How we tested
Nonstick skillets are big business: According to Hugh Rushing of the Cookware Manufacturers Association, 70 percent of all skillets sold in this country are nonstick. In the test kitchen, we reach for our nonstick skillets when we’re cooking delicate foods that stick, like eggs or fish. We also like these pans for stir-fries because the brown bits (or fond) don’t stick to the pans as much, so there’s less chance of their burning.
Our ideal nonstick skillet is easy to handle, is durable, has great release, and cooks food evenly with appropriate browning. We evaluated the market and chose the top seven pans from major manufacturers, including our past winner from T-fal. We prefer 12-inch skillets, but we included two 11-inch models because they were the largest skillets offered by two major manufacturers. We set a $60 price limit because nonstick pans wear faster than other pans, so we don’t think they’re worth a major investment.
We started by cracking eggs into each preheated pan—with no fat added—to assess their nonstick ability. We kept cooking consecutive over-easy eggs in each pan until they started to stick; we repeated this test at the end of testing (after cooking fish fillets, stir-fries, and frittatas in each pan) to gauge how the nonstick coatings held up over time. Along the way, we intentionally broke every rule we could think of for nonstick pans. We cut food in the skillets with knives, used metal spatulas and abrasive sponges, stacked the skillets, repeatedly shocked them in cold water, and washed them in a dishwasher. We also took them outside and banged them on a sharp concrete ledge to simulate years of rough handling.
What did we learn? First of all, size, shape, and design matter. The two smaller pans were a bust. While we looked at each pan’s rim-to-rim diameter (the metric used by manufacturers and retailers) initially, it was the diameter of their flat bottoms—their cooking area—that proved more important; we needed at least 9.5 inches of flat surface or fish fillets rode up the sides and cooked unevenly and anything we sautéed was crowded and browned poorly.
Heavy pans were taxing to move and maneuver, as were pans with sharp handles or handles that got hot. We preferred lightweight pans with rounded, grippy handles that stayed cool. We also preferred lower, flared sides to taller or straighter ones; their more open design made it easier to maneuver the food in and out of the pan.
As for the nonstick coatings, most cookware manufacturers purchase them from large chemical companies. They choose from a range of options, from cheap to premium. The composition of the coating, how well it’s applied, and how many layers are applied all affect performance and durability.
Two pans we tested had raised patterns, ostensibly for durability and better heat transfer, but they weren’t very nonstick and mangled eggs. Only two pans (both with smooth surfaces) aced all of our nonstick tests, culminating with flawlessly releasing 50 eggs in a row after weeks of testing. By contrast, one low-ranked pan failed to flip a single egg at the end of testing.
The skillets in our lineup had from two to five layers of nonstick coating; the top performers had at least three. The pan with five layers was our past winner from T-fal; the extra layers offered superior durability in the coating, but this skillet had other construction issues. It dented readily when we struck it on the concrete ledge and domed slightly in the center of its cooking surface when it was heated. This meant that oil ran to the pan edges, so the fish fillets browned irregularly and the eggs were misshapen—they sprouted legs where the whites had leaked toward the edges. We still think it’s a good pan, but it’s no longer best in show.
Of the seven pans we tested, we can recommend only two. Our top pan, from Oxo Good Grips, had a broad, smooth, flat surface that cooked and released food perfectly. It had a darker finish for better browning and was light and maneuverable, with an excellent grippy, stay-cool handle. Its flared sides allowed us to easily move food in and out of the pan. It’s a little more expensive than our past winner, but it was the only skillet that earned our “highly recommended” rating.
We tested seven skillets, ranging from 11 to 12.5 inches in stated diameter, priced from $32.02 to $59.99, and purchased online. To evaluate their nonstick coatings, we used each pan to cook eggs over-easy with no fat, one after another, at the beginning and end of testing, stopping when they began to stick. Between egg tests, we used the pans to cook fish, pork and broccoli stir-fries, and frittatas; we sliced the latter in each pan with a metal knife and removed the wedges with a metal spatula to assess wear and tear. We also toasted a thin layer of flour in each pan to look at how evenly they heated.
To test their overall construction, ease of cleanup, and durability, we took each pan directly from the hot stove and plunged it into cold water after every test to check for warping. We also washed the skillets by hand 10 times with a moderately abrasive sponge and ran them through the dishwasher five times. Finally, before our closing egg test, we bashed each pan five times on a concrete ledge.
We weighed and measured the skillets. Pan and handle materials, number of layers of nonstick coating, and heat safety parameters were reported by manufacturers. Scores were averaged, and the pans appear in order of preference.
NONSTICK ABILITY: We monitored how many eggs the pans cleanly released at the beginning and end of testing, as well as how well they released other foods between egg tests; pans that arrived and stayed nonstick rated highest.
FOOD QUALITY: We rated each pan on the food it produced. Pans that produced evenly browned, properly cooked food rated highest.
MANEUVERABILITY: We rated each pan on how easy it was to load and unload with food, as well as how comfortable it was to move and hold. Lightweight pans with flared sides and comfortable, grippy handles rated highest.
CAPACITY: We rated each pan on how well it held recipes designed for large skillets. Pans with enough room to fit the food as the recipes stated, without overcrowding or overflowing, rated highest.
DURABILITY: We rated each pan on how pristine it remained throughout testing. Pans that stayed intact rated highest.