Choosing Between Stainless Steel And Nonstick: Complete Guide

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If you’re looking to buy new or replacement pans, but not sure which option to choose, stainless or nonstick, check out this article. I cover the differences between these types and their pros and cons to help you weigh up which way to go. Plus, rather than all stainless steel vs nonstick, I dive into how you could combine them to get the best option for your home cooking.

Stainless steel and nonstick cookware are both popular options for the home kitchen and widely available.

What are the differences between stainless steel and nonstick?

The most obvious difference between stainless steel and nonstick cookware is their material composition and construction.

stainless steel vs non stick – Design

Stainless steel is constructed of multiple layers of metals with chromium and nickel as the main components but may include iron, carbon, and smaller percentages of others like copper. Stainless steel makes up the outer finish that has contact with the food. 

Nonstick cookware is generally constructed of an aluminum base with a nonstick coating on the cooking surface. There are a few nonstick designs with other metal bases, e.g. stainless steel.

Staining

Stainless steel won’t stain with repeated use. It may however show white discoloring, which can be removed. This is a topic I aim to cover – why your stainless steel pans discolor (and what to do).

Some nonstick cookware might stain permanently. It depends on how well you treat the pans and what you cook in them. Ingredients such as turmeric and tomato sauces, for example, may stain a nonstick coating that has been compromised by harsh cleaning or high temperature use. Just using high heat alone can tarnish and deteriorate some nonstick coatings, though the latest designs, with added titanium, for example, are tougher than previous constructs.

Uses

Stainless steel pots and pans have more uses than nonstick, simply because stainless will withstand higher heat without potential damage (providing it is of good quality multi-layered design).

Stainless steel cookware is great for sautéing, browning, deep-frying, stewing, braising, and boiling.

Nonstick cookware is best for frying food without having to use much oil or fat, but it can be used for all foods that you’d cook in stainless steel. It’s just not useful for some cooking methods, for instance, searing and browning of meats.

The latest designs in nonstick cookware have an induction-compatible base and can be used on induction cooktops just like stainless steel.

Stainless steel vs nonstick cookware. What's the difference? What's the best?
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Quality

Quality is important in both types of cookware. Lower quality stainless steel won’t perform as well as multi-ply cookware made of high-quality stainless steel. Look for the grade, which is the fraction stamped on the bottom of the cookware.

As I wrote in my article about choosing the healthiest cookware: “For stainless steel cookware, 18/8 and 18/10 are best, as they are the least likely grades to leach into food. The first number (18) indicates the chromium amount and the other the nickel portion.”

Durability

Stainless steel pans are more durable than nonstick pans. They generally resist scratches and dents and wearing of the cooking surface.

How long do stainless steel pans last?

Quality stainless steel pots and pans will last you forever. Though, depending on the material and craftsmanship, the handles may not last as long.

Stainless steel pots and pans are more durable than nonstick cookware as unlike nonstick, it has no coating that needs special care to avoid damage.

How long do non stick pans last?

The base of non stick pans are durable but the coating is prone to wear with use over time.

Let’s face it, nonstick material is not as durable as stainless steel. With care, it can last several years, however.

To get the best longevity from your nonstick cookware, check out my full guide to using, caring for, and storing nonstick pans.

Non-reactive

Like ceramic nonstick, stainless steel doesn’t react with acidic foods, such as tomatoes or citrus. This contrasts with copper and aluminum.

Recyclable

Both stainless steel and nonstick pots and pan can be recycled. How you do this will depend on the facilities available where you live. Metal recyclers are the places that accept used cookware – I cover this in my article on how to discard old cookware.

Affordable

Because of the lengthy manufacturing process in its creation, stainless steel is typically more expensive than nonstick cookware. But it is an investment that should last you for years and years.

Nonstick cookware typically has an aluminum or other base metal and pricewise, aluminum nonstick pans are quite cheap. However, the newer induction cookware in the nonstick range can be up there in price with the stainless steel sets.

Robustness

With stainless steel fry pan vs nonstick regarding robustness, stainless steel is ahead in that the cookware can withstand heavy-duty use, stacking, and fairly rough storage without suffering too much, if any damage.

Easy to clean

In terms of stainless steel vs nonstick pan, I’d much rather clean a nonstick. Because food will adhere to stainless steel but virtually slide off nonstick, cleanup can take more effort with stainless steel cookware compared to cleaning nonstick cookware.


