” and a 12”- you can have a piece of salmon crisping up in the 10” while you saute asparagus in the 12”. 

How many people do I usually cook for?

Are you a single person living in a small apartment, or do you feed a family of four every night? Maybe you like to meal prep, so you make a week’s worth of food in one batch? 

If you are single or cook maybe 1-2 portions of food at a time you will do just fine with a 10” skillet. Any larger and you could end up with hotspots on your pan, or burning food like eggs if they are spread too thin on too large of a surface. Sauces shouldn’t fill the pan too high, but also need a smaller surface area so they don’t burn or cook too quickly.

If you want to cook 4 portions or more of an item at a time, you may find that you want a larger skillet, perhaps 13-13.5”. These are great if you make large batches of stirfries, or cook lots of chicken breasts for your meal prep. This pan is also great if you want to make a large frittata or a family-sized portion of scrambled eggs. If you want more versatility, however, stick to a 12” and cook in batches- it won’t take much longer and you’ll ensure a more evenly cooked final product. 

How much storage space do I have?

A lot of these factors seem to go hand in hand- if you live alone, you likely have a smaller kitchen anyway, so you’ll want the most versatile pan in terms of size. If you live in a small apartment with very little storage, go for a smaller pan and cook in batches. A 10” pan if you cook for 1-2 people, and a 12” pan if you cook for occasional guests. If you have the space to stack your pans, perhaps in the warming drawer under the stove, buy one of each! 

If you have a lot of space and dedicate a lot of time to cooking complex dishes, get a 10” and a 13”- you’ll be able to do anything from fry a couple of eggs to making a giant batch of fried rice. You’ll be able to make sauces, even cook a couple of portions of pasta in a larger pan with a lid. Beautiful stainless steel pans can also hang from hooks on the ceiling or above your stove- handy to reach and a practical piece of home decor! 

What is my budget?

At the end of the day, your budget will be the biggest factor of all. If you have a passion for cooking and are willing to invest in a full set of beautiful cookware all at once, go for it! Get the small 6” pan for eggs, a 10” pan for fillets of fish, and the 13” pan for making fried chicken. You will be able to cook anything you can imagine and you’ll always have the correct pan on hand!

If you are willing to buy one good pan, and only one good pan, go with a 10” or a 12” depending on the size of your household. A 10” will never let you down and allow you to cook most daily dishes, and the same goes for the 12” if you have more people to cook for. Start with one pan, learn to use it properly, and fall in love with it. If you treat it right, it should last a lifetime! 

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