Ask Casey: Natural Alternatives to Nonstick Pans

Ask Casey: Cooking and Kitchen Questions Answered

I’m worried about whether or not I should still be using my nonstick frying pan. I don’t want to throw it away but I don’t want to be eating Teflon either! Is there anything I can do?

This fall, after eight (eight!!) years of service, my All-Clad nonstick pan was ready to fry its last egg. Though I had given it a good, coddled life—no metal utensils, no dishwasher, no oven, no high heat, no heating “dry” without” oil—the nonstick finish had deteriorated to a scraped, faded shell of its former self.

It was time to say goodbye to the nonstick crutch and really commit to using a pan I wouldn’t need to replace every decade.

The biggest considerations in moving from a chemical-coated nonstick frying pan, (or skillet, or whatever you want to call it) to a version with a more natural finish are how much time and effort you want to put into creating and maintaining that finish. All of the below recommendations are stove- and oven-safe, and can be heated over high heat without oil—though it’s always recommended to use at least a dab of oil when cooking; that egg will taste ten times better with a little olive oil crust! Most importantly, they’re all Teflon, PTFE, and PFOA-free; you can cook safe with these and keep them for the rest of your life.

natural nonstick skillets
And when you’re ready to get rid of your old nonstick pans, please don’t just throw them in the trash or donate them to Goodwill—if it’s not safe enough for you to eat on, why would you let someone else cook with it? Just take them to your local scrap metal company for recycling; they’re more than happy (well, also amused) to melt them down.

Staub Fry Pan

Even if you’re not a seasoned cook, you’re likely familiar with the Crayola-colored enameled cast iron pots and pans that so many of us use for braising and simmering. Le Creuset is the most well-known French brand of these ovens, but for the best enameled nonstick finish, I’m throwing my hat in with another French company: Staub.

staub fry pan
The smooth black interior finish of a Staub frying pan is enameled wizardry, I tell you. It’s forgivingly nonstick—far superior to the matte black finish of the Le Creuset skillet in my eyes—and sears like a dream right out of the box with no pre-seasoning required. For those who don’t want to spend their time building up the perfect nonstick finish through seasoning a regular cast iron pan, this is the one for you. You’ll pay a little more for the privilege of a ready-to-cook finish (about $100 more), but you’ll also be able to clean this one with soap and Bar Keepers Friend, if desired.

Caveat: this one’s heavy, with the 12-inch fry pan pushing 7 pounds (yeah, I weighed it). I keep my potholders at the ready and view my use of this pan as a chance to build my upper arm strength.

Cast Iron Skillet

As I’ve discussed at length in my post on seasoning and cleaning cast iron skillets, the versatility of plain old seasoned cast iron is nigh unparalleled. Short of simmering tomato sauce in the pan, there’s really nothing you can’t cook in a deep cast iron skillet; the big difference between this and the Staub pan mentioned above is the amount of time it takes to build up the perfect nonstick finish.

cast iron skillet
Lodge cast iron cookware comes pre-seasoned from the factory, so you can in theory cook an egg in your pan right off the bat. (The fried-egg test is always my test for a new pan, by the way.) But a true nonstick finish won’t come until you’ve repeatedly heated the pan and let oil soak into its porous surface, turning the rough initial finish into a smooth, glossy sheen. Want to kickstart this process? Take your cast iron to the steak spa: pan-roast a big, juicy steak with a knob of butter in your skillet, basting the meat with the butter and juices until it’s cooked to your liking. I know, it’s a hardship to bear, but after that meal, your pan will look better than ever.

Don’t clean cast iron with soap: just rinse it with hot water and a clean washcloth as soon as it’s cooled down, and scrub off any schmutz with plain old kosher salt.

Carbon Steel Wok

For easy vegetable sautéing, simple solo meals—and quick stovetop popcorn!—my flat-bottomed wok hits the burners at least once a week.

The easy-to-handle thin metal wok requires a quick scrub and initial seasoning before use, then can be pressed into service for everything from basic pan-seared green beans to a full-on curry dinner. The 14-inch bowl holds a lot, should you need to brown off a bunch of ground pork in a pinch—or take a tip from GFS Senior Writer Danielle Oteri, who has found it indispensable for large-quantity meatball frying.

seasoning a wok
But wait, Casey—you said above that all of these pans are oven-safe. The wok has wooden handles! Yep, it in fact does. But should you want to oven-season your wok or throw it into the hot box for any reason, take a page from wok evangelist Grace Young‘s book and wrap the handles with wrung-out wet washcloths before placing in the oven. It’s rare that you should need to stick this beast in the oven, since it gets plenty hot on a stove burner and can also maintain a bare simmer for hours, but it’s totally possible.

