Stainless Steel vs Nonstick Cookware: What’s the Difference?

By Heloise Blause Updated September 15, 2021

Don’t get stuck deciding between the two.

Stainless Steel vs Nonstick Cookware: What’s the Difference?

Are you looking at buying nonstick or stainless steel cookware for your kitchen? If you want to know which is best, including how nonstick they both are, we’ve got all the answers for you.

We’ll give you a detailed breakdown of the differences between stainless steel cookware and nonstick cookware – this is pots and pans with either a Teflon or a ceramic coating.

In our stainless steel vs nonstick sections, you’ll see which scores best for scratch resistance, safety, and ease of cleaning and maintenance. You can then decide which is best for your cooking needs.

Stainless Steel vs. Nonstick Cookware Comparison Chart


ProductStainless Steel CookwareNon Stick Cookware
Price
Check Price
Check Price
Type of Coating
Uncoated
Ceramic, Teflon
Usage
Browning, frying, searing, sauteing, caramelizing, simmering

Frying delicate food, breaded food
Oven Safeyes
Yes according to manufacturers but may damage the pan
Scratch Resistant / Metal Utensils Safeyesno
Safeyesyes
Diswhasher Safeyesno
Cleaning
Easy, except burnt food
Easy
Seasoningnono
Durability
Virtually indestructible

A couple of years.


What’s the Difference Between Stainless Steel Pans and Nonstick Pans?

The key difference between stainless steel pans and nonstick pans is the type of coating the cookware has.

Stainless steel doesn’t have a coating because it’s naturally corrosion resistant. It’s made of iron, other metals, and contains a minimum of 11% chromium – it’s this element that prevents it from rusting.

So food can stick to stainless steel cookware. Unless it has a coating. These products are quite rare but they do exist: see this set from GreenPan which has a ceramic coating, and this set from Farberware which has a PTFE coating.

Therefore some coated stainless steel pans might be nonstick. Usually though, when you think of nonstick pans, you think of those pots that have a metal base such as hard-anodized aluminum. And then they are coated with either Teflon (PTFE) or ceramic.

It’s this sort of nonstick pan we’ll be looking at. Some other types are available. For example, cast iron with an enamel surface, or copper with a tin lining. But we’re not focusing on those today.

In-Depth Feature Comparison: Stainless Steel vs Nonstick Pans

Stainless Steel vs Nonstick Cookware

Aside from the coating, here are the main differences between these two types of cookware. And who wins in each section!

Which is Best for Cooking?

Stainless steel pans are designed thin. So if you want to fry a steak, or brown some meat, they’re a good option. You’ll also get a good caramelization on vegetables with a stainless steel pan. You won’t get as good browning results with nonstick cookware.

Stainless steel is the least reactive of all cookware materials. So if you like to cook tomato-based sauces or other acidic foods, it’s a good pick.

But for cooking foods like delicate fish or egg dishes – think pancakes and omelets – nonstick pans are better. And they’re ideal for breaded foods. Because these stickier foods won’t get stuck to the nonstick coating.

Yet if you’re going to use your pots and pans primarily for liquids or boiling water, stainless steel is a better fit. A nonstick coating isn’t needed when there’s just liquid in the pans.

Winner

There’s no outright winner. We think that they both offer you advantages when it comes to cooking.

Are they Oven Safe?

Yes, both stainless steel and nonstick cookware are generally safe to go in your oven.

Stainless steel has very good heat resistance. Most pans like this Viking are oven safe up to around 600°F.

That’s because stainless steel has a very high melting point. So if you like cooking on high heat, your pans won’t be damaged. And most stainless steel cookware has stainless steel handles with no silicone inserts. Therefore you can put them in your broiler too.

Most nonstick cookware are also oven safe. And this counts for both PTFE and ceramic cookware. But, low to medium temperatures are normally recommended for these pans. This is because high heat can lessen the nonstick properties.

See for example Greenpan’s advice that lower temperatures are better because their pans’ exposure to higher heat reduces the non-stickiness (1). And Caraway says that “overheating can wear away the non-stick coating” on their cookware (2). So the bottom line is, don’t put nonstick pans in the oven for long periods of time.

Winner

Stainless steel pans, as they can withstand high temperatures and won’t warp. And the nonstick pans are likely to lose some of their nonstick capability.

Are they Scratch Resistant?

Yes, at least stainless steel pans are.

Stainless steel is a hard material. Once it’s been formed into a utensil or pot shape, only a very strong blow would dent it. A stainless steel pan can withstand the use of metal utensils and abrasive agents and it won’t scratch.

Regarding non-stick pans, we need to consider both of the coatings.

Teflon’s latest coatings have really good scratch resistance. This is because of the materials used in its mid-coat and topcoat layers. But, it’s commonly known that Teflon cookware can be fragile.

The other type of nonstick cookware, ceramic coated, has a hard surface. So it should have good scratch resistance. However, this coating is a “Sol-gel” which is rigid when it bonds to the surface of the pan. Therefore it can crack or peel more easily.

