Are you ready to buy non-stick cookware but confused about the different materials and options?
This guide provides an overview of the best non-stick pan materials.
You’ll learn the pros and cons of each material and get advice about how to choose the right pan.
Use the links below to navigate the guide:
- Non-Stick Pan Materials: The Basics
- Base Materials
- Non-Stick Coating Materials
- The Best Non-Stick Pans Categorized by Material (Chart)
- Bottom Line: What Non-Stick Pan Material Is the Best?
A non-stick pan has two parts: base material and a non-stick coating.
The base material has direct contact with your cooktop. It’s often made of aluminum, hard-anodized aluminum, or stainless steel.
The non-stick coating covers the pan’s interior and has direct contact with your food. It’s the material that keeps food from sticking to your pan’s surface.
The type of base material and non-stick coating you choose affects your pan’s performance, cleaning, care, durability, longevity, and price.
Depending on the brand, you’ll find various combinations of base materials and non-stick coatings (which we’ll explore later in this guide).
Generally, the base material is different from the non-stick surface. For example, some non-stick cookware has a stainless steel base and a PTFE non-stick coated interior.
But base materials sometimes double as the non-stick cooking surface. For example, cast iron and carbon steel have natural non-stick properties.
In this section, you’ll learn the pros and cons of each base material.
Many cookware brands use aluminum in some form. It may be a base material (pan exterior), a core material (the middle layer in fully-clad stainless steel pans), or even used for the entire construction of the cookware.
Aluminum can be thin, heavy-gauge (thick), cast, or hardened (hard-anodized). In this section, you’ll learn about standard aluminum.
Here are the advantages of aluminum-base cookware:
- Standard aluminum pots and pans are extremely affordable.
- It’s lightweight and easy to move.
- Aluminum provides excellent heat conduction, so the cookware heats quickly and evenly.
- It’s often painted to give the cookware a more vibrant look.
Here are the downsides of aluminum bases:
- They are thin and prone to warping, so they won’t last as long as thicker base material pans like stainless steel or hard-anodized aluminum.
- The exterior is easy to scratch and damage, so new pans look old fast.
- Aluminum is a reactive metal. Tiny particles can leach into your food if the non-stick coating degrades — especially if the food is acidic.
- They can become discolored, especially if placed in a dishwasher.
When aluminum is hard-anodized, it goes through a process that creates an oxidized layer. This hardened layer gives the aluminum greater durability, corrosion resistance, and advanced heat conduction.
Today, it is frequently a go-to base material for non-stick pans. You get the same excellent heat conduction as standard aluminum, but its hardened state makes it more robust.
A hard-anodized aluminum base is great because:
- The material is harder and stronger than standard aluminum, making it less prone to warping.
- It demonstrates excellent heat conduction.
- The base resists scratches, nicks, and scuffs better than standard aluminum.
- Its charcoal gray color gives the cookware a classy and professional look.
Here is what’s not so great about it:
- Hard-anodized aluminum is more expensive than standard aluminum.
- It’s heavy and sometimes cumbersome to lift while cooking.
- The quality varies between brands (I recommend Calphalon and All-Clad).
- There are few design options. It’s usually black or dark gray.
- It’s not induction-compatible unless it has a magnetic base added to the bottom (for example, the All-Clad HA1 collection is induction compatible).
Stainless steel is an alloy of iron and carbon that contains chromium, which helps protect the metal from rust and corrosion. You’ll also find other metals, like nickel and molybdenum, in the mix, although each cookware brand uses its own formula.
Stainless steel is a durable base material that comes in different constructions. The two most popular are fully-clad and impact-bonded.
Fully-clad stainless steel employs a multi-layered construction throughout the pan. The top and bottom layers are durable steel, while the core layer is a highly conductive material, usually aluminum but sometimes copper.
Impact-bonded stainless steel has a multi-layered disc on the bottom of the pan. Therefore the cookware heats from the bottom first and delivers residual heat to the sides.
Here are the pros of stainless steel:
- If it is fully-clad, it has a heat-conductive core that provides quick, even heat conduction and retention throughout the entire pan.
- With an impact-bonded base, you can expect the bottom of the pan to heat fast so you can start cooking quickly.
- The pan exterior is more durable than aluminum.
- It comes in multiple finishes. Depending on the brand, you can choose from a polished, brushed, or hammered finish.
- Stainless steel is compatible with all stovetops, including induction.
- It’s a versatile material that can go from cooktop to oven to table.
- Although stainless steel is notorious for sticking food, when you pair it with a non-stick coating, you’ll experience excellent food release and easier cleanup.
- It’s non-reactive. So even if the non-stick coating gets scratched and exposes the steel, metal won’t leach into your food.
