In the market for a new nonstick pan? The technology used in these coatings has rapidly advanced over the last few years, so it's crucial that you're up-to-date on all the relevant details before heading online or to a local store.
Here, we’ll help you do just that, starting with information on different types of nonstick coatings. Then, we’ll explain how you can spot indicators of quality, durability, and excellent performance to help you find the best option for your cooking needs.
Four Popular Nonstick Cookware Coatings
There are four popular materials used to create nonstick coatings (three of which we’ll focus on): fluoropolymer, silicone, sol-gel ceramic, and porcelain-ceramic:
This is the granite-colored nonstick coating that we generally think of as Teflon, which is typically applied either through a spraying or rolling process. It consists of resin compounds (mainly PTFE) that are solid, non-toxic plastic polymers with inherent nonstick capabilities.
Fluoropolymer remains a common choice for nonstick coatings because of its durability – it maintains its slippery qualities longer than other options and is more resistant to wear and tear from normal use.
A quick note about fluoropolymer safety: It’s important to emphasize the difference between PTFE (what’s in Teflon and other fluoropolymers) and PFOA.
As we outline in Is Nonstick Cookware Harmful to Your Health, PFOA is a chemical used in the manufacturing of PTFE that’s linked to some potentially serious health concerns. However, except in the rarest of instances, the finished fluoropolymer applied to the surface of cookware is entirely free of PFOA.
Should you still look for a ‘PFOA-free’ label when shopping for a new pan? Yes, since the absence of one could be an indicator of low quality.
Compared to spraying or rolling, silicone coatings are baked onto specially prepared metals. While less expensive than most other options, this coating loses its nonstick properties the quickest. This is why it’s generally only found on baking sheets and low-end nonstick pans.
As a result, unless this is what you’re specifically in the market for, we think you’ll achieve much more bang-for-your-buck from other nonstick coating options.
Sol-Gel ‘Ceramic’ Coating
A hybrid material that offers the strength of silica and top-notch smoothness without requiring fluoropolymers. Sol-gel products aren’t really ceramic, but more of a “ceramic-like” blend that incorporates a release agent in the coating to give a slippery texture.
Ceramic nonstick cookware is a ‘green’ option that generally offers good temperature resistance and is also notable for coming in a range of eye-catching colors.
Writing for Epicurious, Anna Stockwell explains that porcelain-enamel coated pans are another eco-friendly nonstick option. “The baked-on porcelain coating turns to glass,” she says, “which is very smooth and can last a lifetime if cared for properly.”
As you might imagine with a glass surface, she emphasizes that it’s similarly fragile as ceramic, so you’ll need to take care when cooking, cleaning, and storing it.
According to Anna, another potential benefit is that porcelain-enamel nonstick cookware is typically less expensive than competing options.
Will Ceramic & Porcelain-Enamel Nonstick Pans Perform Better Than Traditional PTFE Coatings?
Here’s a high-level look at how each of these nonstick cookware coatings stacks up against each other from a performance perspective:
Which Coating Will Withstand Regular Use Better?
Many online customers—including HighYa readers—report better initial release with ceramic (sol-gel) coatings than with average-quality Teflon (PTFE) coatings. Basically, they tend to feel more slippery at the start.
However, many also often report that the nonstick property of sol-gel degrades faster than conventional PTFE coatings. In higher-quality PTFE options, the strength of the exterior coatings is further boosted using a process called hard-anodization, which can extend its comparative lifespan even more.
Business Insider’s Janine Clements explains this process involves “hardening a soft aluminum surface electrochemically so it becomes twice as hard as stainless steel and has an oxidized layer that is nonstick, scratch resistant, and non-reactive to food.”
Finally, porcelain-enamel can last as long as PTFE if adequately cared for, although its brittleness and overall fragility are relatively in line with ceramic.
Bottom line: While the proper use and care play a significant role, if treated similarly, ceramic coatings are more prone to scratching and typically lose their nonstick qualities sooner than PTFE (especially ones with hard-anodized aluminum), thereby reducing their overall longevity.
Which Nonstick Coating Is More Heat Resistant?
Conventional PTFE coatings begin to lose quality at 500°F. On the other hand, the release characteristics of sol-gel coatings begin to deteriorate by temperatures above 662°F while the coating itself will survive up to 842°F.
Porcelain-ceramic can withstand temps up to 450°C (roughly 842°F), while a hard-anodized coating will remain intact until the aluminum it’s attached to begins melting at 1,221°F.