We’d recommend that you avoid using metal utensils with nonstick pans. The coating, whether PTFE or ceramic, can scratch. Even if the ceramic coating provides a hard cooking surface.

Winner

Stainless steel pans, as the metal is hard. Coatings on nonstick cookware can scratch more easily.

Are they Safe for Cooking?

Yes, both cookware types are safe for you to cook with.

One of the main benefits of stainless steel is that it’s the least reactive of all cookware materials. It’s a non-toxic metal, and lead and cadmium-free.

But some research has suggested that increased nickel and chromium levels can be found in acidic foods when cooked in stainless cookware for long periods. If you then eat this food, they may be at an increased risk of skin conditions such as dermatitis. And, stainless steel pans may leach small amounts of nickel into food. So if you’re allergic to nickel, they’re not the best pick for you.

Teflon cookware is PFOA-free and safe for cooking. But these pans can be harmful if you regularly heat them to above 570°F. At this heat, the Teflon coating starts to break down and you might be exposed to potentially toxic chemicals.

Ceramic coated pans are PFOA, PTFE, lead, and cadmium-free due to their design of a sol-gel (made of silica) being bonded to a metal such as hard-anodized aluminum. Unlike Teflon pans, ceramic pans are safe up to very high temperatures. They may turn to sand if overheated, but they won’t release any toxic fumes.

Winner

Stainless steel pans. Both are safe, but nonstick cookware isn’t as safe or stable when overheated.

Are they Dishwasher Safe?

Yes, most stainless steel cookware is dishwasher safe. This is due to its composition of iron and chromium plus nickel or carbon, and because it has no coating.

The chromium oxide that forms on the surface of stainless steel stops it from corroding or rusting in damp environments. See this frying pan from All-Clad that is dishwasher safe.

Regarding nonstick cookware, it depends on the coating:

So even on those dishwasher-safe models, it’s much better to hand wash. This will increase the lifespan of your nonstick pots and pans.

Winner

Stainless steel pans. The coatings on nonstick cookware are susceptible to damage.

Are they Easy to Clean?

Yes, both are but for different reasons.

Stainless steel cookware can be cleaned easily with your normal detergent or soap. And you can even use commercial strength cleaners or steel wool to remove oil build-up on your pans. You don’t need to worry about damaging it due to its good scratch resistance.

Cleaning stainless steel pans can also be done by soaking them in hot soapy water first. This will remove any stubborn marks on the pans. You can then clean the pot with a sponge before drying it. But you may struggle to clean scorched-on food.

Unlike stainless steel cookware, you shouldn’t use commercial cleaners or steel wool on nonstick cookware. All it needs is soap and water. Due to the nonstick cooking surface, food releases from it well. So there won’t be burnt-on food to scrub off.

Winner

Both types of cookware win. They’re both easy to clean by hand.

Are they Easy to Maintain?

Yes, they’re both easy to maintain.

Stainless steel cookware is easy to maintain. You don’t need to season your stainless steel pans to prevent rusting like you would for cast iron cookware. You can do it to improve its nonstick properties and make it last longer, but it’s not necessary.

Likewise, nonstick cookware is also low maintenance. There’s no seasoning or preparation needed for either Teflon or ceramic pans. But as we’ve said, you might want to take care not to scratch the coating.

Winner

Both types of cookware offer low maintenance.

How Long Do They Last?

Stainless steel is very durable. It’s hard and nonporous and resistant to wear and tear. Uncoated, stainless steel will only start deteriorating after 15 to 20 years. But it can last up to 60 years undamaged.

Nonstick cookware with a ceramic coating doesn’t last as long. Data from users suggest that it lasts on average for 6 to 12 months, although some lasted up to 2 years. It depends on how often the pans were used and how well they were maintained.

However, Teflon pans will last longer. If you regularly heat these pans to around 500°F (the temperature for searing steak), they’ll last around 2 to 3 years (3).

Winner

Stainless steel pans could last you a lifetime. Neither type of nonstick cookware lasts for much longer than a few years.

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What Type of Pans Do Professional Chefs Use?

Most chefs, professional cooks, and restaurants use stainless steel cookware. This is because it’s nearly impossible to break or damage it! Stainless pots are very reliable when it comes to cooking because they are so strong and durable.

The cooking surface of stainless steel pans can be nonstick when used correctly. And because they can withstand high heat, you can easily move your cookware from stove to oven to broiler. So stainless steel sets offer more versatility than nonstick cookware.

Professional chefs know how to use and maintain stainless steel cookware properly. This can be a bit of a learning curve.

Therefore, for us home cooks, nonstick pans might be a more practical option. You don’t need to worry that food will stick to your pans. And they’re easy to clean and look after.

About the Author

Heloise Blause

Since always, I am passionate about food; I enjoy writing and want to share my passion and offer quality articles to my readers. On Homekitchenland, I like to research, review, and compare kitchen appliances, write product reviews, and develop recipes.

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