I know that I’m not the only one who has gone through multiple nonstick frying pans over the years, replacing the pans as they lose their nonstickiness or treating them like regular pans and simply increasing the amount of oil that I cook with to keep food from sticking to it. I generally assumed that I was doing something wrong with my pans to mess up their nonstick coatings over time. But Cook’s Illustrated tackled nonstick pans in a recent issue (Sept/Oct 2010) and revealed that nonstick pans aren’t made to last a lifetime. Far from it. In fact, even representatives from the Cookware Manufacturers Association acknowledge that “if you get a year to a year and a half of life out of [a new nonstick pan], [they] think you got a pretty good deal.” High heat, cooking sprays, cleaners and kitchen tools can all wear down that coating over time. How quickly the coating wears down depends on how the coating was applied and how the pan was constructed.
This begs the question, are any nonstick pans better than the rest? Which brands hold up over time and give you a nonstick surface longer than others? Cook’s Illustrated set out to test a number of relatively inexpensive nonstick pans and compared them to their previous favorite, a $159 All Clad pan.
The first test of the skillet showdown was the most revealing. CI began frying eggs without fat in each pan. Some pans began to stick after just two eggs (Farberware’s Premium Nonstick Shallow 12-in Skillet), while others lasted for 76+ fried eggs (T-Fal Professional Total Nonstick 12.5-inch Fry Pan and Bialetti Commercial 12-in Saute Pan), at which point the test was ended because those two pans so dramatically outperformed the competition. After the eggs, stir fries were cooked to test the pans’ ability to deal with high heat and crepes were cooked to test for hot spots. The pans were also banged on the countertop, exposed to metal cooking utensils and tossed in the dishwasher to test durability.
The winner by a long shot was the T-Fal Professional Total Nonstick 12.5-inch Fry Pan. Not only did its 5-layer nonstick coating remain nonsticky through the end of the test, but it was hardly marked by a sharp knife cutting things on its surface and consistently provided even heat. The handle came slightly loose after being banged on a countertop repeatedly, but at only $34.95, this pan clearly provided a great value. CI’s previous favorite, the $159 All Clad nonstick didn’t even preform quite as well, with its nonstick coating losing a little of its slickness after all that abuse, although since the All Clad comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee (despite costing as much as 4 T-Fal pans) it still was ranked right up there with the T-Fal as a top nonstick by Cook’s Illustrated.