Cast Iron Skillet vs Nonstick Frying Pan: Which cookware is better for me?

Published Categorized as Journal

Since the 1800s, cast iron pans have been the first choice for frying, and for a very good reason. In more recent times, non-stick pans have become much more popular due to their easy use and lower price tag.

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That being said, cast iron skillets remain very popular and still very much own a large proportion of the market. They’re durable and very long-lasting. Both products have their own strong points.

So, which frying pan is the best one for you? Below is an easy guide to help you choose the perfect frying pan for your cooking.

How Do You Like Your Eggs In The Morning

What is the difference between a cast iron skillet vs nonstick frying pan?

Cast iron and non-stick are definitely the top two when it comes to frying cookware, but what is the difference?

Cast iron

A cast iron skillet is an iron pan that was cast from sand, giving a rough texture to its surface. These pans are really durable and can last a lifetime. It was the original non-stick frying pan.

While the interior surface is rough, this can be seasoned to create a non-stick surface, which smoothens the surface.

A cast iron pan is great for many purposes. These include searing, sautéing, broiling, and even baking! This has made the cast iron pan a very popular choice in both domestic and professional kitchens.

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Non-stick frying pan

Your usual non-stick pan can be made from many different materials but usually, it is produced from stainless steel, carbon steel, or aluminum.

This metal is then coated with a non-stick layer which is called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). This chemical is what makes the non-stick so smooth and prevents food from sticking to your pan.

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Cast iron vs nonstick: table of differences

Cast iron skilletNonstick frying pan
Materials produced from?Cast ironAluminum, copper, stainless steel or tin
Interior coating?No coating, needs to be seasoned with oils that have a high smoke point like grapeseed or flaxseed oil.PTFE layer on interior surface
What types of stove?All types – gas, electric, induction, even outdoors!Suitable for gas and electric but only particular hobs can be used with induction
Is it oven safe?YesNo
Is it dishwasher safe?NoSometimes yes, but mostly no
Notes
1. The skillet needs to be seasoned before use to prevent rusting
2. Some dietary iron seeps from the pan into your food when cooking particular acidic foods (Wine, vinegar, tomato, lemon, etc.)
1. Should not be heated above 500 degrees Fahrenheit
2. Should not be used with metal utensils or they will scratch

Cast iron vs nonstick: Which is the better frying cookware for you?

I’m going to go through the different aspects of both products outlining what makes each product great and not so great, which will hopefully help you to decide on the right product for you.

Using the pan

Cast iron skillet

Cast iron is very heavy and harder to move. It can be difficult to lift when maneuvering foods in them, and especially hard to flip food in one. Cast iron skillets are much better to cook food like steak, as they have a great ability to sear meat, especially compared to a nonstick pan.

These pans are quite versatile when it comes to what utensils you can use with cast iron.

Metal is great and helps to smooth out the interior of your pan, improving the nonstick of your cast iron skillet! Silicone and wood are great utensils to use with cast iron too.

Cast iron skillets are mostly nonstick once the interior has been seasoned but this can sometimes wear down. Due to the rough interior, food can stick to the surface. The pan just needs a quick re seasoning and you’ll be good to go again!

Cast iron skillets commonly have a bare-metal handle which makes them quite versatile for using in the oven too. But this can heat up so it is always worth having a tea towel to hand. This handle isn’t always the most comfortable to hold either.

Nonstick frying pan

Nonstick pans are very light and easy for moving and handling. They are very quick to heat up and comfortable to use. This makes them great for flipping, so pancakes and stir-frys are the perfect food for a nonstick pan.

You do need to be careful with what utensils you use with nonstick because any metal utensils will scratch the surface, so wood and silicone are your best bet for cooking on a nonstick frying pan.

These pans should never go into the oven. The handle is usually not oven safe. However, some can go in for temperatures up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Check the label of your pan before you use it in the oven because you really don’t want to be cleaning melted frying-pan handle from your oven!

When heating your frying pan, it is important to make sure you put oil in the pan while heating. If it is heated while dry, this affects the nonstick layer and will cause it to peel off.

It is best to add oil to the pan while pre-heating and will prevent this from happening.

As time goes on, you will begin to notice the pan lose its nonstick surface. Once your pan has lost this, there is no remedy for revival like there is with cast iron.

black frying pan

Heat retention and distribution

Cast iron skillet

Cast iron is a poor conductor of heat, taking it much longer to heat up. So, it will take you a good three minutes to heat up on the stove. That being said, once the skillet has heated up, it has amazing heat retention capabilities and the heat truly is distributed evenly throughout the skillet.

This is great for searing steaks because you can get the temperature of the skillet up much higher than a nonstick, making it quite a versatile pan.

Nonstick frying pan

The materials of a nonstick frying pan are usually very good conductors of heat, meaning they heat up quite quickly and very responsive to the heat of the stove top.

The pan needs to be heated with oil in the pan, otherwise this will affect the longevity of your pan’s coated surface. If heated empty, this will cause the interior to reach temperatures above 500 degrees Fahrenheit which is above the maximum temperature for PTFE coating and will start to wear off. If a little oil is added first, this will prevent this from happening.

