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Cast iron skillet vs. nonstick skillet: Which is best?

Cast iron skillet vs. nonstick skillet: Which is best?

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Nonstick pans may contain chemical compounds that can leach into your food at high heat.

Nonstick pans may contain chemical compounds that can leach into your food at high heat. To avoid this, look for a nonstick skillet that's free from toxic chemicals, including PFOA or APEO.

Cast iron vs. nonstick skillets

Whether you’re a casual cook or a professional chef, you definitely want a good skillet in your kitchen arsenal. You can use skillets for nearly everything, from scrambling eggs to searing steaks to baking cornbread and more. You’ll likely need to pick between a classic cast iron skillet and a more modern nonstick skillet when purchasing a skillet. 

What’s the difference? Cast iron skillets are a single piece of heavy cast iron, making them heavy, durable and ideal for high heat. Nonstick skillets are made from other metals such as aluminum or steel and coated with a nonstick surface. Both skillets handle ingredients differently, so what you cook will dictate which pan you pick. 

Cast iron skillets

Cooks around the world have used cast iron skillets for centuries. Cast iron skillets are heavy, durable and versatile, and will last a lifetime with regular maintenance. The cast iron material can also stand up to hot oven temperatures and open flame, making it perfect for searing meats or other high-temperature cooking. While cast iron skillets take some time to heat up, they successfully hold heat for much longer than other pans. The even heat distribution makes for good browning, and because cast iron skillets are oven-safe, you can also use them for baking as well. 

A cast iron skillet is naturally nonstick. However, it does require a “seasoning” process in order to maintain its nonstick surface. And delicate items such as eggs or cheese may stick in a cast iron skillet, even if it’s properly seasoned. Cast iron skillets should not be put in the dishwasher or cleaned with harsh detergents, so they can be more challenging to clean.

When shopping for a cast iron skillet, you’ll need to choose between an enameled cast iron skillet or a regular cast iron. An enameled skillet, such as the Eqotek Enameled 12-inch Frying Pan, does not require seasoning. You may also want a pre-seasoned cast iron skillet, which is ready to use right away. Cast iron skillets come in a variety of different sizes, from a small 5-inch skillet to a large 14-inch skillet or even bigger. 

Cast iron skillets typically cost between $20-$50. 

Cast iron skillet pros

  • Good heat resistance: Unlike nonstick skillets, cast iron skillets can withstand very hot oven temperatures and open flame. 
  • Naturally nonstick: With regular maintenance, cast iron skillets maintain a nonstick surface that’s naturally scratch-resistant and isn’t coated with chemicals. 
  • Durable: The heavy cast iron material is extremely durable and likely to last you a lifetime. 
  • Inexpensive: A good cast iron skillet can cost as little as $20 and rarely needs to be replaced. 
  • Induction friendly: All cast iron skillets work with induction burners, making them very versatile. 
  • Adds iron to food: An uncoated cast iron skillet leeches some iron into food as it cooks, naturally adding iron to your diet. 


Cast iron skillet cons

  • Requires regular maintenance: While durable, cast iron skillets do require regular “seasoning” in order to maintain their surface. 
  • Requires handwashing: Cast iron skillets are not dishwasher-friendly and can’t be cleaned with harsh detergents. 
  • Heavy: A cast iron skillet is quite heavy, which can be challenging, especially when transferring the skillet between the oven and the stove. 
  • Hot handle: Because cast iron skillets are typically one solid piece of iron, the handle holds heat as well as the cooking surface. To solve this, you may want to purchase a cast iron skillet handle cover. 


Best cast iron skillets

Victoria Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet: available at Amazon

This cast iron skillet is pre-seasoned with flaxseed oil for a nonstick surface. It features two wide handles for easy maneuvering and a pour spout for extra grease. Plus, it includes a lifetime warranty. 

Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 3-Skillet Bundle: available at Amazon and Wayfair

A comprehensive cast iron pan set from a trusted brand with three different sizes, including 8-inch, 10.5-inch and 12-inch skillets. This set accommodates a variety of different recipes and occasions. Each skillet is pre-seasoned with vegetable oil. 

Amazon Basics Cast Iron Skillet: available at Amazon 

A large 15-inch cast iron skillet with an assist handle to help you lift the skillet and two pouring spouts for pouring off excess grease. Pan is pre-seasoned with vegetable oil. 

Nonstick skillets

A nonstick skillet is typically made of aluminum or steel and then coated with a nonstick surface made from chemical compounds such as PTFE, or Teflon. The chemical-derived nonstick surface performs very well, especially with stickier items like scrambled eggs. However, you should not use a nonstick surface in high heat, as the chemicals begin to break down and may leech into your food. When purchasing a nonstick pan, you may want chemical-free options, including those derived from stone or diamonds, such as the Cotey Nonstick Skillet with Stone-Derived Coating

Since nonstick skillets can’t handle high heat, these pans work best on the stovetop and for more delicate recipes. You typically should not use nonstick pans in the oven, so they are generally less versatile than cast iron skillets. Nonstick skillets are also more delicate since utensils can scratch the surface more easily. They are also generally less durable and need to be replaced more often than a cast iron skillet. However, they are easier to clean, and most nonstick skillets are dishwasher safe. 

A nonstick skillet can cost as little as $25 and upwards of $75 for a top-of-the-line skillet. 

Nonstick skillet pros

  • Easy to use: Nonstick skillets are lighter and more ergonomic than cast iron skillets, making them much easier to use. 
  • Easy to clean: Most nonstick skillets are dishwasher safe, whereas cast iron skillets must be hand washed. 
  • Does not require maintenance: Nonstick skillets do not require any seasoning to maintain their stick-free surface. 
  • Best for cooking delicate ingredients: Nonstick skillets perform particularly well with delicate ingredients like scrambled eggs or cheese, which tend to stick to cast iron skillets. 


Nonstick skillet cons

  • Potential health risks: The chemical compounds in many nonstick pans begin to decompose at higher temperatures, so they may leach into your food. 
  • Less durable: The chemical coating on a nonstick skillet may scratch with cooking utensils or harsh detergents, rendering the nonstick surface unusable. 
  • Needs to be replaced more often: Nonstick skillets often need to be replaced every 3-5 years, as they may scratch or warp. 
  • Not oven friendly: Most nonstick skillets should not be used in the oven. 


Best nonstick skillets

Cotey Nonstick Skillet: available at Amazon

An eco-friendly, durable nonstick skillet made from anodized aluminum. It’s free of both PFOA and APEO. Dishwasher safe, oven-safe up to 400°F and guaranteed to be toxin-free and scratch-resistant. 

Granitestone Triple-Coated Nonstick Frying Pan: available at Amazon and Home Depot

This anodized aluminum skillet is triple-coated for superior nonstick performance that can even be used without oil. Plus, it’s free from harmful chemicals and comes in multiple colors. 

Utopia Kitchen Nonstick Frying Pan: available at Amazon 

This scratch-resistant nonstick pan is made of thick aluminum, so it manages optimal heat distribution. The long handle is ergonomic for easy holding. Plus, it’s induction friendly and dishwasher safe. 

Should you get a cast iron skillet or a nonstick skillet?

A cast iron skillet is your best bet for a naturally nonstick, durable pan that will last you a lifetime. However, a cast iron skillet is quite heavy and does require regular maintenance to keep it in top shape. If you’re a casual cook who’s looking for an easy-to-hold and easy-to-clean pan, opt for a nonstick skillet.

Katy Severson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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