How Much Should You Spend On A Nonstick Pan?

Should you splurge, or try and save a buck?

Are you the lucky recipient of a cast-iron skillet that's been in your family for generations? That's a keeper. But if you find yourself on the receiving end of the hand-me-down nonstick your mom used in home ec? Not so much. If you dare try cooking an egg in it, you'll spend more time scraping burnt whites off the bottom than enjoying that omelet—because no matter how much you baby them, nonstick surfaces eventually deteriorate with everyday use.

So when it's inevitably time to replace your cabinet full of peeling Teflon, should you splurge on the pricier model, even though you're going to have to replace it again at some point? We put two differently priced pans head-to-head to find out.

T-fal ProGrade Nonstick Skillet ($25 for an 8-inch skillet)
You're probably familiar with this wallet-friendly brand, thanks to its permanent spot on late-night infomercials and QVC lineups. And, of course, the pan's Thermo-Spot, which glows red when the pan is hot, is the signature here in all its gimmicky glory.

Scanpan Classic ($85 for an 8-inch skillet)

This higher-end pan from Danish company Scanpan isn't the most expensive piece of equipment you'll purchase, but it certainly isn't a budget buy. However, the material is made from 100 percent recycled aluminum and claims to be resistant to scratching.

① How Easy Are They to Use?

T-fal: Light and easy to handle with wide sloping sides, the T-fal makes flipping food like a pro addictively easy. However, this also means the actual flat cooking area is less than eight inches, so go bigger than what you think you need. The rivets where the handle is attached also trap food, requiring a few extra minutes of cleaning.

Scanpan: The Scanpan's considerable heft makes it feel like a luxury item; while there's plenty of surface area to cook with, the pan's sides are significantly lower, so trying to keep your food inside requires finesse during spirited stirring. And though Scanpan confidently states the plastic handle is heat safe up to 500 degrees, we weren't confident exposing it to a blistering-hot oven like we were with the T-fal's stainless steel grip.

② How Well Do They Perform?

T-fal: Even though we know from experience not to sear a steak in a nonstick pan, the T-fal still did an admirable job, thanks to high-heat capabilities. And while crepes slid out with ease, there was some uneven browning, indicating the presence of hot spots.

Scanpan: Performance is where the Scanpan really shines. The heavier, thicker bottom hangs onto an abundance of heat, nearly holding its own against even the most seasoned of cast-iron pans. The steak we cooked was magnificently browned, without any of the chemically odors you'd normally encounter when cooking with nonstick over high flames. Crepes also came out with an even shade of gold—a testament to the pan's ability to distribute heat evenly.

③ How Long Do They Last?

T-fal: Metal utensils and stiff cleaning brushes eventually scratched and exposed the aluminum below the surface. But like in our previous comparison test, sunny-side up eggs still slide out with ease, even without rubbing the pan with oil.

Scanpan: Although the Scanpan is not prone to scratching from wire whisks and metal tongs, surface-level scratches began to show after moderate use—though not to the extent of the T-fal.

The verdict? If price were no object, the Scanpan is hands down the better option: It's solidly built, and the surface is robust enough to hold its own at any temperature.

But the T-fal is still an excellent kitchen workhorse—especially for the price tag.  Since both will become scratched with everyday use and lose their surfaces over time, we'd grab an inexpensive T-fal and save a buck instead.