There is so much misinformation about nonstick pans on the Internet. A lot of sites get it flat out wrong. Some sites actually recommend Teflon-coated pans as pans without Teflon! We find this incredibly frustrating, and hate that people are getting bad information. We know anyone looking for a Teflon-free pan is concerned about their health and safety, so it's huge miss to get this wrong.
We are going to set the record straight. We have years of experience in the cookware industry and our research is science-based. We know the facts about Teflon (PTFE), and you can trust us to tell you the truth.
And the truth is that there are no nonstick pans that compete with Teflon head to head. Teflon is the most slippery substance known to man, and it is in a class of its own. But we can help you find something that's close--and also much safer, longer lasting, and better for the environment.
Best Nonstick Pans Without Teflon (PTFE) at a Glance
These are the best nonstick pans without Teflon (PTFE). Note that none of them are truly nonstick, including the ceramic nonstick, which requires oil for best results. But if you want to avoid Teflon, these are your only options (sorry, but facts are facts).
We get into more detail about each Teflon alternative below.
(Thermolon and Greblon)
-Stick resistant with cooking oil
-Must use low heat
-Should use non-metal utensils
-Works best with cooking oil
-Most brands are affordable
-Most brands are made in China.
Seasoned Cast Iron
-Stick resistant when seasoned
-Must be seasoned for proper use
-Many brands made in USA.
Seasoned Carbon Steel
-Stick resistant when seasoned
-Must be seasoned for proper use
-Heavy, but lighter than cast iron
-Traditional brands made in France, but others available.
The Two Kinds of Nonstick Coating Found on Cookware
Many sites list several types of nonstick coatings (we've seen as many as 8), but the truth is that there are only two: PTFE and ceramic nonstick.
Of these two, only PTFE is truly nonstick. Ceramic coatings require cooking oil to work best, and food will usually stick without it except when the pan is new out-of-the-box. (Check the fine print on the website of any ceramic cookware brand, and you'll see what we mean: they all recommend using oil or butter to prevent sticking.)
Ceramic nonstick is close to Teflon, especially when it's new, but it doesn't last as long and it has many of the same problems (low heat, non-metal utensils, and wash by hand, for example). It may also have some health hazards like PTFE, but the body of research is small.
We will discuss some of the other confusing types of non-nonstick in a minute.
What Is Teflon?
Teflon® is the brand name for the PTFE molecule. Teflon was discovered by Dupont scientist Roy Plunkett in 1938. Dupont's spinoff company Chemours still owns the trademark for Teflon today, as well as several other brand names of PTFE (Autograph, for example). Teflon and other Dupont/Chemours brands are used on many popular cookware brands, as well as bakeware. (It doesn't really matter which brands, as it's the PTFE and not the brand name that you need to look out for.)
PTFE stands for polytetrafluoroethylene. It is a long-chain organic molecule (yes, PTFE is organic, in the sense that it's a carbon-hydrogen based compound, which is very far from saying it's safe and healthy).
PTFE is a member of the PFAS family of chemicals (Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), which contains thousands of chemicals, including PFOA, PFOS, and GenX.
One of the first uses of Teflon was in the Manhattan project "as a material to coat valves and seals in the pipes holding highly reactive uranium hexafluoride." It wasn't used for cookware until the 1950s.
Today, there are hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of brand names of PTFE on the market. So it is possible for a pan to be Teflon-free, yet still contain PTFE.
In fact, the only nonstick cookware that doesn't contain PTFE is ceramic nonstick cookware--and even that may sometimes contain PTFE.
Teflon is PTFE. They are the same thing. There are hundreds of other brands of PTFE on the market today, so even a "Teflon-free" pan can still contain PTFE under a different name.
What Are the Concerns About Teflon?
Concerns about Teflon fall into three main categories: health, environmental, and cooking.
Many websites are fond of saying that "Teflon and other PTFE pans are perfectly safe when used correctly." This is true, but it is far from complete. Teflon and PTFE are extremely stable and non-reactive at temperatures below about 390F. You could eat a spoonful of Teflon, and it would pass through your body without doing any harm. For this reason, people love to say how safe Teflon is.
But at 390F, Teflon and all PTFE begins to break down. By about 500F, it releases toxic fumes that cause flu-like symptoms in humans are are lethal to birds.
The thing is, it is extremely easy to heat a pan to 500F. We heated an empty pan on a medium gas flame and it took less than 5 minutes for the pan to reach 505F!
So, you have to be extremely careful with your Teflon and PTFE pans.
PFOA is another concern, which we talk about in the next section.
Environmental concerns about Teflon and PTFE cookware are, we believe, the biggest reason to not buy or use it.
If you are careful about using your Teflon pan and never overheat it or scratch it, then you probably aren't going to expose yourself or your family to toxins. That's true.
