In the world of cookware, there are many heavy-hitters in the materials department. Two of the most common and sought-after materials are stainless steel and non-stick. Stainless steel is a favorite for its high shine, durability and compatibility with all cooktops. Non-stick cookware is favored for allowing oil-free cooking with easy clean-up and no stuck, burnt food to be cumbersomely dealt with.

We’ve broken down the benefits of both stainless steel and nonstick cookware so you can decide which is best for you.

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Non-stick cookware

Non-stick cookware comes in many forms, but the key feature is that the surface releases food instantly, without any resistance or sticking. The original nonstick was Teflon, which has been criticized and adjusted due to health claims surrounding harmful chemicals (PTFE).

However, we don’t need to worry too much about that here, as most non-stick coatings these days are safe, regulated and risk-free.

Many non-stick cookware models have a hard-anodized aluminum base with a non-stick coating (often 2 or 3 coats). Others have a ceramic coating with a glaze over top (look for brands which specify “lead and cadmium-free” i.e. GreenPan).

You can find non-stick cookware which doesn’t have a non-stick coating per se. Cast iron and carbon steel cookware can be pretty non-stick when properly seasoned, without the addition of a non-stick coating. But for truly non-stick, (i.e. an egg sliding around completely free) you’ll need a high-quality non-stick coating.

Benefits

  • Allows for oil-free, fat-free cooking
  • Easy to clean as food doesn’t stick to the cooking surface
  • Many affordable options
  • Amazing for egg dishes such as omelets and frittatas
  • Great for stir fries and noodle/rice dishes when you need to move the food quickly and easily without losing half of it on the bottom of a stuck pan
  • Lots of oven-safe options on the market

Considerations

  • Some non-stick cookware is not compatible with metal utensils as it’s prone to scratching and peeling
  • Some non-stick coatings shouldn’t be heated on very high heats which is not ideal for searing beef (better for eggs, omelets, veggies, fish)
  • Cheaper non-stick pots and pans tend to lose their non-stick quality over time, becoming peeled, warped and sticky

Brands to look at for great non-stick cookware 

Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel is made from steel which contains chromium. Stainless steel cookware is characterized by a high-shine, silver finish. The beauty of stainless steel is that it’s resistant to rusting and staining (thanks to that crucial chromium content).

Stainless steel is a very hardy material which withstands knocks, scrapes and bangs, lasting for many years. Good-quality stainless steel pans generally have heavy bottoms (with a copper or aluminum core) and are resistant to warping.

These pots and pans are great for people who often find themselves using the oven to finish dishes after a stint on the stove as they are very oven-safe. They can withstand high heat without risk of leaching, so you can pop dishes under a hot broiler with no problems at all.

Stainless steel cookware is great for hot, tough cooking with metal utensils, high heats, and ingredients such as meat and veggies. 

Benefits

  • Attractive
  • Compatible with all utensils including metal
  • Withstands high temperatures
  • Oven safe for high temperatures
  • Hard-wearing and durable as there’s no coating to scratch or chip
  • Induction friendly (if magnetized stainless steel)
  • Great for glass or flat top stoves

Considerations

  • Stainless steel alone isn’t a wonderful heat conductor, so you must find a set with either a copper or aluminum core
  • Not non-stick so not the best for egg or fish dishes

Brands to look at

  • All-Clad
  • Cuisinart
  • Kitchenaid
  • Cooks Standard
  • T-Fal (copper-bottom set)

Which to choose…

The big decision!

I think once you start to look at different cookware sets, read the key features and get a sense of their purposes it will be clear which is best for you. It’s important to find the best set for your budget, and try to stretch the budget if you can.

While there are some fantastic affordable sets out there (in non-stick and stainless steel), cheap cookware does tend to be far less durable, effective and user-friendly. Spend a little more to get the best materials, constructions, features and health benefits.

That way, you’ll be investing in a cookware set which won’t just give up on you, causing you to spend even more money on a replacement set.

What do you cook the most?

Think about the kinds of foods you cook most often. Do you find yourself cooking eggs, omelets, frittatas, fish, pancakes or fritters? If so, a non-stick cookware set is the best option for you. This is because these dishes require a low-medium heat and a very non-stick surface.

However, if most of your dishes are based around chicken and beef, with veggies tossed over high heat, a stainless-steel cookware set might be ideal. Find a set with a copper or aluminum core for the best heat conductivity.

What kind of clean-up do you expect?

If you really hate scrubbing away at pots and pans, non-stick cookware is handy because it requires little more than a quick rinse and wipe.

Is oil-free cooking important to you?

This one’s a no-brainer. If you need or prefer to cook without oil or fat, you need a non-stick cookware set. If you use a stainless steel set without any added oil or fat, you’ll have real trouble removing your food from the pan and will likely end up with stuck, burnt and ruined food.

Do you often cook on very high heat?

If you often use high heat to sear meat or get a good char on your veggies, stainless steel is a better choice than non-stick.

Do you like to use metal utensils?

It’s not a major factor, but it’s worth considering that you’ll likely be unable to use metal utensils with non-stick cookware. This doesn’t apply to all brands, as some have been innovated to be metal compatible (such as the Tefal ProMetal non-stick coating).

Stainless steel is compatible with all cookware materials.

Conclusion

If you’re considering non-stick cookware, make sure you shop around and read reviews and recommendations before buying. There are many brands offering non-stick cookware with different base materials and non-stick coating formulas.

We recommend something with a sturdy construction such as hard-anodized aluminum, with a tough, PFOA-free non-stick coating (Calphalon and T-Fal have great options).

When it comes to stainless steel, find a cookware set which combines stainless steel with copper or aluminum for the best heat conductivity and evenness. Check out Cuisinart and T-Fal stainless steel cookware as they have some great collections.

At the end of the day, perhaps you don’t have to choose between stainless steel and non-stick cookware? You could buy a pair of non-stick frying pans to use for your eggs, fish and pancakes.

Then buy a wide, deep saute pan made from stainless steel (which can be used in the oven) for meat and veggie dishes. Voila, a perfectly equipped kitchen with two fantastic cookware materials.

See also: All-Clad Cookware Reviews