Non Stick Pan Vs. Cast Iron – Which One Is Better For You?

Kitchen Under 100 is supported by our readers. When you purchase an item through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Non Stick Pan Vs. Cast Iron – Let’s get one thing clear: No pan made of any material is worthless. Each pan with different construction and material in our kitchen arsenal serves a particular purpose and needs a distinctive way of maintenance. Every ingredient responds differently in each pan, resulting in different textures and tastes.

Two of the predominant essentials in our kitchen are cast iron and non-stick pans.

Understanding their core difference and when and how they should be used will give you a clear idea of when to swap your cookware.

Non Stick Pan Vs. Cast Iron – Difference at a Glance

Non-Stick Cast Iron
Durability Can last only a few years More durable
Cost-effective Budget-friendly A wide range of cast iron, from relatively cheaper to high-end pans, are available.
Dishwasher safety Some pans are dishwasher safe, but it is not recommended to clean them in the dishwasher. They are not dishwasher safe.
Heat Retention They don’t retain heat. Great heat retention
Compatibility Not suitable for high-flame cooking and oven safe up to a certain level. Suitable for high flame cooking and oven safe.
Induction Cooking Only some non-stick pans are induction compatible. They are induction compatible.
Soaking in water Can be soaked in water for cleaning baked-on grease Can’t be submerged in water for cleaning.
Preheating Shouldn’t be preheated Preheating is required for better performance.
Best Picks Check Best Nonstick Pans Check Best Cast Iron Pans

Cast Iron Vs. Non-Stick: Basics

The dense and thick-bottom cast iron has been around for centuries, and it’s the tried and trusted pan for every use. There was no concept of non-stick. The cast-iron pots and pans were seasoned to perform as a non-stick base.

But cast iron pans are susceptible to rust, chip, or flake or are challenging to maintain.

Conversely, modern non-stick pans are the outcome of a fortunate discovery by Roy Plunkett in a subsidiary chemical plant of Dupont in 1938. The discovered slippery substance (PTFE) was patented as Teflon and used in pots and pans. The ease and convenience of the slick and non-sticky base made it so popular that now almost 70% of the household uses non-stick pans, and it has become the choice of novice and pro-cooks both.

However, non-stick pans have their own set of drawbacks and limitations, just like cast iron pans. Let’s dig deep into details about their differences

Heat Resistance

Cast iron pans’ distinguishing specialty is their heat resistance and ability to cook food at high heat. It’s the reason cast iron pans are the preferred choice for searing and sauteing food on high heat.

Non-stick pans are designed only for medium or medium-high heat. If you cook at high heat on non-stick pans, the coating will start deteriorating, and the pan will soon lose its non-stick ability. However, cooking on high heat isn’t only related to the degradation of non-stickiness; it opens up a whole new debate of non-stick safety.

Level of Safety

As discussed above, the non-stick coating is primarily made of PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). If heated above 500°F, it starts emitting a toxic gas, and inhaling the gas is lethal to birds and harmful to humans as it can cause “Teflon Flu.” Furthermore, the coating has been associated with “Cancer.” All these debates have caused the ban of PFOA (an ingredient used in the making of PTFE), and all non-stick pans manufactured now are deemed safe. More safe coatings such as “Ceramic non-stick” are also produced to negate the detrimental effects of non-stick pans on health completely.

However, time-tested cast iron pans are never associated with any harmful effect on health. On the contrary, it’s been considered great for natural iron absorption by the food, eventually leading to more healthy food. Don’t miss to read – are ceramic non-stick pans safe? to learn more about this coating.

Heat Distribution and Retention

Non-stick pans have aluminum clad construction topped with non-stick coating. Aluminum is known to be a good heat conductor, and as a result, non-stick pans heat up quickly, and the heat disperses thoroughly from center to sides. So, you can cook on any stovetop, and you will get perfectly and evenly browned food. However, the heat retention of non-stick pans is comparatively lower, which means the pans cool down rapidly. Due to rapid heating, non-stick pans don’t require preheating time. In fact, it is not advisable to heat an empty non-stick pan; else, the coating will start flaking sooner than expected.

Cast iron pans, with their high-gauged bottom, require much more preheating time. Another reason is that cast iron pans are a bad heat conductor, so they take up around 10 minutes of preheating, and moving the pan around the stovetop during that time is required, so cast iron pans heat evenly. But once cast iron pans get hot, it retains the temperature even if you put them off the stovetop. This attribute comes in handy when cooking in pan on an electric stovetop that shuts down after reaching a certain temperature, and the pan doesn’t get cold. It also helps in browning the toast even if you turn off the heat.

