Stainless Steel Versus Nonstick

Stainless Steel Versus Nonstick: What’s the Difference?

Knowing your cookware material is step one to home-cooking success.

Author: Patty Lee  | April 21, 2024 | Time to read: 5 min

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When it comes to equipping your kitchen, we believe that having the right tools matters. Selecting the best cookware for the job is just as important as finding the freshest ingredients or finally getting your dad’s coveted jambalaya recipe. Once you know which piece of cookware to reach for, culinary doors start opening. But — like learning when exactly to flip a pancake or how to cook perfectly al dente noodles — it takes time to build up that intuition.

What should you use to sear a steak? Or roast a chicken? Do you really need a pan in every type of cookware material? What exactly is the difference between nonstick versus stainless steel? If you’ve whispered that last question while navigating through seemingly endless cookware options, you’re not alone. (We have, too.) The two materials are quite popular and most home cooks likely have one of each sitting on their stovetop at this very moment. Though they vary widely in use and care, both have a place in the kitchen.

Cooking With Nonstick

Nonstick cookware is your kitchen’s best friend when it comes to effortlessly frying eggs or searing delicate pieces of fish. What makes it so good at these jobs? It’s all in the coating. The main material of a nonstick pan can be made from aluminum or stainless steel (or a mix of both), but the interior surface is finished with a special coating — most commonly sol-gel ceramic or Teflon™ (also known as PTFE) — that prevents food from sticking to the surface. The Always Pan®, for example, features our exclusive Thermakind™ ceramic nonstick coating that’s made without potentially toxic materials such as PFAS (also known as “Forever Chemicals”), which include PTFEs and PFOAs.

Nonstick Cookware Benefits

  • Food easily slides off the nonstick surface
  • Fewer stubborn, stuck-on messes (Bonus: Cleanup is faster, too.)
  • Requires less cooking oil
  • Lightweight and versatile

A reliable nonstick pan can handle most cooking tasks, but there are a few things to keep in mind to help preserve its nonstick properties. Always cook on low- to medium- heat (yes, even for searing), use wooden or silicone utensils (metal ones will scratch up the surface), and be gentle with cleaning (that means no dishwasher).

If a pan is coated with Teflon™ or other chemicals, there are also health and safety concerns to consider. These PFAS, also known as forever chemicals because they don’t break down, release toxic fumes when overheated. While some, such as PFOA, have been banned, others — such as PTFE — are still in use today. The Always Pan’s ceramic nonstick coating is made without potentially toxic materials like PFAS (including PTFEs and PFOAs), lead, and cadmium.

Cooking With Stainless Steel

Stainless steel cookware is known for its durability and even heat circulation, which is why it’s the go-to material in professional kitchens. Made from a blend of metals such as chromium, iron, and nickel, stainless steel is unmatched when it comes to delicious, beautiful browning (also known as the maillard reaction). So if you’re looking to saute vegetables or get a golden crust on scallops, it’s ideal to use stainless steel cookware versus nonstick.

The Always Pan® Pro gets its one-of-a-kind features from an ultra-thick tri-ply body that’s heat-safe up to 1000°F. Three materials each bring something unique to the table: There’s a super conductive aluminum core that heats up evenly and quickly, an ultra-durable, high-shine stainless steel exterior, and titanium interior surface with our revolutionary NoCo ™ nonstick technology. Together, they make a pan that can sear on high heat, easily release food, and stand up to dishwashers.

Stainless Steel Cookware Benefits

  • Resistant to corrosion, scratching, and staining
  • Designed for high-heat cooking, including roasting and grilling
  • Safe to use with metal utensils and abrasive cleaners
  • Non-reactive material (that means yes to all the lemon and tomato sauces)

Like nonstick, stainless steel has its limitations, too. Regular stainless steel cookware requires proper preheating and oil or butter to reduce sticking. Removing burnt-on food is tougher, so be prepared to put in some elbow grease. Stainless steel is also heavier because of its multi-ply construction.

See the Always Pan® Pro In Action

When to Use Stainless Steel Versus Nonstick

Both stainless steel and nonstick cookware have their strengths and drawbacks. Stainless steel’s superior heat conductivity and retention make it best for imparting rich flavors and developing crusts. Nonstick cookware, on the other hand, excels with easy food release and keeping more fragile ingredients intact. Cooking with stainless steel versus nonstick and vice versa all depends on what you’re making and how you plan on cooking it — here’s what to keep in mind so you’re ready for anything.

For food you want to slide right off (scrambled eggs, pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches), use a nonstick pan. Things that need charring, crisping, or caramelizing? Go for stainless steel.

If it calls for low temperatures and delicate handling, opt for nonstick. High heat and searing — that’s all stainless steel. While the Always Pan is oven-safe, not all nonstick pans are, so be mindful of that when baking is required.

Some nights, there’s time to put in the scrubbing work. For days when ease of cleaning takes priority, your trusty nonstick pan is the answer.

Patty Lee

Patty Lee

Patty Lee is a writer and editor based in New York City. Her writing has appeared in The Kitchn, Martha Stewart Living, Food Network, and many other food and lifestyle publications. A native New Yorker who grew up in Brooklyn's Chinatown, her perfect weekend breakfast is a combination of bagels and dim sum.