Premium 5-ply stainless is the best. This stainless clad skillet
is from Made In Cookware. To find out more, click image.

Is stainless steel cookware better than nonstick?

In many ways, stainless steel cookware, particularly the premium quality, is much better than nonstick. Its robustness, durability, and versatility are examples. But still, nonstick stands out in quite a few areas. I’ve compiled a comparison chart as a quick reference to help compare the two when it comes to non stick vs stainless steel attributes.

Comparison chart – Nonstick vs stainless steel

Stainless steel vs. nonstick – what’s the difference at a quick glance…

NonstickStainless Steel
*see the text for exceptions
Dishwasher-safe√ *√√√
Affordable√√√ *√√
Easy to clean√√√√√
Nonstaining√√*
Durable√√*√√√
Recyclable
Lightweight√√√√√
Non-reactive√√√√√√
Induction compatibleSomeMost
SafetyDepends on coatingDepends on quality
Best usesEggs, flaky fish, pancakes, crepes, delicate foodsSearing, browning of meats, deglazing for sauces and gravies

How do non stick pans work?

What is non stick coating and how does it work in cooking? The non stick coating in cookware of today is either Teflon or a ceramic coating. It works by providing a smooth, non-porous cooking surface that stops food from adhering to the pan. Only a smidgen of oil or fat, if any, will prevent food from sticking. This non stick attribute also makes for a much simpler clean up. Who doesn’t want that?

Pros and cons of nonstick

Benefits of nonstick cookware

A quality nonstick pan is definitely a kitchen essential.

The advantages of nonstick cookware are that it is extremely easy to clean and reduces the dietary intake of oil and fat via the cooking process, something desired by people with special diets or those counting calories.

Requiring much less oil or fat to keep food from sticking means healthier cooking and eating habits, which is what my Cookware Hub is about. 

As well as these obvious benefits of nonstick cookware, they are also well priced and lightweight to use.

Non stick cookware pros in a snapshot

  • Less oil or fat used in the cooking
  • Super easy to clean
  • Food doesn’t stick – especially good for delicate food like flaky fish and eggs
  • Lightweight
  • Well priced

Non stick cookware cons

With a nonstick pan you’ll get similar results each time, and the best thing, it makes cleanup a breeze. It’s probably one step up from the microwave for convenience. But what are the disadvantages of nonstick cookware?

For most designs of nonstick, manufacturers advise avoiding the use of the cookware with high heat to lengthen the nonstick performance and look. With Teflon nonstick, especially avoid high heat if you are concerned about the potential health issues associated with this (see Nonstick Safe below)

Non stick cookware cons in a snapshot

  • Not recommended with high heat
  • Not the best option for browning or searing food, or deglazing 
  • Nonstick coating can get scratched and compromised over time  
  • Concerns by some people about potential health safety issues

Pros and cons of stainless steel

Benefits of stainless steel cookware

Why use stainless steel pans? The best advantages of stainless steel cookware are the array of cooking methods you can use with it, including high heat cooking. This includes browning meats and vegetables in a Maillard reaction (where proteins react with reducing sugars) to add flavor and appeal or to make sauces and gravies.

The bits left from browning food in a stainless steel pan can make flavorsome pan sauces by deglazing with wine, water, or broth.

Those designed with particular handles and lids can go in the oven at high temperatures safely, as explained in my answer to whether you can put stovetop pans in the oven. The downside of using them in the oven is burnt-on food that you might just have to soak and add a little scrubbing to remove.

Unlike nonstick cookware, you can cook with stainless steel at high temperatures and this means you can use it for almost any kind of cooking. 

A benefit of stainless steel is that it can be recycled. It also won’t chip, crack, stain, or rust and is durable, lasting you years and years.

You can also use metal utensils with stainless steel without too much concern. However, I recommend sticking to the non-metal type mentioned earlier as metal on metal can scrape the surface and increase residues of nickel and chromium in your food.

Stainless steel pros:

  • Safe for high heat use
  • Long-lasting 
  • Allows browning and searing of food, and deglazing for pan-sauces 
  • Robust
  • Nonreactive

Downsides of stainless steel cookware

One downside is that stainless steel pans can take a little bit of effort to clean, especially compared to nonstick.

Stainless steel cons:

  • Food will stick to the pan
  • Need oil or fat for foods that don’t involve liquid
  • Less useful for sautéing and heating food gently

When frying an egg in stainless steel, you can get a burnt crust on the pan. With a bit of soaking and scrubbing after cooking, you should easily remove the crusted on food. Most stains will come off your stainless steel pans. Bar Keeper’s Friend is useful in cleaning and polishing stainless steel in the kitchen.

