Nonstick Skillets vs. Stainless Steel Skillets, How To Get a Great Sear on Meat

When choosing a skillet to cook your food, which do you usually use?

I prefer using stainless steel skillets for almost everything that I do unless it’s cooking something extremely delicate, like eggs, fish, pancakes etc. Otherwise, a good quality stainless steel skillet is my best friend.IMG_8445 (550x367)

One of the main reasons why I avoid using nonstick skillets as much as I can are the health risks. The coating on the nonstick skillets has been proven to give off dangerous fumes when heated to a high temperature or when they become scratched and chipped. IMG_8459 (550x367)When using a nonstick skillet, try not to heat it to a high temperature without having any oil or food in the skillet. Use only wood or plastic to stir or flip food in a nonstick skillet and don’t use an abrasive sponge when washing. Replace your skillet as soon as the coating begins to wear.

I have one 10 inch and one 12 inch stainless steel skillets that I use all the time.

Traits of a Great Traditional Skillet:

1. Sears food well.IMG_0728 (550x367)

No matter how you try, you absolutely can’t get a great sear and browning on your food in a nonstick skillet the way you can when using a traditional skillet. You actually want the food to stick to the skillet. This is what scares most people. They think the skillet is horrible because the food sticks to it. Have no fear. This is actually a good thing.IMG_7697 (550x414)

For perfectly seared beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, etc:

  • Pat your ingredient dry on a clean kitchen or paper towel.
  • Heat the skillet until it’s almost smoking. Yep, you should actually see the beginning of a few wisps of smoke coming from the skillet if you look closely. Not a full, blowing smoke, though!
  • Add enough oil to the skillet. Don’t flood the skillet, but make sure there is enough oil to cover the complete surface of the skillet.
  • Leave the food alone. It will release perfectly when the whole surface is perfectly seared.

2. FOND = Great sauces and gravy.IMG_7555 (550x367)

All those beautiful caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan will make absolutely delicious sauces. This is called fond. It creates a rich, and flavorful sauce or gravy. I’ll write another post with some tips on how to make great sauces and gravy.IMG_9582 (550x367)

3. No worries about scratching the skillet.IMG_7550 (550x367)

Whisk away, use metal spatulas or forks. This skillet can take it. This is another reason why this skillet makes great sauces. You can’t use a metal whisk in a nonstick skillet, but in this skillet, it’s also a great way to clean it. Deglaze the pan with some wine or broth. Whisk, whisk, whisk and a delicious sauce is made and your skillet is clean.IMG_9904 (550x367) (2)

4. A well made traditional skillet can last a lifetime.

Unlike the nonstick skillet, which you should replace regularly, a traditional skillet is a great investment.

When choosing a skillet to buy, make sure it has some weight to it. Don’t go for the flimsy skillet; the food will cook unevenly and will scorch in some areas and not cook in others. The best conductors of heat are copper and aluminum. However, they react with acidic food, like tomatoes and don’t deal well with temperature changes, making it very hard to control. Stainless steel doesn’t react with food, which is why it’s perfect when a aluminum or copper core is covered with stainless steel, making the winning match.


  • Alla

    Thank you so much for this post. I have all non stick but have been contemplating a while to switching over…. which brand do you have?

  • margarita

    thanks so much for posting! i just bought myself a 500 dollar stainless steel system, and sometimes the food would stick and i would freak out! lol This makes soo much sense! makes me feel better about our purchase!

    • olgak7

      Mom’s Dish, good question. As I mentioned in the post, if you will be making a sauce, deglazing the pan with wine or broth and then whisking will clean the pan. If you are not making a sauce, you can pour in some warm water and use a whisk or a wooden spoon to scrape off all the bits from the pan. Honestly, I don’t have a problem cleaning my pans by simply washing them with an abrasive sponge. You don’t have to worry about scratching the pan, so scrape away:).

  • Natasha

    I read about stainless steel cookware and the best from reviews was all-clad cooper core cookware sets , I want to buy it, I have right now nonstick and I don’t like it .

    • olgak7

      Nonstick pans have their place in the kitchen, but I definitely use the traditional skillet much more. I have the All Clad skillets, 10 inch and 12 inch.

  • Natasha

    If you don’t mind sharing… are your pans all burnt up black on the outside bottom? After 2 years of use mine are still nice and shiny on the inside, but the outside is a whole different story and I wonder if its okay.

    • olgak7

      Hi Natasha,
      Actually, these skillets are very easy to clean. It only takes me a few minutes to wash them. I’ve had them for a while and they still look almost brand new. The outside is very nice too.

  • Natka

    Awesome post, I always thought those skillets are bad cause food sticks on it, so i stopped using them, and now im gonna try using them as much as i can, I even sold few good ones like that on yard sale, that’s even more sad now!

  • Alena

    Wow! now i know what i want for my bday:):) gotta have my husband read this somehow:) he he
    i have nonstick but i always wanted good set of pots and pans and now i have an idea, thank you Olga for sharing this:)

  • Bethany

    My dad, who was the cook in the house as I was growing up, always said nonstick cookware is for people who don’t know how to cook. Don’t know how true that is, but I still have the same stainless, and cast iron pots and pans of my youth. Tried and true. And seasoned to a “T”!

  • Sashaa

    Thank you, I looked this post up from your email yesterday and now I am taking the plunge into different cooking systems . I now think getting just skillets and separate sauce/stock pans is a great idea !

  • Sashaa

    Olga, I have purchased a variety of stainless steel pans and I am loving it ,thank you for getting back to me and sending me to this post . I know you must be so busy w the little guy now , will be waiting for more great informative posts when you have time !

    • olgak7

      That’s awesome, Sashaa! I’m so glad to hear that you are enjoying your skillets.
      I’ll do my best to keep the posts coming. I really enjoy cooking and writing all about it for you guys.

  • Mila

    Awesome info! Never knew that if non stick skillet is scratched you shouldn’t use it. Now I must get new skillet. Thank you Olga for the post.

  • Jennifer

    Great article, Olga! You always write about new and unique topics. Between these two, I personally prefer stainless steel as it has better heat conductivity.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.