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Before investing in new pots and pans or a complete cookware set, learn about the pros and cons of stainless steel vs nonstick cookware to make an informed decision.
There's a lot to consider when selecting new pots and pans, and stainless steel vs nonstick cookware is one of the most significant decisions. Of course, it all comes down to personal preference and what foods you cook most often, but how do you choose?
Generally, it helps to understand the pros and cons of both options to make an informed decision. Next, you'll want to compare the two types of cookware to determine which would work better in your kitchen with your cooking style.
With expert advice and a no-nonsense approach, this guide is designed to help you decide. And you might improve your cooking game in the process. So keep reading to learn more.
Meet the experts
To create this guide, we spoke to a range of cookware experts, including:
Uncoated stainless steel pans are the workhorses of professional and home kitchens alike. They’re generally made with an aluminum or copper core for even heat conduction. And the core is coated in stainless steel for a nonreactive finish.
You want a pan with a heavier bottom to allow for maximum, even heating—thin and light pans are more likely to have hot spots, and they're less durable. Ideally, you’ll also want an ovenproof stainless steel pan with a handle that features an oven-friendly coating. This makes baked dishes easier to cook while adding versatility.
Benefits of Stainless Steel Cookware
Stainless steel is the go-to choice for most professional chefs (even those who also use nonstick). And it has a lot of benefits.
“Stainless steel has been around for a long time and for good reason, it's reliable. You won’t have to worry about them rusting or losing their coating and can safely be washed in the dishwasher,” explains Devan Cameron, chef, and owner of Braised & Deglazed.
“Stainless steel has been around for a long time and for good reason, it's reliable."
“In my experience,” continues Cameron, “they also seem to do a better job of searing and browning meats than nonstick pans. Plus, stainless steel pans can safely be used in the oven which is perfect for cooking larger cuts of meat. Stainless steel pans are the way to go for braising, poaching, blanching or any type of cooking that uses a liquid because you don’t have to worry about losing the nonstick coating.”
“Stainless skillets are incredibly durable, resistant to high temperatures, and will last a lifetime,” explains Jen Coleman from cookware brand Misen which offers a range of both stainless steel pots and pans. “Stainless skillets can cook 90% of the foods you'll ever make. The downside is that cleanup does take a bit more elbow grease than a typical nonstick, though it is dishwasher safe.”
Stainless steel cookware can be nonstick as well. "If you heat up your pan with butter or oil until it's hot enough then add the ingredients they won't stick,” adds Ligia Lugo, Culinary Expert and Founder of The Daring Kitchen.
More durable and won’t lose their coating over time
Better for searing and browning meats
Great for sautéing
Oven safe at high temperatures
Can be nonstick when oiled and heated properly
Safe to use with sharp and metal utensils
High durability and can last a lifetime
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Downsides of Stainless Steel Cookware
Despite being a professional favorite, stainless steel is not without its flaws. A novice chef may find a stainless steel pan frustrating until they begin to learn the ropes in the kitchen.
“One of the downsides is that you have to be more careful when you use stainless steel cookware,” explained Lugo. “You need to add oil and heat them properly. Cleaning stainless steel is also a bit harder than cleaning nonstick pans as brown or burnt pieces of food can be hard to clean.”
Must be oiled and heated properly
Can be more difficult to clean
Requires more care and attention during cooking to prevent sticking or burning
Not ideal for foods that stick easily, like eggs/omelets, delicate fish, crepes, or soft tofu
Can be more expensive than nonstick options
Most nonstick pans are made with an aluminum core and coated with a nonstick material like ceramic, PTFE or PFOA-free Teflon. Just like stainless steel pans, you want a heavier, thicker bottom for even heat distribution across the cooking surface, as well as an oven-friendly handle.
With nonstick, you’ll need to check how much heat the frying pan can take (most have a limit of 400 degrees F) and avoid going over that number. Cooking at too high of a temperature can damage the pan and the food you’re cooking.
“Nonstick pans are my first choice for cooking delicate foods like eggs and fish because they prevent food from sticking to the pan,” commented Cameron. “Generally speaking, I'd say a stainless steel cookware set is for more serious chefs who are looking for cookware that offers longevity, flexibility, and performance and is willing to pay for it with both dollars and maintenance,” added Peter Lipson of Kitchenda.
“The most obvious advantage is the nonstick coating which prevents food from sticking to the pan,” added Lugo. “Nonstick cookware is very convenient due to its easy cleaning of the nonstick coating. Also, high-quality nonstick pans are generally a little cheaper than the stainless steel options.”
