Even the best nonstick cookware will eventually wear out. If you'd rather not make an investment in nonstick cookware that may not last, it's possible to find a set that offers good performance for $175 or less. In this price range, we found the best reviews overall for the Rachael Ray Porcelain Enamel 10-Piece Cookware Set (*Est. $130). Available in three cheerful colors, this nonstick cookware set earns an overall grade of A-minus from testers at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. They award this set high marks for its even heating, steady simmering, stay-cool handles and good nonstick finish. Hundreds of owners at Amazon.com, Cooking.com and Buzzillions.com support the testers' views about this cookware's performance. However, we did see quite a few complaints about this cookware's durability. Not only does the nonstick surface scratch easily, but many users also report that the enameled outer coating wears off very quickly. The paint rubs off in the wash or during use, leaving powdery residue all over the sink and stove. Most users do not experience this problem, but those who do say it shows up within as little as a week after purchase.
Rachael Ray also offers a slightly more expensive set, the Rachael Ray Hard-Anodized 10-Piece Cookware Set (*Est. $170), which fares somewhat better in terms of durability. Some users do report that the dark outer finish wears off over time, but it usually takes around a year for the problem to become noticeable. The nonstick finish also receives mixed reviews; some owners praise its durability, while others complain that it peels off within a year or so. In other respects, both professionals and users find this set similar to the cheaper Porcelain Enamel Cookware. Good Housekeeping cites the same pros and cons for this cookware as for its less expensive cousin and awards it the same overall grade. Owners say it has a great nonstick finish and cleans up easily, but some describe the pans as lightweight and flimsy.
Most nonstick coatings are made with a chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Although PTFE is normally inert, when pans are heated to more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit, PTFE can produce toxic fumes that are deadly to birds and can induce flu-like symptoms in humans. For owners who are concerned about these effects, some manufacturers have started offering alternative nonstick cookware with ceramic or silicone coatings. In the past, these alternative nonstick surfaces have been plagued by performance problems. However, some newer "green" nonstick pans seem to have overcome these problems. In one recent test of nonstick cookware, three of the four top performers were PTFE-free. One of these, the EarthPan Hard Anodized 10-piece Cookware Set, is an affordable $170.
The EarthPan cookware gets high, though not outstanding, marks in two separate professional tests. It cooks food very evenly, and its nonstick surface holds up better to scrubbing than most Teflon cookware. Testers are also very impressed with the EarthPan's handles, which are sturdy and comfortable and stay cool during cooking. The EarthPan's biggest drawback is its nonstick finish -- not as slippery as most. Most users, however, seem to be satisfied with the EarthPan's nonstick performance. Their most common complaint is that the pans are hard to clean. Like most nonstick cookware, they are not dishwasher-safe, and users say that if food gets stuck, it's tough to remove.