After cooking 13 dozen eggs, 16 pounds of hash browns, 10 pounds of tilapia fillets, and countless crepes in 10 different pans, we discovered that the Tramontina 10-Inch Professional Nonstick Fry Pan is the best nonstick pan. It offers a slick nonstick coating, good heat distribution, and excellent maneuverability and comfort. It’s a great value, performing as well as—in some cases even better than—pans over twice the price. It’s oven-safe to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
The bad news is, nonstick cookware is temporary, and will ultimately break down. When treated with the utmost care, a nonstick pan will last three to five years in a home kitchen, depending on frequency of use. This is why we don’t feel the need to spend too much money on a decent one (but we have a high-end recommendation for those who want the absolute best).
If our top pick sells out, the Cuisinart Contour 10-Inch Hard Anodized Skillet is a solid second choice. We like its slick nonstick surface that released eggs easily, durable hard anodized aluminum construction, metal stick handle, and bent lip. Browning was a little spotty, and the straighter sides made flipping a bit more precarious than with our top pick, but the test-kitchen crew agreed that this is a decent pan. The pan and coating are oven-safe to 500 degrees and come with a limited lifetime warranty.
The nonstick version of our favorite skillet is a superior pan. The All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply 10-Inch Nonstick Skillet does everything our top pick can but better, albeit at a much higher price. Food came out more consistently browned and omelets released a little easier. Hash browns had a deeper and more-even golden color. The All-Clad nonstick skillet has all the features we like about the traditional skillet: classic flared shape, bent lip, and a comfortable stick handle, and it’s the only one of our picks that’s induction compatible. It comes with a lifetime warranty that covers manufacturer defects, not common wear that comes with use.
The T-Fal OptiCook nonstick pan is an excellent choice for beginner cooks, starter kitchens, or folks who don’t cook very often. Fried eggs and omelets came out fine and tilapia fillets were golden (if a bit spotty) and intact. The straight sides made flipping shredded potatoes a difficult task, but we don’t think that’s an issue for novice cooks. The features on the T-Fal we appreciate include nonstick-coated rivets for easy cleaning, a thermal indicator to signal when the pan is hot, and a comfortable plastic handle that’s oven-safe to 350 degrees.
When I was in culinary school, I manned the omelet station during the Sunday grand buffet as a part of the work-study program. My second day on the job, the chef handed me three brand-new nonstick pans and told me to take good care of them. When my shift was over I dropped off the pans at the dish station. About 20 minutes later I went back only to find the once-pristine egg pans were ruined after the dishwasher subjected them to a stainless steel scrubber. My chef just shook his head and told me it was my job to figure out how I was going to make decent omelets with trashed pans. Even though I actively avoided brunch shifts in restaurants throughout my career, I will never forget the lesson I learned that day. Whether in restaurants or in test kitchens, I make sure to treat nonstick pans with the same care and attention as I do my personal knives.
In addition to personal experience, we pored over science literature and editorial sources to get the skinny on what makes a great nonstick pan and how to safely cook in them. We spoke to Chad Kelly, executive chef and brewer at Barley and Board; Penny Rosema, executive vice president at the Cookware Manufacturers Association; and Cynthia Salitsky, Global Communications Leader at Chemours (DuPont). We also looked at respected editorial sources, including Cooking for Engineers, Cook’s Illustrated, Serious Eats, Consumer Reports, The New York Times, and Fine Cooking.
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 type of coating uses silicone oil in the pores of the pan’s surface. This oil is eventually washed or cooked away and the pan loses its slickness. The biggest complaint about this type of cookware is it doesn’t last long. 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 silica coatings.
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.
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.
If you’re wondering if cooking in a nonstick pan will give you cancer, the short answer is no. For a more detailed explanation, check out this piece by Leigh Krietsch Boerner, The Sweethome’s science editor.
The Tramontina 10-Inch Professional Nonstick Fry Pan is our favorite because it is superbly nonstick, distributes heat evenly, maneuvers easily for fast-cooking foods, and is affordable. We liked the easy-to-grip handle and its removable silicone sheath. Its cooking surface was the perfect size for cooking a three-egg omelet. Even though it didn’t deliver the biggest crepes in our testing, we didn’t think that was very important because it was the most comfortable pan to use in its price range.
