When you love to cook, you know how important it is to have frying pans that your food doesn’t stick to. Nonstick frying pans make for easier clean-up, better tasting food, and easier cooking. I used to assume that nonstick meant Teflon coated, but the good news is that there are now many different kinds of pans that are considered to be nonstick. Let’s look at some of the best nonstick frying pans available.
Important Considerations For Cooking Items
When I’m shopping for pots and pans, there are a number of different factors I need to consider before I make my choice. Materials, price point, and cleaning instructions are the three primary factors that I consider. Different materials will heat differently, cost different amounts, and have different cleaning instructions. Size of the pan, and what you will cook it in it are also important considerations.
When I was growing up, the only nonstick frying pans you could get were coated with a nonstick polymer, which we often call Teflon. Teflon is actually the specific brand name that DuPont uses for their nonstick coating; when the chemical started getting a bad reputation in the 1990s and 2000s, other companies were quick to state that their nonstick pans were not made with Teflon. That’s true…but it is also misleading.
Any chemical that claims to use any kind of finish, whether stone, diamond, or just “easy release,” is likely to use some form of PTFE polymer. Many of these brands boast of being PFOA-free. PFOA was a separate chemical used in the creation of Teflon, which has since been found to be an environmental hazard. Companies can avoid PFOA while still using PTFE – and most of them do.
Realistically, these nonstick pans can be perfectly safe. These polymers are completely inert, meaning they are not harmful, up to 500F. There’s no real reason you should ever heat a pan that high. For general safety, don’t leave an empty pan on the stove, in the oven, or let one boil dry, and you should be fine.
That said, with these kinds of nonstick pans, you need to use non-metal utensils. In the 1990s, this was annoying, because wooden utensils didn’t get the job done, and plastic utensils melted. With the popularity of silicon spatulas and turners, however, this is much less of an issue than it used to be.
You can also get great stainless steel and cast iron pans which do not have a nonstick coating, but with proper treatment, are just as easy release as official “nonstick” pans.
Discussing cost with kitchenware is complex. I will pay a lot more for a multipurpose deep pan that I expect to last for years, and which can go from stovetop to oven, than I will for a gadget I expect to use a couple of times a year. What this means for me with frying pans is that I will pay a lot more for the nine and twelve inch pans which are my staples for my family of four than I will for the tiny frying pan I break out when I’m just frying two eggs.
3. Cleaning instructions
In general, good quality frying pans are going to need to be hand washed. There are a couple of different reasons for this. Pans that are anodized aluminum – shiny on the inside and darkened on the outside – are electro-hardened, and will be damaged by the dishwasher. Cast iron can react to the highly alkaline chemicals in dishwasher detergent. And stainless steel pans are generally layered with copper in the bottoms; the rapid changes of temperature inside the dishwasher can cause the layers to buckle and affect the pan’s ability to heat evenly.
It makes sense that a larger pan is more expensive than a smaller pan. Pans which come with lids are also generally more expensive than pans without. When you see a “two-piece frying pan set” make sure you know if you’re getting a second pan, or a lid for your frying pan. When I was a novice cook, I made this mistake more than once. Embarrassing.
What size of frying pans are most useful depends on what you tend to cook. In generally, six inch pans are only good for a few uses, and eight and nine inch pans are fairly universally useful. Twelve inch pans are quite big, if you’re only cooking for yourself.
5. What will you cook?
If you’re looking for a nonstick frying pan that will mostly be used at low temperatures – making items like grilled cheese or scrambled eggs – than you can probably afford to spend less on your pan. Most pans heat well enough at low to medium temperatures; it’s at higher settings that you start to see real differences in quality.
If you are going to do a lot of pan deglazing with liquids like lemon juice or wine, you may want to avoid cast iron; cast iron can react to acids, removing some of the natural seasoning on the pan and giving the pan sauce an iron-ish aftertaste. It used to be thought that cooking any kind of acids in a cast iron pan would cause this, but modern pans are sealed well enough that you can cook chilis and other tomato heavy dishes in them without a problem.
