Expert shopping: Paella pans

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With travel options being limited these days and plans replaced with nights at home, there’s no better time to turn to your kitchen for an adventure. And although your palette may prefer a trip to Spain for authentic dishes, you can still spice things up on your own and enjoy mouth-watering dishes like paella, without leaving home. All you need are the ingredients, confidence and, most importantly, the right pan.

SKIP AHEAD Best pans for paella

Although it may be possible to whip up this classic saffron rice dish with a skillet that you already have, it’s the standard paella pan that will make the difference between a soggy dinner and that flavorful, dinner complete with socarrat, or caramelized rice crust. “It’s the crispy, delicious end to the meal,” says Lolo Manso, chef and owner of Socarrat Paella Bar. “Generally, there isn’t much on the pan, so in Spain, we usually fight over the socarrat.”

What is a paella pan?

A paella pan is wide and completely flat, sporting a sloping edge. “In the past, the pans were all iron-based as this was an affordable form. It requires maintenance of scraping after use but makes delicious socarrat, the lightly burned sticky and crunchy rice,” explains Manso. Socarrat forms as a result of increasing heat in the final minutes of cooking. “Nowadays, non-stick pans made of cast iron are available for easy maintenance — but making the socarrat will not be easy,” he said.

Socarrat Paella Bar owner Chef Lolo Manso whips up seafood paella with a focus on socarrat: the crusty bottom that becomes caramelized along the paella pan as it cooks.Courtesy Socarrat Paella Bar

A paella pan’s unique shape is all about rice, the wide surface allowing it to cook through as thin a layer as possible without leaving any water or steam. “Traditionally, rice was cooked in a pot and had a watery texture but the paella pan was created to make rice with a dry texture,” explained Diego René, head chef at Beluga and Kraken in Málaga, Spain. “And curiously, although the whole world, including Spain, refers to the yellow rice dish as paella, ‘paella’ is actually specifically the name of this flat pan.”

Traditionally made from carbon steel, paella pans are thin, which make them very responsive to changes in heat. They can go from full blast heat to simmer in seconds. “This is important so that we can achieve the perfect rice texture and the socarrat, the best part of the paella,” added Daniel Lopez, a chef from Barcelona and owner of Time to Taste Catering in South Carolina. “Paella pans are also large because you want to cook the rice as thin as possible so that there’s the least amount of pressure so that the starch from the rice doesn’t release.”

Which type of paella pan is right for you?

Although people tend to think that these pans are only good for one thing — paella — you can also use them to sauté and roast, as well. “They’re generally inexpensive and are also great over the grill or an open fire,” said Frank Proto, director of culinary operations at the Institute of Culinary Education. But to find the right one for you, he suggests first taking into account not only how much you want to spend but also which material you’re most comfortable cooking with.

Other than the type of metal you prefer, there are some other factors to take into consideration before buying your new paella pan:

  1. Heat source. “How are you going to cook the paella: over the fire or in an induction?” asked Nicolas Lopez, concept chef at Mercado Little Spain. “If you want to cook it in induction, you need to buy a paella pan especially for that.”
  2. The size of your heat source. Get a pan that fits your biggest burner. If you are using a charcoal grill, get one that is just smaller than the grill itself. “Build a nice base of coals, put two bricks on the grates to make a secure stand for the pan and give it a bit of elevation,” Daniel Lopez added. “Then you can cook your paella on the grill, which will give it a great smoky taste — and it will cook beautifully.”
  3. Serving size. A nice balance is a 12-inch pan with 400g of rice to serve five people, said Nicolas Lopez. However, you may have to size up for a larger family.

Best paella pans to shop

Keeping all of this in mind, here expert-approved and leading paella pans for cooking at home across materials, sizes and prices.

Best overall paella pan: Garcima

Many of our experts agree that Garcima is the way to go when shopping for paella pans and it’s not just for the price point. This 15-inch carbon steel pan can serve three to five people, conducts heat evenly and is completely versatile. “It’s perfect for a Weber grill and still fits inside most household ovens if you want to make the paella in the oven,” Daniel Lopez said.

