Our Plans
Log in
HelloFresh Logo

Stick vs. Nonstick Pans: What’s the Difference?

Let's Learn About Pans

If you’ve ever found yourself hunched over the sink scrubbing stuck-on grime off a pot or pan—and who hasn’t?—then you’ve probably considered purchasing a piece of nonstick cookware. After all, nonstick pans are a delight to use. Foods that might otherwise cling (think: eggs, pancakes, and delicate fish) release with absolute ease, even when cooked in little or no fat. They’re inexpensive, lightweight, and a breeze to clean. So what’s not to love?

How to Care for & Use Nonstick Cookware

The main issue with nonstick pans is that they require far more gentle treatment than other cookware. What makes a pan nonstick is its coating, usually a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). This coating, of which Teflon is the most well-known brand, is not particularly durable and, handled improperly, it scratches and flakes.

According to most manufacturers’ recommendations, nonstick pans can’t be heated above 450° F. (Some more recent models can withstand temperatures up to 500° F.) They should never be used with metal utensils, or cleaned with scratchy scouring pads. While some companies call their cookware dishwasher safe, most recommend hand-washing. (And if you do use the dishwasher, make sure there are no bleach or citrus additives in your detergent or you may risk stripping the coating.)

If you store your pans in a stack, it’s a good idea to place a paper towel or cloth between each of them so they don’t damage one another. And avoid aerosol cooking spray, which creates a film that interferes with the nonstick coating.

Do Nonstick Pans & Cookware Wear Out?

Even adhering to these precautions, nonstick cookware doesn’t last as long as other pots and pans —generally no more than five years. Over time, the coating almost always degrades, at which point you may begin to find little flakes of polytetrafluoroethylene in your food. This may not be harmful, but it sure is unappealing.

Are Nonstick Pans and Cookware Safe?

Health agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have long raised health and environmental concerns about the compound PFOA, which for decades was used to make Teflon. Teflon has been PFOA-free since 2013, and its replacement, PTFE, is largely considered safe. There are lingering concerns, however, including reports that fumes from overheated nonstick cookware can cause flu-like symptoms.

Types of Nonstick Pans

Let’s have a closer look at a few different options, from traditional nonstick pans to earthenware.

Traditional and Ceramic Nonstick Pans

When people talk about nonstick pans, they’re generally referring to traditional nonstick pans coated with PTFE or ceramic cookware (though its coating is actually a silicon-derived polymer called solution-gel, or sol-gel, and not actual ceramic). The advantage to sol-gel-coated pans is that they can be heated beyond 500° F without emitting fumes. The disadvantage—though this is up for debate—is that they may be even more delicate than Teflon pans. (Consumers have reported that they tend not to last as long.)

Stoneware and Earthenware

These nonstick vessels, made of clay, are often lidded and usually used in the oven rather than on the stovetop, heat slowly and evenly, and retain that heat beautifully. As such, they’re excellent for dishes that require long, slow, even cooking, such as stews, soups, and braises, as well as casseroles, pies, and breads.

Traditional and Ceramic Nonstick Pans

When people talk about nonstick pans, they’re generally referring to traditional nonstick pans coated with PTFE or ceramic cookware (though its coating is actually a silicon-derived polymer called solution-gel, or sol-gel, and not actual ceramic). The advantage to sol-gel-coated pans is that they can be heated beyond 500° F without emitting fumes. The disadvantage—though this is up for debate—is that they may be even more delicate than Teflon pans. (Consumers have reported that they tend not to last as long.)

Stoneware and Earthenware

These nonstick vessels, made of clay, are often lidded and usually used in the oven rather than on the stovetop, heat slowly and evenly, and retain that heat beautifully. As such, they’re excellent for dishes that require long, slow, even cooking, such as stews, soups, and braises, as well as casseroles, pies, and breads.

Types of “Stick” Pans (That Are Kind of Nonstick)

While not technically classified as nonstick surfaces, these options, from cast iron to stainless steel, have some similar attributes.

Cast-Iron Cookware

Cast-iron cookware can pretty much do it all. It browns foods beautifully and can be heated to even the highest temperatures. Great for searing, roasting, and even baking, it can be virtually nonstick when seasoned properly. (Cast-iron seasoning is a simple process of spreading a thin coat of oil over the pan’s surface, then heating it at a high temperature to create a protective and stick-resistant layer—a natural polymer, in fact.)

