What kind of skillet do I want if cast iron won't work
July 9, 2020 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I need to replace my (roomate's) skillet that has peeling nonstick coating, and I don't know what I need. We use this thing at least 3 times a week, and we want something that will last.

Is there such a thing as reliable nonstick coating?
Must haves are:
  • Around 12" diameter and 2-3" high
  • Lightweight: I cannot lift cast iron this size. I have arthritis and we already have several pots and pans I can't use.
  • High, straight sides so we can stir saucy things without sloshing. Rounded or sloped sides are a disaster.
  • Easy to clean
Most of the time we use it for browning meat, and then adding sauce and veggies, often add rice to cook in the sauce.
posted by buildmyworld to Shopping (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For straight sides you want a saute pan rather than a skillet. Stainless steel will be fine - lighter than cast iron and plenty durable.
posted by janell at 6:17 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

For a nonstick one I had a T-Fal 12" pan from Target that lasted all through college and the early years of apartment life. Maybe 10 years. I finally had to replace it when I got a house with my wife. It's been 11 years now and it's just about time to replace it. We use it every other day at least.

Pretty cheap and available at Target last I knew.
posted by sanka at 6:20 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]

Stainless steel is good, but you could also try carbon steel - it seasons like cast iron, but is lighter and requires a bit less maintenance. There is no such thing as reliable nonstick -- those pans are all disposable and will peel eventually, though some of them last longer than others.
posted by cubby at 6:22 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]

I'd get a stainless steel skillet, and a cheap non-stick pan that you use exclusively for eggs. Consider the non-stick pan a wear item that lasts a year or so and then needs to be replaced. Never use high heat with the non-stick pan, and never use metal utensils with it (use wood or silicone utensils only), and only use it to cook eggs. Use the stainless steel skillet for everything that isn't eggs.
posted by smcameron at 6:27 PM on July 9 [9 favorites]

If you want non-stick, I can strongly recommend Scanpan. They use a titanium composite nonstick which doesn't flake off like Teflon, and mine has been remarkably durable and great to cook with, and they also do really well at browning meat unlike most other nonsticks. They come in a variety of shapes, but the pans I have do have vertical sides, only rounded at the bottom.

The only issue is that they're pretty spendy, but have lasted far longer than any Teflon pans I've had, including T-Fals, and I'm not weirded out by eating chemical flakes.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 6:29 PM on July 9 [8 favorites]

Buy the cheapest non-stick pan you can and replace it frequently. I buy allclad for the good stuff, but non-stick can't be repaired. Never more than $20.
posted by bfranklin at 6:40 PM on July 9 [5 favorites]

Stainless steel can be really great and I'm not sure why people don't talk it up more in these cookware threads. Go for a stainless steel saute pan with a heavy bottom - look for ones that have an extra grip opposite the handle end to help you lift and control it.

For cleaning you can use soap, soak it in the sink, use mild abrasives like baking soda, and even stick it in the dishwasher if it will fit.
posted by Mizu at 6:50 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]

Stainless Steel is superior to non stick or cast iron for most cooking in my opinion, and it can last decades. For best results heat it first then bring it down to cooking temperature before adding food.
posted by mikek at 6:54 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

I recommend GreenPan. They're stainless steel pans with a ceramic nonstick coating, and they're dishwasher safe. I've seen mixed reviews on the pans with white interiors, but I've been happy with the dark interiored pans.
posted by marfa, texas at 7:24 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]

T-fal ceramic gets my vote too!
I’ve had this one for a few years and my mom hasn’t been able to destroy it yet.
(She is the Godzilla of cookware)
posted by calgirl at 7:29 PM on July 9

Have you tried thin carbon steel? It's much like cast iron but lighter. If that's still too much weight, if you treat triclad stainless well, it's pretty easy to clean and a joy to cook with.
posted by Candleman at 7:45 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

Scanpans do use Teflon.

Here is a paragraph I copied from a Scanpan site a couple of years ago:
PTFE (short for polytetrafluoroethylene) is the base compound for any and all nonstick coatings. PTFE provides the food release. The SCANPAN formula works with the patented ceramic titanium surface construction to provide long lasting nonstick performance. This PTFE is safe to use for food preparation and is FDA approved. Only if the pan is accidentally overheated or cooked dry could temperatures be reached that may cause the PTFE portion to break down and emit fumes that have been known to be harmful to exotic birds, due to their extra sensitive respiratory system (they would, for instance, be harmed by burnt butter fumes, as well). It is a good idea to keep birds away from the kitchen!
My link no longer goes directly to that paragraph, and I didn't try to find it on the site, but that's what Scanpan itself said almost three years ago.
posted by jamjam at 8:03 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

I have a nonstick pan exactly like you describe which is used multiple times a week for a similar type of cooking and is still going strong after 5 years. I don't think that's particularly unusual, but if you want the brand name it seems to be Heritage.

