Okay pan peeps, it’s time for some tough talk.
A pan does not have to sit perfectly absolutely totally flat to be an excellent cooker. Really. I can assure you that even if a pan does not sit absolutely totally and completely flat and solid against the cooking surface, it may still be a fabulous pan.
Folks talk a lot about this issue with me, especially people who are new to cooking with cast iron. We recently read a comment on a forum where a person was concerned about a half-millimeter variance on the bottom of a new cast iron pan he had purchased. Really? There is apparently a common misperception that a pan has to have absolutely no movement whatsoever to be a great cooker.
That is not the case.
This is not to say that a pan that rocks or spins or has a big wobble is suitable for cooking on all cooktops. It’s not. It’s also not to say that warpage is not an important consideration when purchasing a vintage pan; it is.
It is common for pans to have some small amount of movement when pressing along the upper edge. It is particularly common with larger-sized pans and with chicken pans. In fact, it is probably more common than not that a large pan or chicken pan may have some slight movement. Does it matter? It depends. How much movement is there? A slight amount is not going to matter one whit, regardless of your cooktop. A pan that rocks or spins, however, is best suited for use on a burner with raised burners, for use on a grill or outdoors, or for baking.
Here is a vid Mary made to show the slight movement of her personal and much-loved Griswold Iron Mountain chicken pan:
I have a glass cooktop. Because of that, I do not want to use a pan that spins or rocks; I want as much of the bottom surface to be in contact with my cooktop as possible. I also do not want a pan to spin on my cooktop as I do not want to scratch my cooktop. Similarly with a convection cooktop, you want as much of the surface to be in contact with the cooktop as possible. However, I have seen pans with heat rings used on convection cooktops, where the bottom surface of the pan is not in complete contact with the cooktop, and they work just fine. All of my pans have heat rings, and I cook on a glass cooktop where the pan needs contact for the burner to work; I like to think I’m a good cook. And I know that my pans are awesome cookers.
You simply need to preheat your skillet. You should typically do this anyway when cooking with cast iron skillets. Cast iron holds its heat beautifully, of course. The entire surface of the pan does not need to have contact with the glass or convection cooktop to cook. Disabuse yourself of that notion.
Here is a video of my personal #11 ERIE pan, which I use all the time on my glass cooktop:
As you can see, my #11 pan has some slight movement when pressing along the upper edge. I do not notice this one bit when I am cooking with this pan; in fact, I did not even know it had this slight movement until I made this video for use in this blog post. It simply does not matter.
The same is true for my #12 Iron Mountain pan:
I had a person recently tell me that his glass cooktop is “fussy” and he must have a pan with absolutely no movement. I bet he heard this from someone; I bet he would love my #11 ERIE pan and not even notice that it had some slight movement.
There is a big difference between this:
There is also a difference between a pan that has significant warping, like this:
and a pan that has a slight movement when pressing along the top, like this:
There is also a difference between a pan that you can make move a bit when pressing very hard on the rim of the pan – you can probably make just about any pan move if you press hard enough along the rim – like this:
And a pan that spins:
Try an experiment. Take one of your pans that you think “sits flat,” and place it on a flat countertop, cooktop, or table. Make sure there are no crumbs or specks of stuff on either the bottom of the pan or the flat surface. Now, take a business card or piece of paper. Run it along the the bottom edge of the pan. Can you slide it between any part of the bottom of the pan and the flat surface to any extent in any area at all? If you can, you can make an argument that the entire bottom of the pan does not “sit flat,” because there is that minuscule space between the bottom of the pan and the flat surface.
Ask yourself: Do you do some type of precision cooking that requires no movement whatsoever and a perfectly flat and level pan? If so, what kind of cooking is that? Do you even have a pan like that? If you think a pan must have no movement whatsoever, why do you think that? Is it because that’s what someone told you, or because you have personal experience with the issue? I bet it’s the former.
Even if your pan sits flat on the outer edges, how do you know there isn’t an ever-so-slight bowing upward in the middle of the pan? Of course you could take a level and examine it from all aspects, but isn’t that just a bit … as they say … “precious?” I had a person ask me to drop a teaspoon of oil in the middle of a pan and tell him whether the oil stayed in the center or whether it moved at all toward the outer edge of the pan. The oil spread ever so slightly. He nixed that pan. I wondered what kind of cooking he did that required that a teaspoon of oil not spread at all from the center of the pan.
Check your non-cast iron pans. Do they each sit absolutely perfectly flat? I bet some of your larger ones don’t. I have a Revere Ware saucepan that I use that rocks when liquid within it is boiling. Do I still use that pan? You bet. Would I prefer it didn’t rock when a liquid inside of it was heated to boiling? Yes. Does it matter? No.
I recently bought a number 14 Griswold Iron Mountain pan for my personal collection. As I purchased it based on photos and description alone, I asked the seller about the amount of movement of the pan when pressing along the upper edge. As noted, it is not at all uncommon for those larger pans, in particular, to have a bit of movement. The seller told me that when he folded a piece of cardstock in half and slipped it between the pan bottom and flat top while pressing on the opposite side, the pan sat flat. That worked for me – a movement that insignificant is not going to make one bit of difference in my cooking. I have called that a “dime’s worth” in some of my listings. What that means is that if I slip a dime beneath the area of the pan that moves when I press on the opposite side of the rim, the dime stops the movement. To me, that just doesn’t matter. A “nickel’s worth” means a nickel stops the movement. Does that matter? It depends. It depends on the size of the pan (a small pan with a nickel’s worth of movement will likely rock – a large one will not) and my cooktop and how I use the pan.
My personal chef’s skillet rocks, but it also rocks as great omelette pan.
This is a beautiful Griswold Iron Mountain #8 pan with heat ring; it has just the slightest of movement. Would it bother you? I wouldn’t think so.
Give this some thought. Think about what you need for your planned usage of a pan. Can it tolerate a slight bit of movement? I bet it can. Can it tolerate a dime’s worth? Probably. A nickel? Depends.
Think about it.
Written by Mary!
Updated: Mary made a short vid that you may find helpful in dealing with this issue when you are trying to select a skillet that is just perfect for your needs. You can find it here. Note – that particular pan has sold.