December 15

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The Best Nonstick Cookware (And How to Buy It): A Complete Guide

By trk

December 15, 2020


Choosing the best nonstick cookware isn't easy. There are hundreds of options, and it's hard to know which one is best, and what makes it best. And is nonstick cookware even safe? Should you even be buying it at all?

To answer your questions and help you buy the best nonstick cookware for your kitchen, we put together this guide. We try to answer all the possible questions, cover all the possible issues and look at all the features to consider before buying. (And if you think of anything we haven't covered, please let us know in the comments.) 

We start with our recommendations for the best nonstick cookware, then go into detail about why we think these are the best choices.

The Best Nonstick Cookware at a Glance: Our Recommendations

Here are our favorite nonstick (and pseudo nonstick) skillets. Note that we recommend only skillets--nonstick coatings wear out rather quickly, and you really only need it on a skillet (more on this below). We think these pans are the best nonstick cookware options on the market.

We also like All-Clad HA1 nonstick as runner-up for best PTFE Overall.

Header

Best PTFE Overall

Best Ceramic Overall

Best Environmental Choice

Best Pseudo-Nonstick

Cell
Best Nonstick Cookware Guide
Best Nonstick Cookware Guide
Best Nonstick Cookware Guide

User Rating

Price Range (skillets)

$30-$75

$30-$40

$60-$150

$15-$60

Construction

cast aluminum

heavy aluminum/glass lid

cast aluminum

cast iron (bare)

Dishwasher/Metal Utensil Safe?

No

No

No

Yes

Induction Compatible?

Yes

No/
see Valencia

Yes

Yes

Design Notes

0.5mm copper in base, long sides, stainless handle, flush rivets

stainless handle, somewhat deep, well made

Bakelite handle, no rivets, shallow

Deep, heavy, very durable

Lid Included?

No

Yes (12" only)

No

No

Weight

10"--2.7lbs

12"--4.2 lbs

10.5"--2.7lbs

10.25"--5.4 lbs

Oven Use

Up to 500F

Up to 600F

Up to 500F

Good at any temp

Warranty

Lifetime mfr warranty

Lifetime on pan,
2 yr. on coating

Lifetime warranty on construction

contact Lodge

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What Are the Best Uses for Nonstick Cookware?

Best Nonstick Cookware Guide

People love nonstick cookware because it's easy to clean: because it's slippery, food doesn't stick to it, so it washes up with little effort.

As great as that is, nonstick cookware isn't good for everything. Because both kinds of nonstick cookware are rather delicate, breaking down easily under high heat and requiring careful use, you should only use it when you need it. That is, for super sticky foods, and preferably those that cook best on low-to-medium heat.

Thus, nonstick cookware is best for foods like eggs, fish, crepes, and pancakes--food you could ruin if it stuck to the pan. It's also a good bet for anything with a lot of sugar or syrup, such as making caramel or candying nuts, as long as you can do it at a low temperature. 

Though a lot of people use their nonstick cookware for everything and own entire sets of it, we don't recommend this. One or two nonstick skillets are enough for any kitchen, and you should use it only for delegated tasks like those we listed. 

The reason we give this advice is that nonstick coatings are delicate and short-lived, and if you use them for everything, you'll wear your pans out much faster than you need to. This is bad for your wallet and also bad for the environment, as most used nonstick cookware ends up in landfills. (Nonstick cookware is recyclable, but few curbside programs take it, so it requires some effort to recycle. Because of this, a lot of it ends up in landfills. If you want to recycle your worn out nonstick cookware, check your local recycling center for more information.) 

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The Two Types of Nonstick Cookware (PTFE and Ceramic)

There are only two real types of nonstick coatings: PTFE and ceramic. You may think there are other nonstick coatings such as granite, titanium, and diamond, but all of these these are merely additions to PTFE or ceramic nonstick coatings. 

Some nonstick coatings, such as ScanPan, are composites containing both PTFE and ceramic. But there are no nonstick coatings that aren't PTFE, ceramic, or a combination of these two. 

When a nonstick pan contains granite, titanium, or diamond dust, it is only to strengthen the PTFE or ceramic; none of these strengthening materials are nonstick by themselves.

We include this info because the market is huge, and finding the best nonstick cookware can be confusing. Makers can market their products without clearly stating what the primary nonstick material is, leading consumers to believe they're buying a granite or titanium pan, when in fact they're buying a PTFE or ceramic pan that's been reinforced with small amounts of these other materials. (This is particularly true of PTFE, as concerns about toxicity have caused makers to try to distance themselves from it.)

Here, we look at the two "real" nonstick coatings, PTFE and ceramic. This is only because they are the only cooking surfaces that can be officially classified as nonstick. It doesn't mean you can't also consider other types of cookware that will be almost as nonstick such as cast iron or carbon steel (or even clad stainless (which is easy to clean when used the right way).

