“They’re so cute!” said nearly everyone who walked by me while I was testing these little pans. And my coworkers were right: An 8-inch nonstick skillet does seem positively adorable next to a 10- or 12-inch version. But these petite pans are useful in their own right. They’re perfect for making a couple of fried eggs or an omelet, for cooking recipes scaled down for one or two people, and for toasting nuts, spices, seeds, bread crumbs, garlic, and more.
To find the best 8-inch nonstick skillet, we studied the market and chose eight pans, priced from $16.99 to $109.95, including one from OXO, the maker of our winning 12-inch nonstick skillet. Four of the pans were traditional nonstick, and the other four were ceramic nonstick, an alternative coating often marketed as “green” or “environmentally friendly.” All the pans were perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)–free.
We tested the pans extensively, starting with a dry egg test in which we cooked eggs one after another, with no oil or butter, until they started to stick or until we hit 50 eggs. Next we made omelets, scalloped potatoes, and scrambled eggs in each pan, beating them up a bit along the way to simulate long-term use: We washed them repeatedly, subjected them to thermal shock (heating them and then plunging them into an ice bath), and banged them on a concrete ledge to test their construction. Finally, we repeated the dry egg challenge at the end of testing to see how the nonstick surfaces held up over time. So does it matter which little nonstick skillet you buy? If you care about not having flakes of nonstick coating in your food, it does.
So does it matter which little nonstick skillet you buy? If you care about not having flakes of nonstick coating in your food, it does.
Hands down the most important factor in determining a good pan was the kind of nonstick coating. There are two types used on cookware: traditional PTFE, or polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon is the most well-known brand name), and ceramic, which has exploded in popularity in recent years as a result of concerns about the safety and environmental impact of PTFE.
We tested four pans in each style, and differences emerged immediately. In the first egg test, seven of the eight pans were able to cleanly release all 50 eggs; the one that couldn’t was ceramic. A few days later, the coating started flaking off two of the pans—both ceramic. And at the end of testing, the fourth (and final) ceramic model was the most scratched-up of any pan we tested, which doesn’t bode well for durability. Meanwhile, the PTFE pans emerged reasonably unscathed. Clearly the ceramic pans weren’t as durable. We delved into the science behind the two kinds of nonstick coating to understand why.
Long-term testing of 8-inch nonstick skillets revealed the limited life span of the factory nonstick coating.
Deputy editor Hannah Crowley created piles of fried eggs while testing the nonstick properties of 8-inch nonstick pans from several brands.
In a capacity test, a batch of Cook’s Country Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes for Two was too much for this 8-inch nonstick skillet to handle.
Caked-on scalloped potatoes served as evidence of overflow on the sides of one 8-inch nonstick skillet.
To rank highly, a skillet had to be durable and easy to clean in addition to performing well as a cooking vessel.
“Ceramic” is a broad term that encompasses many materials, but in the realm of nonstick cookware, it refers to a hard material that’s a relative of beach sand. A single layer of a substance called “sol-gel” made with silicon (the element—not silicone, the soft, rubbery material) is typically sprayed onto the pan and secured by a one-step baking process. Traditional nonstick coatings are made from PTFE, which is one of a class of compounds called fluoropolymers; they’re sprayed onto the metal pan base or spread on with rollers. Multiple coats are typically applied, and there are several oven-curing stages. One of the reasons manufacturers usually tout ceramic pans as “green” is their shorter production process relative to PTFE pans, which, they reason, uses less energy because it takes less time.
But the two coatings are not created equal. Pans with ceramic coatings wore faster during our cooking tests, and the coatings on two of the pans flaked off in pieces as big as ⅛ inch wide after we subjected them to thermal shock, heating and then rapidly cooling them in an ice bath (an abuse test designed to mimic the stress put on the pan when it’s placed in the sink or run under water too soon after cooking).
According to our science editor, the different compositions of the ceramic and PTFE coatings caused this divergence in performance. He compared the ceramic coatings to glass: They’re more brittle, so they’re more susceptible to stress and develop microscopic surface flaws during normal use. And the more flawed, or rougher, a ceramic nonstick surface gets, the more it clings to foods. This brittle quality explains why the ceramic pans wore down faster and chipped easily. Also, metal expands and contracts slightly as it changes temperature, and because it’s so brittle, the ceramic coating isn’t as responsive to these temperature changes, which makes it more prone to shattering or separating from the metal pan under thermal shock. PTFE, on the other hand, is comparatively malleable (it’s a type of plastic), so it’s better able to flex and move, maintaining its grip through impacts large and small. It also doesn’t bond to other materials, even if it’s roughed up a bit, so it’s more resilient to everyday wear and tear.
These differences bore out in our testing. The ceramic pans wore down, but all four PTFE pans emerged intact and operational; although they had some minor scratches, all were able to release 50 eggs in a row, without the use of fat, at the end of testing. So while the process of making a ceramic pan may save energy, the pans don’t last as long and need to be replaced sooner, rendering the “green” claim suspect. We’ll stick with PTFE for now. As for the safety question, PTFE pans can be safe—if you use them properly (see Everything You Need to Know About Nonstick Pans for information on how to safely use traditional PTFE nonstick in your kitchen).
Nonstick coatings aside, there were small differences that made some of the pans more pleasant to use. Pan shape didn’t matter so much (some were slightly flared, others gently cupped), but capacity did: One skillet, from T-Fal, held just 3.2 cups (compared to 3.8 to 4.4 cups for the other models). Scalloped potatoes bubbled over in the oven, and testers reported feeling nervous that they were going to accidentally scoot eggs over the side when scrambling them. One plus to this pan: The rivets that secured the handle were covered with nonstick coating, so they were easier to clean; six of the pans had uncoated rivets that eggs clung to, requiring an extra swipe or two with a sponge. One pan didn’t have any rivets inside; its handle was secured externally. Though testers loved swooping around the interior without stumbling over rivets, the handle was a bit wiggly by the end of testing—not a good sign for longevity.
Handle shape was the final factor: Testers universally preferred rounded edges (two handles had sharp tips that dug into our hands). A brushed steel finish or a grippy silicone sleeve was a nice bonus, too.
In the end, our winner was from the same manufacturer as our favorite 12-inch model. The OXO Good Grips Hard Anodized Pro Nonstick 8-Inch Fry Pan has a durable PTFE nonstick surface and a comfortable, secure handle. And while it doesn’t come with a lid, the one for our winning large saucepan by All-Clad fits it perfectly. It’s also got an inexpensive price tag, and it beat out pans that cost more than three times as much. This little skillet would be a small but mighty addition to any kitchen.