However, the nonstick cookware industry itself is a huge polluter of the planet. They have been dumping PFAS into local water supplies since the 1950s. Now that PFOA is outlawed, they continue to dump other PFAS chemicals that haven't (or haven't yet) come under as much scrutiny, such as GenX.
This is extremely unethical. These chemicals are terrible for all living creatures and they stay in the environment for a very long time, possibly forever.
Some regulations have been put in place in the US, which is good. But the majority of nonstick cookware is made in China today, which has very few laws or regulations to protect the environment or the workers who make this cookware (if any at all).
So even if Teflon is safe when used correctly, there is a much larger issue to consider: When you buy Teflon or other PTFE cookware, you are condoning these unethical practices and contributing to the pollution of the planet.
Finally, Teflon and other PTFE pans simply do not provide a great cooking experience.
You have to be super careful with these pans. You can't use high heat, metal utensils, or put them in a dishwasher if you want the nonstick to last (true even if the manufacturer says you can). If you use aerosol cooking spray, you'll denature the PTFE and destroy the pan.
And because you can't use high heat and because the pan is so slippery, it's almost impossible to get a delicious brown crust on your food. Browning adds flavor, so food that doesn't brown very well doesn't have as much flavor.
It's also hard to make a good pan sauce because there are very few bits of crunchy goodness that stick to the pan.
We think these are huge sacrifices to make just to have a pan that cleans up easily when you're done cooking.
Largely for all of these reasons, nonstick cookware is touted as the best cookware for beginner cooks. But why start with a type of cookware that doesn't produce excellent results? Why not just learn from the get-go how to cook on more durable surfaces--surfaces that can take high heat (when needed) as well as abuse like metal utensils and abrasive scrubbing pads--that are so much easier to make delicious food on?
If you think stainless steel is sticky and a pain to wash, it's because you haven't learned how to use it properly. If you want to avoid Teflon pans, this is one of the most important things to learn--and it's not hard!
See the section below on how to cook with stainless steel. Once you know how to do that, you can confidently cook on any surface. You'll probably never want to use nonstick cookware again.
Why "PFOA-Free" Does Not Mean a Pan Is Safe
Makers are fond of saying their pans are "PFOA-free." Well of course they are, because PFOA was outlawed for use in cookware in the US, so no pans made or sold here after 2015 contain PFOA. It's kind of like saying "we make safe cars because they have seat belts."
PFOA is another PFAS chemical, but unlike Teflon, it's pretty reactive. PFOA was used as an adhesive to help Teflon or other PTFE brands adhere to the base of the cookware, usually aluminum or stainless steel. PFOA was almost completely used up in the adhesion process, so the truth is, despite all the bad press, you are more likely to get PFOA in your drinking water than from your nonstick pan.
But that's not the end of it.
PFOA was found to cause health issues in workers at cookware plants, and in people who lived downstream from the plants because makers dumped their waste materials into local rivers. (To this day, there are no EPA regulations covering PFAS, so industries that use it are still free to dump these chemicals without repercussions. PFOA is the only exception we know of so far.)
PFOA, also called C8, is what's become known as a "forever chemical." It takes a very long time to decompose into safe chemicals, and may not do so at all. Largely because of the nonstick cookware industry, PFOA is found in nearly every water source in the world. Numbers have been declining since it was outlawed, but a staggering 99% or more of Americans have traces of PFOA in their blood.
Besides being terrible for the environment, PFOA is a cause of several health problems, including liver function, thyroid disease, decreased immune response, high cholesterol, and at least two types of cancer (kidney and testicular). It may also be associated with birth defects.
When PFOA was finally outlawed (it took almost 20 years of activism and legal fights), Dupont, the maker of both Teflon and PFOA, replaced it with a chemical called GenX. Today, GenX is used by most makers of Teflon and other PTFE cookware (and if they're not using GenX, they're using a similar chemical, almost certainly another PFAS). GenX has been determined to cause many of the same problems as PFOA.
So you see, PFOA-free does not mean a pan is safe or non-toxic. It just means that the makers are using a different PFAS in their manufacturing process--one that hasn't yet gotten public scrutiny for being unsafe, even though it is.
The best way to reduce your exposure to PFAS is to install a reverse osmosis filter on your drinking (and cooking) water. See The Best Reverse Osmosis Systems for Your Home for more information.
You can also read What Is PFOA? A Guide to Nonstick Cookware Chemicals for more information.
While nonstick cookware is not a significant source of PFOA or its successor GenX, drinking water is. If you want to minimize your exposure to these toxic chemicals, install a reverse osmosis system with a charcoal filter on your drinking water.
What Is NOT a Nonstick Alternative to Teflon?
