We’ve spelled out the general differences between traditional nonstick and ceramic nonstick before and—especially because you will probably use your nonstick pans every day—it’s worthwhile to understand the distinction. Nonstick generally comes in ceramic, traditional (PTFE-coated) or carbon steel versions. (Yes, cast-iron can be nonstick over time, but it’s not what most of us reach for when we want to gently roll omelets or sear delicate fish.) Here’s the nonstick 101.
How to Use Nonstick Cookware
First things first: How do you cook? Do you need a low-maintenance, dishwasher-safe pan or one that will last forever? Do you require your nonstick to go straight from stovetop to broiler? (Caveat emptor: That’s rare in a nonstick pan, and you should always read the fine print.)
Nonstick, generally, is a favorite among cooks because of its eponymous qualities; food tends not to stick. “Traditional” nonstick now eschews dangerous PFOAs and uses PTFEs, which are synthetic, to achieve its nonstick coating. Ceramic, on the other hand, employs a material derived from sand. Carbon steel also don’t have a chemical coating, and develop a nonstick patina over time (so you must season it).
If you’re a person who likes to cook over high heat, consider carbon steel, which (most of the time) you can put over a big flame stovetop, then throw under a broiler. Both ceramic and traditional nonstick can’t handle super-high heat, which can damage the pans over time. Use your nonstick instead for eggs, fish and delicate sauces. Keep in mind that traditional nonstick will heat up more slowly than ceramic-lined, and ceramic-lined will retain heat longer. With both types of nonstick, avoid metal utensils and cooking oil sprays. Check out what material the handle is made of since handle construction is the biggest contributing factor to whether your nonstick pan is oven-safe. Generally speaking, ceramic-lined tends to handle higher heats, but “traditional” nonstick tends to be more truly nonstick, especially if cared for well.
TLDR: If you’re a person who tends to cook over low or medium heat, likes food to never stick, and prefers a classic nonstick surface, go with traditional nonstick. If you like a bit more flexibility in how hot you can get your pan and you like the idea of a pan lining that derives from sand, you’re a ceramic nonstick person. If you need to be able to throw a pan from stovetop to oven and don’t mind babying it, consider carbon steel.
How to Care for Nonstick Cookware
OK, we know you want to throw your nonstick pan into the dishwasher, and we’ve all done it, but a) it’ll last longer if you hand-wash it and b) you can’t put carbon steel into the dishwasher.
With that in mind, you do need to avoid very cold water on a very hot pan, which can warp it, and clean these pans with soap and water after each use. (This isn’t cast-iron-ville!) Avoid high heat (unless you have carbon steel), which can cause carbonization in ceramic and scorching in most traditional nonstick pans. Melamine sponges like Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and a warm water-gentle scrubbing combo will work well for most nonstick. A soft-bristle brush designed for non-stick pans may also be used for gentle scrubbing. For tough stains, try a baking soda solution or Barkeepers Friend, which is safe for many of these pans. Never use steel wool. Replace ceramic and traditional nonstick within five years; traditional, if scratched, should be replaced. (Carbon steel can last a lifetime if seasoned properly.) And best to avoid metal utensils! Invest in some good wooden spoons and silicone spatulas.
How to Store Nonstick Cookware
Make sure these pans are clean and dry before you store them. (For a deeper dive on carbon steel care and storage, which is its own special high-maintenance animal, click here.) Never store metal utensils or anything else rough between nested nonstick pans, which could produce scuffs and scratches. Consider hooks, a pegboard, pan organizers or open shelving, perhaps with cloth napkins, paper towels or pan protectors between the pans to preserve their nonstick coating. A pan and pot lid organizer for kitchen drawers or cabinets works well too.