To perfect your favorite paella recipes, you need a reliable pan on hand. The best paella pans are made from carbon steel, which heats up quickly and evenly — and works on stoves and over open flames. That said, it's a material that does require more hands-on maintenance, so you can consider other options if you're not a seasoning kind of person. You'll also need to determine the size of your group, so you can make enough of that delicious socarrat (aka the crispy rice that everybody fights for at the bottom of the pan) every time.
This characteristically wide, shallow pan's diameter dictates how much paella you can make; it’s helpful to consider how many people you’ll want to feed since these traditional pans can range from single-serving all the way up to measuring several feet wide for feeding big families. For most, a 15-inch or 16-inch paella pan is best as it serves up to six people. An 18-inch pan serves about six to eight. For a party of 12, try a 22-inch pan (or even larger), though this size is better for outdoor cooking.
Durable carbon steel is traditional for paella pans. Similar to cast iron, carbon steel pans require regular seasoning (to prevent rust), but over time that process makes them nearly nonstick. Carbon steel pans retain heat well, adjust to changes in temperature easily, and they can go directly from the stovetop to the oven (although they can't be tossed in the dishwasher). However, for a lower-maintenance option, there are also stainless steel and enameled steel models that are easier to clean and don't require ongoing care. Stainless steel paella pans are typically made with one-ply construction which means they heat up quickly but won't be able to deliver as even of heat distribution, which ultimately might affect the crispiness of the rice. Enamel cookware is a cinch to clean but may chip over time.