Over the years, perceptions about nonstick cookware have changed. For many of today’s cooks, traditional nonstick coating has too many potential risks, so seeking out alternatives has become more popular. There are now more alternatives to nonstick cookware than ever, so cooks can find products that fit both their specific needs and budget.
We’ve got the scoop on some of those nonstick alternatives, as well as some top products to check out in each category.
The Scoop on Nonstick
Like a lot of you, I’ve heard about the “dangers” of Teflon and nonstick pans, but I’ve never actually found information that completely clarifies things one way or the other. Many of the articles I’ve read on the subject talk about nonstick cookware being safe in most cases, with the danger being when the pan is heated to a high temp (over 500 degrees).
Even so, with so much conflicting information out there, it seems worth it to me to talk about some of the options out there that are both PFOA-free and PFOA- and PTFE-free. Materials like cast iron, stainless, and ceramic are alternatives to nonstick that don’t have any of the disputes and baggage that some of the other nonstick materials do.
There are some PFOA-free brands that offer the same kind of nonstick experience you’d find in Teflon, including All-Clad’s hard anodized cookware.
Pots and pans that are nonstick but PFOA-free are typically considered to be safe; however, plenty of folks want to just avoid PTFE and nonstick coating in general. For those cooks, there are three main alternatives that we’ll discuss next.
There are three common alternatives to traditional nonstick cookware: ceramic, stainless steel, and cast iron. None will totally mimic the nonstick qualities of PTFE or Teflon, but with a little patience and learning, you can use these for most foods, including eggs.
Ceramic cookware is widely considered to be the safest cookware, as it is made from organic materials and is PFOA- and PTFE-free. It is lightweight and has natural nonstick properties (though it won’t completely replicate a traditional nonstick coating). It is not typically long lasting, however, and it will usually only last 3-5 years.
When anyone talks about ceramic cookware, they usually mean ceramic coated cookware. Pure ceramic cookware is uncommon and it doesn’t tend to be very wallet-friendly or durable. Xtrema is one of the most common brands, but user reviews tend to be on the low side. This pan, for example, is around $80 and it can crack easily and doesn’t act very nonstick.
There simply aren’t that many options for pure ceramic cookware. Some say that pure ceramic is the healthiest cookware, but there isn’t any scientific evidence to support that claim.
Ceramic coated cookware, on the other hand, is plentiful, and there are more options in terms of size, sets and pieces, and material. Pure ceramic cookware wouldn’t work on induction, but some ceramic coated cookware does. Beware, though: there is a lot of misinformation about which brands will work on induction, and many of those don’t work well. This Green Earth pan set, for instance, theoretically works with induction cooktops, but some customers have found the results to be inconsistent. Vremi’s ceramic cookware seems to have the best results on induction.
Some of the other variations to look for in ceramic coated cookware to look for include:
- Oven Safe: Ceramic holds up well in extreme temps, but many of the cookware out there features handle or interior metal materials that make it incapable of going above 350 degrees. Be sure to read the specs on this factor if you want to use your cookware in the oven.
- Dishwasher Safe: You’ll find that some ceramic cookware is supposedly dishwasher safe. However, given the nature of ceramic, we recommend hand washing your cookware. But, if that feature is important to you, be sure to find cookware that the manufacturer states as dishwasher safe, and read some reviews about that specifically.
- Materials: The insides of the ceramic cookware matters because of how well it will heat and retain heat. Typically it’s aluminum, but sometimes copper or stainless layers are included. Check this feature before you buy and look for multiple layers of metal.
Here are a few ceramic cookware sets and pieces we like:
- Almond Copper Nonstick Ceramic Copper Frying Pan
- Vremi 8-Piece Ceramic Cookware Set
- See our full review of the best ceramic cookware here
Stainless steel isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of “nonstick,” but it can be a viable alternative if you’re trying to avoid nonstick coatings.
When you’re making the move away from nonstick — and for many people, that means ditching a whole nonstick set — stainless is a good option for the bulk of your cookware. If you want to elevate your cooking and have beautiful cookware that will last, stainless is the way to go.
What this might mean is that you buy pieces, or you purchase a set with the knowledge that you’ll need to find a separate nonstick (or nonstick alternative) pan for delicate things like eggs and fish. One of the issues with Teflon and other nonstick coatings is that it can start to flake, adding potentially dangerous or at least icky flakes of black stuff in your meals. This is never something you have to worry about with stainless.
Now, stainless pans can be used for cooking foods that usually depend on nonstick, like eggs. My first experience doing that came when I began using my Made In Cookware set (you can read my full review here). It does take some practice and mindfulness, but it can be done. It also requires good, multi-clad stainless cookware.
Some cooks swear by seasoning their stainless, but that hasn’t been necessary in my experience. If you are worried about cooking with stainless and having food stick, definitely season your pans — it won’t harm anything. No matter if you season or not, be sure to approach frying the right way to avoid stuck-on foods. That means preheating the pan before you add any fats, then letting the fat (butter or oil) heat up before adding food. Follow those steps and VOILA! You just fried in stainless without sticking.
Want to see some of my favorite stainless steel sets? Check out this guide to the best cookware.
Cast iron pans are favored among home cooks and chefs, and you’ll hear some people say that their skillets are as nonstick as any traditional nonstick pan. But here’s the thing: cast iron is excellent for a range of cooking techniques and it can be nonstick to some extent. However it takes a lot of time and work to get the pan to be nonstick and there are still some foods you just can’t cook well in cast iron.
I also want to clarify here that we’re talking about raw — not enameled — cast iron pans, like this bestseller from Lodge. Cast iron skillets require some work, like seasoning periodically, and it takes a while for them to get to optimal cooking levels. Cast iron has to be hand washed and cannot be cleaned with soap, so for some the setup isn’t ideal.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the things to know about raw cast iron skillets.
- Do not cook acidic foods
- Do not cook fish
- Do not cook sticky foods until well seasoned (over time from use)
- Beware of smelly foods (the cast iron will retain them)
- Dry completely to avoid rusting
Now that we’ve covered some of the warnings, I’ll tell you this: cast iron can work really well as a nonstick pan once it’s seasoned properly and once you learn the quirks. Cast iron doesn’t heat particularly well or evenly, though once it is fully heated it retains that heat well. So cooking something delicate like eggs will require some patience to get the pan fully heated. Then, like stainless, you’ll want to add in fat like butter, heat that a bit, then add in your food. A good tip is to make sure the food you’re cooking isn’t totally cold right out of the fridge — cold food will stick.
Now, there are also enameled cast iron skillets. I don’t recommend these for eggs or other sticky foods, as their really not designed for that. Some folks have good luck using enameled for that, but I view enameled cast iron as an alternative to raw; for example, it will work better for acidic foods because it won’t react like raw cast iron.
Finding alternatives to nonstick cookware is easy; the hard part is figuring out what type will work best for you. My final piece of advice is to remember that nonstick coatings like Teflon helped address the desire for speedy cooking. It works for those who don’t want to wait and follow the whole process required by other materials. Whatever you choose, you will have a different experience than what you’re used to with traditional nonstick coatings. You’ll need to have patience and plan on a little practice.