PTFE

PTFE, which stands for polytetrafluoroethylene, is also known by its first trade name, Teflon®. PTFE is a long-chain hydrocarbon molecule and is considered a type of plastic. PTFE was accidentally discovered by a chemist at Dupont in 1938. It was used in many industrial applications before someone thought of coating cookware with it--this happened in the 1950s, and the rest is history.

PTFE/Teflon® is completely safe when used at temperatures below about 490F (this can't be an exact figure because the temperature at which offgassing begins depends on the brand of PTFE). Above that temp, PTFE begins to break down. It gives off toxic gases that can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and is deadly to birds. If you have a pet bird, you should definitely not own any PTFE cookware.

But below those temps, PTFE is perfectly safe. It is inert, so you can even get flakes of it in your food and it will pass through your body unchanged. PTFE is even used in the medical device industry for implants because it is so safe. best nonstick cookware

PFOA: The more significant concern about PTFE is PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, a substance used in the manufacturing of PTFE cookware (it'a an adhesive that helps PTFE adhere to the pan material). PFOA is in the chemical family called PFAS, which are used in manufacturing hundreds of different products. They are hazardous to human health in many ways including being carcinogenic. Just as serious, they are environmental contaminants that pollute water and soil and do not break down naturally. Nearly all Americans have traces of PFOA in their body. It is found in most sources of drinking water as well as common objects like food packaging, carpeting, and personal care products. best nonstick cookware

The use of PFOA in cookware manufacturing was outlawed in 2015 so is no longer found in cookware sold in the US. Are other chemicals in the PFAS family used? Possibly: if the manufacturer doesn't say their cookware is PFAS-free, then it may be. Thus, "PFOA-free" may not mean a whole lot as far as safety goes. PFAS-free is better, but still doesn't guarantee there isn't nasty chemicals used in making the pan.

Having said that, PFOA (and its relatives) are almost completely used up in the cookware manufacturing process. So even when PFOA was widely used in the making of PTFE cookware, it was not considered a significant source of PFOA/PFAS. For this reason, PTFE cookware has always been considered safe when used properly--i.e., at temperatures below the PTFE offgassing threshold. (More on this in a minute.)

Also, this doesn't mean that residual PFAS don't end up in ground water and soil as the result of cookware manufacturing--we don't know if it does or not--this is not information the manufacturers readily share--but it could.

Furthermore, just because the government and other organizations consider an amount of a chemical safe may not mean it actually is--a lot of people prefer to avoid PTFE cookware for this reason. While that's probably a wise position to take, the truth is that you're more likely to ingest PFOA from your tap water or from the box your takeout pizza came in. (So get a water filter!) 

Ceramic Nonstick

Ceramic nonstick--different than glass or ceramic cookware like Xtrema or Corningware and officially classified as "quasi-ceramic"--was invented in 2007. As evidence began to mount that PTFE cookware may not be safe, people began turning to ceramic as the best nonstick cookware. The ceramic nonstick market is still a small fraction of nonstick cookware sold, but it's growing fast, especially in the direct-to-consumer market, where several brands have popped up in the past few years. (Caraway and Our Place, for example.)

Ceramic nonstick coatings are silicone-based, meaning that they are made from sand (or clay). They are inorganic, inert substances, and are marketed as a safe alternative to PTFE.

Ceramic nonstick coatings are applied to cookware using a sol-gel process. The coating is sprayed onto the pans in liquid form, then baked to a hard, slippery finish. Ceramic nonstick is harder than PTFE, so it doesn't scratch as easily and can take a lot more abuse--metal utensils, high heat, etc.--without scratching or ruining the nonstick coating. It does not break down below about 700F--a temp which few kitchen appliances can achieve.

Having said all of that, ceramic nonstick is--ironically--notoriously short-lived; it tends to lose its nonstick properties even faster than PTFE. If you read reviews, you'll find that people love these pans early on, but after just a few short months or a year, they're disappointed in the nonstick qualities. Even though ceramic nonstick is marketed as tougher than PTFE, if you want it to last you have to take the same precautions: use low heat, non-metal utensils, wash by hand, etc. The only thing you don't have to worry about is aerosol cooking spray, which will not degrade ceramic nonstick as it does PTFE.

More importantly, the jury is still largely out on whether ceramic nonstick is safer than PTFE. The sol-gel application process uses something called titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which have been linked to tumors and other adverse health consequences. The evidence seems to be that extremely high heat is required to release any of these particles, so ceramic nonstick cookware is considered safe. But since this is a fairly recent discovery, there is much research yet to be done. 

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Are There Other Options for Nonstick Cookware?