Because there's so much misinformation out there about Teflon and nonstick pans in general, we're including this section on what pans, specifically, are not an alternative to Teflon or other PTFE pans.
All of these are frequently recommended as alternatives to Teflon, but none of them are a viable alternative: they either contain PTFE, or aren't actually nonstick.
Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware
Hard-anodized aluminum would make a decent alternative to Teflon, but as far as we know, there is no such cookware on the market. All anodized aluminum cookware has an exterior of anodized aluminum and a nonstick-coated cooking surface, usually PTFE, sometimes ceramic.
Calphalon made a line that was 100% anodized aluminum called Calphalon Professional, but it is now discontinued. Too bad. Although anodized aluminum is not truly nonstick, it is stick resistant, and a pretty good surface to cook on.
We know of no other anodized aluminum cookware that does not have a nonstick coating. So if cookware is labeled "anodized aluminum," it almost certainly has a nonstick coating: if it's ceramic, then it doesn't contain Teflon or other PTFE, but you have to dig deeper to find out.
If a pan is free of PTFE, it is usually labeled "PFOA- and PTFE-free." A pan labeled "PFOA-free" usually contains PTFE.
Even if a pan is labeled "ceramic nonstick" but doesn't say "PTFE-free" then it could contain Teflon or other PTFE.
Enameled Cast Iron
Contrary to information found on several websites, the enamel used on cast iron is NOT nonstick. It is at best stick-resistant. It is a traditional, glass-based enamel, unrelated to the sol-gel ceramic nonstick coatings found on nonstick cookware like GreenPan.
Enameled cast iron is durable, doesn't require seasoning, and is fairly easy to clean. It's best for Dutch ovens, but is available as entire cookware sets.
It just isn't nonstick.
Granite, Rock, Stone, Diamond...
A lot of PTFE cookware makers emphasize other materials in the pan and put the PTFE in the fine print. These materials are often granite, stone, diamond, ceramic, or some other durable substance. (And ceramic reinforcements also serve to make it sound as if the pan is ceramic nonstick rather than Teflon or other PTFE.)
This makes the cookware sound more durable, too, which is a huge issue with nonstick pans (they don't last).
Not all granite-, rock-, stone-, diamond, and ceramic-reinforced cookware contains Teflon or other PTFE, but a lot of brands do. So once again, you have to dig deeper to find out the truth.
Hint: If the maker isn't up front about what the nonstick coating actually is, it's probably Teflon or another PTFE product. Ceramic nonstick makers tend to be clear about their product.
Silicone is nonstick, but it can't be used on a stovetop, so it's found only on bakeware and utensils, not cookware.
Silicone is considered a safe material, but there isn't a lot of research available on it.
Some sites list superhydrophobic cookware as an alternative to Teflon, but Teflon actually is a hydrophobic coating, and no others exist yet in the world of cookware (at least none that we were able to find).
Nonstick Brands that Contain Teflon or Other PTFE
It's astonishing to us how many sites recommend brands as Teflon-free or PTFE-free that actually contain Teflon or another brand of PTFE.
Here are some brands of cookware we've seen recommended on other sites as PTFE-free and/or Teflon-free. There are others, but these are some of the most popular.
Remember, a nonstick pan can only be PTFE (Teflon) or ceramic, so if it doesn't clearly say it's ceramic or "PTFE-free," then it probably contains Teflon or another brand of PTFE.
HexClad is the one of the newest "nonstick" options on the market. It is a hybrid mix of nonstick coating with a stainless steel lattice overlay that protects it, which actually makes it not completely nonstick. The base is tri-ply clad stainless steel with an aluminum heating core.
HexClad describes their coating as a "high grade non-toxic Japanese coating infused with diamond dust for extra toughness."
The HexClad nonstick coating contains PTFE, though you have to really dig to find that information. (Note also how they emphasize the diamond dust, as so many PTFE makers like to do.)
HexClad pans are high quality, but if you're looking for a pan without Teflon, HexClad is not it.
See our HexClad review for more information.
We're not sure how anyone could mistake Misen nonstick for anything other than standard PTFE. Misen doesn't explicitly state this, but their "PFOA-free" is a dead giveaway.
Also, Misen is competing with All-Clad, which uses only PTFE nonstick.
(Same for Made In nonstick, by the way.)
These are good quality pans, but they definitely contain Teflon or another brand of PTFE.
Ozeri Stone Earth
Ozeri's marketing of the Stone Earth pan is, we believe, intentionally confusing. In the title, they say it's "100% APEO- and PFOA-free stone-derived nonstick coating from Germany," which strongly implies that the pan is ceramic nonstick. In the product description, they call it "stoneware," also implying ceramic. But it is an aluminum pan with a nonstick coating (thus, not stoneware at all). And in the photo, you can see that they've colored the nonstick coating to look like granite: dark with white flecks--but if you click on the other color options, you'll see that they can make the pans any color they want to.
