Reader Question: Help! There Are No Good Non-Stick Pan Options

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Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT


Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.


Looking for a big non-stick pan that’s non-toxic and durable? It’s a tall order, but we found a few options for a reader desperate for a more sustainable, less sticky cooking experience.

Table of Contents
  1. Problems with non-stick pans
  2. Non-stick, big fry pans for Jen to consider
  3. Non-stick pan durability

A reader wrote in to ask us if we knew of any good options for a big frying pan that is:

  • Non-toxic
  • Non-stick 
  • Durable (lasts more than a year at least)
  • Doesn’t have plastic handles.

Here’s the question:

Hi, I’m looking for a non-toxic non-stick fry pan, a big one. After reading all your recommendations, it looks like I buy a Caraway that will break down in a year with scratches, or I buy an Alva with toxic plastic handles (since the pan will heat up the handles and off-gas every time I use it). Made-In is toxic for non-stick and Xtrema is sticky, so neither are options.

So am I stuck paying $100 for only one year’s worth of pan if I want a non-toxic non-stick pan? Am I reading rightly? And there are no other options that you are aware of? Thanks.

Jen, Leafscore reader

What’s the verdict? Does such a pan exist? Are any of the pans mentioned worth Jen’s money?

Let’s start by addressing some of the criticisms from this reader.

Problems with non-stick pans

Caraway pans break down in a year – false

Yes, in our experience, Caraway’s non-stick ceramic coated frying pans develop some scratches and chips within a year. This is more likely to happen if you let your dog lick them clean (looking at you, John!).

However, a few scratches and chips need not render the pan obsolete after a year. If your pan has significant dings in the cooking surface and you can see metal through the chipped coating, it’s time to replace the pan. Otherwise, do an occasional at-home aluminum leaching test to put your mind at rest and keep using the pan.

And remember, more careful use and storage of Caraway pans can keep them in great shape for longer.

Xtrema pans are sticky – true

While Xtrema’s ceramic pans are less sticky than straight up stainless steel or similar, they are not entirely non-stick. If you plan to do a lot of fragile frying, Xtrema isn’t a good choice, despite its other benefits.

If, however, you don’t tend to fry eggs or similarly notoriously sticky things, Xtrema may work just fine for you, especially if you’re okay to use a dash of oil when cooking.

Alva pans have toxic plastic handles – false

I can see why Jen might think this, but only one of the Alva cookware lines (Energy) has plastic handles.

The Energy collection is the only Alva cookware line I don’t recommend, partly because of the reason Jen notes: off-gassing from plastic. The other issues are that the plastic makes the pans unsuitable for the oven and far less durable and eco-friendly overall.

Alva’s other pans are plastic-free though! And this includes the ceramic non-stick fry pan I’ve been using for many months and still love, as well as the Alva Carbon Steel Fry Pan.

Without further ado, then, here are my top picks for the best big, non-stick fry pans.

Non-stick, big fry pans for Jen to consider

Alva nonstick pan

Alva Cookware Maestro Non-Stick Frying Pan

Leaf Score

Highlight: Beautiful, perfectly weighted, truly non-stick, ceramic coated frying pan made with some recycled metals! Cooks evenly, handle stays cool, and is easy to clean.

  • Price: $89-$129
  • Materials: Ceramic-coated aluminum with stainless steel welded handle
  • Sizes: 8-inch, 9.5-inch, and 11-inch options
  • Care: Handwash only
  • Oven safe: Yes to 200 C (392 F)
  • Country of Origin: China

You can also get the Alva Maestro non-stick ceramic coated fry pan as a 9.5 inch, 3 Qt, non-stick skillet with a metal lid. This has no plastic parts and is oven safe to 200 C.

Alva’s non-stick ceramic coated pans come with a 10-year warranty. This is much longer than the 1-year warranty you get with most pans. 

Of course, you’ll want to look after these ceramic coated pans more carefully than a stainless steel or cast iron pan. It’s best to avoid metal utensils, clean by hand, and store the pans with some cushioning to avoid accidental bumps and chips in the ceramic.

I’ve been using my Alva non-stick frying pan almost daily for around six months. I’m careful to store it wrapped in a tea towel but am well aware that my wife is a bit less cautious with cookware.

Despite some rough handling, the pan has just one tiny scratch on the bottom surface and a small amount of wear around the rim. Neither would affect use of the pan and there’s no sign of wear on the actual cooking surface coating.