Maintenance & Lifespan

Non-stick and cast iron both require maintenance but of a different kind. A cast-iron pan needs to be appropriately seasoned with a thin coat of oil to avoid rusting or cracking. Since it is prone to rusting, you can’t wash it in the dishwasher, nor can you soak it in soapy water; else, the seasoning will strip out. Just a gentle and quick wash followed by properly drying it with a towel to avoid rusting is imperative to prevent cracking or rusting.

Non-stick pans, on the other hand, don’t need to be seasoned before starting cooking. Although many manufacturers now make dishwasher-safe non-stick pans, it is highly inadvisable to wash them in the dishwasher regularly. But you can’t use metal spatulas or scrubbers on them; else, the scratches will decrease the lifespan of non-stick pans.

Speaking of lifespan, non-stick pans can last only a few years, depending on how you use or care for them, whereas a cast iron pan is built to last ages and can be passed on to new generations. Even the rusted cast iron pan can be revived and restored to its previous glory.

Need to know in detail about pots and pans seasoning? Click here to read it.

Oven-Safety

Due to its ability to handle the heat, cast iron pans can go safely into hot ovens whether you are cooking seared steak or braised chicken. But the downside is that the handle gets extremely hot, and you need an aiding kitchen mitten to take out the pan from the oven.

Many manufacturers are now producing oven-safe non-stick pans. Still, you will have to stick to the manufacturer’s instructions of maximum temperature endurance level when putting the pan in the oven. Generally, non-stick pans with stainless steel handles can bear high temperatures. In contrast, plastic, rubbery, or bakelite handles have a lower temperature threshold, and exceeding the temperature will cause the handle to deform and melt.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

Is a Cast Iron Pan a True Non-Stick?

Although cast iron pans are often considered a “true non-stick,” resembling the non-sticky quality can never be the replacement of non-stick. Cast iron pans have lots of pores and a rough surface. By seasoning it multiple times with the right oil, the oil gets polymerized to the surface, reaching into the tiny crevices of the pan. It can temporarily imitate the non-stick quality. This thin oil coating soon gets used up or washed away.

However, non-stick pans are coated chemically to create a stronger bond, and the surface of the non-stick pans is slick and poreless from the beginning. It doesn’t require frequent seasoning, nor does washing it from soap affect the non-stick coating.

What Should be Cooked in Cast Iron Pans?

As a general rule of thumb: “Anything that requires high heat should be cooked in cast iron rather than non-stick pans.”

Meat Searing: Cast iron pans work exceptionally well for searing meat on high heat before braising it. Preheat the cast iron pans to get the maximum result.

Browning: The seasoned cast iron pan would do great if you want your ingredients to have the perfect brown color without scorching it. Non-stick pans don’t brown the food as good as cast iron pans due to the upper chemical coating.

Stir-Frying: For getting tender-crisp, nutrition-packed healthy vegetables, you need to stir fry them. Since the cast iron retains heat even when you add ingredients into the pan, the ingredients get soft while maintaining the perfect amount of crunchiness.

Deep Frying: Cast iron woks and deep pans are the go-to option of home cooks for deep frying. These pans are heavy and retain heat which is essential for deep frying.

Baking: Thanks to cast iron skillets’ heat retention ability, the pans are a great choice for baking cakes, bread, or brownies.

What Should Be Cooked In Non-Stick Pans?

Any food that doesn’t require high heat can be cooked in non-stick pans.

Delicate Proteins: Some proteins such as eggs and fish are delicate and cleave apart when you cook it in any other pan and use a spatula to turn it over. These delicate dishes are better handled in non-stick pans.

Crepes and Pancakes: The non-stick coating helps the pancakes and crepes to release the surface without any need to scrap it. That’s why non-stick pans are preferred for it.

Acidic Food: Acidic food can’t be prepared on cast iron as it can cause the seasoning of the pan to break down, and you will have a metallic flavor to your cooked food. If you are cooking the acidic food on cast iron, reduce the time of food being cooked and transfer it immediately after cooking. To be on the safe side, you can always trust a non-stick pan for cooking your tomato gravy or acidic food.

Less Oil or Zero-Oil Recipes: We don’t even have to tell you about it as you already know well about it. To enjoy guilt-free, low calories, low-fat food, a non-stick pan is your best friend.

Wrapping Up!

Cast iron and non-stick pans, besides having clear differences, both are great for cooking specific foods and are not interchangeable or replaceable. In our recommendation, every kitchen should have one or two cast iron pans and essential non-stick pans for a better combination of the kitchen utensils.

About Amelia

Hello, I’m Amelia. Welcome to my blog KitchenUnder100.Com. Over here I regularly post kitchen hacks, reviews of kitchen tools, utensils and related articles. My mission is to search and recommend the best kitchen products, so you don't waste your precious time and money on anything that is not worth it.

Leave a Comment