Thus, many consumers assume this "stoneware" pan is free of PTFE. But if you read the Customer Questions and Answers section, the maker says "this specific pan is not PTFE free."
Ozeri also claims the pan is free of GenX, which is the current PFOA replacement used in making Teflon and PTFE cookware. This sounds good, since GenX is just as bad for humans and the environment as PFOA, but they don't say what they do use, and it is likely to be a similar chemical (just as GenX is similar to PFOA, as discussed above). We say this because if their GenX replacement was something other than a PFAS, they would clearly say so.
The Ozeri Green Earth pan is ceramic nonstick, and free of Teflon and all other PTFE products. In contrast to the Stone Earth pan, the Green Earth clearly states "100% PTFE and PFOA free."
This is a great illustration of the marketing differences between Teflon/PTFE and ceramic nonstick cookware.
Ozeri pans get good reviews, but we don't review or recommend any of their products because we couldn't get past their deceptive marketing.
ScanPan is a Danish company that makes high quality nonstick cookware. They have a proprietary coating they call Stratanium, which they describe as a "ceramic titanium coating." So once again, a maker is not clear that their cookware contains PTFE, and the description actually makes it sound as if the coating does not contain Teflon or PTFE.
We know that the ScanPan nonstick coating contains PTFE because they say it does on their FAQ page. We believe Stratanium is a PTFE coating reinforced with ceramic and titanium particles. So calling it a "ceramic titanium coating" isn't inaccurate, it's just incomplete.
Learn more in our ScanPan review.
Swiss Diamond is another high-end European cookware brand made in Switzerland. They call their nonstick coating "proprietary" and say it is free of Teflon, PFOA, lead, and cadmium. Notice, though, that they do not say it is free of PTFE, and on their FAQ page, they say their coating contains PTFE.
Making a distinction between Teflon and PTFE is like making a distinction between Kleenex and facial tissue: brand names can vary, but the base is always PTFE.
Sardel is a fairly new brand of DTC (direct-to-consumer) cookware, like Made In and Misen. This is a new way to sell cookware for slightly less than you'd pay for a high quality retail brand like All-Clad. The prices often aren't much better, especially for nonstick, which you should never pay a premium for because it doesn't last.
Anyway, Sardel makes good quality cookware, and their nonstick stands out because of its honeycomb pattern: it's like HexClad but without the stainless steel overlay, so the pattern is imprinted into the nonstick coating itself.
Sardel says their PFOA-free coating is "infused with stainless steel particles" to make it extra tough. And nowhere in the product descriptions do they say the coating is PTFE. But buried in the middle of their nonstick pan page, they say "the PTFE coating is also made without the use of PFOA."
Because this information is buried, a number of reviewers believe that the Sardel nonstick is free of Teflon and all PTFE products. But nope; this pan contains PTFE.
(And of course it's made without PFOA, because PFOA is outlawed in nonstick cookware sold in the US.)
Sardel is another high quality brand, but if you want to avoid PTFE, Sardel nonstick is the wrong choice.
Learn more in our detailed Sardel review.
How to Figure Out if a Pan Contains Teflon or Other PTFE
As you may have concluded from the previous section, it can be hard to figure out if a pan contains Teflon or another PTFE coating. Because Teflon, PTFE, and especially PFOA have gotten a lot of bad press in recent years, a lot of makers like to bury the lead: that their nonstick pans contain Teflon or some other brand of PTFE.
But that itself is a clue: if the makers use all sorts of acronyms that their cookware doesn't have but none of them are PTFE, then the pan probably contains Teflon or another PTFE brand. It's not a complete certainty, but it's a pretty good indication.
Another way to tell is if they use a lot of adjectives like stone, granite, diamond, titanium, ceramic, and steel to describe the nonstick coating without actually calling it Teflon, PTFE, or ceramic. Remember, a nonstick coating can only be PTFE (Teflon) or ceramic, so if they dance around what it is and only describe the reinforcing particles, then it's probably PTFE.
Makers will sometimes list the brand name of the nonstick coating, too, without saying it's a PTFE product. There are hundreds of PTFE coatings, but some of the most popular ones are Autograph, Eterna, Quantanium, Eclipse, HALO, Xylan, Skandia, Dura-Slide, Granite Rock, Granitium, ILAG, Stratanium, and of course, Teflon.
If a brand name is given, you can search the Internet to find out what it is.
Other giveaways are descriptions like "professional," which almost always means PTFE, and "polymer" which refers to a long-chain hydrocarbon, which is what Teflon (PTFE) is.
