I don’t claim to be a paella expert (although I’m very good at eating it). I do however love any piece of cookware or dish that is delicious and has a rich history.
Today, I’ll be using my professional experience with paella as well as hours of research to help you better understand and choose the best paella pan.
Best Overall: Matfer Bourgeat 15.75-Inch Carbon Steel Paella Pan
I know that paella is a Spanish dish and that Spain makes a mighty fine paella pan. But, the French maker Matfer Bourgeat is one of the best when it comes to carbon steel cookware and their paella pan is hard to beat. And don’t worry, Spain dominates the rest of my picks.
There are a few things about the Matfer Bourgeat paella pan that stray from the traditional Spanish design. But, they are all things that make this the best paella pan for home use.
First is the thickness of the carbon steel. This pan is thicker and heavier than a classic Spanish carbon steel paella pan. That does mean that it takes a little longer to heat up and react to temperature changes, but only by a smidge.
It’s this heavy-duty construction that gives better heat distribution than the thinner versions. That makes it a little more forgiving when it comes to scorching ingredients while cooking. And, makes it easier to achieve an impressive socarrat across the entire bottom of the pan.
The thicker carbon steel also makes this a great pan for a variety of dishes beyond paella. Steaks, eggs, and pancakes are just a few things that come to mind. The thin, traditional pans often heat unevenly and too quickly, making them less useful for anything besides paella.
Next is the non-dimpled base. The dimpled base is traditionally used to help cook paella more evenly and also maintain the rigidity of the pan while cooking. The dimples don’t pose an issue unless you plan to cook using induction.
The flat bottom of the Matfer Bourgeat paella pan makes it usable on any cooktop including induction cooktops. And, because of the thick-gauge carbon steel, you don’t have to worry about the pan heating unevenly or warping, even when exposed to very high temperatures.
The last feature that strays from tradition is the welded handles. Instead of the customary handles that stick straight out to the side, this pan’s handles are steeply angled up. This makes them easier to grab and especially useful when cooking over hot coals or an open fire.
I generally don’t recommend buying pans that only serve one purpose. But, paella pans have always been one of my few exceptions. Now, with the Matfer Bourgeat carbon steel paella pan, you can make some of the best paella and have a high-quality pan for many other uses.
What we like
- Even heat and fewer hot spots than a traditional paella pan
- Angled handles are well designed and easy to grab
- Heavy gauge carbon steel make it useful for more than just paella
What We don’t
- More expensive than many similar sized options
- Strays from the traditional design
Best Value: Garcima 15-Inch Carbon Steel Paella Pan
For a well-made, traditional option, look no further than the carbon steel paella pan from Garcima. Not only is this a very customary construction, but it should easily fit into most people’s budgets.
Garcima is one of the biggest and most well-known manufacturers of paella pans in the world. They’re located in Valencia, Spain, which just happens to be the birthplace of the pan and the dish.
Just like my best overall pick, this is constructed from raw, carbon steel. That means it can develop non-stick properties with proper care, but it also means it is susceptible to rust when handled incorrectly.
The carbon steel is thinner than my top pick, but still sturdy enough that you shouldn’t encounter any warping during regular use.
The other thing to keep in mind with the thinner material is that it heats very quickly. That can be very useful when making paella since you can quickly adjust the temperature as needed. It also means that it can have poor heat distribution, so you may need to rotate and adjust the pan now and then for the best results.
The large, riveted loop handles on either side are easy to grab. But, since they stick almost straight out to the sides, they end up being very low and close to the cooktop or fire while cooking.
For a simple and traditional carbon steel paella pan, this Garcima model is one of the best around. It’s very likely the same one you would find in many homes across Spain. And, while there is a bit of maintenance required with carbon steel pans, if you put in the effort you will be rewarded.
What we like
- Very affordable
- Reacts to temperature changes quickly
- A very traditional paella pan
What We don’t
- Heating can be uneven
- Dimpled base make it a poor choice for induction cooktops
Best Stainless Steel Option: Garcima 16-Inch Stainless Steel Paella Pan
Garcima is back again. This time it’s their stainless steel paella pan for anyone that doesn’t want to deal with the upkeep of carbon steel.