Best budget-friendly paella pan: Garcima

Not only is the price point of this low-maintenance paella pan hard to beat but it’s also Daniel Lopez’s favorite when it comes to enameled steel options. “The Garcima 12 inch enameled paella pan is a good everyday pan that still fits in your stove top burner and can be used for more than paella,” he says. This durable pan is ideal for serving two to three and is safe for the stovetop, oven or grill.

Best cast iron pan for paella: FINEX

Although not a traditional paella pan, Daniel Lopez, turns to this FINEX skillet when cooking with cast iron. “It’s virtually indestructible, beautiful and you can cook literally anything on it,” he said. “This pan is a beauty.” The handcrafted skillet is pre-seasoned with organic flaxseed oil and features a stainless steel coiled handle to cool down faster, as well as an octagonal “multi-pour” design.

Best carbon steel paella pan: Made In

Weighing in at under five pounds, this 13-inch carbon steel pan is both lightweight and heavy duty. Made from 2 millimeter-thick blue carbon steel and designed to prevent warping, this versatile pan allows for even heating even if it’s larger than your heat source. It equips the traditional dual handles and can tolerate high temperatures for both open-flame and stovetop cooking.

Best budget-friendly carbon steel pan for paella: Lodge

Whether you’re cooking over a grill’s open fire or are whipping up paella on an electric stovetop, this versatile pan heats up quickly across heat sources. Measuring in at 15 inches, this spacious pan is surprisingly lightweight, weighing 6.42 pounds and made from durable 12-gauge carbon steel that evenly retains heat. It also comes pre-seasoned with 100-percent natural vegetable oil so it’s ready as soon as you get it.

Best enameled cast iron pan for paella: Le Creuset

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance paella pan that’s worth the investment, consider Le Creuset’s 3.25-quart, 5-pound enameled cast iron option. This wide and shallow cast iron pan helps you achieve toasty socarrat at home while the matte black enamel finish is rust-resistant and makes for an easy cleanup.

Best high-end paella pan: Demeyere

If you’re looking for a paella pan that’s worth the investment, this is the one Proto said is worth the splurge. This 18/10 stainless steel pan is both dishwasher- and oven-safe, comes with a 20-year warranty and is large enough to handle a variety of ingredients in one impressive batch. It’s also suitable for use across heat sources, including barbecue grills and induction.

Best pre-seasoned paella pan: BK

This lightweight carbon steel pan allows home chefs to develop the nonstick patina that cast iron users love without having to deal with the heft that typically comes along with it. Made from heavy-duty black carbon steel, this 15-inch pan comes pre-seasoned with an oxidation layer to prevent rust, has a two-year warranty and is ready for use out of the box. It’s also oven-safe up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit and ready for cooking over a grill and open flame.

Best stainless steel paella pan: La Tienda

Whether you’re cooking over an open fire or are staying indoors, Lopez suggests checking out this 13-inch pan for the best stainless steel option. You likely won’t have to worry about rust or seasoning with this low-maintenance pan that’s made from 18/10 gauge stainless steel. With a dimpled surface and flat bottom that’s large enough to feed four, this beautiful paella pan will become a family favorite. While this 13-inch option is currently sold out, consider the 15-inch pan.

Best paella pan for a party: Machika

10. Machika Polished Steel Paella Pan 24 inch (pre-order, ships Oct. 23)

Paella is made to be shared and, if you’re cooking for a large family or group gathering, check out this 24-inch option. With the ability to serve 19 people, this polished steel paella pan is surprisingly budget-friendly. It also has a dimpled surface to help promote even heat distribution and works on both paella burners as well as grills. But be warned: Because of its size, this pan does not fit in a typical oven or on a conventional stovetop.

Best enameled steel paella pan: La Tienda

This 20-inch paella pan has Proto’s vote when it comes to enameled steel options because it gives consumers the “best bang for your buck” while also offering impressive quality. The dishwasher-safe pan is easy to clean and serves 10-12 people. Although it won’t fit in a traditional oven, you can enjoy outdoor cooking over the grill or on a stovetop.

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