Stainless Steel vs Nonstick: Which Cookware Should You Choose?
When it comes to cooking at home, one of the most important decisions you can make is what type of pan to use. Whether you’re whipping up a simple omelet or taking a stab at a restaurant-worthy dish, the right skillet can make all the difference.
But with so many options on the market, it can be difficult to decide which one is best for your cooking needs.
Two of the most popular choices among chefs are stainless steel and nonstick. In fact, we recently launched our own lines of stainless steel and nonstick pans—Pike & Pine and Market, respectively—that are designed by chefs to give you that professional grade quality at home.
Both materials have their pros and cons, and each type is better suited for certain cooking needs and recipes.
Stainless steel pans are the go-to option for many home cooks. They’re durable, versatile and provide even heating, but they can be difficult to use at first because they take a little more patience and experience to ensure your food doesn’t stick.
Nonstick pans, on the other hand, are great for those who aren’t as confident in their cooking skills or who just want a simple, straightforward skillet for their kitchen. While they’re typically easier to use and clean, they’re not as durable as stainless steel pans and can’t withstand as high of temperatures.
Ultimately, the type of pan that’s best for you will depend on your budget and cooking needs.
In this guide, we’ll explore the differences between stainless steel and nonstick pans, so you can decide which is right for you.
Hungry for more? Explore our new Pike & Pine and Market collections to find the cookware that’s right for you!
What’s the difference between stainless steel and nonstick pans?
The main difference between stainless steel and nonstick pans is the material they’re made from.
Stainless steel pans are made of a combination of metal alloys that are heat resistant and durable. They are often composed of iron, chromium and nickel, but some are made with a core of aluminum or copper—which are great conductors of heat—and coated with a stainless steel finish.
Nonstick pans, on the other hand, are usually made of a combination of hard anodized aluminum and stainless steel and are coated with a nonstick substance, most commonly Teflon and ceramic. This layer helps to prevent food from sticking to the surface and makes it easier to clean.
Stainless steel cookware pros and cons
You won’t find many professional kitchens without a stainless steel skillet—they’re a do-it-all pan that can go from the stovetop to the oven, and you can cook almost anything in them.
They can be harder to clean, so knowing how to properly prepare your pan for cooking can help prevent sticking (hint: you need enough fat or oil plus enough heat—preheating is key—to create a sear or crust so your food will naturally release).
Pros of Stainless Steel:
- Durability: Stainless steel cookware is one of the most durable cookware materials available. It is resistant to corrosion, staining and scratching, making it a long-lasting choice.
- Versatility: Stainless steel is a great option for all types of cooking, including stovetop, oven and even induction cooking.
- Heat distribution: When it comes to heat distribution, stainless steel pans are the clear winner. They are great at spreading heat evenly and quickly, which makes them perfect for cooking tasks such as searing and sautéing.
- Non-Reactive: Unlike other metals such as aluminum, copper and cast iron, stainless steel is non-reactive, meaning it won’t react with acidic ingredients. This makes it a great choice for cooking dishes like tomato sauces or citrus-based recipes.
Stainless steel cookware does have disadvantages, which may affect what recipes you choose to cook in this type of pan.
Cons of Stainless Steel:
- Not nonstick: Unlike nonstick pans, food can stick to your pan without proper preheating or using the right amount of fat. This can make them harder to clean and may not be a great option for delicate foods.
- Heavier: Stainless steel pans are typically heavier than nonstick pans, which, while great for heat distribution, can make them hard to move around or store in your kitchen.
- Hot handles: Stainless steel pans can transfer heat to handles quickly, making them hot to the touch. While this isn’t a deal breaker and can be solved with an oven mitt or kitchen towel, you may be more prone to accidental burns if you’re someone who works quickly in the kitchen or you’re used to cookware that uses plastic or rubberized handles.
Cooking with stainless steel pans
Stainless steel pans are a great vessel for almost any dish, but they’re especially useful for stove-to-oven dishes. Steak, chicken and pork are great examples of this, as many recipes often require an initial sear before finishing in the oven.
They’re also incredibly versatile—because they’re non-reactive, stainless steel is great for cooking acidic foods, such as tomatoes or foods that contain lemon juice or vinegar. Stainless steel pans also are scratch resistant, which means they can be used with metal utensils, such as whisks, spatulas or turners.
Caring for your stainless steel cookware
Caring for your stainless steel pans is pretty straightforward and shouldn’t require much extra work than any other type of cookware. To properly maintain your stainless steel pan, the most important thing you need to do is simply let it cool completely before washing it, as quick temperature changes could cause the pan to warp.
While some stainless steel pans claim to be dishwasher safe, we wouldn’t recommend placing your cookware in the dishwasher. Soaking it in soapy water should do the trick for anything that becomes a little stuck on, but you can also use a non-abrasive scrub to help, too.
If something is really hard to remove, a little vinegar, water and heat is also a great way to clean your dish. It’s best to add this right after cooking, but if you let the pan sit for a bit, don’t stress. Just bring the vinegar and water to a boil, turn off the heat and use a wooden spoon to gently scrape off any bits. You can also let this cool and soak—stains and stuck-on food should come off easily with a quick scrub.
