Nonstick vs. Ceramic Skillets: Which Should You Buy?
A nonstick cooking surface can be a pleasure to work with. They’re so easy to use and clean, and even low-stress to shop for since there’s no real need to invest in an expensive nonstick skillet. We’ve tested loads of pans and the truth is that nonstick coatings—whether ceramic or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)—will all eventually wear out, no matter how well you take care of your cookware.
If you’re in the market for a new skillet to flex your omelet-making skills, it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of endless debating between a ceramic or a traditional nonstick finish. In truth, either option is totally fine in terms of performance, however, ceramic is less durable than traditional nonstick. Let’s take a closer look at both materials.
Health and Eco-Friendliness
Traditional nonstick pans are metal pans coated in PTFE (Teflon is a common brand name). This coating was once made with a similar-sounding substance called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), until studies showed reliable links between PFOA and both health concerns and negative environmental impact. Though PFOA has been out of the Teflon game since 2013 and PTFE is widely considered safe, the coating may release gasses when heated to high temperatures. Like many substances we’re exposed to, whether PTFE is still toxic to our health is debated, so making use of these nonstick skillets ultimately comes down to personal choice.
When it comes to ceramic unless you’re using cookware that is 1) actually made of ceramic and 2) is old enough for its glaze to potentially contain lead, you’re likely fine to assume you’re working with a non-toxic tool. The so-called ceramic coating on today’s ceramic skillets is a series of thin layers of silica, which comes from sand and is applied with a sol-gel process, which means the coating is naturally derived. If you’re concerned about PTFE off-gassing, a ceramic skillet may feel like a more comfortable choice.
To avoid the release of fumes and to help the nonstick surface remain slippery for as long as possible, it’s best that both traditional nonstick and ceramic skillets are not exposed to high heat or heated while empty. Get those eggs, fish filets, or pancake batter in the pan ASAP!
Performance and Longevity
For the most part, you don’t really need a nonstick skillet. Most of the time, you’re fine—or indeed better off—using the likes of stainless steel, carbon steel, or cast iron. A nonstick skillet is nice to have on hand for the aforementioned eggs and fish and things that are very delicate, but it really shouldn’t be your go-to for daily cooking.
While ceramic coating tends to be more brittle than Teflon and thus break down faster and be more susceptible to scratches, it’s worth repeating that all nonstick cookware, whether it’s coated in Teflon or ceramic or some other fancily-named proprietary coating, will eventually wear out. The unavoidable combination of heat, contact with utensils (even wood or silicone ones), and washing (yes, even by hand) will slowly reduce the effectiveness of that once slippery-smooth coating—which is exactly why we don’t recommend dropping a bunch of cash on an expensive nonstick skillet. It probably won’t last more than a few years if you’re using it on a semi-regular basis.
Though we like to keep our nonstick spending under $50, the sky’s the limit when it comes to cookware. But we simply do not recommend spending over $100 on a pan you’ll for sure need to replace in a few years.
Ceramic skillets tend to start at a higher price than Teflon-esque nonstick pans; generally accompanied by marketing that touts its non-toxic or naturally derived properties. Again, if PTFEs are a concern for you, spending an extra $15 or $20 on a ceramic skillet may well be worth the tradeoff of a potentially shorter surface lifespan.
The Conclusion (or Not)
As much as we love an opportunity to say that one type of tool is definitely better than another, the nonstick vs. ceramic skillet debate is simply not one of those times. It’s a matter of preference, and as long as you don’t invest too much money—or hang too high of hopes—on any one particular nonstick surface, you can fry eggs to your heart’s content. (For a few years, anyway.)
What are the best nonstick skillets?
Following our tests of 16 nonstick skillets, we named the T-fal Professional Total Nonstick Thermo-Spot Heat Indicator Fry Pan our favorite traditional nonstick, while the BulbHead Red Copper 10-Inch Pan was our favorite ceramic skillet.
Should I buy a ceramic nonstick skillet?
If you have concerns about off-gassing or generally feel more comfortable with a coating derived from natural materials, then yes, a ceramic nonstick skillet is the right choice. In terms of performance, though, ceramic coatings tend to wear out more quickly than conventional nonstick surfaces.
Why is my nonstick skillet sticking?
If your nonstick skillet is no longer nonstick, it’s time to say goodbye and purchase a replacement. Unfortunately, once the nonstick coating starts to break down, there’s no restoring the finish. If the coating is otherwise intact, you can buy yourself a few extra uses by cooking with oil or butter, but never continue to use a nonstick pan with visible flaking or chipping.