And if you are cooking a lot of noodle or rice dishes that start on the stovetop and finish in the oven, you’re going to want to make sure your pan is oven safe, and you will probably also want some sort of cover to keep your oven clean.
My Favorite Nonstick Pans
For many hardcore cooks, having eight or nine inch pans in stainless steel, cast iron, and a food safe nonstick, is considered perfectly sensible. They have different uses and different strengths. For the casual cook, however, having multiple pans in the same size is unnecessary. To give you a sense of what’s out there, I’m going to point out my favorite pan in this size in each of the best materials.
1. Best Teflon-like Nonstick Frying Pan
All-Clad has been at the forefront of top quality kitchenware for years, and with good reason. Their eight inch Try-Ply Bonded Stainless Steel – $112.60 pan is dishwasher safe, and with proper care, will hold up to years of cooking abuse. An aluminum core ensures rapid and even heating, but makes the pan lighter than a copper core. High sides mean that you can use the pan to stir fry veggies and other foods without making a mess on your stove.
All-Clad absolutely uses a Teflon-like polymer for their easy release nonstick frying pans, however, so I would personally not use them above a medium heat, use metal utensils, or put them in the dishwasher. It’s also worth noting that keeping that shiny exterior will require occasional polishing. I’m fine with my cookware looking like it gets used, so it doesn’t bother me, but it might aggravate people who need things neat and tidy.
2. Best Stainless Steel Frying Pan
Le Creuset is best known for their ceramic and stoneware, but their uncoated stainless steel pans are excellent. With an aluminum core, these pans will heat evenly and easily, and the lack of a coating means that you can use any utensils you need on the surface. This pan also has a “helper handle” opposite from the long handle; this is a great feature for when you need to pour out whatever you’ve been cooking without wrenching your wrist.
Le Creuset notes that this pan is oven safe, but only to 400F. This might not be an ideal choice for something you want to broil, like oven baked chicken, but should still work for items like rice and pasta dishes. The exterior surface is brushed steel, instead of polished, so finger prints and the occasional smudge will be much less noticeable.
If you’re searching for a stainless steel pan that won’t show every fingerprint , finding one that is “hard anodized” is a good strategy. This means that the exterior isn’t a shiny silver color, but a dull black. Most stainless steel pans in the mid-price range have this appearance.
Stainless steel used to be a luxury product, but as Calphalon and All-clad have become household names, other companies have made products that are perfectly fine for the average home cook. Cuisinart makes a fantastic 8” open skillet with a shiny exterior and a nonstick Teflon-like interior that is “titanium reinforced” and lasts very well. It is not listed as oven safe , however.
3. Best Cast Iron Frying Pan
Honestly, as a cook, I’m a little embarrassed at how long I resisted cast iron cookware. I was convinced that it was too hard to clean and too finicky to use. I cannot express how wrong I was.
I got this Lodge 8” frying pan ($14.99) as my first piece of cast iron two years ago, and I hardly ever cook on anything else anymore. These cast iron pans can do anything. Want to cook on the grill, over the camp fire, or on your stove? Sure. Need to take something from the stovetop to the oven? Got it. Want to go backpacking? They’re heavy, but they’ll get the job done.
I’ve never had anything get sticky on me in my cast iron, aside from the gunk that accumulates in any pan, no matter what you do. Clean up is easy; I wash the pan in hot water, and use one of the plastic Lodge scrapers to get up any gunk. Dry with a kitchen towel; add a splash of oil and spread it around with a paper towel. Cast iron is clean and ready to go for its next cooking assignment. And the prices cannot be beat. Cast iron often can be found for a quarter of the price of more expensive stainless steel pans.
And the winner is…?
Without question, Lodge cast iron makes my favorite nonstick frying pans. No polymer coating that I need to worry about, no “where did the silicone spatula go,” just reliable cooking. If you need to get your kitchen set up quickly, I recommend this two piece set $38.77. The skillet doubles as a lid for the deeper Dutch oven pan. You can cook basically anything you need with these two pans.