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16 Feb 2021

Pancake Day 2021: how to stop your frying pan from letting you down

A frying pan that won't stick and cooks evenly is vital for perfect pancakes, but our tests of non-stick frying pans discovered big differences between the best and the worst
A woman and two children making pancakes

We tested nine non-stick frying pans just in time for Pancake Day 2021 so we know for a fact it's not just your signature pancake recipe that's going to guarantee success come 16 February.

Our tests uncovered which frying pans didn't cook as evenly as others, which ones food stuck to, which had the least resilient non-stick coatings and which were easiest and hardest to clean once covered with burnt-on fat.

Choose the best non-stick

You might imagine that all non-stick coatings are created pretty much equal. But we discovered a vast difference in how much food stuck to our frying pans or not during cooking.

To test for this we put the non-stick coating to the ultimate test by cooking fried eggs in each frying pan without oil.

Our eggs slid right onto the plate from the best pans, leaving almost no mess. The worst left us with a big, dirty patch of egg residue like the chalk outline at a crime scene. In fact, we were forced to scramble our fried eggs to remove them from the worst pan in our selection.

With the best non-stick pans you can make your pancakes that little bit healthier by using a little less oil. That being said, even with the best non-stick frying pans we recommend you grease the pan to ensure your pan's surface survives to fry another day.

See our pick of the best non-stick frying pans

Make sure your frying pan cooks evenly

The best frying pans at cooking evenly will leave you with a uniform leopard-like pattern on the underside of your pancake. You should see even golden-brown coloured spots across the whole pancake.

Frying pans that cook less evenly leave undercooked areas on the pancake.

We use baking trays covered with strips of shortbread to reveal just how effective the best built-in ovens are at spreading their heat evenly.

Pancakes on frying pan, most evenly cooked vs leas
More evenly cooked on the left versus less evenly on the right

Be careful how you store it

Once you've cooked with and cleaned your pan, you need to store it correctly to protect that prized non-stick surface.

Our tests revealed that most of the non-stick pans we reviewed were easily damaged when stored under other cookware.

If you can't pop yours at the top of your pan pile, use an old tea towel or a few sheets of kitchen roll to protect the non-stick surface from the heavy bottoms of the pan above.

To find out how resilient the non-stick coating on each frying pan we reviewed is, we subjected them all to a three-part scratch test:

  • First, we washed each non-stick frying pan with a wire wool scourer.
  • Then we scraped and dragged a metal spatula across each pan's surface back and forth and side to side 10 times.
  • Finally, we placed a 25cm diameter stockpot on each frying pan, pushed down on it and scraped it from side to side.

We recorded the results of each of these three tests and ranked the frying pans from least to most scratched. The least scratched pans were ranked higher.

The difference between the best and worst is stark. The surfaces of the most resilient frying pans showed no noticeable damage to the naked eye, while the worst have big chunks torn out.

Frying pans, most scratched to least scratched
Comparing the non-stick coating after our scratch tests clearly shows the difference between the most and least resilient pans

Also, never use metal utensils on your non-stick frying pans. Stick to wooden or silicone utensils, which won't dig into the pan's non-stick coating.

Three ways to make your non-stick frying pan last longer

  1. When cooking, stick to medium or low heat settings as much as possible. Avoid constant high heat as the non-stick coating could start to deteriorate.
  2. Allow the pan to cool naturally before you wash it. Drastic temperature changes can warp the pan.
  3. Try to store your non-stick pans without anything on top of them. If that isn't possible use a tea towel or kitchen roll sheet to protect the non-stick surface.