Here are the cons of stainless steel:
- Impact-bonded bases heat from the bottom, so the walls only experience residual heat. That can cause temperature fluctuations while cooking.
- Stainless steel non-stick cookware is more expensive. The manufacturing process to bond the two materials is more complex than simply punching a sheet of aluminum into shape. Since the non-stick coating will require you to replace the pan every few years, the higher price is not always worth it.
- For high-heat cooking methods like searing, stainless steel works well. But when it has a non-stick interior, its heat tolerance is limited, so you won’t get the same results.
- Stainless steel requires regular maintenance to keep it looking clean and shiny.
- Polished (mirror-finish) stainless steel is a fingerprint magnet. It requires frequent wiping.
Cast iron cookware is well-known for its durability, even heat distribution, and unmatched heat retention.
Cast iron cookware is formed when molten iron is poured into a mold of sand. The process requires large machinery, high heat, multiple steps, and skilled craftspeople.
There are two types of cast iron cookware: bare (or raw) and enameled.
Bare cast iron requires seasoning — a layer of carbonized oil that bakes into the pan over time and creates a non-stick surface.
Enameled cast iron is bare cast iron coated in layers of enamel (a material made of glass). The enamel makes the surface smoother than bare, unseasoned cast iron, but you’ll need to use some oil every time you cook to prevent food from sticking.
Here are the advantages of cast iron:
- You can use cast iron cookware on all types of cooktops, including gas, electric, and induction.
- Cast iron is oven-safe. You can use it for baking and roasting.
- It’s highly durable. With proper care, it can last a lifetime.
- Proper seasoning gives it a natural non-stick surface.
- Bare cast iron is affordable. You can get a good quality pan for under $50.
- It’s versatile. You can use it for cooking, baking, broiling, and even outdoors with campfires and grills.
- Cast iron retains heat for a long time due to its thick walls, so it is perfect for cooking low and slow meals or keeping food warm.
Here are the disadvantages of cast iron:
- Cast iron takes time to heat up, so consider aluminum, stainless steel, or carbon steel if you are looking for cookware to cook a quick meal.
- The thick construction makes it heavy. A 12-inch skillet weighs 8 pounds on average, and it gets even heavier when you add food.
- Bare cast iron is reactive. It’s not the best choice for cooking acidic foods like tomato sauce. Acidic foods strip away the natural seasoning from the pan, removing the non-stick properties.
- If you’re counting on the seasoning to give you a non-stick surface, understand that it requires regular maintenance. Check out my article on how to properly use a cast iron skillet.
- It requires specific cleaning and care that isn’t as simple as non-stick (you can’t use soap on bare cast iron).
- It’s not the best choice for smooth top glass stoves. It can cause damage to the surface. Plus, if you handle it roughly, it can crack the cooktop.
- Cast iron is prone to rusting if it is not properly seasoned or if you allow water to linger in it.
Carbon steel has been around for a while. Professional chefs have enjoyed its benefits for many years. But home chefs are starting to see more options for carbon steel cookware in recent years.
Carbon steel combines the best qualities of stainless steel and cast iron bases with the benefits of non-stick.
The material is an alloy of 99% iron and 1% carbon. It’s highly durable and ideal for high-heat cooking. Much like cast iron, an oil-based seasoning forms on the surface over time, improving the non-stick quality of the pan.
The pros of carbon steel:
- It’s thinner and lighter than cast iron.
- Carbon steel offers natural seasoning that mimics non-stick.
- The material heats quickly and evenly. It is responsive to temperature changes, so you get better heat control for temperature-sensitive meals.
- Carbon steel is durable and built to last.
- It’s versatile due to its high-temperature tolerance. You can use it on any cooktop and over an open flame, such as a campfire or outdoor grill.
The cons of carbon steel:
- Keeping the natural seasoning intact requires special cleaning and maintenance.
- Carbon steel is reactive, so acidic foods will strip away the seasoning. Without the seasoning, contact with the pan can change the flavor of your food.
- Carbon steel changes its appearance the more you use it. It develops a patina that transforms the color of your cookware.
Non-Stick Coating Materials
Non-stick coatings are designed to eliminate friction between the pan and the food, making it easier to cook with and clean.
There are multiple types of non-stick coatings: PTFE, ceramic, and enamel. Hybrid coatings are also becoming popular.
When choosing a non-stick pan, always consider the level of heat resistance and the ease of cleaning. For example, PTFE is the easiest to clean, but the natural coating on carbon steel has a higher heat tolerance.
In this section, you’ll learn the pros and cons of each non-stick coating material.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Teflon. It’s a brand name for a type of PTFE. But all PTFE is not Teflon, even though many people use the words interchangeably.
