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A good nonstick pan has the traits of a traditional skillet—even heating, classic flared sides, good balance between body and handle—but adds a slick coating to make cooking delicate foods like eggs and fish easier. We narrowed our search mostly to open-stock, 10-inch pans, but we also included one set. We believe 10 inches is best size to get if you want just one pan for omelets or two fried eggs. But if you do want something larger to cook more than eggs or a couple of fish fillets, most of our picks come in multiple sizes. Beyond that, we made our picks by looking for the following features:
Slick, flat surface
Though we favored skillets that released food with little or no effort on our part, we quickly realized that the super-smooth coatings could reveal a design weakness in some pans: a slightly convex cooking surface. Flatness is important because the nonstick coating on an uneven surface causes butter and oil to slide to the lowest point, making it nearly impossible to get even coverage. A convex surface can also cause two fried eggs to migrate to opposite sides of the pan and become hard to flip without a spatula.
A good nonstick pan has the traits of a traditional skillet—even heating, classic flared sides, good balance between body and handle—but adds a slick coating.
Even heat distribution
A nonstick pan that distributes heat evenly across the cooking surface will not only keep your food from scorching but will also last longer. Nonstick coating breaks down faster at high temperatures, so hot spots can shorten the lifespan of a pan. We prefer skillets made from cast or anodized aluminum because it’s an inexpensive material, an excellent heat conductor, and durable.
Stainless steel tri-ply (aluminum sandwiched by two layers of stainless steel) is also an excellent material for even heat distribution, and unlike aluminum, tri-ply works on induction cooktops. But tri-ply nonstick pans are much more expensive than their aluminum counterparts, and it’s generally not worth paying that much for a pan that will last only a few years. Now you can find aluminum pans with bonded steel plates on the bottom that perform very well and work on induction, at a fraction of the price.
Shape and comfort
Just as with traditional skillets, nonstick pans with flared sides perform the best. The wide shape enables quick and accurate flipping without the use of a spatula. And even if you’re more inclined to use a turner, the wide flare offers more room to maneuver under food than straight sides do. Flared sides also promote more evaporation, which means less water collects in the skillet, and foods develop a golden crust.
We think $20 to $60 is plenty to spend on a piece of cookware that will give you three to five years of use.
Skillets with weight balanced between the handle and body are the most stable and sit flat on the burner. The latter is especially important when you’re using induction or ceramic cooktops, where full contact with the burner is key. Well-balanced pans also make it easier to swirl crepe batter and flip delicate foods. But balance doesn’t mean much if the handle is uncomfortable to grip or awkwardly angled. A bent lip is a bonus that makes it easy to pour off liquids (like excess grease or batter) with minimal dripping.
Price and longevity
The surface on a brand-new nonstick pan is the slickest it’ll ever be before it makes the slow march toward ineffectiveness through use and wear. Even with proper care, any nonstick skillet has a shorter lifespan than other cookware, because the nonstick coating will inevitably wear off. We think $20 to $60 is plenty to spend on a piece of cookware that will give you three to five years of use.
Though many pans come with a limited lifetime warranty, these guarantees won’t cover wear and tear (like surface scratches and gradual breakdown of the nonstick coating) or misuse and abuse. Read the instruction manual for any nonstick pan you buy, because some things—like using nonstick cooking spray or putting your pan in the dishwasher—will void the warranty.