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet

Yes--sort of. While nothing else is officially considered nonstick, cast iron and carbon steel are considered pseudo-nonstick. These materials have to be seasoned: a process of coating the pan surface with polymerized fat, which forms a protective layer between the pan and your food. This polymerization creates a slippery surface that resists sticking and is easy to clean. The surface continues to get more and more smooth and slippery with use--meaning that unlike actual nonstick cookware, the nonstick properties get better with age, not worse (with the caveat that they occasionally require re-seasoning due to soap, scrubbing, liquids in the pan, and other routine use that strips the polymers). 

Cast iron and carbon steel are also very safe, stable metals that contain no substances unsafe to human health. Some people worry about the polymerized oil that coats properly seasoned pans, but there is little evidence that this is something to be concerned about (the consensus is that the potentially dangerous free radicals are burned off in the seasoning process--so be sure use your range hood when seasoning).

If you love nonstick cookware but want to avoid the potential toxins in PTFE and ceramic nonstick, cast iron and carbon steel are the best alternatives.

Our recommendation for cast iron is Lodge, which is inexpensive, made in the USA, and will last forever. You can buy artisan cast iron for ten times as much and it will be smoother out of the box--and some brands are a bit lighter--but the Lodge will become smooth with seasoning and use. Also, the heating properties are pretty much identical for all cast iron, regardless of how much you spend (so boutique or artisanal cast iron is a bit of an oxymoron).

Carbon steel is also an option, but we're not big fans of it. Cast iron's best feature is its ability to retain heat, and carbon steel is thinner, so it doesn't have quite the heat retention of cast iron (though it's not terrible, either). Both cast iron and carbon steel heat slowly and unevenly--so with carbon steel, you get all of the undesirable traits of cast iron (slow and uneven heating) while compromising on its best trait (heat retention).

If you can handle heavy pans, we much prefer cast iron to carbon steel. And if you can't handle heavy pans, we recommend you avoid them both; carbon steel is lighter than cast iron, but they have about the same density--so they're both heavy.

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Nonstick Cookware Pros and Cons (A Summary Table)

Overall, both types of nonstick coatings have similar pros and cons. 

Pros

  • Easy cleanup
  • Most brands are inexpensive and have good heating properties
  • Makes it easy to cook sticky, delicate foods like eggs and fish

Cons

  • Nonstick coatings only last 1-5 years use 
  • Can't use high heat or metal utensils for greatest longevity
  • Potential toxins and health issues with both types
  • PTFE only: can't use aerosol cooking spray.

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Which Type of Nonstick Is the Most Durable?

Winner: PTFE

You would think that because ceramic nonstick coatings are extremely hard (basically made from rocks, remember), they would have the longest life span. It turns out, though, that when all things are equal--meaning cookware is used and cared for properly--PTFE tends to retain its nonstick properties longer than ceramic.  

If you google for the life span of nonstick cookware, both PTFE and ceramic are said to last 1-5 years. If you read reviews of various brands, you'll get a clearer picture of how long nonstick cookware actually lasts. While both tend to only last for a couple of years even with the best of care, PTFE typically keeps its nonstick properties longer on average than ceramic nonstick. 

One difference, though, is that even after losing its nonstick properties, ceramic pans are still safe for use with a little cooking oil added. Also, you can sometimes bring back the nonstick properties by scrubbing a ceramic pan with a gentle abrasive like Barkeeper's Friend (never try this on a PTFE pan). 

But when PTFE wears out, it's because it has broken down, and it may no longer be safe to use. Broken down PTFE is easy to spot: the smooth, shiny finish goes dull and flat, and may have streaks, scratches or chips. Heat takes its toll on PTFE, and the effects are cumulative, so even if you never heat your pan on high, medium heat over time will break down the coating. best nonstick cookware

Bottom line: Even though ceramic is a harder, more durable substance, PTFE tends to keep its nonstick properties longer. 

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Which Type of Nonstick Is Safest?

Green Pan Skillet with Salmon

Winner: Neither (or both)

Most people know that PTFE (Teflon) breaks down at temps greater than about 490F. When it breaks down, it releases fumes that cause flu-like symptoms in humans and are lethal to birds. 

Below this temp, PTFE is perfectly safe and inert and does not present any safety issues. 

Some PTFE cookware also uses PFAS or similar substances in manufacturing; even though use of PFOA was outlawed in 2015 it's possible that manufacturers are still using similar substances. These substances are toxic, but they are used up in the manufacturing process so they don't present a safety issue (or possibly a very, very small one, and the reason why you should never use a scratched PTFE pan), but they are terrible for the environment (as discussed above).

For these reasons, though PTFE cookware is fine to use under normal circumstances, it does present potential safety issues under certain conditions. 

As for ceramic nonstick, people have turned to it because it's touted as safer than PTFE. However, the sol-gel process that applies the coating to pans uses titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which have been associated with cancerous tumors and other health issues. There's not a lot of evidence yet that this is a valid concern for ceramic nonstick cookware, and most studies have found that it is only released at temps above those found in normal cookware use. But if you want to err on the side of safety, you should avoid ceramic nonstick cookware.