Pros and cons of nonstick pans
Whether you’re a home cook or a professional chef, nonstick pans offer several benefits that make them a great choice for nearly any cooking task.
Nonstick pans are a great addition to any kitchen and make preparing delicate foods—from eggs to seafood—much easier to cook. The slippery surface also means food doesn’t get baked onto the pan, making these pans great for everything from stir-frying and searing to sautéing.
Pros of Nonstick Pans:
- Easy to clean: Nonstick pans are much easier to clean than traditional pans as food slides off the surface with just a little soap and water. This makes cleanup a breeze, and it means you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying your meal.
- Less oil: Nonstick coating helps reduce the amount of oil or butter you need to use when cooking, so you can get delicious meals without excess fat and calories.
- Versatility: Nonstick pans are perfect for sautéing a variety of foods and they come in a variety of sizes, shapes and price ranges.
- Lighter: Because nonstick pans are typically made from aluminum, they’re much lighter than stainless steel pans, making them ideal for anyone who struggles with heavy cookware. That said—lighter isn’t always better, and thicker, heavier pans tend to be better at distributing heat.
While nonstick pans are a great cookware option for most dishes, there are a few drawbacks to consider.
Cons of Nonstick Pans:
- Less durability: Over time, the nonstick coating can start to wear off, which can cause food to stick to the pan and make it difficult to clean.
- Lower heat tolerance: Nonstick pans typically can’t be used above 400°F, making them a poor cookware choice for some dishes. At high heats, some nonstick coating can start to break down and, as a result, these pans are not recommended for use in high-heat cooking such as searing, deep-frying or finishing dishes in the oven.
- Not (always) induction friendly: Most nonstick pans are made with some form of aluminum, which doesn’t work on induction stovetops.
Cooking with nonstick pans
If you’ve ever cooked in a kitchen, chances are you’ve come across a nonstick pan. Nonstick pans have become a must-have for most home cooks, as they allow you to cook food easily and quickly, and with minimal mess. But when should you consider cooking with nonstick pans over stainless steel ones?
Nonstick pans can be used for almost any dish but are best used for recipes that require delicate handling and a low cooking temperature. This includes dishes like scrambled eggs, omelets and pancakes, as well as foods that are prone to sticking, such as fish, vegetables and cream- or cheese-based recipes. Nonstick pans are ideal for these dishes because their slick surface prevents food from sticking and burning.
Nonstick pans are also great for cooking delicate sauces and other liquid-based dishes. Since the surface of a nonstick pan is so smooth, it allows the sauce or liquid to move around freely without burning or sticking to the pan.
Chef’s Note: Avoid using cooking sprays on your nonstick pans. This can leave a film on the surface that can affect the life of the nonstick coating.
How to care for nonstick cookware
As with any cookware, it’s important to take the proper steps to care for your nonstick pans to ensure they stay in top condition. To care for your nonstick pan, knowing what not to do is just as important. Here are a few tips to make sure your nonstick pan stays in tip-top shape:
- Avoid using metal utensils: Metal utensils can scratch and damage the surface of nonstick pans, so it’s best to use wooden, silicone or plastic utensils when cooking. There is one exception to this rule, however: Scanpan’s nonstick coating is bonded to the surface of their skillets, which prevents it from peeling and scraping and makes them safe to use with metal.
- Never overheat them: Nonstick pans should never be heated above medium heat, as excessive heat can cause the nonstick coating to degrade.
- Don’t soak them: Avoid soaking your nonstick pans in water for long periods of time, as this can damage the coating. Instead, hand wash your pans as soon as they’ve cooled down with a stiff, plastic bristled brush, a soft sponge or cloth and warm, soapy water.
- Know when to replace them: The coating inevitably wears down over time. If you notice food starting to stick, it’s time to replace your pan.
Are nonstick pans safe to use?
Nonstick pans are generally considered safe to use.
Studies have indicated that some chemicals used to make nonstick pans—like PFOA or PTFE (Teflon)—can be toxic when heated to high temperatures, but the use of these chemicals has fallen out of favor in the last decade. In fact, Teflon pans made after 2013 shouldn’t contain the harmful chemicals they once did, and US- and Europe-made products should all be PFOA-free.
Today, there are also many more nonstick alternatives on the market, too, including ceramic nonstick cookware, which is naturally nonstick and free from the chemicals commonly used. When purchasing a nonstick pan, keep the following safety tips in mind:
- Be sure to check your pan’s temperature guidance and to never exceed the recommended temperature.
- Be cautious if purchasing off-brand or cheap cookware products, particularly if it’s not made somewhere with an active PFOA ban.
- Look for nonstick pans that are made PFOA-free.
- Always replace scratched, worn-out or old nonstick pans to avoid potentially hazardous chemicals from getting into food.
So, when it comes to choosing between nonstick and stainless steel pans, it really depends on the type of food you cook and your comfort in the kitchen.
Many chefs use different pieces of cookware in a variety of materials to give them the flexibility and versatility they need to whip up any recipe. Consider buying both a nonstick skillet and stainless steel one, as this will offer the most options in your kitchen.
Hungry for more? Explore our new Pike & Pine and Market collections to find the cookware that’s right for you!