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Which Type of Nonstick Skillet Is Right for You?

By Kate Shannon Published

What’s the difference between regular PTFE-coated nonstick skillets and ceramic cookware? And how does carbon-steel cookware compare?

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.

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. 

For more information, read our reviews of 12-inch, 10-inch, and 8-inch models.

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. 

For more information, read our reviews of 12-inch, 10-inch, and 8-inch models.

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. 

For more information, read our reviews of 12-inch, 10-inch, and 8-inch versions.

Equipment Review The Best 12-Inch Nonstick Skillets

Step 1: Buy the best skillet. Step 2: Treat it right.

Equipment Review 12-Inch Ceramic Nonstick Skillets

The ceramic skillets we’ve tested have never been able to compete with regular nonstick cookware. Have they improved?

Equipment Review Best 12-Inch Carbon-Steel Skillets

What if one pan could do everything the best traditional stainless-steel, cast-iron, and nonstick pans can do—and, in some cases, even do it a little better?

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.