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Buying fry pans, ALU or SS?

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
Hello All,

I am looking to buy a few restaurant quality fry pans for home use but I am torn between Aluminum and Stainless Steel. I have been looking at the 8" and 10" Vollrath models. They offer both Aluminum and Stainless with aluminum disk in the bottom.

I have fancier pans, but I would like a few no-frills, tough pans that can stand up to use and abuse and put out quality performance. I have always gone for stainless due to the fears associated with aluminum, but since most restaurants use alu and all the other alu in life it just seems like a non-issue. I'd be up for suggestions and tips/info from any professional cooks who would be kind enough to help.

post #2 of 26
Sorry it's not a professional opinion, but like you mentioned, I would shy away from cooking on aluminum surfaces because of possible health issues. The goal of a restaurant is to make a profit. Aluminum is cheaper than stainless.

The debate is all over the internet, try a search of the phrase cooking with aluminum, or aluminum toxicity. I just avoid it altogether and stick with stainless/cast iron.

Dr. Russell Blaylock wrote about this and recommends no aluminum cooking utensils.
post #3 of 26
Thread Starter 
There must have been a long delay since when I wrote this and it posted... thanks for the reply and yes, I have done a lot of research into the issue in my main field of interest which is tea.

I actually found the numbers and I went with ALU. A single antacid tablet has 25x the amount of aluminum that may shed from a pot/pan. There are many numbers available but all of them fall well below even a fraction of daily ALU intake.

I understand commercial kitchens exist to make money but if they were killing people off in droves I'm sure they would spring for the extra $8 for SS. I had never looked at numbers for pans, but now that I have, I have little reservation and would rather the lighter weight and quick heating.
post #4 of 26
There's as much evidence that cooking on aluminum causes health problems as there is that the earth is flat, despite what kooks like Blaylock say.
post #5 of 26
This is nothing to do with health issues, but as someone who's been in the kitchen over 25 yrs, I HATE aluminum pans. Why, do you ask, that I loathe, detest, abhor, etc. aluminum?

Unless aluminum cookware have sandwich bottoms or are made of cast aluminum (very rare) they warp-- badly, especially on a gas stove. After a month or two you've got a Wok with a handle, whether you want one or not.

9 time out of 10 the handles are riveted on. 9 times out of ten Rivets work themselves loose, especially if rivets are made of a soft metal, like aluminum.... When this happens, you've got a pan with an "automatic overflow device", i.e. they leak at the rivet holes, making a mess of the burner, burner orifices, your clothes, face, and your hands.

Aluminum, if not anodized or otherwise treated, oxides. Which means that anything that pan touches will turn black with oxidization: Shelves, cupboards, countertops, clothes, hands, etc. all get that loverly black icky film on it.

Aluminum pits very easily too. The magic combination of heat and undissolved salt will make smooth surfaces a craggy mess in a few weeks.

Aluminum stains cream sauces and soups if using a metal whisk inside the aluminum pot/ pan.

S/S isn't ideal neither, it doesn't transmit heat as quickly as copper or aluminum does, but it is fairly inert, and almost always comes with a sandwich bottom to prevent warping, scorching, and hot-spots.

If I had a dollar for every cheap-cra* alum pot and pan (irregardless of price/brand name, alum is cra*) that I took out to the parking lot behind restaurants/hotels and beat the bottoms flat with a meat-hammer, and peened over the rivets on the handles, I'd be a wealthy man.....

I Did say I hated aluminum, didn't I? ....
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #6 of 26
Thread Starter 
heh, well your opinion is noted... if they fail or warp quickly via normal use then I'm out all of about $30 total. The experience with an aluminum restaurant style pan is worth that.

If I may ask foodpump, what brand/model's do you use daily in your professonal cooking? I'd really like to know what the pro's use in their kitchens daily.

post #7 of 26
If we're talking skillets -- you need some non-reactive pans. The best kind are multi-ply or heavy aluminum disk or composite disk bottom stainless steel. Don't waste your money on copper in the sandwich or copper exteriors unless you think the look of copper is worth it. A little copper won't improve performance at all, and a lot won't improve it much.

