Choosing Between Nonstick and Stainless Steel Cookware

Anolon Nouvelle Copper Cookware
Meyer Corp.

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.


Nonstick cookware is easy to use and clean, as the slick coating helps to keep food from sticking, and it's easy to clean afterward. Health-conscious cooks like that they can use a lot less oil than they would with uncoated cookware.

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.

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
  • Throw out a pan if its coating is starting to chip or flake

Lastly, 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.

Stainless Steel

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. 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).

Nonstick vs. Stainless Steel Cookware illustration
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

What should I get?

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 mostly liquid.