You can sometimes get an idea by looking at the photo of the product. Teflon and other PTFE coatings have a kind of matte-sheen, while nonstick ceramic is shiny. This isn't always definitive, but it can help.
You can also read the product site's FAQs or the questions on Amazon. Because a lot of people want the answer to this question, you can often find it in one of these places.
We have a resource page on this site too that may help. We've researched hundreds of nonstick brands and list them alphabetically. See our article Nonstick Cookware Brands: PTFE or Ceramic? for the complete list; this article also contains more detailed information on how to tell if a pan contains Teflon or PTFE.
If you try all of these things and still can't find an answer, you can assume the product contains Teflon or PTFE.
If you want us to dig deeper, send us a note, or comment below, and we'll try to find the answer for you.
Teflon Alternative #1: Ceramic Nonstick Cookware
Ceramic nonstick cookware is the most similar to Teflon or PTFE and is the only other cookware that's actually branded as "nonstick." It was invented in 2007 and has become extremely popular as people search for that Holy Grail product, a nonstick pan that stays nonstick and lasts for more than a couple of years.
Ceramic nonstick coatings are made from silicone, also known as sand. The sand, along with many other chemicals, is heated to a melting point, then sprayed onto the cookware and baked to a hard finish. The process used to create and apply these coatings is called a sol-gel process.
There are two brands of ceramic nonstick coatings, Thermolon and Greblon, with several different types of each available today. (In fact, there are now Greblon coatings that contain PTFE, so be careful when purchasing a pan with a Greblon coating.) Thermolon and Greblon are very similar in composition, and both are applied to cookware using a sol-gel process. Every brand of ceramic nonstick cookware has either a Thermolon or a Greblon coating. Since they similar in composition, we don't recommend one over the other.
Some brands of ceramic nonstick cookware do not disclose which ceramic nonstick coating they use, saying it's proprietary information. But it's much more likely that they don't want potential customers to know that the coating on their expensive cookware is either Thermolon or Greblon, and can be found on other brands for much less.
Note that the sol-gel nonstick ceramic coatings are a completely different technology than the glass-based enameled coatings used on cast iron. Enamel is a very old technology, while sol-gel is a new one.
Our current favorite ceramic nonstick skillet is the GP5 by GreenPan. It has a 5mm thick body (GreenPan's thickest) for excellent heating, a great shape with lots of flat cooking surface, an induction compatible base, and their newest generation of nonstick coating. It's a little pricier than some other GreenPan lines, but it performs beautifully, and is priced considerably lower than the Caraway pan, and less than half the price of the Our Place Always Pan.
If you don't want to spend that much, you can find less expensive GreenPan options that still offer great quality. GreenPan has far more buying choices than most other brands, as well-for example, Caraway only makes a 10-inch skillet, so if you want a bigger one, you're out of luck.
GreenPan also offers a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects and a 2 year warranty on the nonstick coating, which is reasonable, honest, and fair: most makers promise a "lifetime warranty" but won't actually honor issues with the nonstick coating.
Unfortunately, ceramic nonstick is not a great alternative to Teflon or other PTFE nonstick. Even though ceramic nonstick is much tougher than PTFE, its nonstick properties tend to last an even shorter time than Teflon and other PTFE coatings. And although ceramic nonstick can withstand high heat safely, the nonstick properties work best at low heat. The hotter ceramic nonstick gets, the less nonstick it gets.
You also need to baby it by using non-metal utensils and washing by hand, even if manufacturers say it's "metal utensil" and "dishwasher" safe.
Finally, ceramic nonstick is actually only stick resistant, not truly nonstick. For best results, nearly all makers say, you need to use cooking oil. This is true no matter how much you spend, so we recommend buying an affordable brand like GreenPan rather than a boutique brand like Caraway or Our Place.
Ceramic nonstick makers claim the coating is safe and nontoxic, but there's not a lot of research available about it to know for sure. A few studies say that the sol-gel process used to coat the cookware contains potentially unsafe titanium dioxide nanoparticles that can migrate into food under certain conditions. These particles have been associated with health problems including tumors, but we don't know for sure if they're a threat under normal use conditions.
We also know very little about the manufacturing process of nonstick cookware. Some makers claim to be more environmentally friendly than PTFE, but that wouldn't take much, so we're not sure how much such a claim really means.
Because we don't have enough information to definitively conclude that ceramic nonstick is safe and an environmentally friendly choice, we don't recommend it.
- Can withstand high heat without emitting toxic fumes
- Most brands are affordable.
- Nonstick properties don't last as long as PTFE (on average)
- Must use low heat, non-metal utensils, and cooking oil for best results
- Safety concerns have not been fully answered yet.