DeBuyer Mineral B Element Pan

The newest member of my naturally nonstick retinue, I bought the DeBuyer Mineral B Element iron frying panon a whim to see if its beeswax-enhanced finish could stack up to my cast iron skillet. The verdict? So far, so good! Like a combination wok and cast iron pan, this skillet is made of pure unseasoned metal and develops a nonstick patina after a quick oil seasoning (mine’s not quite fully seasoned yet, but it still worked well enough to pass the fried egg test after the first go-round).

It heats up more quickly than cast iron—crucial for those 5-minute breakfasts—and cleans up simply with hot water and a swipe of a wet washcloth. Again, no soap is needed to wash this pan; once the seasoning is built up, the pan deglazes easily and a kosher salt scrub removes stubborn stuck-on food. After only a month with this pan, I find myself reaching for it more often than I expected, and think it’ll become another crucial tool in my kitchen arsenal.

Other Options

You might be wondering why another ceramic nonstick pan, the Bialetti Aeternum, isn’t on this list. Though it’s been recommended by others, I was surprised to discover that its cooking surface is not oven-safe, so as much as I love its chemical-free makeup, it doesn’t meet my Triple-A (that’s All-Around Awesome) criteria.

I also can’t speak to Scanpan, GreenPan, or other anodized aluminum cookware, as I don’t own any pieces. If you’re interested in this type of cookware as a natural nonstick alternative, click over to Simple Bites, another trusted resource, for a review of Scanpan’s features.

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Comments

  1. says

    I love my cast iron skillet from Lodge. I also have their enameled cast iron 7qt Dutch oven. It’s a great introduction into enameled cast iron, especially if you don’t have a big budget (I got mine for $50 on Amazon). I will say that after 2 years, it’s starting to show a little wear on the bottom inside of the pan. But, it’ll do for now until I can save up the money (and the upper body strength!) for a Staub!

  2. says

    We did away with all nonstick a few years ago, and I don’t mind in the slightest. That said…I have Staub envy. Clearly I need a few more pans.

  3. says

    I’m glad to know about these options. I was just about to toss my little non-stick frying pan. I used it every day for eggs, but the finish is not non-stick any longer. In fact, I just tested out my little cast iron skillet for frying eggs, and guess what?

    Not a bit of egg stuck. Why did I not switch sooner???

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      baurains, I am so there with you! In fact, I used to be too afraid of ruining the finish on my cast iron skillet to use it for ANYTHING, but that was doing me no good. Once I realized it was in fact very hardy and I wouldn’t destroy it, my whole world opened up.

  4. says

    I love my Lodge cast iron skillet and don’t use it nearly often enough. Sounds like I should get moving on that as I am more than ready to ditch my nonstick pans as well!

  5. Sara says

    Hi Casey — I applaud the idea of creating a safer home, and because there’s so much misinformation out there about the Teflon® brand, I’m not surprised that you are concerned. I’m a representative of DuPont though, and hope you’ll let me share some information with you and your readers so that everyone can make truly informed decisions.

    Regulatory agencies, consumer groups and health associations all have taken a close look at the Teflon® brand. This article highlights what they found — the bottom line is that you can use Teflon® nonstick without worry.

    http://www.fluoropolymer-facts.com/PFOA/content.cfm?ItemNumber=4137&navItemNumber=4040xxx

    I’d truly be glad to share additional information about it if you are interested, and appreciate your consideration of this comment. Cheers, Sara.

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Hi Sara – thanks for your response. My issue with traditional nonstick is not so much about perceived health risks but instead with the fact that no matter how well I take care of my nonstick pans (and believe me, I care for my cookware like they’re my own children), they will wear out and need to be replaced. I spend lots of money on cookware but I don’t consider it to be disposable – and with the pans I’ve highlighted in the piece, I can be absolutely sure that the nonstick patina on each will only get better with time. That’s the point I’m hoping to drive home with these recommendations: buy once, buy for life.

