As host of the podcast "Consumer Review Report," I'm always excited to talk and write about different kinds of products such as this.
Durable Nonstick Frying Pans
I dare you to try to find a nonstick frying pan, for stir-frying, that's durable, easy to use, has a large capacity, and has a long-lasting, slick nonstick surface without a lot of maintenance and all of that for a reasonable price. Whew! That's a tall order for a frying pan. Does one even exist with all of those boxes checked?
American Test Kitchens posted some videos comparing ceramic frying pans vs. frying pans vs. woks and they've come up with some pretty interesting preferences when it comes to those.
Pepper in some interesting unknown facts about these pans and you may be pointed in the right direction when it comes to choosing the best nonstick frying pan to use in your kitchen.
Ceramic Nonstick Skillets
An interesting fact about ceramic nonstick skillets is that they are made by applying a liquid coating to a metal pan that hardens into a slick ceramic surface when the coating is heated. But how companies decide what their formula is for this process can make the difference between a good pan and a bad pan for consumers.
Unfortunately, because the ceramic coating is brittle, microscopic cracks can occur which degrade the nonstick capability. And, the more you have to clean the pan of its stuck-on food, the more degradation occurs. So because of this, more bad ceramic skillets exist than good ones.
The good news about owning one of these pans is that no matter how high the heat is applied to these pans, they are 100% nontoxic. They don't expel any toxic fumes into the food or air at any amount of heat.
When American Test Kitchens did their tests on seven 12-inch ceramic nonstick skillets priced between $20 and $80, they had to disqualify five of the seven right away. Why? Because the nonstick capabilities of the pan degraded at a rapid pace defeating the purpose of the skillet.
Their preferred ceramic nonstick skillets were the GreenPan Valencia Pro Hard-Anodized Nonstick Frypan, priced at $80, and the Kyocera Ceramic Coated 12-inch Nonstick Frypan, priced at $65 and can withstand 600°F of oven heat.
On Amazon, the GreenPan Valencia is customer rated at 4.6 stars out of 5 with 1,531 reviews submitted. 81% of Amazon consumers rated it five stars, 9% four stars, 3% three stars, 2% two stars, and 5% one star.
A five-star review about these pans says:
"After my husband spent a fair amount of time trying to find Teflon-free non-stick pans, I took over the search. I came across an article that mentioned these in the top 5 (there was 10 or so brands total, I think). These pans are absolutely amazing. They work better than ANY pan I've ever used in my life, and unlike the last ceramic pans I bought, which stated that using oil and butter would reduce the nonstick properties over time, these can be used with butter/oil/other fat."
— Scout, July 2018
Here is a one-star review:
"I have owned the 'Valencia Pro Hard-Anodized Induction Safe Ceramic Nonstick, Frying Pan Set' for just under 3 months and the non-stick has completely deteriorated. We take good care of our pans to get the longest possible life out of them. I've had cheaper pans last significantly longer than this. Disappointed."
— J.D. Haines, October 2020
On Amazon, the Kyocera Ceramic Nonstick pan is customer-rated at 4.3 stars out of 5 with 279 reviews submitted. 66% of Amazon consumers rated it five stars, 14% four stars, 7% three stars, 8% two stars, and 5% one star. Here is a five-star review:
"I recommend this pan without reservation and I'm not the kind of person to do so gratuitously. The ceramic coated surfaces still look new even though we use them frequently. This is by far the best "non-stick" frying pan we've had and we've been buying/trying them for 30 years without endorsing one until now. Truth is, I've enjoyed using this pan since day 1, but I wanted to use it for an extended period before commenting. Absolutely simple & fast clean up with soap & hot water."
— Dawg McRaw, November 2016
And a one-star review:
"After about 3 months of use, food sticks to it even worse than a regular aluminum pan. It started out amazingly nonstick, but even though we were always careful to never use metal tools and to wash it by hand, it completely lost its non-stick coating within a few months. Now everything sticks to it. After one particularly bad dinner where we tried to sear some tofu (with oil) and it all completely stuck on, we just threw it in the garbage, stuck on tofu and all. Don't waste your money."
— A. Straussman, March 2016
PTFE Nonstick Skillets
PTFE nonstick skillets are produced in the same way as ceramic ones but the coating is a plastic called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Is this toxic? Well, it can be under certain circumstances.
If a flake breaks off and you accidentally eat it in the food you prepared, it will not hurt you. However, if the skillet is heated to 500°F or more, this plastic coating can emit toxic fumes into the food and air. This is why some people opt for ceramic nonstick pans even if they are not a higher quality pan.
So, to prevent this from happening, never heat this kind of pan empty. Always use oil or butter when cooking. If the oil or butter starts smoking, which is usually at about 400°F, this lets you know that the pan is getting too hot.
The other unfortunate quality that this pan has is that the coating only lasts for about two to three years with regular cooking. It lasts longer than the ceramic coating but it doesn't last forever either. But, at the same time, these skillets don't need any maintenance and seasoning like cast iron or carbon steel pans require.