Hard anodized aluminum isn't bad at all -- but will warp.

Stainless has all kinds of performance problems. For pans you're going to use a lot for saute and browning the best are probably carbon steel. Aluminum is nice for its weight, but carbon steel develops a true season and sears and browns better. Bottom line: You need some stainless for when you need it, but when you don't ... C A R B O N S T E E L You'll be happy to know it's priced like aluminum.

I know you already bought some aluminum frying pans -- they're fine. I love their weigh for toss turning when doing a saute and I don't mind some warp because I've got some non-reactive pans with flat bottoms if those things are important.

But for sauce pans and cooking pots -- just too many reactive foods in that very liquid world.

post #8 of 26
Most places that I've worked in N. America had alum. saute pans. And as I've stated in previous posts, usually the first or second day on the job I'll take as stack of saute pans to the parking lot and peen the rivets over a cement filled steel post or something so the handles are nice and tight again and don't flop around and shed liquid at me. On a gas stove, warped saute pans don't really bother me that much, (although round-bottomed pots drive me nuts) but I won't tolerate loosey-goosey handles.

As BDl says, carbon steel ("black steel") pans are great for sauting, although they also warp badly too. (But at least the handles are welded on...) I've worked in more than one pasta place doing 8 types of pasta and sauces in steel pans, and they work great. Eggs, Roesti, omelettes, fish, rack of lamb, schnitzels all have no issues with steel pans, and the pans are inexpensive too.

In many places in Europe, gas is very expensive and many kitchens run entirely on electricity. This means that both the burner surface and the pan must dead flat, and for this reason sauteuses and sautoirs are made of heavy s/s with sandwich bottoms. This type of cookware is nasty-expensive, but almost virtually bombproof. A 20 yr old sautoir seeing daily usage and still dead-flat is quite a testemonial. Still this type of cookware takes quite a while to heat up and is not perfect either.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #9 of 26

What kind of 10" fry pan to get?

First, I'm a nonprofessional who is trying to get past the "can't boil water" stage. I'm taking some lessons from an acquaintance in the meantime.

He saw that I have an 8" nonstick fry pan and a 12" stainless steel pan (i'm not sure if it is a skillet or saute pan - I'm not sure how to tell the difference).

My friend recommended that I get a 10" pan - a fry pan, I believe he said.

Not sure which is better - a 10" nonstick, or a 10" stainless steel. Would welcome any opinions.
post #10 of 26
Good deal

A skillet is a frying pan is a fry pan. They have sloped sides, that is they flare up from the bottom. Sometimes the slope is rounded. A saute pan has sides which go straight up from the bottom. Naturally, a fry pan is much better for actual sauteing than a saute pan. Don't ask why.

A 10" pan is the most versatile size, and the frying (also known as skillet) shape is probably the most useful. The sloped sides making reach into the pan with tools -- like a spatula or spoon easier. Also, when you learn to saute you'll learn to toss-turn without a spatula or spoon. Those sloped sides are essential.

A non-stick pan cleans more easily. However it neither performs nor lasts as well as a "stick" pan. A stainless or other form of non-reactive 10" skillet is a necessity in any kitchen. So a good quality multi-ply pan with a stainless interior, or good quality stainless with a heavy aluminum disk ought to be your first priority.

It's well worthwhile to have a carbon steel 10" pan as well. It does almost everything better than stainless, but the one thing it doesn't do are things you do all the time: cooking with acidic foods like vinegar, tomato sauces and wine.

Good luck,
post #11 of 26
In my restaurant experience there is a very good use for a small (6-inch to 8-inch) non-stick fry pan--for fried eggs and omelettes. The pan doesn't have to be heated really hot, nor should it be for eggs. Easy to take care of and does the job nicely. They flip nicely. Maybe more experienced people will think differently, but I have cooked thousands of eggs and that's what I use for them.