Teflon Alternative #2: Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware
Outside of Teflon or other PTFE, seasoned cast iron is probably the best nonstick surface to cook on (or at least, semi-nonstick). Seasoning can seem daunting to people who haven't done it, but it's not difficult. This article on Sheryl Canter's blog is considered the definitive science-based explanation of what seasoning is and how it works. It's a quick read, but if you don't want to read the science behind it, Serious Eats has a simple tutorial on seasoning. If you are more of a visual learner, look for "how to season cast iron" videos on YouTube: there are a lot of them. (Note: You can use the same process to season carbon steel.)
We recommend Lodge as an affordable brand that's still made in the USA: a 10-inch skillet goes for about $20, a 12-inch skillet for about $30.
If you want to spend more, look at Field skillets, which are beautiful, slightly thinner and lighter than Lodge, and less costly than many other boutique brands: a 10-inch skillet goes for about $145. You'll still have to season it, but the smooth surface and/or lighter weight may be worth the higher price if you have the budget (although our recommendation is to save on cast iron and splurge on a high-quality clad stainless steel skillet).
If you want to see more options, see our review of the best cast iron skillets.
Cast iron pans are made by pouring molten cast iron--a combination of iron and a small amount of carbon--into a mold, or cast, and letting it cool. This is why cast iron pans are all one piece, including the handle and helper handle.
Cast iron is extremely durable and will last for hundreds of years, but it can be brittle, especially when new, and may crack under extreme stress like dropping it or abrupt temperature changes. Iron is ferritic (magnetic), so all cast iron, including enameled cast iron, is induction compatible.
Cast iron's biggest drawback is its weight. It also heats slowly and unevenly, so you need to give a cast iron pan several minutes of preheating to distribute heat evenly across the pan. But once heated, it performs well, and it holds heat better than any other cookware material. It is the absolute best option for high-heat searing, like steaks, but is also great as an all-purpose skillet.
We recommend bare cast iron primarily for skillets. The seasoning provides the best nonstick surface outside PTFE, much better than enameled cast iron. And because cast iron is so heavy, you really only want it where you need it: in this case, a well-seasoned skillet for excellent nonstick performance.
Seasoned cast iron is also great for grills and griddles, especially if you're trying to avoid PTFE or like to use it outdoors--you can't beat its durability, and it won't show discoloration from the open flame of your campfire or grill.
If you bake bread or camp, a seasoned Dutch oven is an option, but in general, a nonstick surface isn't necessary for Dutch ovens, and enameled cast iron is a better choice for the stews, soups, stocks, and braising that most people want a Dutch oven for.
More on seasoning: Seasoning is necessary even for pans that are sold as pre-seasoned. If you go with an affordable brand like Lodge (which we recommend), the cooking surface will be rough at first, but fills in and smooths out beautifully after several uses. If you don't want to wait for that, you can buy a more expensive brand, like Field. It will be glass-smooth out of the box, but it won't heat any more evenly or faster (cast iron is cast iron, no matter how much you spend).
Once a pan is properly seasoned--which typically requires only one good seasoning plus several uses--it is as close to nonstick as you can get outside of PTFE. And these pans will last forever, unlike ceramic nonstick.
Washing is easy as you really just have to rinse the pan out most of the time, often just with water; you only need to use a small amount of soap if there are stuck-on bits of food. If you do have to scrub the pan, it's easy to do because the pan can take a lot of rough treatment.
The trickiest part of taking care of cast iron is making sure it dries completely after washing, because it can rust if you don't. You can use a paper towel, or just put the pan on a hot burner for a few minutes to evaporate all the water. Many people like to finish by coating the pan with a thin layer of oil, but this isn't really necessary if the pan is well seasoned.
One drawback of cast iron (and carbon steel) is that acidic foods like tomatoes, wine, and lemon juice can eat away at seasoning. This won't harm the pan, but may result in it needing to be re-seasoned.
Acids can also react with the iron, imparting a metallic taste to your food.
You can cook acidic foods in seasoned pans, but for best results, use them only for short sessions (avoid long braises, stocks, and stews). In fact, this is why seasoned cast iron is best for skillets, but not so great for other pieces of cookware (sauce pans, stock pots, Dutch ovens).
- Nonstick surface when well seasoned
- Most brands are affordable.
- Require seasoning
- Acids can destroy seasoning and react with the iron, imparting a metallic taste to food
- Must dry thoroughly after washing or it will rust.
Teflon Alternative #3: Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillets
Much of the same information applies to carbon steel as it does to cast iron. It requires seasoning and it makes a great substitute for Teflon or other PTFE nonstick pans, it's induction compatible, and any carbon steel pan you buy should last for several decades.