Another fact about these skillets is that they cook slower than ceramic-coated skillets. Why? Because the plastic acts as a thermal insulator and slows the transmission of heat to the food.
Ten 12-inch PTFE nonstick skillets, priced between $30 and $200, were tested by American Test Kitchen. Their preferred skillet was the Oxo nonstick skillet priced at $60.
On Amazon, the Oxo Nonstick pan is customer-rated at a whopping 4.8 stars out of 5 with 5,767 reviews submitted. 86% of Amazon consumers rated it five stars, 9% four stars, 2% three stars, 1% two stars, and 1% one star.
This five-star review had this to say about the Oxo nonstick skillet:
"I love these Oxo skillets. Like everything Oxo in the kitchen, they are well designed, comfortable, and perform very well. I will remain careful enough to not subject them to a dishwasher. Why take chances? But they are a breeze to clean, as nothing has remained stuck! Food glides around on the pan while cooking and it comes off after I am finished. My only complaint is they don't have lids available. No problem, though, because lids for my other skillets fit fine."
— Ink blots, August 2019
Here is a rare one-star review for this product:
"I bought this because America's Test Kitchen said that it was the best one. But after only a few uses and with no scraping of the pan with any metal utensil the surface of the skillet looks as if it has been in service for 5 years. That is not acceptable. That cannot be the best skillet! There is no way ... "
— Caliboy, September 2020
Cleaning and Caring for the PTFE Nonstick Skillet
- Never use metallic utensils. Opt for wood, silicone, or plastic.
- Don't use nonstick cooking sprays. They adhere to the pan surface causing a buildup that makes the food stick to the pan, defeating the purpose. Use butter, olive oil, or vegetable oil.
- If you have to stack pans because of lack of space, put pot holders or towels in between pans.
- Do not pour cold water into a hot pan. This will warp the pan causing uneven cooking when placed on the burner.
- Use abrasive cleaning tools like a regular sponge. Avoid stainless steel scouring pads.
- If there is a buildup in the pan that couldn't be washed away with a sponge, mix baking soda and water and, using a sponge, wipe the inside of the pan with the mixture and rinse.
Even though skillets have a broader cooking area than woks, skillets being 10-inch or 12-inch and woks about seven inches, it may be difficult to get the wok hot enough to stir fry on a glass top electric stove or an induction stove. But if you can get the wok hot enough, it has multiple heating zones, using the sides and bottom. Using a skillet, you just have one heating zone, the bottom.
Another interesting fact about woks is that the nonstick capabilities get better with regular cooking rather than lessening. As was touched upon with the skillets, their nonstick properties degrade quite fast with regular cooking.
Capacity is best with a wok over a skillet because, while stirring, food is not being stirred out of the pan and onto the stovetop.
So if you are shopping for a wok, these qualities are best to look for:
- Make sure the wok has a flat bottom to accommodate the burner on the stove. If you get a round bottom with a ring, it will not sit close enough to the burner to get good heat.
- A preferable size has a 14-inch diameter across the rim.
- The best materials for a wok are lightweight carbon steel or lightweight cast iron.
- If you are also getting a cover for the wok, keep in mind that the cover does not sit on top of the rim. A proper cover for a 14-inch rim diameter wok would be 12 inches, so it can sit slightly inside the wok.
American Test Kitchen tested nine woks at a price range of $33 to $55. The preferred wok was a nonstick, 14-inch carbon steel wok by Taylor & Ng priced at $49.
Now, I couldn't find a Taylor & Ng wok on Amazon, but I did find a Kenmore Hammond Flat Bottom 14" Black Carbon Steel Wok that was similar to the one American Test Kitchen was using in their video. That was priced at $28.
On Amazon, the Kenmore Hammond wok is customer-rated at 4.5 stars out of 5 with 1,753 reviews submitted. 77% of Amazon consumers rated it five stars, 11% four stars, 4% three stars, 2% two stars, and 7% one star.
A five-star review had this to say:
"Love this ... it's not super thick, but it heats quickly and evenly, which is very important for cooking stir fry. The non-stick properties are excellent. The wooden handles look great and don't get hot, and it's a great size. I would buy again and highly recommend this product."
— James F. Sanscrainte, September 2020
And a one-star review:
"When it was good, it was good. Heats up fast and mostly even heating. The non-stick coating isn't the best so cleaning might require a thorough scrubbing. But my reason for 1-Star is that the bottom coating started to scrub off. Only plastic and wooden utensils used, scrubbed only with non-metallic abrasive sponges and brushes."
— Exceter M., June 2020
Best Stir-Fry Option?
I hope this comprehensive guide to skillets and woks has helped you with your stir-fry cooking decisions. I don't think there is a single pan that checks all the boxes, but for stir-frying, the wok comes pretty close.