The nonstick coating on the Tramontina pan is smooth and slick, and even through repeated tests, there was never an instance of sticking. Pale-yellow omelets released effortlessly from the pan, as did tilapia fillets. We know that nonstick pans are best when brand-new, and age is the true test of value. But I’ve used a Tramontina 8-inch nonstick pan regularly for two years, and the coating is as perfect as it was the day I bought it.
Even heat distribution is important in a nonstick pan for two reasons: You want your food to cook evenly and the nonstick coating on your pan to last. The Tramontina yielded evenly golden hash brown potatoes and tilapia fillets that weren’t too dark. The moderate browning showed us the Tramontina pan is less likely to get too hot too quickly. In comparison, the Anolon Advanced pan showed the most extreme browning and got very hot when placed over the same heat setting.
The Tramontina has the flared sides of a traditional skillet that make flipping foods like fried eggs and fish easy and keep yolks unbroken and fillets intact.
The Tramontina handled the crepe swirl test with ease thanks to a comfortable handle and good balance. The pan’s bent lip assisted in cleanly pouring out the excess crepe batter, minimizing dribbling down the side. The straight lips on the Scanpan and Swiss Diamond pans caused dripping not only down the sides of the pan, but on the stove and countertops as well.
Even though we didn’t test these pans in the oven, the Tramontina is good up to 400 degrees. That means you can make frittatas and Spanish tortillas without worrying about damage.
We also liked the removable silicone sheath on the handle because it gives the user a choice to use it or not. (I personally choose to not use it simply because I like holding pans with a folded-up dish towel.)
The Tramontina is a bargain for what you get. We don’t mind having to replace a pan after five years if it cost us only $30 to $40 dollars to begin with. It comes with a limited lifetime warranty that protects against manufacturer defects (like loose rivets and coating that bubbles and flakes off) but not general wear and tear, misuse, or abuse.
This pan does have a couple minor flaws. The rivets that secure the handle to the pan aren’t coated with nonstick. Our budget pick (the T-Fal OptiCook) and the Vollrath Wear-Ever with CeramiGuard II both have this feature. Even though coated rivets are a nice feature because they help make cleanup easier, we think having to scrub a little egg off some bare aluminum isn’t a dealbreaker.
If our top pick is out of stock, we think the Cuisinart Contour 10-Inch Hard Anodized Skillet is a solid second choice. We like its slick nonstick coating, bent lip, and durable anodized aluminum construction. The stick handle with depressed middle is comfortable to hold. This pan offers a superslick coating that releases food without overcooking. Omelets had the perfect amount of cooking surface to flatten out and roll up. Tilapia fillets, though a bit spotty, released easily and flipped effortlessly. Crepe size was around the same as with our top pick, and they released from the pan easily. The bent lip ensured that we wouldn’t drip crepe batter all over the counter and stovetop.
However, the Cuisinart pan browned food like tilapia and hash browns less consistently compared with our main pick, the Tramontina. Also, the Cuisinart’s steeper sides made it difficult to flip an entire pan of hash browns, leaving a quarter of the potatoes unturned. In comparison, the Tramontina skillet always gave us a complete, clean flip.
This was one of two anodized aluminum (aluminum zapped with electricity to make it more durable and corrosion resistant) pans in our test, but they handled heat quite differently. The Cuisinart Contour never got too hot. The hash browns, though a little uneven, browned to a medium golden hue. In comparison, hash browns from the Anolon Advanced pan were very dark, indicating the pan gets very hot and holds onto heat. Our runner-up pan proved to have the durability of anodized cookware without the extreme heat retention that can lead to the breakdown of the coating.
We liked the Cuisinart Contour’s riveted stick handle; its depressed center resembles an All-Clad handle, which we love.
Our kitchen writer, Michael Sullivan, used this pan for five years with light to medium use. He used it primarily for eggs, saying, “I liked this pan best for omelets and fried eggs. I just had to replace it, but it served me well.”
It’s no surprise that the nonstick version of our favorite skillet is one of our picks. The All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply 10-Inch Nonstick Skillet is in a class of its own. It offers exceptionally even heat distribution, induction-ready tri-ply construction, excellent maneuverability, flared sides with bent lip, and a comfortable handle. The All-Clad skillet is basically the better version of our top pick in every respect except price. Though the price tag is quite steep, this is definitely a pan for the home cook who wants the best.
The All-Clad skillet produced the best version of everything we cooked. Heat distribution was very consistent, and the proof was how the food browned. Omelets were custardy and yellow, hash browns were evenly golden, and tilapia fillets had the most consistent browning. Even the pale-yellow omelets released on one smooth roll without the slightest snagging. The stainless steel tri-ply construction (a layer of aluminum sandwiched between layers stainless steel) gives this skillet the added benefit of being induction cooktop compatible.