One of the biggest benefits that you get from a stainless steel paella pan is its durability and low maintenance. Stainless steel is non-reactive and very resistant to corrosion. That means you don’t have to worry about rust, which makes cleaning and storing easy.
The polished look is also very attractive. While I don’t think many people would complain about paella in a carbon steel pan, the polished stainless steel pan adds a little more elegance to the meal.
The pan is constructed from relatively thin gauge metal. So, even though stainless steel paella pans don’t have great heat conductivity, this one still heats up and reacts to temperature changes quickly.
A responsive pan is great for making paella, but always keep an eye out for hot spots and scorching.
All in all, the stainless steel paella pan from Garcima is attractive, functional, and easy to maintain. The price is significantly higher than the company’s carbon steel model, but it’s low maintenance makes it worth the cost.
What we like
- Polished stainless steel and gold handles are very attractive
- Non-reactive and won’t rust
- Easy to clean and care for
What We don’t
- More expensive than Garcima’s carbon steel version
- Won’t develop a “non-stick” patina like carbon steel
Other Options That Are Great But Didn’t Make The Cut
This enamel-coated paella pan is another good, low-maintenance option. It’s non-reactive, won’t rust, and doesn’t require any seasoning or special cleaning techniques. Plus, it’s much less expensive than stainless steel.
The only downside is that the enamel coating has the potential to chip and crack. Something you don’t have to worry about with carbon or stainless steel.
I love Lodge’s hard-wearing cookware, and their 15-inch carbon steel skillet would make a great multipurpose pan.
It’s just not perfectly suited for paella like my other top picks. The pan is made from very thick gauge steel. That means it heats evenly and is very durable. But, it also means that it won’t respond quickly to temperature changes and that can be a disadvantage when making paella.
Buyers Guide: Choosing The Best Paella Pan
Material: Tradition vs. Convenience
A traditional paella pan is constructed from carbon steel. One of my favorite cookware materials. It’s durable, handles high heat like nothing else, and can develop impressive non-stick properties.
The only “problem” is that it requires seasoning and some ongoing maintenance to keep it performing well. If you have a well-used and loved cast iron pan then you already know what I’m talking about.
If not, I’ve written some useful information on choosing and maintaining carbon steel pans.
Cast iron is durable and offers better heat distribution than carbon steel. But, there’s a reason cast iron is not a great material for a paella pan.
Cast iron paella pans take a long time to heat up and it holds that heat for too long. This makes it impossible to reduce temperatures fast enough while cooking.
You can also go a less traditional route and choose a paella pan that’s easier to clean and care for.
Stainless steel is durable, non-reactive, and doesn’t require any seasoning or other maintenance. Choose stainless steel paella pans that are thin and avoid the expensive multilayered models. This will allow you to take advantage of quick temperature changes which can be crucial when cooking paella.
These are also carbon steel pans, but they have a protective enamel coating. This gives you similar cooking performance to traditional models, without any of the upkeep. The only downside is they don’t have the same level of durability and the enamel can crack or chip.
I would avoid buying a paella pan that has a non-stick coating applied. These may be easy to clean, but they severely lack durability and it will be next to impossible to achieve a good socarrat.
Size: Paella Is Meant To Be Shared
Paella is a large dish that is meant to be shared with friends and family. The finished dish is wide but not very deep. So, even if you’re only cooking for a few people, you’ll need a pan that might be wider than you would expect.
Serving sizes are always approximate and change from person to person. The inch measurement refers to the diameter from rim to rim. The actual cooking surface is usually between one and two inches smaller.
Design: Features That Make Cooking Easier
Most paella pans are very similar in design, with a wide bottom and shallow sides. One of the few things that change from pan to pan are the handles. More traditional handles have simple wire loops that extend almost straight out, one on each side.
These are fine and get the job done, but they also make a wide pan even wider and can be more difficult to pick up. I prefer handles that are more steeply angled.