PTFE is the common name for polytetrafluoroethylene, a synthetic fluoropolymer. The substance bonds to a pan to create a non-stick surface.
This material had a bad reputation in the past, and rightfully so. Before 2013, a chemical linked to major health and environmental issues called PFOA was used during the making of PTFE.
Fortunately, all PTFE and non-stick pans made with PTFE since 2013 are PFOA-free and completely healthy, as long as you don’t overheat them.
Today’s PTFE is not only safe, but the formula is evolving and becoming more durable. Some brands infuse it with additives like titanium or diamonds.
For example, Hestan ProBond non-stick pans feature a PTFE coating infused with diamond particles and bonded to the pan with durable titanium plasma technology. These additives promise to prolong the life of the coating.
When it comes to food release in non-stick cookware, PTFE is unmatched. It gives the best results.
Here are the main advantages of PTFE:
- Food doesn’t stick to PTFE. Of all the non-stick coatings, PTFE delivers the best food release.
- It’s easy to clean. Simply wipe and rinse with warm water and dish soap.
- It’s versatile and works well on most base materials, including aluminum, hand-anodized aluminum, and stainless steel.
- PTFE cookware is free of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical suspected of contributing to specific cancers.
- Many PTFE cookware options are oven-safe — some up to 500°F.
These are the main disadvantages of PTFE:
- If you overheat PTFE cookware, it can release harmful fumes.
- Metal utensils can scratch the surface and release small pieces of the coating into your food.
- If the base is aluminum, and you scratch off the PTFE, small amounts of aluminum can leach into your food.
- The cookware interior does not last as long as stainless steel, cast iron, or carbon steel. It will eventually wear down and need to be replaced.
Ceramic non-stick coating is a good alternative if you want an option made from natural ingredients. Despite its name, ceramic coating is not truly ceramic.
True ceramic, often used in bakeware, is not naturally non-stick. It performs much like glass bakeware. The ceramic in non-stick cookware is more of a descriptive term since the finish is glossy and slick, just like ceramic.
Ceramic non-stick coating is made from silicone, a byproduct of sand. It contains no fluoropolymers (a part of PTFE that can release harmful gas if overheated).
The silicone is made into a gel known as sol-gel. This substance is self-sacrificing, meaning the coating’s effectiveness degrades upon every use.
Ceramic coating formulas vary. Many contain additives to increase durability and improve heat transfer.
The pros of ceramic coating include:
- Cookware with ceramic coating is affordable, although not cheap.
- Companies that use it on cookware are focused on sustainable production practices. For example, GreenPan states that it releases 60% less CO2 during ceramic coating production than PTFE production.
- It’s toxin-free and does not release harmful fumes if overheated.
- Some ceramic cookware brands, like Caraway, have recycling programs when it’s time to replace your pots and pans.
- You often have a choice of light or dark-colored interiors.
Here are the cons of ceramic coating:
- It doesn’t last as long as other options, including PTFE.
- If you prefer using high-heat cooking methods like searing, ceramic cookware falls flat since it’s designed for use over low to medium heat.
- After a few months of use, the non-stick properties begin to degrade.
- Using ceramic cookware might be worse for the environment because you need to replace your pans more often.
- The coating wears down, scratches, and chips more easily than PTFE.
- Many options are not dishwasher safe.
Though you’ll need to use some oil when cooking, enameled cast iron cookware is another excellent option. Enamel is stick-resistant but not totally non-stick.
Enameled pans are made of a cast iron core with an enamel coating bonded to the interior and exterior. You experience all of the benefits of cast iron without needing to season the surface.
The advantages of enamel cookware include:
- The cookware has a high heat tolerance.
- You can use it on all cooktops, including induction. It’s also oven safe.
- If you love the heat retention of cast iron but don’t want iron to touch your food, the enamel prevents direct contact.
- You won’t need to season the cookware.
- It offers excellent heat retention.
- It’s non-reactive. You can cook acidic foods without an issue.
- You get a choice of colored exteriors.
- Interiors are often light-colored, making it easy to see the browning progress of food.
The disadvantages of enamel cookware include:
- It’s not totally non-stick. You need to grease the surface and cook on low or medium to prevent delicate foods like eggs and fish from sticking.
- It is heavy. When you add food, it becomes even heavier.
- Because of its weight, take care when using it on smooth top glass stoves to avoid damage.
- It takes a while to heat.
- If the temperature shifts drastically or you drop the cookware, the enamel can crack or chip.
Hybrid non-stick is a combination of PTFE and stainless steel. This option is becoming more popular. The surface looks like a symmetrical stainless steel grid with a non-stick coating underneath.
