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The Best Skillet for Your Kitchen for Under $50 + 5 One-Pan Recipes

Not all skillets are created equally. There's a time and place for all of the possible options you could find, from nonstick skillets to stainless steel skillets to cast iron skillets. When you're shopping for a skillet that covers most of your needs, there are a few questions you should ask when you're browsing the shelves, or the online shelves. What will you be using your skillet for in everyday situations? Do name brands matter to you because you're loyal to one? How many different cooking tasks do you expect your skillet to master?

It's often not easy to answer the questions when you're confronted with 30+ choices, but here are a few basic answers. More often than not, a 12-inch skillet will be the biggest size you need, whether you live alone or are feeding a family of four.

You'll want something that performs well at high heat so you can get the perfect sear on chicken and steak before placing them in the oven. Stainless steel is okay, and all-clad stainless steel skills are popular choices, but I prefer a good old fashioned cast iron. However, cleaning a cast iron skillet (and re-seasoning) isn't the most natural skill. So enter, the best skillet for under $50 that completely changed the way I cooked.

The Pioneer Woman's 12-inch Cast Iron Enamel Skillet was a birthday gift I received from my mother (thanks, Mom!) after complaining that my 10-inch cast iron skillet just wasn't quite big enough to do everything I needed. I cook a lot of one-pan dinners and prefer to cook pasta noodles right in the skillet, so I wanted something with enough depth and width to hold a sizable meal that provides leftovers for us (myself and my hungry live-in boyfriend). Clocking in at $39.97, this skillet is seriously a steal for its function and size. Living in a small apartment, I'm limited to the amount of pans I can reasonably store, so having a fry pan that is multi-functional is a must.

While stainless steel cookware is a good option, I prefer the qualities of cast iron that are impossible to beat. You don't need a lifetime warranty on a traditional cast iron skillet because it's just that reliable. The nonstick qualities of cast iron enamel skillets are unbeatable and nothing is as satisfying as deglazing this Pioneer Woman skillet, watching the brown flecks release easily and come to the surface. It's enough to make even professional chefs swoon.

I'm a firm believer in cast iron cookware all around. My go-to pan used to be a 10-inch cast iron skillet (actually, it's The Pioneer Woman 10-inch Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron), but this cast iron enamel skillet is exactly what I needed. The helper handle makes taking the skillet from stovetop to oven an easy task, which is perfect because I love browning chicken thighs before baking them. For that reason, I can confidently say it fits into my cooking process seamlessly.

Additionally, the handle even fits with my Lodge Silicon Hot Handle Holder for stovetop control. As someone who has almost no fingerprints left from one too many kitchen burns, a handle that works with the silicone holder is a necessity.

The skillet's two pour spouts make pouring out extra grease or bacon fat into my mason jars a breeze and they're just big enough to get a quick, thick, and even flow. The fact that there's two, well, have you ever tried to maneuver a heavy skillet around just to get to the pour spout? It's not fun.

Cleaning the skillet is so easy, and quicker because it's enameled cast iron. The heat retention and heat distribution are fantastic, especially at high temperatures, and the nonstick surface heats evenly - no hot spots or cold spots on this baby. They're all hot. It comes to medium heat in about four minutes, which is just the amount of time I need to get my ingredients together.

The enamel is a nonstick coating that requires little immediate care. The cooking surface is large enough for at least five chicken thighs, or four and some red potatoes and onions. There's no hint of a metallic taste on the food after, a common problem with stainless steel pans.

I have the nonstick pan in Plum because I'm a fan of deeper colors that remind me of homemade ceramic glazes. The color is muted just enough, but also hasn't faded or experienced chipping one bit since October, when I received the 12-inch fry pan. However, it's also available in a bright turquoise, a crisp linen, and a classic red.

Overall, if there's one frying pan I recommend, it's this 12-inch, great skillet from Ree's nonstick cookware collection that surprised even critics with its form, function, and sleekness. Sure, you could splurge on a Le Creuset, a Universal Housewares, or a Cuisinart model, but for so much less money, you get a skillet that is not only comparable, but surpasses its competition.

This is the best choice for every level of home cook, from college kid living on their own to busy parents who aim to get a wholesome dinner on the table every night. Now, here are the five recipes I actually make in my Pioneer Woman skillet.

1. One Skillet Chicken with Lemon Garlic Cream Sauce

One of my favorite combinations in the world is lemon and garlic (and lemon and pepper, and lemon and basically everything else) so this recipe from Little Spice Jar is on the menu at least once a week. It's easy, delicious, and with a handful of spinach tossed in, totally wholesome.

Find the recipe here.

2. One-Pot Burrito Chicken and Rice

Living in Austin, it's easy to eat everything on a tortilla. Which is why this recipe is on regular rotation - it's just filling enough for my taco-loving boyfriend to stick inside a tortilla and just substantial enough for me to eat bowl-style.

Find the recipe here.

3. One-Pot Broccoli Alfredo Pasta

From the Pioneer Woman's team comes this amazing comfort-food-in-a-skillet meal. Feeling guilty about pasta? Use some veggie rotini in place of regular pasta and enjoy guilt-free. It's the perfect last-minute dinner since you probably have the ingredients on hand.

Find the recipe here.

4. One Pot Andouille Sausage Skillet Dinner

If there's one meat that I would use in every single meal if I could, it would be Andouille sausage. The spicy taste goes a long way and when paired with pasta, it's the perfect Friday night comfort food.

Find the recipe here.

5. Cheddar and Jalapeño Skillet Cornbread

A little cornbread goes a long way, and this recipe just makes me feel like I'm eating a big ol' savory cake for dinner. Which you are, but in a good way. Oh and when the cornbread leftovers get too hard, I just eat it the way my Pappaw taught me: in a bowl of milk like cereal.

Find the recipe here.

Watch: The Fast Facts About the Pioneer Woman We Love