Expert and amateur chefs agree: You need a wide variety of skillets in your kitchen, including a good nonstick skillet for delicate items like fried eggs and fish, and quick-cooking dishes like stir fries that you don't want sticking and possibly burning. The perceived downside to nonstick frying pans is that they are unsafe to use in cooking, but most experts say that is simply not the case when used properly. In addition, most manufacturers have ceased using PFOA in their products, which is the main chemical that was causing people concern. All of the skillets in this report are PFOA free.
The big problem with nonstick frying pans -- even the very expensive ones -- is that they just don't last all that long. Eventually, even with the best pans, the coating will start to wear off, scratch, and dull, and the skillet will lose its nonstick properties. Better to buy a pan that you feel will have given you $25 to $50 worth of service over the 12- to 18-months that you'll own it, rather than one that you'll feel bitter about having to replace after such a short time.
The clear standout in this category for performance, durability and price is the T-fal 12.5-inch Fry Pan (Est. $30). It earns top marks in professional tests, heating up faster than its competitors, and evenly cooking a variety of foods. Its nonstick surface releases food with ease; owners say eggs just slide right out. Testers also say its silicone-coated handles are comfortable and its nonstick coating is surprisingly durable. It was the only nonstick skillet in this report that did not earn a lot of gripes from users about the coating wearing off sooner than it seemed that it should. In one professional test, the skillet's handle rivets came loose after being pounded on a concrete surface, but the pan was otherwise unscathed so we recommend that you not do that.
We did see a couple of other complaints. Some say the heat indicator in the center of the pan (which is supposed to turn dark red when the pan is up to temperature) either does not work or is confusing -- most just ignore it. Others note that the pan's bottom tends to warp with use, bowing up in the middle so that oil pools near the edges. It seems to be an issue with the logo that's stamped on the bottom, and may be a problem only with certain lots, as the issue is reported in waves. It's also not a frequent enough complaint for us to not recommend giving this nonstick fry pan a try.
It's pricey, but experts and owners love the All-Clad 12-Inch Nonstick Skillet (Est. $180). Its stainless steel shell is much heavier than that of the T-fal frying pan, with excellent heating and even cooking. Many owners say it combines the best of both worlds -- the excellence of traditional All-Clad stainless steel with the convenience of nonstick. It also gets kudos for its design from one professional testing organization. However, that same source says the coating did begin to fail during testing, and some owners report the same problem. Others say that the interior rivets tend to be a food magnet and have to be soaked or scrubbed out. All-Clad comes with a lifetime warranty, but you do have to deal with the issue of sending the pan back and having them evaluate it before a replacement will be issued, so you'll be without your pan for a while, at the very least.
We also found very good reviews for the Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick Omelette Pan Set (Est. $50). This two-piece set includes 12-inch and 10-inch skillets, both with gently sloped sides and stay-cool stainless-steel handles. Although these pans are not covered in any professional tests, they receive thousands of reviews from owners at various online retail sites, and excellent ratings. Owners say these skillets offer even heat distribution and a good nonstick surface. With two skillets for the price you often pay for one, the set is also a terrific value.
The main gripe we saw is about these Calphalon frying pans is with the coating's durability, there are complaints that it began to scratch or flake after a year or so, but, as many others point out, that is the normal life of a nonstick pan. The Calphalon pans are also not suitable for use on induction cooktops.
If you want a skillet that is free (or mostly free) of chemical coatings, ceramic is the way to go, say reviewers. However, they do not get as good of reviews for their nonstick properties as coated skillets do; one source refers to them as "stick-resistant."
Very few ceramic skillets are tested by experts, and many that do get tested are often lumped in with the "other" category that includes any non-traditional nonstick coating. However, we did see some decent -- albeit mixed -- expert feedback for the Scanpan Professional 12.5-Inch Fry Pan (Est. $140). It's a top pick in one professional roundup, although the recommendation comes with reservations. In testing, it sears well and browns evenly, but testers say it felt like it was unbalanced and heavy. However, in a roundup for FineCooking.com, the Scanpan Professional was dubbed, "Most Comfortable," and tester Maryellen Driscoll says that it's, "Substantial but lighter than most, it's well balanced, with a handle that's rounded and tapered in just the right places." She also notes that it heats evenly and has excellent nonstick properties.
Users tend to agree with Driscoll, and give the Scanpan high ratings for its nonstick performance and ease of cleaning. Like all ceramic skillets, we see some complaints that it chips easily, and of the cooking surface scratching, or that it loses its nonstick capabilities after just a few months. While Scanpan says you can use metal utensils, in the one expert review we saw they used metal tools and found that it broke down the surface of the pan -- we recommend using plastic or acrylic. Speaking to comfort, however, the topic on which the experts disagree, so do owners: some say the Scanpan frying pan is heavy and unwieldly, others say it's light and very comfortable to use. One last caveat, and this may be an important point for some people, the Scanpan's oversized 12.5 inches means a standard 12-inch lid won't fit and it may be difficult to find one that does.
Another ceramic skillet that gets very good reviews from users is the GreenLife 12 Inch Non-Stick Ceramic Fry Pan (Est. $25). We see no expert reviews for this particular ceramic frying pan, but owners say that it's very nonstick for an uncoated pan, and they need to use little or no oil when cooking. We even read a couple of blog posts where home cooks demonstrated their fried eggs or omelettes just sliding from the pan. Those who are leery of nonstick coated pans are thrilled that they can make those types of dishes without having to make a tradeoff in performance, and at a terrific price point compared to other ceramic frying pans.
The GreenLife Ceramic Fry Pan is also reported as quite easy to clean, even baked-on foods will loosen with a short soak, owners say. They do note that the ceramic can be a bit delicate and may chip if you use metal utensils, put it in the dishwasher, or if it bangs against other cookware. We also saw some reports of the pan becoming increasingly sticky after a few months of use -- and some of those reviewers post pictures to illustrate. Some also say the ceramic surface stains.
The Scanpan has a dark interior, as opposed to the white ceramic interior of the GreenLife frying pan, and reviewers say the dark ceramic is much easier to keep clean. The Scanpan contains PTFE, but not PFOA (the GreenLife pan is PTFE-free) and it's made from compressed aluminum with a ceramic titanium coating.