There’s no real substitute for firing up the grill and cooking food over open flame, but not everybody has the space (or desire) for one at home. And while the grill itself may get quite hot, cooking outside on a cold winter’s day isn’t always a ton of fun.
That’s where grill pans come in. Grill pans are an easy way to get the look of cooking food on the grill, and maybe even a little bit of the feel. Are they as good as actually using the grill, and will they give you that smoky grill flavor? No – but if you’re limited on space but want charring and grill marks, then a grill pan might be the addition to your kitchen arsenal you’re looking for.
The Best Grill Pans of 2019 – Our Picks
Best Cast Iron Grill Pan: Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Grill Pan
Budget Buy: Lodge 10.5” Square Cast Iron Grill Pan
Best Non-Stick Grill Pan: All Clad Hard Anodized 11” Grill Pan
Runner Up Non-Stick Pan: Calphalon Contemporary Hard-Anodized Square Grill Pan
What is a Grill Pan, and Why Use One? Pros of the Design
A grill pan is a stovetop pan with a wide, flat shape, often rectangular or square, with ridges on the bottom that imitate the cooking surface of a grill. Generally, they are built of cast iron, but are also often made from aluminum, ceramic, or stainless steel – common materials for skillets and frying pans.
The ridges on the bottom of the pan do a few things. Besides giving your food those attractive grill marks, making it look like you fired up gas grill out back when really, you were just hunched over a crowded stove, they also do a good job of giving your food char and blackening.
This is thanks to the pan’s increased surface area. All those ridges on the bottom of the pan add up to far more surface area than a uniformly flat pan. The heat being conducted through the bottom of the pan from the flame is conducted into the ridges, which then get much hotter than a regular pan does, helping the food contacting the metal cook faster and hotter.
The result? More charring, and a more grill-like experience.
The valleys between the ridges also provide means for moisture to escape, keeping surface temperature more even and uniform during cooking. When cooking very fatty foods, grease drippings can collect and run off between the ridges, imitating grill grates. That’s essential for making a real burger.
What’s the Best Material To Look For In A Grill Pan?
The best grill pans are made from cast-iron, the best material for searing meats on very high heat.
Why? Cast-iron is very thick and conducts and transmits heat more evenly than other materials. Food cooks more uniformly and browns more effectively, giving those steaks and burgers a real sear that thinner metals simply can’t replicate.
Cast-iron is also effectively non-stick- when properly seasoned and taken care of. It’s easy to clean and your won’t have to scrape your food off as it burns.
Other common grill pan materials include aluminum and stainless steel. Aluminum heats evenly and transfers that heat to your food well – though not as well as cast iron. It’s also inexpensive.
Aluminum is not, however, particularly durable, or a good cooking surface; acidic foods can react with it, which can change the food’s texture and taste. Aluminum works best when hard anodized, which makes it stronger and gives it a smoother cooking surface.
Stainless steel – unlike aluminum – is strong, durable and easy-to-clean. It’s just not very good at conducting and transferring heat, making it a poor choice for a grill pan when good searing is needed. As such, you can usually find stainless steel pans paired with an aluminum or copper core, combining the best of durability, even heat conduction and transfer, and easy-clean cooking surface.
The Reviews: Finding the Best Grill Pans
Best Cast Iron Grill Pan: Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Grill Pan
Le Creuset cookware isn’t cheap, but if you’re after quality and craftmanship, there’s no other choice. This 10 ¼” square grill pan is made from heavy-duty, hardened and enameled cast-iron made for decades of regular use.
The cast-iron construction allows for even heating, retention and transfer. Food cooks and sears perfectly, and the ridges impart grill marks while letting fat drain away. It’s also quite durable; the colorful enamel coating protects the cast iron surface and resists chipping and cracking. This is a durable pan that will last a long, long time. The enamel cooking surface is also non-stick and dishwasher-safe and Le Creuset claims no seasoning is required.
Finally, it’s got two handles; the opposite grab handle means it’s easy to pick up and move around while cooking, and both handles are thick and strong enough to handle the weight of the pan.
It’s expensive. The Le Creuset quality is worth it, but yes, you could buy a half-dozen (or more) other cast iron grill pans for the same price. It’s also a bit difficult to clean. While Le Creuset says it doesn’t need seasoning, many cooks find that burned food does stick to the surface and can be difficult to get off.
Budget Buy: Lodge 10.5” Square Cast Iron Grill Pan
If you haven’t got the money to splurge on a Le Creuset pan, you’re still in luck. This cast-iron grill pan from trusty Lodge costs a fraction of the Le Creuset’s asking price, without sacrificing anything in the cooking department.
As with most Lodge cast-iron pans, this thing is cheap and durable. That’s usually why people buy them; they last years of rugged use when taken care of, but don’t the bank. Cast-iron construction means it’s great for cooking, searing and “grilling,” conducting heat evenly for perfect searing and browning, every time. Use this grill pan and your steak might come out looking like one from a real steakhouse, but at a fraction of the price.
Finally, it’s non-stick. With proper seasoning and care, you can sear food and clean it up easily without using cooking spray or excessive amounts of oil.
At 6.5 pounds, this pan is heavy. Cast-iron is always heavy, yes – but this pan is considerably heavier than similar models, such as the Le Creuset Signature Grill Pan. Quality control is also a bit lacking: reports of damaged or miscast pans from the factory are common – though this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise considering the price tag. Inspect yours upon receiving.