Nonstick vs stainless steel health wise

As I wrote In What Is The Healthiest Cookware Material, stainless steel and ceramic are considered two of the least toxic on the market.

Stainless steel health wise

Stainless steel cookware doesn’t demand the seasoning regime of cast iron but does need the addition of oil or fat in the cooking process (except when using liquids). This is not the best option for those looking to reduce dietary fat intake.

Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe?

There is little concern with stainless steel cookware releasing toxic fumes. Though in the cooking process, traces of nickel and chromium may leach into the food. However, the levels are considered too low to be harmful to human health.

Still, it’s best to avoid low-grade stainless steel cookware and use premium grade to limit any potential leaching of these metals into your food. I cover the different grades and the concerns in more depth in my article on premium stainless steel cookware and its safety.

Nonstick health wise

Nonstick pans are designed specifically for low-fat cooking.

For those needing to reduce dietary fat for health reasons, health-wise, nonstick cookware is a good choice.

Is nonstick cookware safe?

This depends on the coating.

The nonstick pans today are safer as technology has improved.

Teflon non stick vs ceramic non stick

The two types of non stick coating are Teflon and ceramic.

One main drawback of the Teflon nonstick is the health issues.

The nonstick that is Teflon includes polytetrafluoroethylene (PFTE) and earlier perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in its constituency. These are elements considered to be of concern for your health. 

Teflon vs stainless steel

Versus stainless steel, the possibility of the Teflon nonstick coating flaking and chipping off into food and getting consumed is a concern for many people. However, authorities such as EPA and FDA claim Teflon particulates do not harm human health.

The American Cancer Society covers this and had this to say: “Other than the possible risk of flu-like symptoms from breathing in fumes from an overheated Teflon-coated pan, there are no proven risks to humans from using cookware coated with Teflon (or other non-stick surfaces).”

It was thought that in regard to Teflon pans only high heat results in dangerous ‘off-gassing’ of fumes that is especially deadly to caged birds.

But recent research suggests that even “at normal cooking temperatures, PTFE-coated cookware releases various gases and chemicals that present mild to severe toxicity” (Sajid & Ilyas, 2017). This is commonly referred to as the ‘Teflon® flu’. The same paper (and other outlets) raises concerns about GenX and similar alternatives, which replace the PFOA in Teflon pans, but of which less is known.

This uncertainty makes the odor of an overheated nonstick pan, even more, a turn-off.

Health-conscious cooks like nonstick because less oil or fat is needed than with uncoated cookware such as stainless steel. 

It’s a helpful cooking surface.

Potential risks raised by some scientists, environmentalists, and consumer advocacy groups are about the chemicals used in making the slippery coating. One is PTFE (most commonly known as Teflon), but the chemical of most concern is PFOA. At the request of authorities such as the Environmental Protection Agency major chemical manufacturers have phased out incorporating PFOA in the end product, with Teflon nonstick pans now PFOA-free, since 2013. 

Tip when using nonstick: Never heat an empty pan on a burner, use it in a hot oven, and stick to medium or low heat on the stovetop. 

Nonstick ceramic vs stainless steel

For a nonstick, choose ceramic if you’re worried about known chemicals in the nonstick coatings. Ceramic nonstick coating is considered more environmentally friendly and based on current understanding, free from worrisome chemicals, compared to Teflon.

In terms of stainless steel vs ceramic nonstick, this ceramic cookware is safer to use at higher temperatures than Teflon. However, it is not as durable as stainless steel and exhibits the same nonstick pros and cons compared to stainless steel shown in the comparison chart.

Cleaning stainless steel and nonstick cookware

The way to clean stainless steel vs nonstick cookware takes some effort. Nonstick is super easy to clean by hand while stainless steel may need soaking and scrubbing, depending on what you cooked in it last. Avoid scratchy scourers or cleaners and look for non-abrasive types to keep the finish looking its best in both cases. 

Regarding dishwashing, for a stainless steel pan vs nonstick pan, you have less worry of damage with stainless. While most nonstick cookware is marked as dishwasher safe, hand washing is recommended to reduce the likelihood of knocks in the dishwasher compromising the coating.

For non stick pans vs stainless steel, the nonstick properties can mean clean up is a simple rinse at the sink or gentle rub with a soft cloth and dish soap. You can even get away with a simple wipe with a paper towel. 

