The 10 Best Stir Fry Pans
10. Cook N Home Nonstick
9. Cuisinart Chef's Classic
8. Bialetti Aeternum 11-Inch
7. Anolon Nouvelle
6. Kasian House 12"
5. T-fal Specialty
4. Cate Maker Aluminum
3. Rachael Ray Cucina
2. TeChef Art
1. Calphalon Tri-Ply
Cooking with Sizzle: The Stir-Fry Pan
Stir-fry cooking is a great technique for the chef who loves to prepare hot, fresh, flavorful meals that are ready quickly. It is a more hands-on approach to food preparation than many other cooking styles, with near constant activity required, but many stir-fried meals are also ready in a matter of minutes.
Whether you are a longtime devotee of this traditional Chinese cooking technique or of you are just getting into the style, choosing the right stir-fry pan is essential for ensuring you thoroughly enjoy the method and create foods you will be proud to serve to friends and family alike.
The first consideration you must make in choosing your stir-fry pan is simply to select a frying pan that can accommodate the volume of food you need to prepare. Most stir-fry pans are deep and wide, perfect for keeping foods moving about while minimizing the risk of spilled ingredients. But while the shape may be semi-standard, the volume of food a given pan can handle varies widely. Some stir-fry pans measure only ten inches across and may be adequate for cooking two-person meals or for preparing a side dish or single ingredient alone, while others measure fourteen inches across and can be used to cook a meal large enough for an entire family.
Once you know the size of the stir-fry pan you want, next consider the design. Beyond the bowl-shape (the approximation of a wok, essentially) you will find in most stir-fry pans, consider handle design and placement. Many stir-fry pans have a heat-protected grip opposite the primary handle which is ideal for hefting a pan heavily laden with food. Others have single handles long enough that they can be grasped with both hands.
Next consider materials: a thick, robust stir-fry pan made from stainless steel and with an aluminum core will heat quickly and evenly, will hold heat well, and will last for years. These pans also tend to require an involved cleanup process, and might be outside the budget of some chefs.
Stir-fry pans with nonstick interior linings offer several excellent benefits, including the need for only minimal oil. As these pans resist food getting stuck thanks to their inherent design, you can keep your foods moving with just a dash or two of oil, and you can choose an oil based more on its flavor profile than its property as a lubricant.
Nonstick pans do have their drawbacks as well, however. Many such pans are thinner than their steel counterparts and don't hold heat as well or as evenly. The nonstick lining of such cookware is also easily scratched by metal utensils or worn off by repeated cleanings, which can leave you with a pan that underperforms over time and will need to be replaced eventually. Some people also have health concerns about the chemicals and compounds used to create nonstick surfaces. (Teflon and other such coatings are generally regarded as safe by the medical and scientific communities, but these are relatively new substances and long-term longitudinal studies are still needed before this can be firmly established.)
Stir-Fry Cooking: A Centuries-Old Technique
Today, stir-fry cooking is most closely associated with Asian cuisines, with Chinese food being the first variety most people think of. In -his case, the notion is no mere stereotype, but is supported by historical fact. Archeological and scholarly studies have uncovered evidence of large pans being used to for preparing grains as early as the Han Dynasty, which commenced near the end of the third century BCE. Wok-style pans were initially used only for drying grains, however, with rice or other starchy foods stirred about in dry pans over high heats. The cooking technique today associated with stir-frying -- with the use of hot oil and rapidly moving foods -- was not seen regularly until the Ming Dynasty, which commenced in the latter half of the 14th century.
Ironically, given its association with casual cooking today, stir-frying was initially an uncommon technique often reserved for royalty or upper-class citizens. This was due to the relative scarcity and high cost of the oils used for stir-fry cooking. As oil production became easier and more affordable, the technique was more widely used across a wider socioeconomic swath.
While stir-frying was introduced to many parts of America by Asian immigrants streaming into the country in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the term stir-fry was not used in English until the 1940s. In the year 1945, the seminal cookbook How To Cook and Eat in Chinese by Buwei Yang Chao introduced Westerners to Chinese food in a way never before seen. The book featured over 200 recipes, with ingredient lists and procedures translated into plain English. Chinese food was finally accessible to the average American chef, and stir-fry cooking was soon a mainstay of kitchens across the United States.
A Few Tips for Stir-Fried Perfection
One of the primary considerations to make when it comes to stir-fry cooking is which oil you will use. You should opt for a high-heat cooking oil (an oil with a high smoke point, e.g.) that will not easily burn and will respond well to the addition of a range of foods, especially those with high moisture content that might overwhelm a lower-heat oil. Examples of high-heat oils ideal for stir-frying are peanut oil and sesame oil, both of which will also impart a bit of flavor to your foods. Corn and soybean oil are both examples of flavor-neutral high-heat oil. Avoid options like olive or avocado oil, which will smoke and burn too quickly.
Next, make sure you are using the right tools for the stirring aspect of stir-fry cooking. A wooden spoon or spatula is always the best choice for this technique, as it will not scratch the pan, allowing you to vigorously move your food about without worrying about damaging your hardware. Wood also won't conduct heat back to your fingers.
Finally, make sure you plan ahead when making stir-fried meals. Many meats and veggies that are cut into smaller pieces may only be in the pan for a minute or so before they are properly cooked, so to avoid overcooking your ingredients, lay everything out on the counter ahead of time and in a logical order. Also, don't overlook the need to have a clean plate or other receptacle into which you can deposit a food once it is cooked.