When shopping for cookware, many people wonder if they should opt for nonstick cookware or regular uncoated stainless steel. The answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as it would seem, but it all comes down to a personal preference.
There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to each type of cookware. Nonstick cookware is easy to use and clean, as the slick coating helps to keep food from sticking, and it also is easy to clean afterward.
Health-conscious cooks like that they can use a lot less oil (a little oil, to lubricate the cooking surface, is still usually recommended) than they would with uncoated cookware. But that helpful cooking surface also carries some potential risks. Certain scientists, environmentalists and consumer advocacy groups have concerns about the chemicals used to make many of the nonstick coatings, such as PTFE (most commonly known as Teflon), on the market today. The chemical of most concern is PFOA. The Environmental Protection Agency has asked most of the major chemical manufacturers to phase out the use of PFOA by the year 2015.
It’s important to note, though, that using nonstick cookware will not expose you to PFOA as the chemical is only in evidence in the manufacturing process and does not end up in the finished cookware. Exposing nonstick pans to very high temperatures will, however, release other potentially toxic chemicals into the air, so if you use nonstick pans, take precautions: Never heat a pan empty on a burner, keep your burner on medium or low, and throw out a pan if its coating is starting to chip or flake (to keep this from happening, avoid using sharp or metal utensils).
The final disadvantage to nonstick coating is one that most professional chefs and accomplished home cooks would be quick to point out: nonstick pans simply can’t achieve the searing and browning effect that an uncoated stainless steel pan does. Instead, food more or less steams in its own juices. You can also find more eco-friendly nonstick finishes on the market, such as the ceramic coating on Bialetti cookware (learn more about eco-friendly nonstick cookware)
Meanwhile, uncoated stainless pans do a great job at producing that beautiful and delicious browning (called the maillard reaction). They’re more durable since there’s not a coating to be concerned about protecting. And as long as the handles are made of heatproof material, they’re usually oven-safe. The drawback is that burnt-on food can require some elbow grease to get off (try an abrasive cleanser like Bon Ami or Barkeeper’s Friend).
Our recommendation? Buy one or two nonstick skillets for cooking eggs, pancakes and other foods that are known to stick to a pan, but invest in high-quality uncoated stainless steel for the rest of your cookware. For instance, there’s no need for a nonstick coating in saucepans or pots, where the contents are likely mostly liquid.