Best Non-Stick Grill Pan: All-Clad Hard Anodized 11” Grill Pan
Not into cast iron, and prefer the lightweight, easy-cooking and cleaning of a non-stick grill pan? Try this hard-anodized aluminum pan from All-Clad – another longtime trusted name in cookware that makes pans so durable, you’ll be handing them down to your grandchildren.
This All-Clad pan is non-stick, with a non-toxic and durable PFOA-coating consisting of three layers designed to resist scratches. This keeps cooking and cleaning easy, leaving less burned food and residue behind.
The hard-anodized aluminum heats rapidly and evenly. It browns meat well, steaks are seared well, and grill marks plenty. The pan will also last a long, long time – your grandparents’ All-Clad cookware is probably still in use somewhere. It also has an Anti-Warp base and is oven-safe up to 500 degrees – so you can stick it right in the oven to finish a meal, just like cast-iron.
It’s not induction compatible. Aluminum isn’t magnetic and won’t work on your induction cooktop. Go with cast-iron if you need one for an induction cooktop. It’s also moderately heavy, at 4 pounds – not nearly as heavy as a cast-iron piece but still heavier than most aluminum pans.
Runner Up: Calphalon Contemporary Hard-Anodized Square Grill Pan
If you like the non-stick coating and light weight of the All Clad Grill Pan above, but want to spend a bit less, Calphalon has you covered. This heavy-duty, reasonably-large aluminum pan is light and has a safe and non-toxic non-stick coating.
The heavy-gauge aluminum construction ensures even, consistent heating throughout. Even heating means well-browned food, whether you’re making steaks or grilling vegetables. The pan is also hard anodized, meaning it’s tough, durable and built to last – 80% harder than stainless steel, to be exact. It’s also crafted from a single piece of aluminum so there are no weld seams or weak points.
The PFOE-free non-stick coating uses three layers – the first two layers of non-stick provide durability and scratch resistance while the third layer provides “easy release” of food – it won’t stick. It’s easy to clean, in addition to being dishwasher safe. Finally, the long, stainless steel handle stay cools on the hot stove so you don’t burn yourself in the heat of the moment.
The coating sometimes flakes off. Some people have reported coating flaking off (especially on the bottom of the pan), while many others say it lasts years of heavy use. It also scratches quite easily; avoid using metal tools to avoid damaging the coating.
Honorable Mention: OXO Good Grips Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 11”
Stainless steel isn’t as good a cooking surface as cast-iron or aluminum but does have its own perks such as durability and easy cleaning. Paired with an aluminum or copper core, it can make a solid cooking piece. This Oxo Good Grips stainless steel pan is a good example.
A three-ply construction makes this grill pan good at cooking, durable and easy to clean; an aluminum core conducts and radiates heat efficiently and evenly, while 18/10 stainless steel layers on either side add strength, durability and a smooth, easy-clean surface that can be stuck in the dishwasher. Stainless steel is also magnetic, so it can be used on induction cooktops. It’s also oven safe up to 430F. And, since there’s no non-stick coating, it won’t peel or scratch over time. The handle also stays cool during cooking.
Stainless steel may be easy to clean, but it isn’t non-stick. There’s no coating to prevent sticking, and you can’t season it the way you can cast-iron. You’ll need to use plenty of cooking oil or spray, and ensure the pan is adequately heated before cooking, to keep food from sticking. Clean-up is best done right away. And, even with the aluminum core and ridges, the stainless-steel cooking surface won’t create the same searing and browning as cast-iron.
Mineral B Round Carbon Steel Grill Pan 12.5”
Made in France, Mineral B pans are touted as the easier, lighter alternative to cast iron, with fantastic heat conduction, transfer and browning. This round grill pan is made of 99% iron and 1% carbon, with a totally natural beeswax finish for seasoning and protection against oxidation.
The carbon steel build is excellent for browning and searing meat, with great conduction and heat transfer. It’s also super durable. The beeswax finish does help prevent oxidation and provides a bit of non-stick seasoning. Like cast-iron, the more you cook with the pan, the more it will be naturally seasoned.
The gently-sloped, round, French-style fry pan shape makes it easy to slide food onto your plate, and the ridge cooking surface gives you the grill marks you expect from a grill pan. The long, riveted handle is sturdy, too.
This pan is heavy, at over 5 pounds. It can be difficult to wield and sliding food directly onto a plate isn’t always easy. It’s also quite small when you take the tall, sloped sides into account. It comes in two sizes, so be sure to select the size you need; the smaller size is only just large enough for fried egg or two. Finally, it’s not conduction cooktop-compatible.
Other Considerations For Choosing A Grill Pan
Price: Sticking to your budget is important, but you don’t need to spend a lot to get a good grill pan. You can find quality, effectively heated pan for as little as $20 and $30; spend $50+ and you’ll have your pick of the best grill pans available.
Non-stick Surface: If you’re not looking at a cast-iron pan, try to get one with a non-stick surface – preferably one free of PFUA’s and PFOA’s. Stainless steel and aluminum tend to stick, and a good coating can make all the difference.
Dishwasher Safe? Sticking your pan in the dishwasher is a lot easier than washing by hand; be sure to choose a dishwasher-safe pan if you like to let a machine clean up after you.
Induction Compatibility: Not all pans can be used on conduction cooktops; it must be made of a magnetic material to be compatible. Cast iron works, as does stainless steel, among others. Check the particulars of the pan before making your decision.