The Best Non-Stick Cookware You Can Buy, Plus How to Use It (According to a Pro)
Every cook should have a good non-stick pan in their collection. Why? It’s easy to clean, food won’t stick to the surface and there’s less need for butter or oil. (And if you ever fry eggs, you know a non-stick surface is essential.) But with so many options, deciding what to buy can be a little (OK, a lot) overwhelming. We tapped a professional chef to find out everything you need to know about non-stick cookware, what brands she cooks with and our own recommendations, so you can choose the best non-stick pans for your own kitchen.
What is non-stick cookware exactly?
With non-stick cookware, you can brown food without it sticking to the pan. Standard pots and pans require some type of cooking fat (like oil or butter) to prevent the food from gluing itself to the pan, but non-stick versions are coated with a slippery surface during manufacturing.
When you think of non-stick, you probably think of Teflon (PTFE or polytetrafluoroethylene if you’re fancy), a chemical that’s been the standard for non-stick cookware since the 1940s. But it’s not the only option: There are also ceramic-, enamel- and silicone-coated pans, as well as seasoned cast iron and anodized aluminum.
Are non-stick pans safe to cook with?
Recently, the FDA found that some of the chemicals used in manufacturing Teflon are toxic to the environment and our health. Those chemicals (specifically PFOAs) are being phased out, but make sure you read the label on the product before purchasing.
Modern non-stick cookware is safe when used correctly. It’s really important not to overheat a coated non-stick pan (like Teflon). When a Teflon pan is heated above about 500°F, the coating will begin to break down at a molecular level and release toxic particles and gases (some of them carcinogenic)—yikes.
Another thing to watch out for: If you accidentally scratch the coating, it can flake off into your food. If you remember to cook at low to medium heat and don’t use metal utensils, non-stick cookware is safe.
When should I use non-stick cookware?
According to Barbara Rich, culinary arts lead chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, you should absolutely reach for a non-stick pan when cooking eggs: “Use non-stick cookware 100 percent of the time when cooking eggs. At the Institute of Culinary Education, we use non-stick pans during our lessons on eggs.” Non-stick also great for cooking fish, she tells us, because of its delicate nature. And don’t forget about cheese, which is notorious for sticking and burning onto pans.
When should I not use non-stick?
Skip coated non-stick for high-heat cooking or transferring from the stove to the oven. “If you have cookware made with Teflon or that’s coated, I wouldn’t recommend putting it in the oven at all,” Rich tells us. Searing a steak on the stove and finishing it in the oven? Use stainless steel or cast iron for that. In fact, stainless steel cookware is generally a better choice for searing meats and cooking fatty foods or sauces that aren’t prone to sticking in the first place.
How to take care of your non-stick cookware:
To keep your coated non-stick pans looking brand-new, hand washing is the way to go. Because it wipes clean like nobody’s business, you probably won’t need the dishwasher anyway. Use soapy water and a nonabrasive sponge to maintain the coating, and line the inside with paper towels if you plan to stack during storage.
When cooking with non-stick pans, keep in mind that the coating is prone to scratches. “It’s important to use non-scratching utensils like rubber spatulas or wooden spoons when cooking on non-stick cookware,” Rich recommends. “Don’t mix anything with a fork or metal utensil.” Don’t put it in the oven or preheat it, either. And don’t use non-stick cooking spray: It can bond to the surface when it heats up, leaving a sticky residue you won’t be able to wipe off (and rendering that once slick coating pretty much useless).
The bottom line when choosing non-stick cookware:
When buying non-stick cookware, “you need to think about what you’ll use it for,” Rich tells us. “In this day and age, the ones that are coated or Teflon are the least sensible to purchase because you may damage it by using a sponge that’s too abrasive or a metal utensil like a fork or tongs.” She prefers ceramic or seasoned cast iron. “When you’re looking for ceramic, look for ones that are not coated,” she says. “The coating is generally painted on, and that’s when you want to be careful because it can get scratched.”
So you’re finally ready to make the non-stick investment? These five brands make the best non-stick cookware on the market.
The one the professionals use: Scanpan
“I love and use Scanpan all the time,” Rich tells us. That’s because the Danish cookware heats evenly, is relatively lightweight and is oven-safe up to 500°F. The CTX line has the look of stainless steel, but its interior features a food-safe ceramic finish for a slick surface that won’t leech chemicals into your food. You can also pick and choose pans as you please if you don’t want to commit to a whole set.
Recommended: Scanpan CTX 11-Inch Fry Pan
The one that looks the cutest in your kitchen: Caraway
Available in an array of trendy colors (sage! cream! “perracotta”!), these are the non-stick pans for the millennial set. The nontoxic ceramic coating is oven-safe up to 650°F and holds onto heat, and although it only comes as an entire set, it includes magnetic pan racks and a lid holder for storage. How does it cook? “I’ve found I can just toss in a bunch of veggies and sauté them without even adding any oil,” says Jillian Quint, PureWow’s SVP of content.
Recommended: Cookware Set
The direct-to-consumer do-it-all: Equal Parts
We recently tested this new, direct-to-consumer line and were seriously impressed by the slippery surface. The high-sided, ten-inch Big Pan is a do-it-all skillet that heats up quickly and evenly, with thoughtful design elements like a heat-dissipating, easy-to-grip handle. It’s only oven-safe up to 450°F, but for quick searing on the stove, it’s a dream. The black finish is timeless yet modern; it works on gas, electric and induction burners; it’s nontoxic and it comes in eco-friendly packaging (a nice bonus).
Recommended: Equal Parts Big Pan
The best bang for your buck: All-Clad
The All-Clad brand is well loved among chefs and home cooks (hi, Ina Garten), and for good reason: They’re durable and consistent. While these anodized non-stick pans are heavier than some options, they won’t chip, scratch or warp on you. (They’re also dishwasher-safe and oven-safe.) Not to mention, $60 for two high-end pans is pretty hard to come by—proof that you don’t have to spend a fortune on non-stick.
Recommended: All-Clad B1 Hard Anodized Non-Stick 8-Inch and 10-Inch Fry Pan Set
The oldie but goodie: Seasoned cast iron
You wouldn’t normally think of cast iron as non-stick, would you? It’s actually a great non-stick option, as long as it’s seasoned properly. “Cast iron is the most classic, and as long as you’re willing to be patient and get it seasoned, it works really well,” Rich advises. “You can buy ‘pre-seasoned’ cast iron, but you’ll still need to bring it home and wash it, after which it can’t hurt to re-season.” Luckily, it is also inexpensive and will last you pretty much forever, provided you take care of it. It holds heat and can withstand high temperatures like no other. It wouldn’t be our top choice for cooking eggs…but if durability and versatility are your priority, you can’t go wrong.
Recommended: Lodge 10.25-Inch Cast Iron Skillet
This article reflects prices at publication that may change.