For ease of reference, here they are in order of greatest heat resistance to least:
Are There Other Factors to Consider When Comparing Nonstick Coatings?
While it’s not the most important, how a pan looks undoubtedly ranks in its appeal. Since sol-gel can maintain color at higher temperatures and can be made in different colors like red, green, blue, and white, these ceramic pans can offer a pop of color to accent your kitchen’s decor.
Additionally, sol-gel ceramic pans have better resistance to staining compared with traditional PTFE coatings, mainly because of their tighter network of molecules.
On the other hand, traditional nonstick coatings made with PTFE are generally only available in black, gray, bronze, and metallic copper.
Again, while it’s important to check the manufacturer’s specifications, typically sol-gel ceramic and porcelain-ceramic pots and pans do not need to be seasoned before first use like a traditional Teflon-style pan.
Bottom line in the comparison of popular nonstick cookware coatings?
Since the majority of both PTFE and sol-gel nonstick coatings meet EPA recommendations by delivering PFOA-free formulations, the choice to buy one over the other is mostly a matter of preference (budget, intended use, durability needs, appearance, etc.), not one of safety.
We’ll pull all of these pros, cons, and preferences together in a moment, but let’s first discuss quality.
How Can You Spot a Top-Quality Non-Stick Coating?
Any nonstick pan can give your omelet the slip for at least a week. But low-quality pans may only last a few months, while high-quality nonstick cookware can last up to five years.
Whether you decide on a PTFE, sol-gel, or porcelain-ceramic option, writing for Cooking for Engineers, The Cookware Advisor explains that a combination of three characteristics illustrates a nonstick coating’s quality:
- The coating’s formula
- The number of layers it consists of (3 is considered the minimum you should consider, while some manufacturers offer up to 7)
- The thickness of each layer
As noted earlier, silicone coatings should be reserved for baking sheets since they’re far too delicate to withstand heavy stovetop use.
How the Coating Is Applied Matters
While these should be considered your core factors when purchasing nonstick pans, The Cookware Advisor continues explaining that the coating’s application method—sprayed or rolled on—can also make a meaningful difference in performance and durability.
With this in mind, they explain “the best nonstick coatings are sprayed on and are absolutely smooth to the touch.”
Other Factors That Affect the Durability of Your Non-Stick Cookware
There are just two more factors to consider before picking out your next nonstick piece:
The type of metal used. Typically, hard-anodized aluminum pans will last longer than coatings applied to plain aluminum. However, the same coating applied to plain aluminum pans will often outlast steel pans with enamel coatings.
The pan’s thickness. Thicker pans provide better heat distribution than thinner versions and therefore do a better job of protecting the nonstick coating. Together, the type and thickness of metal used in a pan’s construction will make a noticeable difference in how long a nonstick product lasts. But there’s another reason to reach for a thick-bottomed pan – they’re much less likely to exceed maximum temperatures in the blink of an eye.
A Note About Different Stovetop Types
Gas, electric coil, and smooth electric ranges can all use either aluminum or enamel-on-steel nonstick pans without a problem.
However, induction cooktops work by creating an oscillating magnetic field that requires a nonstick pan with an iron plate built into its base. Why?
Since iron is naturally magnetic, it induces an electric current into the cookware, which then creates heat. Without it, your nonstick pan will remain cool to the touch.
To make sure you’re headed in the right direction when shopping, look for pots and pans advertised as ‘induction ready.’
Pro tip: Even then, experts suggest purchasing your induction ready nonstick pieces one at a time, which allows you to check that the magnetic base is appropriately wide and doesn’t leave the sides of your pan cold.
Do Higher Prices Equal Better Value?
From a budget perspective, is it worth paying more for a nonstick pan? While there’s no single answer to this question that will apply in every instance, Tasting Table put a budget pan (8" T-fal ProGrade, $25) and a higher-end option (8" Scanpan Classic, $85) head-to-head back in 2017.
Ultimately, they concluded that the Scanpan undoubtedly performed better, which isn’t necessarily surprising considering it was priced 3X higher. However, they still called the T-fal an “excellent kitchen workhorse—especially for the price tag.”
But if the price is at all a concern, they concluded that “since both will become scratched with everyday use and lose their surfaces over time, we'd grab an inexpensive T-fal and save a buck instead.”
Best Non-Stick Pans
We scoured top-rated results from online marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart, and Google Shopping, and combined them with picks from sites like Good Housekeeping, Cookware Judge, Consumer Reports, and Epicurious (to name just a handful), to come up with our top nonstick pans in each coating class.
