Cast Iron vs. Nonstick: Why You Need Both

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The Spruce Eats / Zackary Angeline

Cast-iron and nonstick cookware comes in every shape and size, but they’re most popular as a skillet. Both materials have nonstick capabilities and are kitchen essentials, yet, it's not always clear which one to reach for. 

Cast iron is versatile, long-lasting, and can be inexpensive, while nonstick is fast, easy to care for, and easy to use. Cast iron can be used on any cooking surface: gas, electric, induction, grill, or an open fire, and works well for a multitude of techniques. Nonstick, meanwhile, can only be used on stovetops, and shouldn’t be used over high heat. We took these two head-to-head to find out which pan works best for everything from cooking eggs to searing steak.

The Main Takeaways

Cast Iron Cookware
  • One piece made of carbon and steel

  • Needs regular maintenance

  • Heats slowly, but retains heat

  • Wide price range

Nonstick Cookware
  • Aluminum pan coated in nonstick coating

  • Low maintenance

  • Heats quickly, but cools quickly too

  • Wide price range

The Differences

Cast-iron and nonstick skillets are made of different metals and require different care to maintain a slick surface. Cast iron is a heavy material that can reach high temperatures and does a great job of retaining that heat. Keeping the cast iron pan seasoned, preheating, as well as using oil when cooking, will keep food from sticking to the surface. Metal utensils can harm the surface of the cast-iron skillet, but surface scratches can be repaired. The pan can be washed with soap and water but shouldn’t soak in water since that will lead to rust. If you treat it right, a cast-iron skillet will last you for decades.

Nonstick skillets are usually made of aluminum that has been given a coating made with PTFE, aka Teflon. These pans are lighter in weight, and heat up quickly and evenly. It’s very important to use silicone or wood utensils to avoid scratching the nonstick coating since you don’t want to ingest the coating and scratches can’t be repaired. Minimal butter and oil are needed because the nonstick coating inhibits food from sticking to the surface. Wash with soap and water and avoid using the dishwasher to prolong the life of the nonstick coating. Yet, even with proper care, the nonstick surface does degrade over time and the pan will eventually need to be replaced.

The Tasks

Searing steak

Winner: Cast iron

Cast-iron skillets are the best for this task. Getting a proper sear requires a hot skillet that stays hot even when food is added, which is what cast iron excels at. To get a good crust on the steak, the pan needs to be 310 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter to initiate the Maillard reaction. The heat evaporates the water on the surface of the steak and heats the amino acids, which leads to a deeply browned and flavorful seared steak. Even a cast iron with hot spots will be hot enough to sear and will retain its heat after the steak hits the pan.

Cooking omelets

Winner: Nonstick

Whether you want a French omelet or a cheese-filled Denver omelet, you’ll thank yourself for reaching for a nonstick skillet. The nonstick coating inhibits the egg proteins from sticking to the pan even if the eggs are cold. In fact, using a nonstick skillet means that you don’t need to use much butter or oil either. The pan heats up quickly and disperses that heat evenly, which translates into uniform cooking. Nonstick skillets are more lightweight than cast iron, making it easier to lift the pan and slide the omelet onto your plate. 

Cooking pancakes

Winner: Both

Either nonstick or cast-iron skillets are good options for pancakes since both can maintain the medium heat needed for golden brown flapjacks. Pancakes cooked in a nonstick skillet do need butter or oil to keep from sticking to the pan and require a silicone spatula so as not to scratch the nonstick surface. Pancakes made in a cast-iron skillet will have crispier edges than those cooked in a nonstick skillet since you’ll be cooking it in a bit more butter or oil, and both metal and silicone spatulas work well to flip pancakes in cast iron. Clean up is quicker using a nonstick skillet because it doesn’t need as much time to cool down or need seasoning after cleaning.

Pan-frying chicken

Winner: Cast iron

Crispy chicken skin is only a hot pan away. You’ll want your cast-iron skillet for this task! It takes a little longer than a nonstick pan to get hot but once it is, it stays hot. The heat from the pan plus the hot oil cooks the skin to a deep golden brown and crisps it in the process. The cast-iron skillet can also go into the oven, which is a good way to finish cooking the pan-fried chicken. Make sure to get a pot holder for the handle when moving the pan on and off the burner, or into or out of the oven. 