Thus, both types of nonstick cookware are considered safe to use under normal conditions, but both also present potential safety issues.

Here are our recommendations:

-If you have a pet bird, don't buy PTFE-based cookware; the best nonstick cookware options are ceramic or cast iron.

-If you have family members who won't follow safe use instructions and will use pans on high heat, don't buy PTFE-based cookware; your best nonstick cookware options are ceramic or cast iron.

-If everyone in your household will use cookware properly (i.e., no high heat), go with PTFE, as it will last longer than ceramic. 

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What Is the Best Nonstick Cookware for Use with Metal Utensils and Dishwashers?

The short (and best) answer is: none of it.  

Newer nonstick cookware--both PTFE and ceramic--is often touted by the manufacturers as "metal-utensil safe", as well as safe to put in the dishwasher. You can certainly do this, but if you want your nonstick cookware to last as long as possible, you should never use metal utensils or put it in the dishwasher.

Many manufacturers will even say this somewhere on their website--even as they claim their cookware is metal-utensil safe. 

As for dishwashers, the detergent has abrasive particles that are hard on nonstick surfaces. So they will cause nonstick cookware to wear out faster, even if billed as "dishwasher safe." 

Here's our recommendation: 

-If you want your nonstick cookware to last--either kind--do not use metal utensils on it ever, and always wash it by hand, even if the maker says you can. 

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How Much Should You Spend on a Nonstick Pan? 

In all of TRK's articles about nonstick (except ScanPan), our mantra is to "buy cheap--but not too cheap." Nonstick pans have short life spans (we may have mentioned this already), so you don't want to invest a lot in one. However, if you go too cheap, you'll get a pan with thin construction and poor heating properties, so you'll be constantly battling scorching and hot/cold spots. 

We recommend spending not more than about $30 on a 8-inch or 10-inch pan, and $50 on a 12-inch pan. Some of the very best nonstick cookware is in this price range (and you don't have to spend more to get better quality).

There are reasons to spend more, though: If you want to buy a non-Chinese brand, or want to buy from a maker who is actively working to reduce their carbon footprint, these are reasons to spend more and buy a brand like ScanPan. Just don't expect the pan to last longer than less expensive brands.

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What Makes Some PTFE or Ceramic Better than Others?

Best Nonstick Cookware Guide

People will rave about how great certain brands of nonstick are. The truth, though, is that no matter how much you spend, PTFE and ceramic nonstick coatings are all pretty much the same. 

Some nonstick coatings are reinforced with durable substances such as diamond dust, titanium, or granite. These reinforcements sit slightly above the nonstick coating and serve to protect it from scratching. But even so, there's not a lot of evidence that reinforced nonstick lasts much longer than non-reinforced coatings. This is most likely because reinforcements do nothing to protect from heat, and heat destroys all nonstick coatings over time (and the damage seems to be cumulative). best nonstick cookware

Some makers--probably most makers today--apply several coats of nonstick to their pans to increase durability. This may help, like the other reinforcements, but there is also not a lot of evidence that pans with several layers of nonstick coating last significantly longer than other pans. 

The bottom line is that no matter which brand you buy or how much you spend, even the very best nonstick cookware will last about 1-5 years. Makers have tried all kinds of things to improve the durability of nonstick, but none of them have been terribly successful. 

This is another reason to buy on the cheap end: You might think if you spend a small fortune, you'll get a pan that lasts forever. But this is not the case. 

But what about the lifetime warranty? you ask. If you're lucky, a maker may replace a worn out pan for you. But more often than not, the nonstick coating is not included in the lifetime warranty, or the maker will claim that the pan shows signs of "improper use," thus nullifying the warranty--and this is true even for reputable companies like All-Clad and ScanPan. (Just read the reviews on Amazon to find out people's experiences with the "lifetime" warranty on their nonstick pans.)  

GreenPan, a reputable brand, clearly states that their lifetime warranty is for the pan construction, and that the ceramic coating itself has a two year warranty. That seems about right to us (and more honest than some other manufacturers). best nonstick cookware

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What's the Best Nonstick Cookware Construction? 

Nonstick cookware is made by applying a coating, either PTFE or ceramic, to a base that's usually either aluminum or clad stainless steel. 

Since aluminum is the less expensive of the two options, we think aluminum makes the best nonstick cookware. Not only that, but decent quality aluminum cookware has excellent heating properties; in many cases even better than more expensive clad stainless. 

There are different types of aluminum cookware. These are stamped, cast, and forged. Stamped aluminum is the thinnest and cheapest type, while both cast and forged aluminum tend to be thicker, heavier (though still lightweight) and higher quality. Our favorite nonstick options--Anolon Copper Nouvelle, All-Clad HA1, and ScanPan--are cast aluminum. T-fal Professional is an example of a stamped aluminum pan--it's not terrible, but there are higher quality options, with more even heating, for not a lot more money. 

