A frying pan, frypan, or skillet is a pan used for frying, searing, and browning foods. It is typically a 20 to 30 cm diameter (8 to 12 inch) flat pan with flared sides and no lid. In contrast, a pan of similar size with straight sides and a lid is called a sauté pan.
Traditionally, frying pans were made of cast iron. Although cast iron is still popular today, especially for outdoor cooking, most frying pans are now made from metals such as aluminium and stainless steel. The materials and construction method used in modern frying pans vary greatly and some typical materials include:
With the exception of cast iron frying pans, a polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon) coating can be applied to the surface of the pan to make it non-stick. This is popular for frying pans sold to the home user but less so for those used by professional cooks and restaurants. Cast iron naturally becomes non-stick through use and so would not benefit from a Teflon coating.
Many traditionalists maintain that a cast iron frying pan should never be washed but rather wiped clean after each use. Washing destroys the anti-stick finish that forms through use and can promote rust and other problems.
Frying pans made from copper will require polishing to remove tarnish. Aluminium and stainless steel frying pans generally do not require much maintenance. Frying pans with non-stick coatings should not be overheated (such as using for searing) or else the coating will melt. The fumes from melted non-stick coatings are toxic to parrots and other pet birds.
Like deep-frying, pan-frying depends on conduction and convection. In pan-frying, a layer of oil has four functions: it lubricates the surface; increases contact between the food and the pan; reduces cooking time; and increases flavor and color.
When frying battered fish or chicken, the oil covers the pan but not the food, but when frying pancakes, the oil is but a thin film to keep the batter from sticking. Asian cooks fry rice with all kinds of meats, seafood, vegetables, and nuts. Chinese fried rice is pan-fried in a skillet or wok with very little oil, perhaps one tablespoon per cup of rice. The challenge of pan-frying thick items such as chicken parts is to cook to the center without burning the surface. The Chinese have effectively solved this problem by slicing foods thin enough so the surface and interior cook in the same time.
The world’s largest functional frying pan—15 feet in diameter—adorns the Rose Hill, North Carolina (pop. 1,330) town square and can fry 365 chickens at once during poultry festivals This frying pan beat out the previous world record sized frying pan which was produced by Mumford Sheet Metal Works in Selbyville, Delaware in 1950. Produced for the annual Delmarva Chicken Festival, it was used to fry over one hundred tons of chicken. The pan measures ten feet in diameter, beating out the Long Beach, Washington frying pan built in 1941 for their annual Clam Festival.
Pan is a term of truly ancient origin, deriving from Celtic panna. The feature that distinguished it from other utensils was its flat bottom. This is why sauce pans and sauté pans, while very different in shape, are nonetheless called "pans." A versatile pan that combines the best of both the sauté pan and the frying pan has higher, sloping sides that are often slightly curved. This pan is called a sauteuse (literally a sauté pan in the female gender), an evasée (denoting a pan with sloping sides), or a fait-tout (literally "does everything"). Most professional kitchens have several of these utensils in varying sizes.
The frying pan remained little changed for many years. Whether made of tinned copper or cast iron the frying pan had a broad, shallow body and a long handle to keep the cook’s hand out of the fire. A close relative was the chafing dish, which by the late nineteenth century was a pot or pan that sat in a lower pan of hot water. Both were supported by a stand over a flame below. The heat maintained the water at a simmer, which allowed for the slow cooking of foods like soups and fondues.
The common frying pan was among the first objects to be electrified in the 1890s. A British example dates from 1898. It had an element fitted below the pan and socket at the end of the wooden handle. Due to the cost of electricity it was a luxury item. It never gained popularity when electricity became more widespread, as the increasing efficiency of gas and electric hot plates meant that the traditional pan was just as effective and easier to use.
In 1911, Westinghouse introduced an electric chafing dish. Made of sheet steel, it could be turned over and used as a hot plate. Little development followed. The main setback was developing a dependable and easily variable heat control that could compete with a traditional hotplate. In 1953, Sunbeam introduced the Automatic Frypan. It was a square cast-aluminium pan with a built-in element. The black plastic handle featured a heat control and “fry-guide” reminiscent of the “mix-finder” of the Sunbeam Mixmaster. S. W. Farber, Inc. produced the first stainless steel electric frying pan in 1954.
Frying pans with non-stick surfaces were introduced by DuPont in 1956 under the Teflon brand name. The durability of the early coatings was not good, but improvements in manufacturing have made these products a kitchen standard. It was necessary for cooks using non-stick pans to learn to avoid using metal spatulas and knives that can permanently mar the coating.
The electric fry pan could also stew, braise, and bake. With the lid on, it could also be used for roasts and casseroles. By the 1970s it was also known as a multicooker. This versatility was limited by its size and was soon challenged by the microwave. Although still in production, the electric frying pan never gained mass acceptance as a replacement for its traditional rival.