Best Traditional Nonstick Pan: T-fal Ultimate Hard Anodized Scratch Resistant Titanium
- Model: T-fal Ultimate Hard Anodized
- Pan Material: Aluminum
- Price: $28 (10" and 12"); also available in different sets
- Coating Layers: 3
- Maximum Temperature: 400°
With thousands of combined online customer reviews and an average rating of about 4.5 stars, it seems that the vast majority of customers who pay the competitive $28 (Amazon) price tag for the 10" or 12" versions are pleased with their purchase.
Common compliments reference ease of use and cleaning, even heating, great nonstick functionality, and fantastic cooking results. Many also appreciated T-fal’s unique Thermo-Spot heat indicator, which helps users know when the pan is perfectly preheated.
Because it’s hard-anodized, T-fal advertises that their patented Prometal non-stick interior “is exceptionally durable and scratch resistant,” and is even safe to use with metal utensils. As a bonus, each pan also includes a lid.
According to one Amazon reviewer, though, “The online product description states that the product is oven-safe to 400 degrees. However, the instruction sheet accompanying the product states that the handles and knobs are oven-safe to only 350 degrees.”
Furthermore, “the online product description also states that it's dishwasher-safe. However, the instruction sheet accompanying the product states that ‘we do not recommend that you place cookware in the dishwasher.’”
Best Sol-Gel ‘Ceramic’ Nonstick Pan: GreenLife Soft Grip
- Model: GreenLife Soft Grip
- Pan Material: Aluminum
- Price: $21 (8"), $25 (12")
- Coating Layers: 3
- Maximum Temperature: 350°F (Classic models go up to 425°)
Advertised as the originator of the ceramic nonstick coating, GreenLife’s Soft Grip lineup is available in three different finishes (turquoise, black, or burgundy), and features a cream interior the manufacturer claims can help you “gauge cooking results with greater accuracy.”
The company claims—and most online customers seem to agree—that their Soft Grip pans deliver excellent heat conductivity and even heat distribution. Its soft-to-the-touch stay-cool handle features a cut-out for easy storage.
As is typical with many ceramic options, though, one of the most frequent online customer complaints cited coatings that lost their nonstick ability within a couple of months. As such, you’ll want to make sure you don’t overheat it and avoid the use of cooking sprays, whose residues can build up over time and damage the surface.
Best Porcelain-Enamel Nonstick Pan: Rachael Ray Cucina
- Model: Rachael Ray Cucina
- Pan Material: Aluminum
- Price: $15 (8.5"); $25 (12.5"); $32 (9.25" and 11" set)
- Coating Layers: 3
- Maximum Temperature: 400°F
Whether on their own or as complete sets, thousands of online customers sing praises about these porcelain-enamel nonstick pans. Specifically, that they withstand scratching and chipping, provide great nonstick functionality, deliver excellent cooking results, and that their six unique colors look attractive.
On the downside, they’re not dishwasher safe (hand wash only), and the most common complaint on Amazon was that their color significantly faded within a few months of use. As such, these (or any porcelain-enamel model, for that matter) might not be your first choice if you’re especially rough on your cookware.
Finally, none of the pans in the lineup are induction-ready.
Which Non-Stick Pan Is Right for You?
Not to sound like a broken record, but although the above options are likely to provide most users with a lot of value for the money, it’s important to reemphasize that no single model (or even brand) will meet everyone’s needs.
From this perspective, in addition to the coating type, you'll generally want to start with the kinds of food you like to cook, along with how many servings you make at one time. As overly simplistic examples, if you frequently cook at high temperatures (e.g., for searing steaks), you’ll probably want to avoid using a nonstick pan for this purpose altogether.
Furthermore, if you’re a singleton, you can likely get away with using one smaller pan, while a five-person household might require an entire set of nonstick cookware in a range of sizes and functions.
Just remember that even when carefully washed and stored, nonstick pans don’t have reputations for particularly long shelf lives, regardless of the brand or coating used.
And since you can see from our product comparison above that finding a top-notch nonstick pan for under $35 is entirely possible, you’ll need to carefully consider whether or not you want to shell out more of your hard-earned money for one.
» For Further Reading:
- How to Season, Use, Clean, and Store Your Nonstick Cookware
- Finding the Right Pots and Pans for Your Cooking Style
- How to Use the Right Pots and Pans for the Job