I have also written a guide on the best ways to care for and clean ceramic nonstick cookware.

Cooking with stainless steel compared to nonstick

Think of your lifestyle as well as your cooking style.

Do you prefer quick meals, a simple rinse of the pan, and then out the door to experience life? Or are you wanting a bit more elaborate cooking and versatility in the kitchen and would like to sear, brown, and deglaze in preparing culinary delights? Or a bit of both.

Match the cookware with how you cook and eat. Stainless steel and nonstick cookware will complement each other.

Cooking with nonstick

With nonstick cookware, delicate food is more ‘compliant’ during the cooking process. It doesn’t stick to the pan.

One thing…Avoid using abrasive or sharp utensils on the nonstick cookware surface. Never use knives, especially sharp ones.

When cooking with nonstick cookware, use only non-metal spoons and spatulas with materials such as bamboo, wood, or silicone. Plastic won’t scratch but it will melt if left in the heated pan.

Modern designs of nonstick however are branded as metal utensil compatible. You’ll see those types here in my article covering modern Greenpan ceramic nonstick cookware.

Is stainless steel good to cook with?

For some people, stainless steel is their go-to for cooking anything and everything. But it can be tricky with food sticking when you don’t want it. And the clean up can be messier than with nonstick.

Do stainless steel pans stick? Yes food can stick to stainless steel pans but there are ways to minimise this.

How do you keep food from sticking to stainless steel pans?

The following gives easy 5 steps on cooking with stainless steel to avoid food sticking.

How to cook with stainless steel without the food sticking

  1. Always start with a clean pan.
  2. Heat the pan before adding the food.
  3. Test to see if it is ready.
  4. Allow cold food to reach room temperature before adding.
  5. Moist foods may stick and some food will always stick.

Why do eggs stick to stainless steel pan?

Some people just love using stainless steel cookware. Why would you do eggs in a stainless steel pan? For one, it may be the only type of cookware you have.

Getting back to why the eggs stick? The first thing that comes to mind is the amount of lubricant in the pan – oil or fat in other words – not enough can simply cause the eggs to stick. Another is that the pan was not completely clean; it had some remaining residue from the last time it was used. It could also be the temperature, of the cooking element, and of the egg. Make sure you have the heat at a much lower level than what you’d use when cooking meat or bacon. Also, have the eggs at room temperature before cooking.

Experiment with these tips and see what works for you.

When to use stainless steel vs nonstick

You can use either of these for any cooking. But let’s look at what’s best for each.

When to use stainless steel cookware

When to use stainless steel: Boiling pasta, browning butter or making pan sauces, searing meats and vegetables.

When you would use stainless steel?

I use my large stainless steel pot for boiling pasta and potatoes, the most. The smaller pots I use with an insert for steaming vegetables. The large stainless steel frying pan I use for crisping food, searing meats, and making gravy by deglazing with water.

Stainless steel pan uses

  • Cooking with high temperatures
  • Searing 
  • Deglazing 
  • Browning 
  • Crisping 
  • Steaming
  • Boiling

When to use nonstick

When should you use nonstick? I use mine almost exclusively for eggs, in particular fried eggs. I’m not alone in this department. Many reserve nonstick pans for cooking egg dishes that include scrambled eggs, omelets, and frittatas.

Other items people like using a nonstick pan for is in making pancakes or crepes, and in cooking low-fat or nonfat or without oil.

Many kitchens have at least one nonstick frying pan. The reasons are that these pans are easily affordable, an entry-level item, and more convenient to clean.

Nonstick pans are best for cooking delicate items.

Nonstick cookware can be the best to use for everything, if “everything” means simple food that doesn’t need high heat or tricky techniques.

Nonstick pan uses 

  • Eggs 
  • Crepes 
  • Omelet
  • Pancakes 
  • Delicate (flaky) fish 

Which cookware is best stainless steel or nonstick

Stainless Steel vs Nonstick: What Is The Best Cookware Material?

Stainless steel performs better at higher temperatures than nonstick pans. Searing or browning proteins adds the perfect crisp texture to the outside of your meats and other proteins. This cooking method requires high heat and the food to adhere to the pan. Something you are not going to get with most non stick frying pans.

Also, stainless steel will last you longer than nonstick.

But then again, I think every home cook would benefit from at least one nonstick pan.