If you're ever wondering about the price differences in nonstick pans, it's often in the quality of the aluminum used. And if you're not sure what type of aluminum a pan is made from, you can often tell just by looking at the pan: stamped aluminum pans are thinner, and you can usually see that in photos of the product. 

You will be glad you went with the thicker cast or forged product, simply because it's much better to cook with.

The bottom line: Cast or forged aluminum is the most economical choice that still provides excellent heating properties. best nonstick cookware

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Which Is Better to Buy: Individual Pieces or a Set?

A lot of people love nonstick cookware and will buy it in entire sets. We find, though, that a nonstick coating is most important in a skillet or sauté pan, and not as important in other pieces of cookware.

Your skillet gets the hardest use out of all your pans. You use it primarily for frying--dry heat along with cooking oils. This creates the hardest-to-clean messes, so nonstick skillets make cleaning much easier.

Sauce pans and stock pots are typically used for liquids, so they typically do not get the cooked-on mess that skillets get. Therefore, a nonstick coating isn't really necessary in these pieces. 

Sauté pans can go either way: if you're using your sauté pan as a skillet, then you may appreciate a nonstick coating. However, if you use your sauté pan mainly for braising vegetables and other tasks that involve liquids, then a nonstick coating isn't needed. (And nonstick sauté pans tend to be much higher-priced than skillets.)

Dutch ovens benefit from weight and a heavy lid (to hold heat and keep liquids in during braising), so we like enameled cast iron for these--rarely would a nonstick coating be appreciated here.

There are exceptions, and depending on how you cook, you may benefit from an entire set of nonstick cookware. But for the most part, nonstick is most useful in skillets.

If nonstick were more durable, it wouldn't matter. But we hate to see people having to replace an entire set of cookware every few years when they could be replacing just a skillet instead. 

Bottom line: In the long run, you'll save money if you stick to just nonstick skillets instead of entire sets (pun intended). 

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How to Choose the Best Nonstick Cookware

After reading through all the basic info, it's now time to think about buying. 

When choosing cookware, you should look at these features: heating properties, durability, stability (lack of reactivity), ease of cleaning, design, warranty, and price. We'll look at each of these here. 

Heating Properties

Best Nonstick Cookware Guide

Since transferring heat to food is the primary purpose of cookware, heating properties are arguably a pan's most important characteristics. Even if you buy nonstick because it's easy to clean, you wouldn't use it if it didn't heat well--quickly and evenly. 

There are two main aspects of heating: thermal conductivity and thermal retention.

Thermal conductivity is a measure of how quickly and how evenly a pan spreads heat throughout. Copper has the highest thermal conductivity rating of all cookware materials, with aluminum in close second place. Since aluminum is inexpensive, it is by far the most common cookware material. Stainless steel has very poor thermal conductivity, which is why it's "clad" with an internal layers of aluminum or copper. But aluminum cookware tends to have more aluminum--and thicker aluminum--than clad stainless, so it tends to have better heating properties (yes, even though it's less expensive).

Thermal retention is a measure of how long the pan hangs onto heat. It's kind of the opposite of thermal conductivity: Copper has very high thermal conductivity, so it has poor thermal retention: that is, it is very responsive to temperature changes, heating and cooling quickly. Cast iron, on the other hand, has poor thermal conductivity and excellent thermal retention: it heats up slowly and unevenly, but once hot, it hangs onto heat for a really long time. best nonstick cookware

Both properties are important, but thermal conductivity probably edges out thermal retention for most cooking tasks. That is, most people prefer a pan that heats quickly and evenly over a pan that heats slowly but hangs onto heat for a long time. Cast iron is great for searing and deep frying because of its excellent thermal retention, while copper isn't the best choice for these tasks because it's so responsive to temperature changes. (When you throw that cold steak into a cast iron pan, the pan won't cool down much; when you throw the cold steak into a copper pan, the temperature crashes because copper is so responsive.)

Additionally, the mass of the pan matters to both aspects: The heavier/thicker a pan is, the greater both its thermal conductivity and thermal retention. This is true regardless of the material the pan is made of. Thus, a thick aluminum pan heats more evenly and hangs onto heat better than a thin aluminum pan, a thick copper pan heats more evenly and hangs onto heat better than a thin copper pan, etc.

If you've ever used a cheap, thin pan and been frustrated by the hot and cold spots, you know exactly what we're talking about.

So you want to look at two things when considering heating properties: 1) the material, and 2) the mass/thickness. best nonstick cookware

We talked about heating above in the section on cookware construction. To reiterate, aluminum has excellent heating properties, and the thicker the aluminum, the better its heating properties. Thus, cast or forged aluminum is our number one choice for nonstick cookware. It's thick enough to have excellent heating properties, it's inexpensive, and it's lightweight.