HexClad is the pioneer brand in this category. It uses a blend of PTFE, high-grade Japanese ceramic coating, and stainless steel. The ceramic coating is infused with diamond dust for extra strength.
Other brands are mimicking HexClad’s technology. For example, Anolon has introduced Anolon X, a hybrid non-stick designed to keep oil in the center of the pan for better searing. Another brand, Black Cube, has a hybrid non-stick frying pan that looks similar to HexClad but costs less.
This hybrid non-stick technology is still developing, but it’s worth considering.
Here are the upsides of hybrid cookware:
- It’s non-stick but can still deliver a good sear on meats.
- Hybrid non-stick is more durable than PTFE and ceramic. The stainless steel parts are raised above the non-stick coating, protecting the coating from scratches and direct contact with utensils.
- It’s metal-utensil safe.
Here are the downsides of hybrid cookware:
- Depending on a brand’s design, not every part of the surface is coated with stainless steel and non-stick, so food is prone to stick in some areas.
- Hybrid pan offers better non-stick performance than stainless steel alone, but it’s not as good as PTFE or ceramic non-stick.
- There aren’t many options in the marketplace. HexClad has the market share, and it is expensive.
- This technology is still new and unproven. It will take time to see if it truly holds up.
- It’s incredibly expensive (especially HexClad). You can buy two or three high-quality non-stick pans for the cost of one HexClad hybrid pan.
Each cookware brand takes its one approach to non-stick materials.
Others stick to one formula. For example, all Caraway pans are made with an aluminum base and ceramic non-stick coating.
Now that you know the pros and cons of each base material and non-stick coating, let’s look at the top brands and the materials they offer.
You can learn more about these brands in my guide to the best non-stick cookware.
|Brand/Collection||Base Material||Non-Stick Material|
|Made In Non-Stick||Stainless Steel||PTFE|
|All-Clad D3||Stainless Steel||PTFE|
|HexClad||Stainless Steel||PTFE/Steel Hybrid|
|Misen Non-Stick||Stainless Steel||PTFE|
|All-Clad HA1||Hard-Anodized Aluminum||PTFE|
|Calphalon Signature||Hard-Anodized Aluminum||PTFE|
|Anolon SmartStack||Hard-Anodized Aluminum||Ceramic|
|Le Creuset Enameled||Cast Iron||Enamel|
|Lodge Cast Iron||Cast Iron||Natural Seasoning|
|Made In Carbon Steel||Carbon Steel||Natural Seasoning|
Now that you’ve learned the pros and cons of the best non-stick pan materials, the question is:
Which type of non-stick pan is right for you?
Here’s the short answer: the one that suits your needs and budget.
Here’s my take:
- For high-heat cooking (anything above 500°F), go with cast iron or carbon steel. These are the best pans for searing and broiling. Pans with PTFE non-stick coating are not safe to use above 500°F.
- Want to cook delicate foods like eggs or fish? Skip cast iron and opt for aluminum-based PTFE or ceramic non-stick. I prefer pans with PTFE coating because they release food better and last longer than ceramic-coated pans.
- If you want the most durable, longest-lasting pan, go with cast iron or carbon steel. Since these materials develop natural non-stick seasoning over time, they can last forever.
- Stainless steel and non-stick hybrid cookware, like HexClad, is undoubtedly innovative, but I wasn’t overly impressed when I tested it. It attempts to provide the best of stainless steel and non-stick cookware, but because it’s so expensive, you’re better off buying two separate pans.
Bottom line — for most home cooks, I recommend non-stick cookware with a fully-clad stainless steel or hard-anodized aluminum base with a PTFE non-stick coating.
Fully-clad stainless steel and hard-anodized aluminum are durable, versatile, and conduct heat evenly. The one major downside of hard-anodized aluminum is that it’s incompatible with induction cooktops.
PTFE is the best non-stick coating. It offers better food release and longevity than ceramic, requires much less maintenance than natural seasonings on cast iron and carbon steel, and is much easier to clean than enamel.
Which non-stick pan materials will you buy next? Share in the comments.
- The 10 Best Cookware Materials: How Do They Compare?
- Stainless Steel vs. Non-Stick Cookware
- Ceramic vs. Teflon Cookware
- Ceramic Cookware Pros and Cons
- Pros and Cons of Hard-Anodized Cookware
- Cast Iron vs. Enameled Cast Iron: 9 Differences
- Hard-Anodized vs. Ceramic Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- Stainless Steel vs. Hard-Anodized Aluminum
- Carbon Steel vs. Cast Iron Cookware: 10 Differences
- Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel Cookware
- Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel Pans
- Stainless Steel Cookware Pros and Cons: 19 Things to Know
- Hard-Anodized vs. Non-Stick Cookware: What’s the Difference?