BY ANNA STOCKWELL
Looking for a new nonstick skillet? Let us break down the different types.
PHOTO BY MATT DUCKOR
To all those who doubt, dismiss or otherwise hate on nonstick skillets, I pose just one question: How are you cooking your eggs? Because a perfect egg situation is one where they slide out of the pan and onto your plate in one easy, clean sweep. If that’s not happening for you, you’re torturing yourself by using a non-nonstick skillet, or your nonstick skillet isn’t working anymore. Either way, it’s time to buy a new nonstick skillet.
And that’s where this guide comes in.
The nonstick market is crowded, not just with shapes and sizes but also with different nonstick technologies. So how do you know which one you should buy? To answer that question, I called Norman Kornbleuth, owner of my favorite cookware shop in New York City, Broadway Panhandler. Just as he does with his customers, Norman led us through the process of picking the right nonstick skillet. First step: understand the options:
PHOTO COURTESY OF SWISS DIAMOND
The original nonstick cooking product was Teflon, trademarked by DuPont in the early 1960s. Treated with PTFE—the chemical that puts the non in nonstick—these pans are the only true nonstick pans, with a surface that lets food slide right off. PTFE is safe for humans—and in fact, many other manufacturers have adopted the technology—but if you super-heat it (above 500ºF), the molecules can start to break down and release harmful gasses.
Still, this type of nonstick cookware has a bit of a bad rep, because it used to be made with the chemical PFOA, which has been found likely to be a human carcinogen. That’s why you want to look for nonstick skillets with a “PFOA-Free” label.
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Classic nonstick coated cookware has improved significantly over the years, and manufacturers have learned to apply better coatings to make the pans stronger, more scratch resistant and better heat conductors. Norman’s favorite nonstick skillets are made by Swiss Diamond, which mixes diamonds with PTFE to create a pan that’s superstrong.
PHOTO COURTESY OF KYOCERA
A newer, eco-friendly option for nonstick cooking is cookware with a ceramic coating. These pans have a surface that is hard, brittle, smooth, and highly stick-resistant. It conducts heat well for a nice sear, and performs similarly to a traditional nonstick, without any of the over-heating concerns. The surface is fragile, though, and over time it can become less nonstick if not cared for properly.
Norman’s favorite ceramic pans are made in Japan by Kyocera Ceramic. There are also some great nonstick pans made with a mix of ceramic and titanium, like Scanpan, which we use here in the Epicurious Test Kitchen for cooking delicate fish fillets.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TRAMONTINA
Another eco-friendly option is porcelain-enamel coated pans. The baked-on porcelain coating turns to glass, which is very smooth and can last a lifetime if cared for properly. Like ceramic, the surface is fairly fragile—it is glass after all—so you need to be careful with it.
This category tends to be a bit cheaper, so if you’re looking for a small, $20, egg-cooking skillet that’s chem-free, this is a good place to start. Norman recommends Tramontina Earthtones Fry Pans.
THE NONSTICK THAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU
To find the pan that will be most useful to you, ask yourself a few questions: Are you going to be heating your skillet above 500ºF? If not, then don’t worry about that PTFE. But if you are, and you’re worried about PTFE, then go for ceramic or porcelain. Are you going to be searing protein with your nonstick skillet? If yes, then go for classic nonstick mixed with diamonds or go for ceramic, since those are better heat conductors than porcelain-enameled.
Finally—and perhaps most important—whenever possible, seek out the pan in person and see how it feels in your hands. Norman is a big proponent of this. “You’re going to be using this pan for many years,” he says. “If it’s uncomfortable in the beginning, it’s not going to get more comfortable.”
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