Our recommendation: Cast or forged aluminum is our material of choice for the best nonstick cookware. It's inexpensive and it has excellent heating properties. Clad stainless is also excellent, but it's expensive, so not a great investment for a pan you'll be replacing every 1-5 years. 

Durability and Stability

Durability refers to how long a pan will last and how much abuse it can take. Stability refers to whether a pan will react with food.

As we've already said, nonstick cookware is notoriously un-durable. It can scratch or chip easily and wears out from repeated heating (yes, even if you use only low-medium heat). Metal utensils, abrasive sponges, and cooking spray are all no-nos with nonstick coatings.

Thus, the durability rating of nonstick cookware--both PTFE and ceramic--is the lowest of all cookware materials. This is why nonstick manufacturers are always coming up with new ways to market their un-durable product. They may add substances to it to make it tougher; they may use several layers of nonstick coating; or they may come up with new formulas of PTFE or ceramic nonstick that are "more durable." But the truth is that no matter what nonstick you buy, you'll be lucky to get 5 years of use out of it--which is why we recommend you buy cheap (but not too cheap, because you want decent heating properties).

Nonstick's stability, on the other hand, is extremely good. Both PTFE and ceramic coatings are inert materials that do not react with food. Both types of nonstick are completely stable and will never add an odd flavor to your food. As long as the nonstick coating is intact and not scratched, chipped, or discolored with use, it's completely stable and safe (when used properly). best nonstick cookware

Ease of Cleaning

If nonstick cookware weren't so easy to clean, it would be nowhere near as popular as it is. People love that nonstick cookware requires such little upkeep. It can be a huge time-saver in the kitchen, and it can eliminate one of the most hated of all kitchen tasks: scrubbing pots and pans.

Thus, nonstick cookware gets a top rating on ease of cleaning: it's the whole reason people buy it at all, and put up with all of its quirks (e.g., low heat, no metal utensils, etc.).

If ease of cleaning is important to you, then nonstick cookware should be your number one choice.

Design

Design is about two things: 1) the cookware's functionality, and 2) how it looks (i.e., aesthetics).

Design is the most personal category, because the best pans for you may not work for someone else, and what you find beautiful other people may not. This makes it probably the most important category next to heating properties because it's about what makes daily use a pleasure (or a pain).

Design is also the reason why you shouldn't necessarily trust other people's opinions about cookware. It's a very personal choice. Advice can be helpful, but in the end you have to buy what works for you

Functionality: Functionality is about deciding whether cookware is practical. 

To decide, you consider things like:

  • Pan shape (is it roomy? does it have a lot of flat cooking surface?Is it shallow or deep?)
  • Handles (Is the handle comfortable? Is it easy to stabilize the pan? Does it have a helper handle?)
  • Weight (is the cookware light enough to maneuver easily?)
  • Size (How many people do you cook for? What will you be using the pan for?)
  • Lids (does the lid fit well? is it durable?)

In short, you look at whether a pan is designed such that you will find it easy and enjoyable to use. 

Functionality will vary depending on how people use their cookware, their ergonomic issues, and other things. But in general, you want a skillet with 1) a lot of flat cooking surface; 2) a handle that's easy to grip and safe to use; and 3) if it's a large skillet or sauté pan, a helper handle opposite the long handle is a huge plus as it makes the pan much safer to handle, especially when full. best nonstick cookware

Helper Handle Callout

Weight may also be an issue for you: though heavier cookware tends to perform better, most people prefer cookware that's easy to handle. If you're big and strong and don't have any ergonomic issues, you can go for the best performance. If not, then you should pick out a happy compromise between heft and performance.

Size: You also need to think about the size you want. We generally recommend a 12-inch in clad stainless skillets, however, if you're using the nonstick pan only for eggs (as many people do), a 10-inch may be big enough. Or, if you're using it for crepes, an 8-inch is an even better size. 

Many nonstick skillets come in sets of 2, an 8-inch/10-inch combo or a 10-inch/12-inch combo. This is a great way to get deal on two pans, and both sizes can be useful in most kitchens.

As for lids, we prefer stainless lids to glass lids because they're lighter and more durable, but for some reason, nonstick cookware tends to have glass lids. Since most skillets are sold without lids--and we recommend buying only nonstick skillets--this may be a moot point. But if a lid is included, make sure it's what you want (and note that you can buy universal lids for pans that don't come with one--though you may already own a pan with a lid that will fit the new one, so check before you buy).

Aesthetics: This is about how pretty the cookware is. And yes, it matters, because if you think your cookware is ugly, you won't enjoy using it. best nonstick cookware

Finding beauty in your cookware will greatly enhance your time in the kitchen. So while it's not your number one consideration, we recommend that you buy cookware you think is beautiful as well as functional

For more information: We talk more about cookware functionality in our Stainless Cookware Buying Guide and The Best Cookware Set for Every Budget.