A 6-inch is best for 2-3 eggs and an 8-inch is better for 4-5 eggs. I hardly ever make more than 3 at a time.
post #12 of 26
That was confusing to me. So a skillet, which has sloped slides, is the same as a fry pan. And a saute pan, which I figured would have sloped slides so you can toss the food around, doesn't have sloped slides.

So if I want to fry an egg, I would use a fry pan (which is the same as a skillet)?

If I want to saute something, I would also use a fry pan (maybe an 8" or 10" pan), not a saute pan?

So, the big question is, what is the saute pan - which has straight sides (and can have a lid, which may be domed?) - actually used for?
post #13 of 26

Yep. Let me add: You'd definitely want to use a saute pan if you toss-turn. Otherwise, while a skillet is slightly more convenient, it's not that big a deal.

Another name is a chicken fryer -- which ought to suggest at least one use. More generally, they're very good where more than a little liquid is going into the pan -- those straight sides keep it in when you're stirring or turning. They also work better with covers. And with the larger sizes, "helper handles" are common. Those are a real boon to the small cook making a big meal.

post #14 of 26

Sauteing - first attempt

I tried sauteing some vegetables today, based on an online video I watched.

I put some frozen veggies into an 8" fry pan (along with the requisite EVOO first), added salt, pepper, onions and thyme.

When I tried to flip the veggies around I lost about 20 percent of the vegetables that I had in the pan (some went on teh floor, some went on the counter).

So...I switched to a 10" stainless steel pan. This stainless steel pan has one of those sandwich bottoms. Unfortunately, it was too heavy for me to toss the vegetables around.

So, I switched a second time, to another 10" pan with sort of straight sides, but this was lighter - looks stainless steel with copper on the bottom (an old pan I may have been given by a sister in law). This 10" pan was bigger than the 8" pan, so I wouldn't lose as many veggies if I tried to toss them (which I didn't try to do - I chickened out and moved them around with a wooden spoon).

The food came out okay, though I'm suspecting that if I had better skill I would have been able to accomplish this in an 8" fry pan instead of a 10" saute pan (the saute pans that have straight sides).

One question on lids: do fry pans have lids (I'm figuring not)?

Do saute pans have lids? (if so, are the domed ones better so you can sneak in a screen gizmo between the pan and the lid to steam things?)

post #15 of 26
Frying pans and saute pans take standard sized lids. When you're buying "open stock," you're more likely to see a lid offered with a saute pan, than with a frying pan. However, you can buy a lid "open stock" if a frying pan suits your needs better -- and it almost certainly will. Also, perfectly fitting lids are generally overrated. All you need is something that will cover the pan.

"Saute" means "jump" in French. This refers to the way the food is thrown in the pan to turn. Saute does not mean "spoon" or "spatula." To saute you must, flip. The reason is not style, but technique. Food that is not ready to turn will not turn with a flip, but stay stuck to the pan. When it's ready to turn, it will turn. FWIW, the technique of sauteing includes relatively high heat and relatively little fat. You cannot saute in a cold pan. You cannot saute with a lot of oil. And, to repeat, you cannot saute and turn with a spoon. Those are different things. Respectively and in order, the three things are: Wrong; frying; and sort-of browning.

It's not hard to learn to toss-turn. Get a few pounds of dried beans, take them, a pan, a pitcher of iced tea, your i-pod, and a book outside. Put a handful or two of beans in the pan. Then start practicing. When you get bored, sit down, have a glass of tea and read a little. After awhile you're work ethic will get you practicing again. Practice using one hand, and both hands. Sounds like you'll need both hands for 10" and 12" pans. After a couple of hours (mostly sipping iced tea, reading and listening to music), you'll have it. Painless.

I learned with very fine diced carrots (which I had to cut in a perfect fine dice). Whatever I lost, I had to cut again. I learned to toss neatly, to cut batonet, and to cut fine dice on my first day. I also learned to get sworn at in a drunken patois of Schweitzerdeutsch and English, sprinkled with French cooking terms and not lose my own temper, in an alley under the bus approach to the (SF) Bay Bridge. Your guess as to which has served me better.

post #16 of 26
Thanks for great advice on how to practice - using the beans. I'll definitely practice.