For those times when you’re wanting to cook eggs or light food without all that oil or mess, it will serve you well. Whereas stainless steel works for searing meat, adding a golden color to fried food, or making a gravy or pan sauce from deglazing the pan, nonsticks are great for things like eggs, pancakes, delicate fish, or risotto cakes. 

How to Use stainless steel cookware versus non-stick

The mere fact that stainless steel cookware can withstand higher heat than your nonstick cookware makes it versatile.

How to use stainless steel

Stainless steel pans offer a great surface to cook on. Compared to nonstick, they allow food to form a crust and this adds flavor as well as tasty bits left on the pan for deglazing to create sauces and gravies.

Pre heat the pan to medium before adding the oil or fat. To prevent your food from sticking, always add it after the oil or fat has heated sufficiently – but not beyond its smoking point. I cover smoking points in my article on using oil in nonstick cookware. It’s a good idea to avoid exceeding the smoking point.  

Never preheat on high as this could warp your pan and risk burning the oil or fat.

How to use nonstick

Nonstick works superbly for breakfast while stainless steel is better for cooking steaks and gravies at other meal times.

Some high-end nonstick frying pans are oven-safe, but I don’t recommend putting your standard non stick pot and pans in the oven.

Here are my tips on using nonstick

  • Steer away from high heat settings on the stovetop and the oven. 
  • Match your pot base to the burner size to avoid heat tarnishing the sides or handle.
  • A small amount of oil or butter is fine but avoid excessive heat. See my article on using oil with nonstick ceramic cookware.
  • Avoid non-stick sprays (and GreenPan advise against extra virgin olive oil — This is more of a concern when using high heat.)
  • Do not stack your pans or pots without pan protectors.

Stainless steel vs. nonstick cookware: Which should you get?

What should I get? It depends. 

Many home cooks will often have a set of stainless steel pots and pans as well as a nonstick set or at least one or two nonstick pans to complement them. Each serves different uses. 

Using the Difference Between Stainless Steel And Nonstick

Why not combine nonstick and stainless steel in your kitchen?

Both stainless steel and nonstick cookware offer advantages in the home kitchen.

You could have one or two nonstick skillets for cooking eggs, pancakes, crepes, or delicate foods like flaky fish that are known to stick to a pan.

But have high-quality uncoated stainless steel for the rest of your cooking. Where you’re cooking with liquids, a nonstick coating is not that important.

Ideas on how to add nonstick to your collection: An 8″ skillet will give you the size for an omelet for one or two persons, and a 10″ skillet for two to three persons, or for doing pancakes, etc. If you’re cooking for more, a 12″ skillet would serve you well. 

Why you wouldn’t use nonstick cookware (most of the time)

There are lingering questions about the effect of the chemicals used in nonstick cookware coating on human health and that of the environment.

To be honest, from a culinary perspective, some people just don’t like the way food comes out when cooked in a nonstick pan. Some like that crusty brown finish that comes with food sticking to the pan and food that sticks just enough is a good thing to them. They also might not mind the extra oil or fat that goes into making that end result.

Final thoughts on stainless steel vs nonstick cookware

Regarding stainless steel and nonstick cookware, you can consider them as one versus the other but how about looking at what they can offer your kitchen together.

My take is that stainless steel cookware vs non stick cookware is not so much an either-or but rather a plus-plus when you combine them in your kitchen.

Use non stick for low-fat and delicate foods and stainless steel for all else. It doesn’t have to be stainless steel cookware vs nonstick cookware.

You can expand your collection and use each to best suit what works best for you and take advantage of the different cooking styles.

What’s the Difference Between Nonstick and Stainless Steel Cookware?

In summing up, there is a big difference between nonstick and stainless steel pans that means having both in your kitchen is useful.

What to look for in stainless steel

What to look for – a few things: the metal composition of the steel and its weight. A heavy pot will distribute heat evenly so your food is cooked evenly. You won’t have those hot spots that are a problem with lighter pans.

Composition wise, premium stainless steel cookware is now more affordable. These stainless steel pans can last forever. The main advantages of quality stainless steel cookware are its durability, robustness, resistance to rust and most stainless steel sets are induction-ready.

For a premium quality stainless steel pan, I recommend you consider cookware from the Made-In company.

I wrote about premium stainless steel in my article on Made-In’s premium 5-ply stainless steel cookware.

Info sources

American Cancer Association on Teflon

Sajid, M., Ilyas, M. (2017) PTFE-coated non-stick cookware and toxicity concerns: a perspective. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24, 23436–23440 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-0095-y

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