Warranty and Price

If your budget is unlimited, you can ignore this section. However, if you want to get the most bang for your buck, then both price and warranty are important considerations.

As we've already said, our primary recommendation for the best nonstick cookware is to buy cheap--but not too cheap. Our favorite nonstick pans are made of cast aluminum, which is inexpensive yet has excellent heating properties.

All of our recommendations are cast or heavy aluminum construction, which provide great heating at an affordable price. 

As for warranty, you may find some frustration with nonstick cookware. If you think a maker will replace your pan when the nonstick coating starts to fail, you'd better think again, because they rarely do. While the lifetime warranty will honor any defects with the pan itself (that is, the aluminum body, the handle, or the lid), it will probably not cover wear-and-tear on the nonstick coating. 

Lifetime warranties are a great thing, but don't expect them to cover issues with the nonstick coating.

Summary of What to Look for in Nonstick Cookware

All of our nonstick skillet picks meet our requirements for heating, durability, stability, ease of cleaning, design, price, and warranty. 

Are There Good Brands Other than These Recommendations?

Sure. There are a lot of good options for nonstick cookware. Some other brands we like are Tramontina and Vollrath--at least some of their lines. And GreenPan makes a number of affordable ceramic nonstick pans in addition to the Lima we recommend here (though many are more expensive).

Any brand with a nice thick aluminum construction is probably going to be just fine. Just keep in mind that, though there are reasons to spend more (see our ScanPan article for more on that), we picked these brands because they are good quality and affordable. best nonstick cookware

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Where Is the Best Place to Buy Nonstick Cookware?

Best Nonstick Cookware Guide

The Internet has made prices fairly consistent, so wherever you buy, you should get the lowest price. Even so, we recommend that you check 2-3 different sites--and in-person stores too, if you want to--because you never know when you'll run into a sale. While prices on Amazon, Williams-Sonoma, and Bed, Bath & Beyond are usually identical, deals happen: you might come across a clearance price or a store closing price, or some other type of sale you'll only find in one place.

You can also get deals if you're a new shopper on a site. Stores like Williams-Sonoma and Bed, Bath & Beyond offer up to 25% off your first purchase if you sign up for their newsletter. It's a great way to get a reduced price (and you can always unsubscribe later). 

Recommendation: Check at least a few different sites or stores, because even though prices tend to be stable, you may bet lucky and run into some sort of deal.

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Best PTFE Overall: Anolon Nouvelle Copper

Anolon Nouvelle Copper Skillet

See Anolon Nouvelle Copper skillets on Amazon

See Anolon Nouvelle Copper at Bed, Bath & Beyond

See our runner up: All-Clad HA1

We have recommended the Anolon Nouvelle Copper skillet in many of our cookware articles. It is one of our overall favorite picks for the best nonstick pan.

For a surprisingly affordable price, you get a cast aluminum body with an induction base, plus a 0.5mm layer of copper that gives this pan heating properties superior to other pans in its price range. In fact, its heating properties are superior to many pans costing much more. The induction base also has extra layers of aluminum which also serve to increase its superb thermal conductivity:

Anolon Nouvelle Copper Exploded View

No, 0.5mm isn't enough copper to compete with copper brands like Mauviel, but it is enough to put this pan's heating into a different category than other cast aluminum nonstick pans. The copper helps this pan heat up and adjust to temperature changes extremely quickly--enough to notice the difference.

The pan also has a sturdy stainless steel handle and a nonstick coating that are highly rated by users. Will it last longer than other nonstick coatings? Probably not, but you're still getting one of the very highest quality PTFE nonstick pans on the market.

The price of this pan has increased recently, but for about $75, you can get an 8-in./10-in. set, or about $34.50 apiece. This is very reasonable. best nonstick cookware

Pros: Copper in base for excellent heating properties, induction compatible, stainless steel handle, lifetime warranty (though probably won't honor deteriorating nonstick coating), induction compatible.

Cons: The pan's flat cooking surface is on the small side.

Recommendation: If good old-fashioned PTFE is what you're looking for, the Anolon Nouvelle Copper skillet is one of the highest-performing brands at any price point (yet is very affordable).

All-Clad HA1: This is also an excellent quality cast aluminum pan. It has an induction base and thick walls for excellent heating properties:

All Clad Nonstick Skillets

It also has more flat cooking surface than the Nouvelle Copper pan and is also induction compatible. If it had the copper base, this pan would definitely be our number one choice. You can get the 8-in./10-in. set for about $60. best nonstick cookware

We recommend the HA1 over the Nouvelle Copper if you prefer the shape of the All-Clad skillet.


buy anolon nouvelle copper skillet now:

Best Nonstick Cookware Guide

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Best Ceramic Overall: GreenPan Lima

Best Nonstick Cookware Guide

See GreenPan Lima 12" skillet w/lid on Amazon (not induction compatible)

See all GreenPan Valencia Pro 11" skillet on Amazon (induction compatible)

See GreenPan Lima at Bed, Bath & Beyond

See our Ultimate GreenPan Review (more buying options!)

