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Test Drive: Nonstick Skillets

Time to buy a new one? Here are our top choices for this kitchen essential.

by Maryellen Driscoll

fromFine Cooking
Issue 97

Nonstick pans used to be considered disposable: toss when chipped. But that throw-it-away mentality has given way to a smarter, more eco-conscious way of thinking, and manufacturers are beginning to reformulate the way they make their nonsticks. The pans may cost a little more, but they’re meant to last longer.

That’s why, although you can get a large nonstick skillet for under $30, we chose to test pans priced between $50 and $80. In this range, we found four skillets that not only lived up to their nonstick claims but also delivered stellar performances. They’re keepers...

Top Choice: Cuisinart Green Gourmet Nonstick Skillet

$70, homeandbeyond.com
Weight: 3 lb. 8 oz.

While this 12-inch pan was one of two “ecofriendly” pans in our review (along with the Scanpan), it was the performance and construction that made it our favorite. There was no sticking, and the aluminum core conducted heat in a controlled and even manner. Well balanced, the pan is classically shaped with gently sloping sides and a rolled edge for easy pouring. The riveted stay-cool handle is comfortable, and the opposing helper handle is a bonus. The exterior comes in hard anodized or stainless steel.

Most Comfortable: Scanpan Professional fry pan

$80, metrokitchen.com
Weight: 2 lb. 9 oz.

This 11-inch pan was a standout for its easy maneuverability. Substantial but lighter than most, it’s well balanced, with a handle that’s rounded and tapered in just the right places. The sloping sides are short, which made food feel readily accessible. The pressure-cast-aluminum disk base conducted heat evenly, and the ceramic titanium nonstick surface meant no sticking of fish fillets or fried eggs cooked without oil.

Largest Cooking Surface: Swiss Diamond fry pan

$84, parkerspantry.com
Weight: 2 lb. 9 oz.

We can’t vouch for whether fusing nonstick compounds with diamond crystals is what makes the difference for this pan, but we can testify that sticking wasn’t an issue. The straight sides of this 11-inch pan give it a roomy 9½ -inch flat cooking surface. Eggs fried with no oil flipped with ease and slid out of the pan. The pressure-cast-aluminum disk base conducted heat evenly and browned foods beautifully. The small helper handle is a nice aid in lifting.

Deepest: Analon Advanced French Nonstick Skillet

$70, cutleryandmore.com
Weight: 4 lb.

This 12-inch pan’s hard-anodized aluminum construction delivered the kind of heat conduction you’d expect from a high-quality, traditionally surfaced fry pan. It browned pork chops as well as a traditional pan did, and the nonstick properties were flawless. This is a substantial pan, with 3-inch-high sides, which make it feel more suited to containing a simmering sauce than slipping out an omelet. The one downside: This pan is oven-safe to no more than 400°F; the others are safe up to 500°F.

What to Look For

All four of these pans heated evenly and were beautifully nonstick. Which you choose comes down to the following features:

  • Shape If you plan to cook mainly eggs or fish, a pan with low sides like Scanpan’s or Swiss Diamond’s lets you easily slide out delicate foods. For a wider variety of cooking tasks, such as stirfries or sauces, the deeper Cuisinart or Anolon might be better.
  • Grip The pan should feel comfortable and secure.
  • Balance While lifting it or swirling oil, the pan should not strain your wrist or forearm.
  • Oven safe If high-heat oven use is in your future, make sure your pan’s handle can take the heat.
  • Storage Most nonsticks get scratched when stacked with other pans. Look for a handle with a hole or loop so you can hang it.

Play it Safe

Nonstick tops cookware sales, yet there remain concerns over its safety. Although nonstick coatings begin to break down and release potentially toxic fumes when heated above 500°F, experts confi rm that cooking with nonstick is safe, provided it’s used properly. To be safe:

  • Don’t heat a nonstick when it’s empty.
  • Don’t use heat higher than medium-high.
  • Replace pans that begin to flake.

Also of concern is the toxic effect of nonstick’s manufacturing process on the environment. Some manufacturers, including Cuisinart and Scanpan, have introduced pans made from PFOA-free technologies. (Perfl uorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is a man-made chemical identifi ed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a likely carcinogen.) PFOA isn’t used to make nonstick cookware but to make materials which are then used to create most nonstick surfaces. Even though there’s no indication that people are exposed to PFOA through the use of nonstick, more companies are expected to follow suit in introducing PFOA-free cookware.

How We Tested

We put 10 widely available 11- to 12-inch nonstick skillets through the following tests: 

  • Cooked multiple batches of pancakes to see how evenly each pan cooked over time.
  • Sautéed boneless pork chops to test how well each pan could brown.
  • Cooked fish fillets and eggs without any fat to test release.

Photos: Scott Phillips

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