Friday, July 2, 2010

Saturday Quick Hit: How To Buy A Grill Pan

Good morning everyone! (Technically, I'm typing this on Friday evening, but no one will really see it until Saturday morning...) It's the 4th of July weekend (hooray!) which marks the (unofficial) midpoint of summer. (And, alternatively always seems to mark the point where the rest of the summer zooms right past!) This holiday weekend is typically associated with the outdoors, family - friends and food. Most importantly, grilling!

We've done a lot of grilling on the blog lately, although not in the traditional sense. As we've noted, we recently acquired a grill pan, and as I'm sure you've noticed, we've put it to good use already. Nearly every recipe I've tried in the past two weeks (minus the beef wellington recipe) has used our gill pan in some form.

I really am enjoying the multiple uses and extra adaptability this product is adding to our kitchen. It truly has open up many other avenues for recipes and different approaches to cooking our dishes. Using a grill pan on certain cuts of meat (steaks and chicken for us, that's all we've had the ability to test so far) really generates new ways to create amazing flavors that simple pan frying cannot produce.

What's funny is up until a few months ago, I had never even heard of a grill pan. When I first learned that such a pan existed, I scoffed - "What is the purpose of a grill pan?" I wondered, "It doesn't seem to do anything different than a frying pan". Well, I've since learned that a grill pan allows you to char and sear meat in ways frying pans can only dream of - and a good grill pan can reach extremely hot temperatures, something a common frying pan cannot safely do.

So yes, I do recommend adding a grill pan to your kitchen arsenal, if you do not already own one. However, there are some tips to buying a good grill pan - because if you choose a poor grill pan you will not be very happy with the results. Below I've listed the top five tips I've found to buying a good grill pan. I used all five and am very happy with the results.

**Note** Since I originally posted this article, I've stumbled across some more tips -some of which contradict my earlier research. As such, I've amended the article below to include both viewpoints whenever I've come across a contradiction.

In addition, since I've edited this article a few times now, the formatting is a little messy. If your version shows the text randomly getting smaller in the center, I apologize. Once again, you get what you pay for with the Google blogger tool. While this tool is amazing most of the time, sometimes it causes formatting issues that can be a real headache. On my end - everything looks fine. When you view the website, however, everything gets a little...out of whack. I apologize in advance for a less than desirable presentation with this article.

Our grill pan

#1 Find a good, thick pan

There are many grill pans on the market, and they are not all the same. The largest difference between a quality grill pan and a piece of junk pan lies in the thickness of the pan. The easiest way to see this difference is to simply reach around the back of the pan and feel. If you can feel the ridges of the grill on the bottom of the pan - walk away. These pans are no thicker than a standard frying pan and simply will not take or contain the heat that a thick grill pan will. I was shocked at how many - very expensive - grill pans fell to this problem. Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and even some Williams & Sonoma pans all came up very thin. I found our grill pan at TJ Maxx for $19. It just goes to show, price is not an indicator of quality in all cases.

There are some, such as the folks at America's Test Kitchen, who swear by a grill pan that has the indentations showing. They claim this allows the heat to transfer faster and speeds up cooking time. I've read just as many websites that say the exact opposite, however. America's test kitchen claims that you need to still find a thick pan (with the indentations) - I've found this rather difficult. The pan they recommend is over $90 - which could be out of budget for a lot of people. From all of my research I've reached one conclusion. You need to find a thick grill pan, regardless of indentations showing on the bottom or not. If you are looking to save a little cash, you can purchase a grill pan with a copper core. If money is no object, find a thick pan that shows the indentations - just be prepared to spend close to $100.

That top ridge is the thickness of our pan - that's what you're looking for

#1.5 Find a pan with a copper core

This was originally #3 on the list, but since I've found some more information, I'm simply merging this tip with #1. As I mentioned, a solid bottomed pan with a copper core is going to be your most cost effective option. A copper core will conduct heat quickly from your heat source throughout the entire pan. Since a copper core allows you to heat your pan faster, you can achieve goals such as searing the mushrooms from Thursday's recipe and then move onto cooking your steaks in a very short period of time.

Pans with a copper core will typically have a base that looks like this notice 2 things: 
1. You cannot see the grill 'ridges' from the bottom of the pan 
2. The abuse our pan has taken already! 

#2 Cast iron grill pans are your friend

Ideally, your grill pan should be cast iron (and non-stick!). Cast iron contains its heat better than aluminum pans and that will greatly help your cooking time. Many recipes that call for a grill pan do so assuming that you can throw the meat on, sear or char it quickly and be done. Spending time turning and babysitting your cut of meat on a pan that can't keep up with the heat will only delay your recipe and in some cases (like our charred mushrooms from Thursday -which had to be charred fast) could even ruin the dish!

#3 Find a pan with high ridges 

The higher the grilling ridges on your pan, the greater caramelization you will achieve while cooking. Grill lines appear more defined, and the searing process is enhanced - all good things for your cut of meat, and the overall recipe. The taller the ridges, the better the caramelization, the better the end result. 

#4 Buy a pan with a drainage spout

Quality pans will come with some form of drain or spout on the side. This allows you to dispose of grease and other liquid droppings easily after you've finished cooking. This also allows you to salvage said juices if you plan on making a gravy or sauce.

Grill pans, teapots - they both have spouts - only one has a song though 

# 5 Choose a grill pan with a hard-anodized surface

This will prevent cracking and chipping in your pan - guaranteeing it will last a long time. You grill pan will take some abuse. Cooking on a grill pan is generally fast and aggressive. Get in, get out, get on cooking. You will knock the pan around and scratch at it from time to time. A hardy finish on the pan will keep it looking nice (and in one piece) well after the pan's first use.

We store our pan on the wall, right above the stove - easy access! 

That's all we have for you today! I hope you enjoyed our Saturday quick hit. More importantly, I hope you know have the knowledge necessary to make a good grill pan purchase. Use this weekend to go out and seek a grill pan from your retailer of choice. If you keep (and follow) these five tips in mind, you will not be disappointed with what you buy. A grill pan is simply a kitchen necessity - and it's a lot of fun to use!

We're back on Sunday with a breakfast recipe that is sure to grab your attention. Stop in then to see what we're cooking next! Until Sunday, 



  1. Would you mind if i ask the brand name of your pan? I might try to find the same. Thank you :)

  2. The brand we're currently using is Calphalon. While it's not the same pan as pictured in the article (sadly, that one lost its handle and had to be put down...) it is a very good (if not better) grill pan than our original. You can find this brand most commonly at Target.