Carbon steel contains less carbon than cast iron (yes, that's a bit ironic given its name), which means that it's not as brittle, which in turn means that it can be made thinner than cast iron. Thus, though cast iron and carbon steel have about the same density, carbon steel pans are thinner and lighter than cast iron. Depending on the gauge (i.e., thickness), they can weigh as much as 50% less than cast iron.
Because carbon steel is lighter than cast iron, it makes an excellent substitute for a Teflon or other PTFE egg pan, and is also great for high heat searing and general skillet cooking.
Carbon steel is also smoother than cast iron out of the box, at least inexpensive cast iron (like Lodge). It will still need seasoning, but you may achieve the glasslike nonstick surface faster than with most brands of cast iron.
Like cast iron, carbon steel also heats slowly and unevenly, so it requires several minutes of preheating for even heat distribution. It holds heat as well too, so it's good for searing--but because it's thinner, the heat retention isn't quite as good as cast iron (but still very good).
Carbon steel pans come in different gauges of thickness and vary from about 1.5mm to about 3mm thick. The thicker the pan, the better the heat retention. But if you're interested in carbon steel primarily because it's lighter than cast iron, go with a thin brand: our recommendation is Vollrath, which is made in the USA and is the thinnest brand we know of. In fact, it's so thin that some reviewers complain of warping, but we didn't have any problems with that in our testing.
If you want a heavier pan, we like Matfer-Bourgeat, a brand made in France that's been around for almost 200 years. Both Vollrath and Matfer-Bourgeat have the traditional carbon steel skillet shape, which is shallow, with sloped sides and a long, flat handle--this design is great for all types of pan frying, including eggs and crepes. But the long handle may be tricky to fit into your oven if it's on the small side.
Lodge also makes carbon steel skillets, still in the USA, but we prefer Vollrath and M-B for their welded handles, which don't have rivets to collect food and cooking oils.
If you want a more traditional skillet shape--like a nonstick or clad stainless skillet--then we like the BK carbon steel skillet. The BK skillet also comes in more familiar sizes, e.g., 8-, 10-, and 12-inch. BK pans are made in China, but the quality is good.
Carbon steel pans are slightly more expensive than cast iron, but not by a lot, so are still quite affordable. All the brands we recommend are very reasonably priced: you'll pay somewhere between $35-$75, depending on the size.
Carbon steel is quite popular right now, so a lot of cookware makers are selling it. As much as we like Misen and Made In stainless steel pans, we recommend not buying carbon steel from them because they're overpriced.
Like cast iron, carbon steel pans are all pretty much the same, except for thickness, so there's no need to pay more than you want to. You don't have to buy one of our recommendations to get a good deal. Just be sure to check prices before you buy so you don't overpay.
If you want an artisanal boutique brand, there are plenty of those available, too--but we don't know of any that we like enough to recommend.
You can buy carbon steel skillets pre-seasoned, but you will almost certainly have to season them anyway. See the links above in the cast iron section for more information on seasoning, or search for seasoning videos on YouTube--there are a lot of them.
- Smoother than most brands of cast iron out of the box (though still needs seasoning)
- Nonstick surface when well seasoned
- Lighter than cast iron (though still heavy)
- Most brands are affordable.
- Require seasoning
- Acids can destroy seasoning and react with the iron, imparting a metallic taste to food
- Lighter than cast iron, but still heavy
- Must dry thoroughly after washing or it will rust.
How to Avoid Teflon and Other PTFE Pans Forever
If you want to free yourself from the chains of Teflon and other PTFE pans, your best option is to learn the right cooking techniques. If you know how to use a skillet right, food won't stick, no matter what type of skillet it is.
Okay: food may stick sometimes. But that can be a good thing, because you can make a pan sauce with all those crispy bits. A pan sauce not only makes a delicious addition to any meal, it also cleans up all the bits in the pan, making it easier to clean.
It is nearly impossible to get nicely browned food in a Teflon or other PTFE pan. They're so slippery, food slides right off the surface. (Some makers have tried to fix this by making the surface rougher, but this lessens the nonstick properties.)
More importantly, if you're following correct use instructions, you won't be using a high enough heat to create delicious browning.
So do yourself a favor: Learn the right technique so food doesn't stick to stainless steel or other non-nonstick surfaces. In fact, this technique will work on any cooking surface, including ceramic nonstick that isn't terribly nonstick anymore.
It's actually quite easy.
Here are the steps to follow.
- Heat a clad stainless steel or other non-nonstick pan over medium-high or high heat for 2-5 minutes to distribute heat evenly (longer for cast iron and carbon steel, shorter for stainless steel).
- When hot, add enough cooking oil to thinly coat the cooking surface.
- Let oil get hot until just starting to shimmer. (If it smokes, it's too hot and you'll have to start over.)
- Add your food.
- Let food cook undisturbed for 2-5 minutes depending on thickness and type. When undisturbed, food forms a crust that allows it to pull away from the pan naturally.
