Equipment

Which Type of Nonstick Skillet Is Right for You?

What’s the difference between regular PTFE-coated nonstick skillets and ceramic cookware? And how does carbon-steel cookware compare?
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Published Sept. 25, 2023.

When cooking eggs, fish, and other delicate foods that are prone to sticking, we usually use a nonstick skillet. There are two types of nonstick skillets: regular nonstick skillets coated with layers of a synthetic material containing the chemical polytetrafluoroethylene (the most common brand name of which is Teflon) and ceramic nonstick skillets coated with a material derived from sand. Carbon-steel skillets are a third option; in place of a chemical coating, these pans develop nonstick patinas with careful seasoning and use. (Although seasoned cast-iron skillets are also quite slick, they’re much heavier than carbon-steel skillets and not as easy to maneuver as thinner, lighter-weight nonstick skillets.) We’ve tested all three types of pan and can recommend one in every style.

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Regular Nonstick Skillets

The key component in their coatings is polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a tough, flexible compound that scientists at DuPont discovered in the 1930s. When new, the best versions of these pans are superslick and incredibly user-friendly. However, the coatings wear away with use. There are also concerns about the safety of this type of nonstick cookware. Although PTFE is inert (chemically inactive) once it’s made and applied to a product, it can degrade and release dangerous fumes when it’s heated above 500 degrees.

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Ceramic Nonstick Skillets

Instead of PTFE, these skillets get their nonstick properties from a material that’s derived from beach sand. Their nonstick surfaces are more brittle than PTFE nonstick surfaces, which means that they’re prone to developing microscopic cracks that can cause food to stick. But there is no risk of their coatings releasing dangerous fumes, even at high temperatures. Like all nonstick cookware, these pans won’t last forever. They will become gradually less nonstick with use and will eventually need to be replaced.

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Carbon-Steel Skillets

Unlike regular nonstick and ceramic nonstick skillets, carbon-steel skillets aren’t layered with synthetic coatings. To make them nonstick, they must be seasoned (which is both fairly quick and fairly easy with our preferred method), and this seasoning improves over time with use. Acidic foods and heavy scrubbing with soap can strip off that seasoning, but it can be completely restored if damaged. This style of pan requires time and attention to maintain, but it’s a one-time investment that can last a lifetime.

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Which skillet is right for you?

We've tested dozens of skillets in each category. Which one—or ones!—you use is a matter of personal preference.

Types of skillets

Types of skillets

OXO Good Grips Non-Stick Pro 12" Open Frypan
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OXO Good Grips Non-Stick Pro 12" Open FrypanBuy Now

Types of skillets

GreenPan Valencia Pro Hard Anodized Nonstick Frypan
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GreenPan Valencia Pro Hard Anodized Nonstick FrypanBuy Now

Types of skillets

Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Frying Pan, 11 7/8"
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Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Round Frying Pan, 11 7/8"Buy Now
Chemically coated

Chemically coated

Yes (PTFE)

Chemically coated

Yes (ceramic)

Chemically coated

No (develops nonstick seasoning with use)

Does it require initial seasoning?

Does it require initial seasoning?

No, but it can be occasionally reseasoned with oil

Does it require initial seasoning?

No, but it can be occasionally reseasoned with oil

Does it require initial seasoning?

Yes, and it requires occasional reseasoning with oil

Maximum ovensafe temperature

Maximum ovensafe temperature

Generally between 400 and 500°F but we recommend never exceeding oven temperatures of 450°F to ensure that the coatings do not get hot enough to offgas

Maximum ovensafe temperature

Generally between 400 and 600°F

Maximum ovensafe temperature

No limit

Broiler-safe

Broiler-safe

No

Broiler-safe

No

Broiler-safe

Yes

Dishwasher-safe

Dishwasher-safe

Yes, but we don't recommend it

Dishwasher-safe

Yes, but we don't recommend it

Dishwasher-safe

No

Weight

Weight

About 2.5 to 3.5 lb

Weight

About 1.5 to 2.5 lb

Weight

About 3.5 to 5.5 lb

Heat retention

Heat retention

PTFE insulates the pan, so it heats up more slowly

Heat retention

Ceramic conducts heat efficiently, so it heats up quickly and stays hot, sometimes requiring extra vigilance on the part of the cook

Heat retention

Once preheated, carbon steel heats evenly and retains heat well

Durability

Durability

Coating will wear away and cannot be replaced

Durability

Coating will wear away and cannot be replaced

Durability

Skillet will last indefinitely

Best for

Best for

Those who don't want to season their cookware and who are willing to replace their skillet periodically

Best for

Those wary of the potential hazards of PTFE and who are able to follow visual cues and make adjustments to recipes written for traditional nonstick skillets

Best for

Those who want to avoid nonstick skillets and don't mind a little maintenance to ensure a lifetime of us

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