How To: Deep Frying Without a Deep Fryer: Which Pan Is Best for the Job?

Deep Frying Without a Deep Fryer: Which Pan Is Best for the Job?

I don't deep fry food that often, mostly because it uses a ton of oil, which is expensive, and the cleanup is a son of a mother. (That oil really splatters everywhere.) Plus, no matter how careful you are, you will get hit by hot oil at some point and it will not be pleasant.

I tend to default to using my cast-iron skillet because it's a great way to season the pan, and having a heavy skillet is best for conducting heat evenly. Plus, as users over at Chowhound point out, the temperature of cooking oil drops once you add food, but cast iron retains heat like almost nothing else.

Cast iron is commonly the pan of choice for people deep frying at home. Image via Lone Stars and Stripes

However, as great as cast iron is, it's hefty and unwieldy, especially when it comes time to drain and store or dispose of said cooking oil. So I'm always on the lookout for an alternative that doesn't involve buying an actual deep fryer because who needs to have that kind of temptation lying around?

Stainless Steel & Enamel Work Well

The Kitchn votes yes on enamel or stainless steel pans for frying if cast-iron isn't available. You just want to be sure to avoid anything nonstick—you don't know what kind of chemicals are being loosened with that much hot oil bubbling above it.

Enamel-coated cast iron is fine for deep frying, but if may discolor the surface after a while. Image via Rose Water & Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood

Modernist Cuisine recommends using a deep pot and a stainless steel strainer for fishing out the deep-fried items. This mimics the abilities of the deep fryers they have in professional kitchens—but man, talk about using a lot of oil!

The People (& Cooking Pros) Have Spoken...

However, the resounding recommendation among professionals and experienced home cooks for the best deep-frying vessel surprised me. Serious Eats, Cook's Illustrated, and the users at The Kitchn and Chowhound agree that the wok is the perfect vehicle for deep frying food.

Its sloped sides minimize splatters and contact with oil while its funnel shape requires less oil than Western cooking pans. Meanwhile, you can still fry a lot of food in a wok because of the amount of surface area available at the top of the pan.

The large surface area the wok provides means it can fry a big amount of food. Image by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt/Serious Eats

I haven't tried deep frying in my wok just yet, but I'm a little torn between breaking out that old standby or investing in a chicken fryer pan, which also comes in cast iron.

These pans used to be fairly common but have fallen out of vogue as it became less common to deep fry food at home. However, their long handles are supposed to make it easy to maneuver the pans and avoid oil splatters, while the heavy lids are designed to help keep the frying food moist (although some might argue it'll keep them from getting crispy).

What kind of pan do you think is best for deep frying food?

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Cover image via Shutterstock, Takeaway/Wikimedia Commons


I have been deep frying in my wok for years and years...chicken, shrimp, potatoes, anything. You can always toss a splatter screen on top to avoid the mess.

Once I started researching it, it does make sense.

I was wondering and this confirms my suspicians that cast iron pans would be good for deep frying. I was using a small teflon pan and it was just too messy.

My favorite deep fryer of choice is my 40 year old cast iron dutch oven. It does a better job than my $300 automatic deep fryer and it's easier to clean and recondition with minimal effort. I am so happy with it I keep another one working at a lower temperature as a second stage deep fryer.

Electric skillet is my go-to for deep frying. Terrific temperature control, light enough to handle, large surface area, just all around the perfect tool for me to deep fry with.

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