  6. says

    I have been converting to cast iron and enameled cast iron over the last couple years. It started about 5 years or so ago when I was entranced by the demo on Home Shopping Network, (which I have never watched before or since) by Todd English, who demonstrated how great the Green Pans are. I ordered them, and they were great–for a couple months. Then they completely lost their non-stickiness (and I used them properly!). I ended up giving them away because eggs stuck to the surface and you couldn’t get them off with any amount of soaking.
    Though my pans now work for almost everything, I am still tempted by the Bialetti to use for eggs. Maybe I’ll have to buy it, in the name of research. And there is something sexy about the DeBuyer pan…

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Oooh, good to know about the GreenPan! And you’re right, there is something sexy about this kind of cookware. Is it the heft? The sheen? The glossy fried eggs that you can make with them?

  7. Marie Killian says

    This was a good read. Cast Iron pans are my favorite and when I buy them new I always pretreat them with the best olive oil, Carothers’ Olive Oil.
    I love the thought of using kosher salt to clean off schmutz (hee-hee) off the pan. Great idea and fix!

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Jen, let me know how you like it! Mine is developing a great patina after going through the steak spa last week; I should post a pic on Instagram to show its progress.

  8. says

    Nice post!
    I, too, don’t pay attention to those pans that aren’t oven-safe. They are quite limited the usages. (So the Bialetti Aeternum is off my list, too.)
    Cast iron is always my favorite. But now I’ve found myself stick with the new carbon-steel wok. My 14″ Joyce Chen wok stands on the stove more than 5 times a week!

    • Mechef145 says

      Thanks for the post! I agree, to be versatile they have to go on the stove-top and in the oven.  After much searching i finally found MEC 100% natural clay pots and pans.  I was looking for the safest and non-reactive cookware material and found out it was natural clay (not ceramic or stainless steel). They’re oven and stove-top safe, it took a few days for me to get used to cooking in them, but once used to it, I cant go back now…)

  9. Mari says

    Love this post, Casey! I have heard that if you use nonstick cookware at a too high temprature (especially the cheaper options) then it can also release some toxic chemicals?! So I am glad there is some alternatives out there :)

    • Martha says

      Paul, Out of this entire (personally researched and informative) article that’s what you came away with? smh
      Thank you Casey for your insight.

    • Peter says

      Actually Schmutz is german for dirt. Also adapted for Yiddish. By the way Staub (one of the brand names mentioned) is German for dust.

      Great and informational piece.

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Apart from woks with wooden handles, all these pans are safe for the full range of temperatures of home ovens. Cast iron pans, in particular, make excellent deep dish pizza when preheated in a very hot (about 500˚F) oven—you’ll get an exquisitely crispy crust.

  10. Diane says

    We’ve just purchased an induction stove and I’m so confused. Truthfully I’m not one that enjoys making masterpieces via my stove. I’m having a hard time buying a pan for over $100 for one pan! After 38 years of cooking I can’t stand the thought of scrubbing my cookware again. So in your opinion there isn’t any coated cookware I can use on this new stove?

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Diane, I don’t recommend cookware with nonstick coating simply because the coating wears off and you’ll have to buy a new pan every few years. I’d rather buy one great pan once and use it for the rest of my life! All-Clad, Le Creuset, Staub, and deBuyer are all good for induction stoves, according to the manufacturers.

  11. Tina L Nelson says

    Hi, I am sure I have been dupped because I bought the whole set of Orgeenic cook/bakeware as I wantex to get rid of my teflon and the 99.00 price tag was appealing. The only pieces I don’t have is the large turkey roaster and that silly filp pan. I love them but you sure don’t want to scratch them. Not sure how the med fry pan got scratched as I always use wood, silicone or plastic. I am wondering, now that the metal uncer the ceramic is exposed, is it still safe to use?

    What is the best “ceramic” cookware to use that won’t break the bank?

    what about that cool looking stoneware I see on the infomercial? It is quite expensive.

    Thanks, Tina

  12. says

    Thanks so much.. what’s on my mind today.. get rid of that scratched up teflon pan and replace it.. my first thought was another iron skillet. thanks for the input!!

  13. Maria says

    I am trying to find a healthy, budget friendly, nonstick skillet for reheating leftover rice. Do you think cast iron will do the job when well seasoned? Rice is a sticky situation, right?
    Thank you and have a blessed day!
    !