You don't have to own a wok to make a terrific stir-fry. But you do need a good 12-inch skillet.
At America's Test Kitchen, the professional testers prefer a skillet with a traditional rather than non-stick surface, precisely because they want the food to adhere slightly, to create the caramelized, browned bits, called fond, that are the foundation for great flavor.
What's more, while even the best non-stick surface will wear off eventually, a well-made traditional skillet should last a lifetime.
Skillets are simply frying pans with low, flared sides. Their shape encourages evaporation, which is why skillets excel at searing, browning and sauce reduction. Traditional versions come in three main materials: stainless steel, anodized aluminum and cast iron. The test kitchen is not a big fan of the dark surface of anodized aluminum, because it makes it hard to judge the color of fond. And while cast-iron skillets have their uses, they are cumbersome and can react with acidic sauces.
A great skillet will transmit heat evenly across its cooking surface; has a steady, moderate sauté speed and will not require endless fiddling with the temperature dial to balance any shortcomings. It also will have a generous cooking surface.
To learn how to buy a top-notch skillet go to: www.cooksillustrated.com/equipment/overview.asp?docid=18250.
Source: Cook's Illustrated