GreenPan is far and away the most popular brand of ceramic nonstick, for the simple reason that it is high quality cookware that is affordably priced. best nonstick cookware

We like the Lima 12-inch skillet because it comes with a lid, but if you need induction compatibility, you can go with the Valencia Pro, or head over to our GreenPan review to see what all your options are. 

Pros: Good quality, stainless handle, 12-inch pan includes lid, lots of buying options, affordable, lifetime warranty on pan and 2 yr. warranty on nonstick coating.

Cons: Ceramic coating may not last as long as PTFE coating, lid is glass (not stainless).

Recommendation: If you like the idea of ceramic nonstick cookware--it's tougher and probably has fewer safety concerns than PTFE--then GreenPan is the right brand for you. We like the Lima 12-inch because it comes with a lid, but there are a lot of other buying options.

Green Pan Lima Skillets

buy greenpan lima 12" skillet w/lid now:

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Best Upgrade Nonstick: ScanPan

Scan Pan Classic Skillet

See ScanPan Classic on Amazon

See ScanPan Classic at Bed, Bath & Beyond

See all ScanPan on Amazon

See all ScanPan at Williams-Sonoma

Go to our detailed ScanPan review (more buying options)

If you have a big budget, you may want to consider ScanPan. This is a Danish brand and still made in Denmark (not Holland), which is one of the reasons this pan is more expensive than other brands. It is also made by an environmentally conscious maker actively trying to reduce their carbon footprint, which also adds to the cost. ScanPan makes some of the very best nonstick cookware on the planet.

ScanPan is top quality nonstick cookware. The coating is a PTFE/ceramic hybrid, which they claim adds years to the pan's longevity. Though we're not entirely convinced, we do love using this pan. The Classic is their oldest line and though we don't love the bakelite handle, we do love that the cooking surface is free of rivets, which makes cleaning even easier.

ScanPan skillets are also pretty shallow, which is a good shape for most frying tasks--but if you want a more versatile pan, you may want to go with a brand with taller sides.

Pros: Excellent quality, nonstick may last longer than other brands (though we can't promise this), Classic line has a rivetless cooking surface, environmentally conscious manufacturing (in Denmark, not China), comes in both traditional and induction compatible options.

Cons: More expensive than other brands and the nonstick may not last any longer.

Recommendation: If you have a big budget and want top quality nonstick cookware with a small carbon footprint, ScanPan is the right choice. Note that the nonstick coating probably won't last any longer than it does on less expensive brands.

Scan Pan Classic Skillet

buy scanpan classic now:

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Best Pseudo-Nonstick: Lodge Cast Iron

Best Nonstick Cookware Guide

See Lodge cast iron on Amazon

See Lodge cast iron at Wal-Mart

Lodge is a brand that's been around forever. Most of it, including all their bare cast iron, is still made in the USA. (Their enameled cast iron and some other pieces are made in China.) It's durable and very affordable. Despite its affordability, Lodge cast iron lasts pretty much forever. Though not technically nonstick, it functions very much like a nonstick pan.

It comes pre-seasoned, but requires further seasoning for best nonstick results. The best part of using cast iron is that it becomes smoother and more nonstick with use. 

Cast iron has a few drawbacks. Namely, it's heavy, and it heats slowly and unevenly. Where it shines is in heat retention, because once hot it stays hot for a very long time, and can hold heat even when assaulted with cold food. This is what makes cast iron so excellent for searing steaks, deep frying, and braising (though for braising we much prefer enameled cast iron because of the prolonged contact with liquids--see our enameled cast iron review for more information). 

One weird thing about Lodge is that they have kind of a sketchy warranty policy. They don't have a set-in-stone warranty, but they do promise to make things right if a customer is unsatisfied with their product. And being that cast iron is such a durable product, quality is rarely an issue.

Pros: Affordable, lasts forever, gets more nonstick over time, induction compatible.

Cons: Heavy, heats slowly, requires seasoning.

Recommendation: If you're trying to avoid the potential issues that can come with nonstick cookware, cast iron is the way to go.

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Final Thoughts

Nonstick cookware can be hard to buy. The terminology can be confusing, and you can have a difficult time figuring out exactly what you're paying for. We tried to eradicate as much of the confusion as possible in this article and teach you about the important issues. We also recommended our favorite PTFE, ceramic, and pseudo-nonstick brands to make your shopping as easy as possible. 

We hope we've helped you get some clarity on how to buy the best nonstick cookware.

Thanks for reading!

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