There's nothing wrong with nonstick if you avoid using metal tools or otherwise scratching the surface (no scouring pads of any kind, even plastic). And they're perfectly safe unless you put the heat way too high with nothing in the pan. They might not last a lifetime but you shouldn't need to replace them every year either unless you live with people who can't manage to grasp the concept of not using metal cooking tools in them (unfortunately lots of my former roommates fall into this category). People can be a little fanatical about cast iron but it's not actually the best solution for everyone. I want a pan I can put in the dishwasher and that doesn't weigh 1000 pounds, so I hate cast iron.
posted by randomnity at 8:08 PM on July 9

I'm firmly in the stainless camp, but it took some learning on my part before I was able to cook with it successfully. My tips:

1. Season the pan with lard. You want to coat the pan with lard, and heat it on medium until the lard just begins to smoke. Let it cool a bit and wipe off the excess lard. If you let it cool completely before wiping off the excess, you may have a sticky varnish--you don't want this.
2. When cooking, heat the pan before you put anything into it. You can verify that it's hot enough to cook by tossing in a drop of water. If it breaks up and sizzles, pan is not hot enough. You want the water to stay together in one drop and float around the pan. Once this happens, add your oil and let that heat up. Then add your food.
3. Patience is the key when cooking. Things will unstick themselves when they are ready to be flipped. If you gently try to move something with tongs and it's not moving, it's not ready to flip. Wait a while and try moving it again gently. It will free itself.
4. I rarely turn the burner past medium. You really don't need to go that hot when you properly heat the pan before cooking on it.
5. Clean without soap whenever you can. You can dump a cup of water in the pan after you remove the food and with the heat on, and then most anything stuck on the pan can be easily and gently scraped off with a plastic spatula. Dump this out, let cool, rinse, and then wipe down with a paper towel. If you do ever wash with detergent, you're going to want to go through the seasoning process again.

This all sounds like a lot of trouble when I write it out, but it's not bad at all, and it keeps you from eating a little bit of DuPont every night. And honestly, it made me better at cooking. That said, white fish and eggs still get cooked on nonstick around here.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:27 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

I have a T-Fal non-stick pan that has lasted a lot longer than any other non-stick pan I've tried. I have a cast-iron pan, but for some things it's just easier to have something that uses a teflon coating.
posted by Aleyn at 10:56 PM on July 9

Scanpans do use Teflon.

Oh, I guess I was wrong up above (I read their current FAQ and it does indeed talk about PTFE). I’ll still endorse them, though—they’ve really been great.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 11:13 PM on July 9

I'd been using nonstick and we recently moved to stainless steel in the last six months. We handwash our dishes. Sometimes there's a little more scrubbing but overall it wasn't that much more work once we figured out to use a slightly lower heat and a lmore oil or butter than before. We can even cook eggs provided we pay attention. It is trickier for sure, but not impossible.

Before we had some calphalon nonsticks that served us well for years, I'd recommend them, but I think that I prefer what we have now .
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:38 PM on July 9

I adore my Tramontina brand non-stick pans and my first set lasted over 10 years of some pretty bad abuse. (No metal utensils, but the occasional "I can carefully use a fork... oops" gouge and too much scrubbing with plastic scrubbies. Taking better of my new set). Not sure if they have a sauté pan, though, which is what you are looking for. I like that many of their pans come with a metal handle and a silicone grip for it so it's really versatile in terms of going from the stovetop to a (low-mid temp) oven. I do not have birds or other pets sensitive to nonstick fumes.

Stainless is also great, it just requires a lot of fat and I don't always want to consume that much oil.
posted by misskaz at 4:47 AM on July 10

I'm a big fan of these granite frying pans. I've used them for several months, they are durable and what I especially like is they leave a nice crust on fried/sauted chicken, fish and hash browns. I been frustrated in the past with the durability of other pans and the quick loss of the non-stick function. They clean in a breeze. The 12" version is currently unavailable on Amazon but I included it for informational/dimension purposes. I'm sure you can locate it elsewhere.
posted by shjun at 5:55 AM on July 10

I prefer iron, but my spouse is a nonstick fan, and after a number of (eventual) failures I bought him a Martha Stewart nonstick pan that is a wonder. And really cheap.
posted by Peach at 8:11 AM on July 10

When I was in your position, I chose to get something from Calphalon - they come with a full warranty, but they're not cheap. My frying pan is a bit on the heavy side, but I'm happy with it.

I agree with the others, that if you want straight sides, look at a sautee pan or a "jumbo fryer."

For the types of dishes you are making though, I use my dutch oven ALL the time. Mine is a super lightweight one that I inherited from my grandfather. But I think something like this one would serve you quite well. If you really prefer non-stick, then there's this one too.
posted by hydra77 at 8:56 AM on July 10

I treated myself to an All clad stainless saute pan (I got the enormous one, but there are smaller sizes) I use it for most of my cooking. I also have a non-stick pan I got from ikea for ten bucks that I basically only use for eggs and replace every couple of years.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:05 AM on July 10

Great info, this is giving us a lot of input to decide. I'll probably be looking at the various options and comparing the weights along with other factors.

Any recommendations on where to obtain cookware online that is not Amazon?

Some answers and comments:
I have a 6" T-fal non-stick that I only use for frying eggs, it is a joy but seems like the larger version might be heavy.
I have some Green Pan saucepans that have become annoyingly less nonstick after 4 years of heavy use. A knockoff from Biglots has been better.
We don't have a dishwasher so that's not a factor.
We do have two dutch ovens, one is a heavy enamel one I have trouble with when empty, and the other is a lighter stainless but even that one I can't lift when it's more than half full.
posted by buildmyworld at 10:46 AM on July 10

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