Unlike nonstick cookware, however, cast iron is virtually indestructible. Even a rusted-out cast-iron pan can be saved by re-seasoning.

Enameled Cast-Iron Cookware

Enamel-coated cast iron has many of the same qualities as regular cast iron, such as excellent heat-retention (and a hefty weight). But since the surface is slightly stickier, it requires more cooking fat. It tends to be exponentially more expensive than nonstick cookware (or traditional cast iron), and it can scratch and chip over time. (This doesn’t affect the integrity of the pan, which can last a lifetime.)

The major benefits of enameled cast iron are that it doesn’t have to be seasoned like regular cast iron, and the enamel coating is a good heat conductor, so it heats more evenly than traditional cast-iron pans.

Stainless Steel Pans

Stainless steel pans are also sticky, and making scrambled eggs in them can result in a whole lot of scrubbing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Chefs love stainless steel pans for their even heat distribution, durability, and versatility. And they know how to use them without ending up with a stuck-on mess: The secret is to fully heat the pan before adding butter or oil, rather than adding the fat to a cold pan.

Good-quality stainless cookware can be pricey, but it pretty much lasts forever. It’s dishwasher and scrubby safe, and can be used with metal utensils. It withstands extremely high heat, making it excellent for browning meats, and it goes from the stove to a hot oven—as long as the handle is oven-safe.

Cast-Iron Cookware

Cast-iron cookware can pretty much do it all. It browns foods beautifully and can be heated to even the highest temperatures. Great for searing, roasting, and even baking, it can be virtually nonstick when seasoned properly. (Cast-iron seasoning is a simple process of spreading a thin coat of oil over the pan’s surface, then heating it at a high temperature to create a protective and stick-resistant layer—a natural polymer, in fact.)

Unlike nonstick cookware, however, cast iron is virtually indestructible. Even a rusted-out cast-iron pan can be saved by re-seasoning.

Enameled Cast-Iron Cookware

Enamel-coated cast iron has many of the same qualities as regular cast iron, such as excellent heat-retention (and a hefty weight). But since the surface is slightly stickier, it requires more cooking fat. It tends to be exponentially more expensive than nonstick cookware (or traditional cast iron), and it can scratch and chip over time. (This doesn’t affect the integrity of the pan, which can last a lifetime.)

The major benefits of enameled cast iron are that it doesn’t have to be seasoned like regular cast iron, and the enamel coating is a good heat conductor, so it heats more evenly than traditional cast-iron pans.

Stainless Steel Pans

Stainless steel pans are also sticky, and making scrambled eggs in them can result in a whole lot of scrubbing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Chefs love stainless steel pans for their even heat distribution, durability, and versatility. And they know how to use them without ending up with a stuck-on mess: The secret is to fully heat the pan before adding butter or oil, rather than adding the fat to a cold pan.

Good-quality stainless cookware can be pricey, but it pretty much lasts forever. It’s dishwasher and scrubby safe, and can be used with metal utensils. It withstands extremely high heat, making it excellent for browning meats, and it goes from the stove to a hot oven—as long as the handle is oven-safe.

Get Started with America's #1 Meal Kit

Delicious recipes & ingredients delivered straight to your door

READERS EXCLUSIVE: GET 65% OFF YOUR FIRST BOX + 1st BOX SHIPS FREE
*Offer only valid for new HelloFresh customers with qualifying auto-renewing subscription purchase. Take 65% off your 1st box and 20% off your next 3 boxes, including free shipping on the 1st box. Discount varies for other meal plans and sizes. Shipping fee applies on all deliveries after the first box. Not valid on premiums, meal upgrades, add-ons, taxes, or shipping fees. Discount varies for other meal plans and sizes. May not be combined with gift cards or any other promotion. No cash value. Void outside the U.S. and where prohibited. Offer cannot be sold or otherwise bartered. HelloFresh has the right to end or modify any offer at any time. Additional restrictions may apply. See HelloFresh.com/termsandconditions for more details*
© HelloFresh 2022