I did learn to flip a fried egg, with instruction from a friend. He showed me how he does it - all with the wrist.

So, if I want to saute, do I need to use a pan that is small and / or light enough for me to handle the flips with one hand? For instance, a 10" pan with one of those sandwiched bottoms, I'm figuring, will be much too heavy for me to handle.
post #17 of 26
Thanks for great advice on how to practice - using the beans. I'll definitely practice.

I did learn to flip a fried egg, with instruction from a friend. He showed me how he does it - all with the wrist.

So, if I want to saute, do I need to use a pan that is small and / or light enough for me to handle the flips with one hand? For instance, a 10" pan with one of those sandwiched bottoms, I'm figuring, will be much too heavy for me to handle.

P.S.: I did notice that, when I was trying to flip or, if not flip, just move the vegetables around a little bit, some were sticking to the bottom of the pan. That meant that I didn't have the pan hot enough? Do I ruin anything by that or do I just turn up the heat and wait a little bit?
post #18 of 26
Not "I need," but rather "it would be better." There are few absolutes in this racket, and sauteing isn't one of them.

A pan that's light enough for you to handle is a very good thing. If you can handle it with two hands, that's good enough.

My advice to you is to get a decent 10" stainless composite -- either multi-ply (like Calphalon tri-ply or Gourmet Standard), or with an aluminum disk bottom, in a weight you can handle, for those times when only stainless will do. AND a carbon steel pan -- not too heavy -- like a Matfer Bourgeat, World Cuisine, or Vollrath, for those more frequent times when you don't need stainless. Among many other advantages, carbon steel is lighter than most composite stainless pans. The cost of a very high quality carbon steel 10" pan should be less than $30.

post #19 of 26
Which are the situations when only stainless steel will do?

And when do I use the carbon steel pan?

post #20 of 26
Anything very acid. Tomato sauce, lots of tomatoes, lots of vinegar, lots of wine, wine reductions, etc.

The rest of the time.

post #21 of 26
So carbon steel is the preferred pan unless the ingrediants I'm using are better in stainless steel?

Is a carbon steel pan lighter than one of those sandwiched stainless steel pans?
post #22 of 26
These are fry pans you're suggesting (not saute pans?)?
post #23 of 26
Yes. Frying pans.

Take a look at these: Matfer Bourgeat BOURGEAT ROUND FRYING PAN

And these: Fry Pan - Carbon Steel - 9 3/8" Vollrath 58910

And these: World Cuisine Carbon Steel Frying Pan, Dia. 10-1/4"

All about the same -- the handles are slightly different. I prefer the Bourgeat and the Vollrath slightly. If you have small hands, you might like the World Cuisine, It's counter-intuitive, but they have a wider handle and seem to require a little less grip strength. They're also the lightest.

With all of these, you'll be using a towel as a pot-holder.

post #24 of 26

Do the coatings on these pans scratch?

post #25 of 26

I have a couple of Vollraths.  They are 12 gauge and half the thickness and weight as the French pans.  They are light and I am easily able to flip what is in the pan.  The Volraths don't heat up evenly.  How do the heavier French pans compare?  Some seem almost as heavy as cast iron.

post #26 of 26
Originally Posted by carpenter View Post

I have a couple of Vollraths.  They are 12 gauge and half the thickness and weight as the French pans.  They are light and I am easily able to flip what is in the pan.  The Volraths don't heat up evenly.  How do the heavier French pans compare?  Some seem almost as heavy as cast iron.


I just went to my local restaurant supply place to look at Vollrath pans. The CS pans they have looked very thin to me - about the same as De Buyer crepe pans. I didn't buy one. I just checked the Vollrath site and they specify 16 gauge for their CS pans, which seems to be about 1.3mm. I'm looking for something a little heavier (I'm assuming that will give me better heat distribution over a 12" pan). 

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