- Turn food and finish cooking on other side, again letting it sit undisturbed long enough to form a crust.
- When done, remove food from pan. Make a pan sauce with leftover crispy bits, wine or stock, and butter, if desired.
- Let pan cool before washing.
If you do have some bits of food stuck to the pan, the good news is that any non-nonstick pan can handle an abrasive scrubby to clean it out. If you don't want to do this, let the pan soak in some warm soapy water to loosen the bits.
And don't be afraid of fat. Your body needs it, and as long as you use a healthy fat in a moderate amount, you are using a very healthy cooking technique.
This technique is easy, but it can take a bit of practice, especially with sticky foods like eggs and fish. But don't give up, and you'll have it down before you know it. Once you do, you can free yourself from the tyranny of Teflon and PTFE cookware forever.
FAQs About the Best Nonstick Pans Without Teflon
Here are some common questions about nonstick pans.
Which Nonstick Coatings Are Safe?
There is not a simple answer to this question.
No Teflon- or PTFE-based coatings (which are the same thing) are safe. Teflon and PTFE are stable and non-reactive at temperatures lower than 390F, so technically they are safe under most cooking conditions. However, it is incredibly easy for a pan to get hotter than this, so you have to be extremely careful when using these pans.
Also, the PTFE cookware industry dumps toxic, "forever" chemicals into the water supply and it has contaminated the planet's water supply. PFOA-free means little because they've replaced it with a very similar chemical, GenX, which is similarly toxic, carcinogenic, and terrible for the environment. (PFOA-free is also the law now, so no nonstick pans contain it anymore.)
For these reasons, we don't recommend using any Teflon or PTFE cookware.
Ceramic nonstick is considered a safer alternative, but these coatings contain chemicals that may not be safe. There is very little research about these pans, and we suspect that they may be the new Teflon: considered safe until the truth comes out.
We could be completely wrong about ceramic nonstick, so you should do your own research and decide for yourself. But as of now, we don't recommend it as a completely safe alternative to Teflon and other PTFE cookware.
How Long Does Nonstick Coating Last?
Nonstick coatings can last up to 5 years. Some people can get longer life out of them by treating them carefully and using them only when needed, such as only for eggs. But the average life span of a nonstick pan is 1-5 years.
Does buying more expensive nonstick make a difference? Some people claim it does, but we haven't noticed a lot of differences in our testing. If you're going to buy nonstick, we recommend buying cheap, but not too cheap, because you want a pan with decent heating properties. We like Anolon Nouvelle Luxe for PTFE and GreenPan for ceramic nonstick (but again, we really prefer cast iron and carbon steel to both).
What Is the Toughest Nonstick Coating?
Probably the toughest nonstick coating is PTFE that's been reinforced with diamonds, granite, titanium, or some other hard substance.
Ceramic nonstick is extremely tough, as well, but its nonstick properties don't last.
If you want a nonstick pan that will really last--and we're talking several decades--our recommendation is seasoned cast iron or carbon steel.
Can You Restore a Nonstick Coating?
You cannot restore a Teflon or other PTFE coating. Once it's scratched or discolored, it is no longer safe to use.
However, some makers say you can partially restore the nonstick properties--if the pan isn't scratched or discolored--by boiling a solution of baking soda in the pan. This lifts food and cooking oil residue, which can sometimes be the cause of a nonstick pan losing its nonstick properties. Eventually the nonstick will stop working, but you may be able to get more life out of the pan with this technique.
Ceramic nonstick can be restored in a similar way, but you can actually scrub the surface of the pan with a baking soda paste. This may temporarily restore the nonstick properties, but it won't work forever. At some point, the pan is just going to stop being nonstick.
The good news here is that ceramic nonstick is probably safe to keep using even if no longer nonstick, as long as it's not scratched or chipped. So unlike Teflon and PTFE, you can keep using a ceramic nonstick pan without too many worries about safety (remember, we aren't 100% sure this is the case, but we can say with certainty that no ceramic nonstick pan will release harmful fumes).
Final Thoughts About the Best Nonstick Pans Without Teflon
You were probably hoping to hear about a safe nonstick alternative to Teflon and other PTFE products, but the truth is that nonstick cookware is bad for you and terrible for the environment. Ceramic nonstick is advertised as a safe alternative, but there is not enough research available to say with certainty that this is the case. (It also doesn't last very long and isn't actually nonstick because it requires cooking oil for best results.)
If you want a safe nonstick surface, then seasoned cast iron or carbon steel is your best bet. But if you're brave and willing to learn new things, you can learn the right techniques so food won't stick to any surface--which means clad stainless steel pans could be in your future.
Thanks for reading!
If you found this article helpful, please share it: