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Nonstick skillet vs. stainless steel skillet

Which is best: nonstick or stainless steel skillets?

Skillets, or frying pans, are versatile pans that can be used for shallow frying, stir frying, sauteing, braising, searing and more. If you're considering buying a new skillet, you might be wondering whether a nonstick skillet or stainless steel skillet is best. 

Nonstick skillets are easy to use and clean, but they have limited shelf lives due to the nonstick coating, while stainless steel skillets are trickier to use without causing food to stick but are significantly more durable.

Nonstick skillets

Nonstick skillets are frying pans that feature a nonstick coating on the cooking surface. As the name suggests, this coating prevents food from sticking to the pan for easier cooking and cleanup. Some nonstick coatings are made using substances such as PTFE, which are deemed safe by the FDA but some people still worry about using. Other manufacturers avoid these controversial chemicals in favor of ceramic nonstick or hard anodized aluminum coatings. 

You can buy cheap nonstick skillets for less than $10 apiece, while the most durable nonstick offerings cost as much as $60 per pan. For more information on nonstick pans, check out the full guide to nonstick cookware sets at BestReviews.

Nonstick skillet pros

  • You don't need to learn any special techniques to use nonstick pans, so they're suitable for foods of all levels to use. 
  • It's easy to clean nonstick frying pans after use; they'll never need soaking or scrubbing to remove food.  
  • Due to the nonstick coating, you can cook food with just a little oil or even no oil at all, and it won't stick to the pan. 
  • Some nonstick pans are designed with extra-tough nonstick coatings, so they're not prone to scratching or chipping in the way that conventional nonstick skillets are. 

Nonstick skillet cons

  • If you want to avoid controversial chemicals such as PTFE in your nonstick pans, you'll need to shop around a little. 
  • Conventional nonstick skillets have coatings that can easily scratch or chip, so they don't last as long as stainless steel frying pans. 

Best nonstick skillets

Blue Diamond Cookware Ceramic Nonstick Frying Pan

This affordable skillet is made using a ceramic nonstick coating that's durable and doesn't have the same potential health concerns as traditional nonstick coatings. You can choose from a range of sizes between 8 and 14 inches, with or without lids.

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OXO Good Grips Nonstick Black Frying Pan

Not only does the hard anodized construction of this skillet make it more durable than standard nonstick, it also conducts heat better than regular aluminum for more even heating. It's even oven safe up to 390 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Ninja Foodi Neverstick Premium Hard-Anodized Fry Pan

Among the most durable nonstick skillets on the market, this pan doesn't scratch, chip or flake -- even when using metal utensils -- and is oven safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. It feels sturdy and the nonstick coating stays effective through regular use.

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Stainless steel skillets

Stainless steel doesn't conduct heat all that effectively, so the best stainless steel pans are made from at least three layers with a core of aluminum for its quick and even heating properties. 

Affordable stainless steel skillets start at less than $20, while the most expensive options can cost as much as $200 apiece. If you want to know more about stainless steel skillets, take a look at the BestReviews guide to stainless steel cookware sets.

Stainless steel skillet pros

  • Unlike the coatings on nonstick pans, stainless steel won't chip or flake off over time, so a decent stainless steel skillet can potentially last decades if you don't damage it. 
  • Because of their all-metal construction, stainless steel frying pans are oven safe and broiler safe up to between 500 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit, which is great when you're cooking dishes that start on the cooktop and finish in the oven. 
  • Stainless steel is a nonreactive metal, so it doesn't react with the foods being cooked in it and won't affect the taste of the finished dish. 
  • You can safely use metal utensils with stainless steel cookware, which isn't the case for most nonstick pans. 

Stainless steel skillet cons

  • While stainless steel skillets can be affordable, high-end options are extremely expensive. 
  • It's easy for food to stick to stainless steel skillets, so you'll need to use more oil than you would in a nonstick frying pan and learn some techniques to avoid sticking, whereas nonstick skillets are easy for anyone to use without any particular cooking skill or knowledge.

Best stainless steel skillets

Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless 8-Inch Open Skillet

This well-made yet affordable skillet is durable and features a sturdy riveted cool-touch handle. The edge of the pan is designed for drip-free pouring and it has convenient measurement markings on the interior.

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Misen Stainless Steel Frying Pan

This five-ply stainless steel skillet isn't cheap but it costs less than pans of similar quality from more recognizable brands. Because it's made from five layers of metal, it feels durable and conducts heat beautifully.

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All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Skillet

A high-end stainless steel skillet from one of the biggest names in stainless steel cookware. The textured cooking surface reduces the chance of food sticking while the pan itself is oven safe up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Should you get a nonstick skillet or a stainless steel skillet?

There's no clear winner between a nonstick skillet and a stainless steel skillet; it depends what matters to you and what you want from your cookware. If ease of use and pain-free cleanup is of the utmost importance to you, nonstick skillets are the obvious choice, while those who favor durability will prefer a stainless steel skillet. Ultimately, most keen cooks own at least one of each: a stainless steel skillet for when you need a workhorse of a pan and a nonstick skillet for cooking food prone to sticking.

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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