“Nonstick cookware is very convenient due to its easy cleaning of the nonstick coating. Also, high-quality nonstick pans are generally a little cheaper than the stainless steel options.”
“A quality nonstick pan is the easiest cookware to use. It's great for stick-free cooking and easy cleanup,” said Coleman. “The disadvantage is that nonstick pots and fry pans can't sustain high temperatures and won't last a lifetime. No matter what, all nonstick pans eventually stop working when the coating wears off.”
Ideal for delicate foods like fish, eggs, and tofu
Prevents food from sticking to the pan
Can be more affordable than stainless steel options
Convenient and easy to clean
Easier to use for beginner chefs
Downsides of Nonstick Cookware
While modern nonstick cookware is generally considered safe, there are still drawbacks. And if you’re looking for a purchase that’ll last a lifetime, nonstick cookware isn’t it.
“The downside to nonstick pans is that they are high maintenance and need to be stored carefully to prevent the nonstick coating from deteriorating,” Cameron told Living Cozy. “Another problem with nonstick pans is that they can't go in the oven. The delicate nonstick coating will break down from the high heat of the oven. You also can’t use metal utensils like whisks, spoons or spatulas with nonstick pans as they’ll also break down the coating.”
“Nonstick pans are less durable, and the coating can chip. You should avoid using sharp utensils,” commented Lugo. “You won't be able to sear or brown foods on high heat the way you would with stainless steel.”
Less durable than stainless steel, and the coating can scratch or chip
Cannot use sharp or metal utensils (silicone utensils are best for nonstick pots and pans)
Requires careful storage, use, and cleaning to protect the nonstick coating
Can be damaged by high heat and is not always oven safe (best in low heat and medium heat)
Won’t last a lifetime—the coating will eventually wear away and stop working
Stainless Steel vs. Nonstick Cookware: Which is Best for You?
“I would advise that any home cook should have at least one or two nonstick pans for cooking foods that stick to the pan like eggs but invest in a stainless steel cookware set for the rest of the cooking,” Lugo explained, and we agree.
“I would advise that any home cook should have at least one or two nonstick pans for cooking foods that stick to the pan like eggs but invest in a stainless steel cookware set for the rest of the cooking.”
Nonstick cookware is a great fit for the more casual cook who values their time,” shared Lipson. “Stainless steel cookware does not have nonstick coatings. In general, they are on opposite sides of the spectrum and aimed at different buyers.”
"Most nonstick sets are built with aluminum offering quick heat conduction, while the nonstick surface provides easy cooking and fast clean up,” added Lipson.
If you’re passionate about home cooking, you’ll probably want to own both stainless steel and nonstick cookware. But it definitely varies from chef to chef. You can start with one of each and, from there, it'll be easier to decide where you want to put your money. For example, you might want a complete set of stainless steel with one or two nonstick pans, or you might prefer the opposite.
“You can't go wrong with either choice! It really comes down to your personal preferences in the kitchen,” Coleman told Living Cozy. “If you want a pan that can sear at high temperatures on the stovetop and the oven, stainless steel is the best choice. If easy cleanup is more important to you, nonstick may be a better choice, especially if you're mostly cooking eggs and fish.”
Taking a local cooking class could allow you to try both stainless steel and nonstick cookware firsthand before you buy. This is an excellent option for beginners who are struggling to decide what's best. Plus, it’ll teach you valuable skills!
Where to Buy Stainless Steel and Nonstick Cookware
If you're wondering where you can buy the best cookware, here are a few places to try:
Misen is a cookware and kitchen brand from New York City. The brand's mission is to delivery deliver better tools for better cooking at a reasonable price. Misen offers a range of both stainless steel and nonstick cookware as well as an Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven and a range of famous chefs' knives and cooking accessories.
Founded in 2016, Made In offers professional kitchenware products that are great for home cooking and welcome in Michelin-star restaurants. It's products are used by over 100,000 home cooks and it has a range of stainless clad and nonstick frying pans, saute pans, saucepans, and more.
Caraway offers home chefs a healthier way to cook. Its ceramic-coated aluminum nonstick cookware won’t leak any toxins into the food you’re cooking and its products are designed to make your life easier and healthier, no matter your level of expertise in the kitchen.
Other brands worth checking out include All-Clad and Calphalon which are more expensive, higher-end brands (both available on Amazon). At the slightly cheaper end of the scale, there's also T-fal and Cuisinart. You can pick up both stainless steel and non-stick options with these brands.