LOOK AT THE BASE
A good frying pan would be designed to distribute heat quickly and evenly, and should also be able to store the heat. This allows your food to cook evenly. A good pan can also respond quickly to temperature changes – this is especially useful if you like to use one pan for a couple of dishes. So, for example, you may want to use it on higher heat to cook your steak, and then braise vegetables in the same pan on a lower heat. If the base is not able to change temperature quickly, you’ll end up burning or over-cooking your veggies.
TEST OUT THE HANDLE
When you’re in the store, don’t be shy to get a good grip of the pan’s handle to test how it feels in your hand. Is it too heavy for you? Does it feel comfortable in your hand. Imagine having to pour the contents from the pan into a dish. Some pans, like cast iron ones, will naturally be heavier. So ask yourself if you will cook with it regularly. If so, you’ll probably prefer cooking with a pan that can retain heat well, yet be light enough to handle comfortably. The handle itself should also feel good in your hand. An ergonomically-designed handle will make the pan easier to use.
WHAT'S YOUR HOB TYPE
There’s no worse feeling than purchasing a pan you got excited about in store to go home and realise you can’t use it on your induction stove. So, make sure you pick up the right pan. Regular stovetops, using flame or electrical heating elements, heat your pan through contact. This means heat is transferred through contact from the flame to the base of the pot to the ingredients in the pot, through thermal conduction.
If you use an induction cooktop, you need pots and pans that are made with a magnetic material so that an electric current can be generated from the induction burners below the ceramic surface of your hob. It is this current that creates heat in your pan.
Too complicated? Go for a pan that is suitable for all types of hobs. Fortunately for us, many pots and pans manufacturers now have these.
TRY FOR SIZE
Ask yourself what you want to use that specific pan for. Is it just to fry that sunny-side up egg for breakfast or do you want something that you’ll want to use for your stir-fries for a family of four? Consider the number of people you’ll be cooking for as it will help you come to a decision.
NON-STICK OR STAINLESS STEEL?
Non-stick pans are easy to clean, which is great for the time-challenged. Don’t stinge on a non-stick pan; buy the best you can afford as the non-stick coating will be better quality and will last much longer. Also, if you prefer mid- to low-heat cooking, a non-stick is better; and if things you cook tend to be sticky, like eggs, non-stick is the way to go.
Stainless steel pans are usually preferred by chefs because they conduct heat evenly, which helps with even cooking, but good stainless steel pans are heavier. They’re a little trickier to manage, and if you haven’t had enough practice, you could burn your food and have to deal with sticking. There is a technique: Turn heat to high, then turn down and swirl drop of oil around. Leave for a minute or so and then add food. Basically, you want the “pores” of the pan to close up while you’re cooking and food will be less likely to stick.
Pans like the new WMF Speed Profi (pictured) give you the benefits of a stainless steel pan. It’s designed to be able to go up to 300 C (most non-sticks withstand about 260 C), so you can get that nice sear on your steak. It’s also got an innovative Rapid Heat Technology in its base, which allows the pan to be responsive to temperature changes. So, if you’re cooking your vegetables in the pan juices, you can bring down the heat quickly without risk of burning your greens. The clever ergonomic plastic handle is also designed with flame protection. The Speed Profi comes in two sizes, 24 cm ($199) and 28 cm ($239), and is available at leading department stores.