The downside to nonstick frying pans is that they don’t provide distributed heat. You’ll often find that on one side of the pan, food is cooking much faster than on the other side of the pan.

Charred Tomato in iron pan

Care and cleaning

Cast iron skillet

Cast iron should not go in the dishwasher. Cast iron can be very quick to corrode and rust so this contact with water will quickly affect its surface. It needs to be hand washed and thoroughly dried before storing.

Due to the nature of your cast iron skillet, they are also quite susceptible to holding onto the food smells from previous uses. This isn’t ideal if you’re making an omlette the day after cooking something like fish which can leave a bit of a smell. There are ways you can deodorise your skillet, which I have explained below.

That being said, as you use your cast iron pan more and the interior becomes more smooth you’ll more often than not just need to give the pan a quick wipe down with a paper towel.

Nonstick frying pan

Good pans usually are dishwasher safe but that being said, if you’re looking to extend your pan’s lifetime, hand washing is an important factor in achieving this.

Hand washing your nonstick pan is straightforward and can be quickly done in hot soapy water with a sponge. If it’s quite oily, it’s better to drain off some of the excess oil (though not down the sink, as this can block the pipes!) and then use lots of dish soap to break down the oil.

black cooking pan cleaning

Longevity

Cast iron skillet

The longevity of a cast iron skillet is second to none. If you look after your cast iron skillet well, it will easily last a lifetime or two (even three!).

The difference between a cast iron and nonstick is that once a nonstick has lost its layer, there is not that great a remedy for revival. Whereas with cast iron, if the seasoning seems to have worn off, you can just reseason it until you’re happy again with the level.

You’ll notice with prolonged use of your cast iron cookware that its nonstick properties will improve. Prolonged use with the right utensils will smoothen the bottom, giving the perfect nonstick surface for your cooking.

Nonstick frying pan

Cheap nonstick pans are cheap for a reason. They do not last very long.

Often, some manufacturers even cut costs and use a cheaper version of the nonstick elements, which lasts a very short period. This poor application may mean that the pan might not even last a year!

It may be worth avoiding a ‘buy it nice or buy it twice’ ordeal. If you’re going to go for a nonstick frying pan, it may be worth spending that bit more money to get good value for your money.

If you look after your nonstick pan well, you can get a number of years of use out of it, but it’s nothing compared to the longevity of your cast iron cookware.

How much maintenance is involved?

Cast iron skillet

The seasoning on cast iron cookware will be the biggest maintenance involved with this cookware. It depends on how you’re using your cast iron but maybe every few months you will need to re-season it, but this doesn’t take too long.

If you’re looking for more information on how to season your cast iron, I have a blog post on this, so check it out!

Nonstick frying pan

Nonstick is for sure low maintenance. Small things like adding oil to the pan when preheating will definitely help to extend the lifetime of your pan

Other notable factors

Cast iron skillet

If you are cooking with foods that have a high acidity, these ingredients draw out some of the iron in the pan. So cooking using this pan actually improves the nutritional value of your food!

This is a great little hack for those who are anemic or often quite low in iron as it’s such a passive way of increasing your iron intake, without even needing to think of it!

Nonstick frying pan

Nonstick should not be heated above temperatures above 500 degrees Fahrenheit. If you do, this will melt the nonstick layer and produce toxic fumes and release perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)!

As you can imagine, inhaling this is not at all good. Not only this but because this has melted the nonstick layer, it ruins the nonstick capabilities of your pan and this is irreversible.

So, the rule of thumb should always remain that nonstick pans are for a lower cooking temperature.

cooking in pan

FAQs

How do you season a cast iron skillet?

Cast iron cookware is really easy to season. I have a separate blogpost running through the full details along with the best oils to use, so make sure to check it out!

Can you buy cast iron skillets that have been pre-seasoned?

Yes, you can! Pre-seasoned skillets are widely available and save you from needing to do that work initially. I have a separate blog post on the difference between pre-seasoned and seasoning your cast iron yourself so check it out!

So, is it cast iron or nonstick?

Both products do have their strong points and if you’ve run through the points, you will hopefully have found out which one will suit your needs more.

If you’re looking for an investment piece that – like a fine wine – will only get better with age and improve with use, then the cast iron skillet is the cookware for you.

If you’re looking for a more fast paced pan that can quickly fry off some eggs in the morning, then perhaps the nonstick frying pan is your safer bet.

By Anna

Hey, I’m Anna; writer, editor and amateur cook extraordinaire! Food has been my life and my passion for the most of my life – it’s crazy to think I didn’t pursue a career in cooking. I’m obsessed! However, keeping cooking as an obsessive hobby has worked for me – my passion grows as the years pass by – maybe I wouldn’t say the same if it was also my day job! I hope you find cooking inspiration, entertainment and “stop and think interesting tid-bits” throughout my writing – and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got anything you want to share. Food feeds the soul – so get eating!

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