This pan had the best maneuverability out of all the pans we tested. The famous All-Clad stick handle with depressed middle is comfortable to hold and stays cool. The pan’s flared sides make flipping food easy. Hash browns flipped completely over, revealing a perfect circle of evenly browned shredded potatoes. A bent lip meant no dribbling down the sides when pouring out excess crepe batter.
All-Clad guarantees its pans for life, but the company won’t cover abuse, accidents, overheating, or normal wear and tear. The warranty covers manufacturer defects such as the handle becoming loose or the nonstick coating starting to chip away, things of that nature. But even under the most optimal conditions, your nonstick coating will wear out over years of use, and you’ll need to replace the pan. And although the price would make you think it can take a beating, the All-Clad nonstick pan isn’t immune to misuse and abuse.
For beginner cooks or folks who don’t eat many meals prepared in their home kitchens, we recommend the T-Fal OptiCook Thermo-Spot 10-Inch Nonstick Fry Pan as a very decent budget pan. At its current price of around $20, it’s the perfect pan for the occasional home-cooked eggs. We experienced some very minor release issues with omelets, and the straight sides aren’t ideal for flipping a pan full of shredded potatoes. But it was stellar at frying eggs and cooking fish fillets. It’s even a decent omelet pan if you don’t mind a bit of golden browning on your eggs.
The T-Fal has a red dot on its center that acts as a sensor to let you know when it’s hot and ready for cooking. By our tests, that’s at about 375 degrees. We didn’t find this feature very helpful, but can see how this would be valuable to an inexperienced cook. This pan is also the only one of our picks to feature nonstick-coated rivets, which makes cleanup easier.
The T-Fal doesn’t offer the cast aluminum handle or generously sloped sides of our main pick, and its straight lip proved to be a little messy when pouring off crepe batter. But if you just want to make the occasional omelet or egg sandwich, this pan is a great value.
The coating on nonstick pans is delicate, to say the least. To prolong the life of your pan, follow these rules:
Because nonstick pans aren’t heirloom pieces, you will have to deal with disposal. The good news is it doesn’t have to go in a landfill. Many cities will take spent pans with the recycling (some cities won’t take coated pans, and you probably need to remove any plastic parts). If such a recycling system doesn’t exist in your area, you can take the pan to a scrap yard.
The Vollrath Wear-Ever Ever-Smooth Fry Pan With CeramiGuard II Non-Stick is a pro-style coated aluminum skillet with excellent heat distribution and handling. We even loved the nonstick-coated rivets. But because using the pan in a domestic setting (as opposed to a restaurant kitchen) voids the warranty, we can’t recommend this pan.
The Scanpan Classic Fry Pan has a bigger cooking surface and straighter sides. Its wider cooking surface was a hinderance when making classic three-egg omelets—it was a challenge to get the eggs in an even layer before folding, resulting in a lumpy omelet. The pan’s straight sides yielded half-flipped hash browns. It did have a good heat distribution, though.
The Swiss Diamond Nonstick Fry Pan is very similar to the Scanpan in design and handling. It boasts the same large cooking surface and straighter sides. We also had the same issues making omelets and flipping hash browns with the Swiss Diamond as we did with the Scanpan.
The Anolon Advanced 10-Inch French Skillet came highly recommended by J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats. This anodized aluminum skillet is sturdily constructed with a riveted silicone-coated handle that can survive oven temperatures up to 400 degrees. It has generously sloped sides and a bent lip. The downsides of this pan are its small cooking surface (7 inches) and that it gets very hot. When cooking tilapia, the surface temperature rose to 486 degrees by the time the fish came out of the pan. We attribute this to the thick anodized construction that tends to hold heat better than cast aluminum and stainless steel.
The nubby texture in the bottom of the Farberware High Performance Stainless Steel 10-Inch Nonstick Skillet gave our crepes a pattern, which we didn’t like. The pan is lightweight and didn’t cook evenly. In addition, its plastic handle felt flimsy and didn’t give us any confidence that it would last very long.
The tri-ply disk in the bottom (also called an encapsulated bottom) of the Calphalon Classic Stainless Steel 10-Inch Nonstick Fry Pan delivered spotty browning. Its inconsistent heat distribution means hot spots and premature breakdown of the nonstick coating.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: July 5, 2016