The Matfer Bourgeat (my best overall pick) is a perfect example of this. The handle design moves your fingers further away from the heat source and makes the whole pan fit easier in an oven or on a grill.
Heat Source: You May Want To Take This One Outside
A paella pan is likely to be the widest piece of cookware in your entire collection. And, as with any other pot or pan, it’s important to match the size of your heat source with the size of your pan.
For many of us, myself included, a regular stovetop burner is going to be too small for a 15-inch paella pan. Even if your pan distributes heat well, you’ll probably end up with a very hot center and edges that are too cool to do much good.
If you have a gas stove, you may be able to spread a large paella pan across multiple burners with good results. If you have an electric or induction stove, then your best bet might be to take your cooking outside.
You could opt for a dedicated outdoor paella burner, but a grill works just as well and will probably get a lot more use.
A round grill is particularly good for cooking paella. The shape is just right and you can use a variety of hard wood or coal to give nice, smoky undertones to your paella.
Dimpled Bottom vs. Flat Bottom
The dimples in the bottom of paella pans are there for a couple of reasons. To help cook more evenly, and to help the pan maintain its shape so that it does not bend or warp.
In my own experience, I haven’t found much of a difference when cooking with a dimpled or flat bottom.
If you’re cooking paella on an electric or induction stove, then a dimpled bottom may heat unevenly because there is poor contact with the cooktop. If you’re using a gas stove or cooking over coals then you’ll be fine with or without dimples.
Price: Affordable Doesn’t Mean Bad
My pick for best paella pan is definitely on the more expensive side because it has some features that make it more durable and user friendly. But, my best affordable option is well made, more traditional, and is more widely used around the world. Plus, it costs about a third of the price.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is A Paella Pan?
Paella refers to the dish and the pan it’s cooked in. Valencia, Spain is the birthplace of paella and has become the country’s unofficial national dish.
Paella was a dish that laborers would make and share while working outdoors. It was cooked over an open fire and consisted of rice and whatever other ingredients were on hand.
The wide and shallow pan is designed to saute and caramelize ingredients, as well as reduce liquid quickly. Both of these aspects add a tremendous amount of flavor to the paella.
How Do You Use A Paella Pan?
There are an endless number of paella variations, but here are the general steps.
First the pan is heated (ideally over an orange wood fire). Then protein is browned, followed by vegetables, rice, saffron, stock or water, and finally any seafood that’s being used.
There’s a lot of stirring and rotating the paella that goes on between each addition. In the end, everything should be perfectly cooked without any remaining liquid. At that point, you dig in and eat straight from the pan.
How Do You Season A Carbon Steel Paella Pan?
Carbon steel paella pans should first be washed to remove any protective coating, then thoroughly dried. After that, very thin coats of oil should be added and cooked into the pan.
I use the same process as I do for seasoning a carbon steel frying pan. The large size of a paella pan can make it a little tricky to do on the stove top but a grill works really well.
How Do You Clean A Paella Pan?
Cleaning should be done by scraping off any excess food then scrubbing with water and a stiff-bristled brush. Avoid using soap as that can wash away your hard-earned seasoning. Afterwards, always thoroughly dry your pan to avoid rust.
If you have a stainless steel or enameled paella pan, you can go ahead and scrub with soapy water like you would any other pot or pan.
What Is A Pata Negra Paella Pan?
Pata negra paella pans are built from heavy-duty, carbon steel. They’re often labeled as “restaurant grade” because they are constructed from much thicker steel that can handle more wear and tear.
What Does Socarrat Mean?
Socarrat is the crispy rice that forms on the bottom of well-cooked paella. This crunchy layer is the most flavorful and sought-after part of a paella. If you find someone that can make paella with a good socarrat, become friends with them and never let them go.
What Other Pans Should You Have In Your Kitchen?
If you want to make good paella, there’s no real substitute for a paella pan. And, sticking to a traditional and affordable Spanish pan is probably the best way to go for paella “purists” or anyone on a tight budget.
But, if you have a few extra bucks to spend, my best overall pick is more durable and versatile. Or, for around the same price, you can go the stainless steel route for an attractive and low-maintenance option.