Alva Cookware Forest Frying pan [Staff Tested]

Leaf Score

Highlights: Absolutely beautiful blue carbon steel fry pans with acacia wood handles. Preseasoned and non-stick (with the right care). Made with recycled materials by a sustainable company.

  • Price: $79-$99
  • Materials: Carbon steel, acacia wood handles
  • Sizes: 8.5-inch, 9-inch, and 11-inch options
  • Care: Handwash only
  • Oven safe: No
  • Country of Origin: China

I love my Forest Wok from Alva and fully expect the fry pan to perform just as well. While carbon steel isn’t a ceramic or PTFE non-stick surface, if properly seasoned, it works just as well. You’ll need to maintain or season this pan to keep the surface non-stick, but the preseasoning lasts a long time!

I love the look of the Alva Forest Frying Pan, but it’s a shame it isn’t oven-safe (because of the acacia wood handle). 

All Alva’s Forest line of products (and other cookware) are free of PFAS chemicals. The company carries out and makes publicly available its third-party test results too. 

Oh, and everything is sustainably packaged and made with some recycled materials.

I’ve been using my Alva Forest Wok for around six months, usually a couple of times a week or more.

I love how light it is compared to my beloved cast iron, and how easily food moves around in it when I’m making a stir fry or similar. I’ve also used it to deep fry breaded tofu, chickpea fries, and other delights.

With my Forest Wok, I’ve found the surface to be exceptionally non-stick. More so even than the Alva non-stick surface! 

While I don’t have the Forest fry pan, I am coveting one as I suspect it would be just as fun to cook with as the wok.

These pans can withstand rough handling and a good scrub and show no signs of wear after six months. I also found that the preseasoning lasted for several weeks before any need to season again.

Made In Cookware Blue Carbon Steel Frying Pan

Leaf Score

Highlights: Well-made, ergonomic, super responsive carbon steel cookware. Pre-seasoned and unseasoned options available.

  • Price: $79-$129
  • Materials: Carbon steel (seasoned or unseasoned), stainless steel handle and rivets
  • Sizes: 8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch options
  • Care: Handwash only
  • Oven safe: Yes, to 1200 F
  • Country of Origin: Sweden

The MadeIn Carbon Steel 12-Inch Frying Pan is the largest non-toxic, non-stick frying pan I’ve found. This pan is available seasoned or ready for you to season at home to create a non-stick surface.

Unlike the Alva Forest Frying Pan, the MadeIn Carbon Steel Pan has a stainless steel riveted handle. This makes the pan oven safe up to a staggering 1200 F.

These pans are also compatible with all cooktop surfaces, including induction.

The carbon steel frying pans are available in three sizes unseasoned and two larger sizes with seasoning.

MadeIn also offers discounts if you buy two or more carbon steel pans!

MadeIn uses a mixture of basso oil, coconut oil, and sunflower oil to season the pan twice before it ships. This means the pan is vegan-friendly where many others aren’t (because they use beeswax seasoning).

Seasoning a new Made In carbon steel skillet.

You can use the MadeIn seasoned pans right away (after a quick rinse and wipe), which saves you the bother of seasoning it yourself. Or buy any of the pans without seasoning for a lower price and season them at home.

The frying pan from MadeIn has sloping walls and wide cooking surface, making it easy to cook large amounts of food and transfer them more easily onto the plate.

The carbon steel pans don’t come with lids, but Made In offers a silicon Universal Frying Pan Lid that fits the 10-inch and 12-inch pans quite well.

You can also use this lid as a trivet to protect your work surfaces and table from hot pots and pans!

Non-stick pan durability

The question that prompted this post also noted that Caraway’s non-stick fry pan may not last longer than a year.

While it’s certainly the case that the LeafScore team’s Caraway pans have acquired some scratches and cracks within a year of regular use, this needn’t mean they only last a year.

The degree to which those scratches matter depends on their depth and effect on the non-stick properties of the pan. Minor scratches, or scratches on the outside of the pan or upper edges don’t make the pan unusable. In fact, you could get many more years of use out of such a pan if you continue to treat it carefully.

That means:

  • No metal utensils
  • No dishwasher
  • Careful cleaning by hand 
  • Careful storage to prevent chips and scratches.

Sure, Caraway pans and other ceramic coated non-stick pans aren’t as robust as cast iron or carbon steel, but that’s the trade off for having a truly non-stick pan without having to maintain seasoning.

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