Simmering tomato sauce

Winner: Nonstick

Nonstick skillets are a clear winner when it comes to simmering tomato sauce. “The seasoning of cast iron can be eaten away rather quickly by cooking acidic foods like tomatoes,” says Ashley L. Jones, author of “Skilletheads: A Guide to Collecting and Restoring Cast-Iron Cookware.” Conversely, tomato-based sauces won’t interact with nonstick coating when preparing dishes like Quick and Easy Chicken Parmesan. Choose a large, high-sided sauté pan with a see-through lid to reduce splattering and make clean up even easier. Once done simmering, use silicone-covered tongs to swirl in pasta to the finished sauce.

Sautéing vegetables

Winner: Both

Sautéing is a quick cooking technique using a shallow, hot pan with a small amount of oil or butter and cooking until the vegetables or protein is soft. You can sauté in either a cast-iron or nonstick skillet or saute, though you would need less oil in a nonstick. Either pan can be heated to medium heat and is the right shape for sautéing vegetables. The cast-iron skillet will take a little longer to heat up than a nonstick skillet but both will give the tender, slightly browned results you are looking for. Remember to not heat a nonstick skillet without adding oil or butter to it first.


Winner: Cast iron

Cornbread, Dutch babies, and even cookies are all able to be baked using a cast-iron skillet. Once hot, a cast-iron skillet retains heat and will bake evenly. Cast iron can be transferred to the oven, which is another reason it works so well for baking. Preheating a cast-iron skillet is important when using it to bake. This ensures even baking and the golden crust or flaky pastry you’re after. A nonstick skillet won’t promote the browning or go as comfortably from stovetop to oven. Stick with baking pans if cast iron isn’t an option.


Winner: Neither

Though cast iron can reach high temps and nonstick cookware keeps food from sticking to the surface, stir frying is best left to another type of metal cookware: carbon steel. Carbon steel can reach the same high cooking temperatures that cast iron does, but it is slightly lighter and heats up faster than cast iron. Stir-frying requires a hot pan but needs more movement than sautéing. Nonstick and cast-iron skillets are also too shallow to properly stir fry. Go with a carbon steel wok if you want to stir fry, with a hybrid nonstick wok as a second choice.

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron


What It’s Best For: Versatility and long-lasting

Reach for the Lodge Cast Iron Skillet when you need to sear a steak or get crispy-skinned chicken. Its ability to reach high temperatures, as well as retain heat, means it can handle a variety of cooking tasks. We’ve tested it a few times and it’s performed excellently when searing, baking, and frying. The Lodge Cast Iron Skillet works with all cooking sources: induction, grills, and even over an open fire. 

This sturdy pan is inexpensive and extremely durable. It arrives pre-seasoned but you will need to season after each use, which according to Jones should only take a couple of minutes.

Price at time of publish: $20

All-Clad Hard Anodized E785S264/E785S263 Set of 2 Fry Pans

All-Clad Hard Anodized E785S264/E785S263 Set of 2 Fry Pans


What It’s Best For: Fast and easy

The All-Clad HA1 Hard Anodized Nonstick skillet set includes both an 8-inch and a 10-inch skillet. Reach for these when you don’t want to worry about whether the food you're cooking will stick to the pan. The All-Clad HA1 pans heat up quickly and evenly. While the sides are made from aluminum, the bottom of the pan is stainless steel, which means it can be used on induction stovetops. The pans heat up and cool down quickly, and only need a little soap and water for cleaning. You’ll be in and out of the kitchen quickly and easily with the All-Clad HA1 skillet set.

Price at time of publish: $70

Should You Buy Cast Iron or Nonstick Cookware?

Honestly, I think you need both! I know I reach for one or the other multiple times a week. The cast-iron skillet comes in handy for searing meats or baking but I use the nonstick for eggs and tomato dishes. It's nice to have the option when it comes to choosing your skillet. Sometimes I want the crispy fried edges on pancakes, so I pull out the cast iron. Other times, I want to be out of the kitchen once the pancakes are done, so I’ll use the nonstick for the ease of cleaning and speedy preheating. 

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

Rachel Knecht is a recipe developer, food writer, and recipe tester based in Seattle. Her recipes and writing have appeared on Simply Recipes and she began writing for Spruce Eats in 2022.

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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