A few of the nonstick pans we tested.
A good nonstick pan has the traits of a traditional skillet—even heating, classic flared sides, good balance between body and handle—but adds a slick coating to make cooking delicate foods like eggs and fish easier. Nonstick pans eventually lose their slickness and become dull, and because you will inevitably need to replace them, you don’t need to drop a lot of cash on one.
You’ll find two types of nonstick coatings:
PTFE: This is a synthetic polymer that repels water and reduces friction. Not only is it used for cookware, it’s a common material in joint replacements. The most famous of this type of coating is Teflon, but a few companies make proprietary coatings for cookware. When talking about classic PTFE nonstick coating, two big names in the industry are Chemours (DuPont) and Whitford. Many brand-name cookware companies use a coating from one of these two companies. For instance, if this website is accurate, T-Fal uses Teflon and Cuisinart uses a coating called Quantanium by Whitford.
Ceramic: This is not actually ceramic, but instead a ceramic-like coating also called sol-gel (short for “solution-gel”). Sol-gel coatings don’t use polyfluoroalkyl polymers like PTFE, but instead are silica-based. For that reason they’re often touted as being “greener” or better for you, but there’s not much truth to either claim (for more on why, see this piece by Wirecutter’s science editor, Leigh Krietsch Boerner).
The biggest complaint about “ceramic” pans is that their nonstick properties don’t last as long. According to an informational site sponsored by Whitford (which makes both PTFE and sol-gel coatings), “PTFE coatings provide very good release for a longer period of time” than sol-gel coatings. I asked friends and family how long their sol-gel cookware lasted and they all said about one year, and that they’d never buy it again. So we focused on pans with PTFE-based nonstick coatings, as they last longer than those with sol-gel coatings (which is one reason why ceramic pans aren’t particularly green: you have to replace them more often).
A pan that evenly distributes heat not only yields consistently cooked food, but it also ensures the longevity of the nonstick coating, which breaks down at high temperatures. We like nonstick skillets made from cast aluminum. It’s an inexpensive material and it’s an excellent conductor of heat that ensures even cooking. The only thing that’s better is tri-ply, which you can use on induction.
Skillets with weight balanced between the handle and pan worked best for making crepes and flipping foods. A bent lip made it easy to pour off liquids (like excess grease or batter) with minimal dripping.
Even with proper care, nonstick skillets have short life spans. Regular use and exposure to heat will simply wear out nonstick coating. We think $30 to $50 is plenty to spend on a piece of cookware that will give you three to six years of use. For our readers who truly want the best, we have a recommendation for a nonstick skillet that costs over $100, and it’s truly a spectacular piece of cookware.
Top: The Tramontina Pro’s omelet. Bottom: The Scanpan Classic’s omelet. It was difficult to get a smooth omelet from the Scanpan due to its large cooking surface.
We also narrowed our search to open-stock, 10-inch pans—no sets. We believe a 10-inch pan is best for omelets or two fried eggs. If you need a smaller or larger pan, our picks come in different sizes.
Though many pans come with a limited lifetime warranty, these guarantees won’t cover wear and tear (like surface scratches and gradual breakdown of nonstick coating) or misuse and abuse. Read the instruction manual for any nonstick pan you buy because some things—like using nonstick cooking spray or putting your pan in the dishwasher—will void the warranty.
To test the pans, we made French omelets to see how gently they could cook eggs and how quickly they released without browning and we cooked full skillets of hash browns to check for evenness of cooking and the ability to achieve a full, clean flip. We browned frozen and thawed tilapia fillets to check for even cooking and possible sticking. We also produced tall stacks of crepes to judge maneuverability, and we fried eggs to test for delicate flipping.
When treated properly—no metal utensils, overheating, nonstick cooking spray, or trips through the dishwasher—a nonstick pan will give you years of service. We know that long-term testing is important where nonstick coatings are concerned, so we will update this review after the pans are used in daily rotation.