Ever since non-stick cookware arrived in U.S. stores 50 years ago, there's been a steady evolution in design and materials. Finishes have become more durable, metal bases more varied.
The latest entry in the crowded market boasts a glossy ceramic-type cooking surface, an eco-friendly message, easy cooking and even easier cleaning.
The first so-called green pans were introduced several years ago, but as more manufacturers incorporate the surface into cookware, they are popping up more and more at major retailers.
These new kids on the stove top have made enough of an impact that Gourmet Insider, a New York-based trade publication, included them in its most recent consumer survey for the first time.
Asked "Which non-stick coating are you more likely to purchase?" 39 percent of those surveyed said ceramic non-stick coating versus almost 61 percent for traditional non-stick coating.
But before you buy any of the cookware, consider a few shopping tips from Hugh Rushing, executive vice president of the Cookware Manufacturers Association in Birmingham, Ala.
"What most consumers do with non-stick cookware is you're probably cooking eggs or fish," Rushing says.
When choosing cookware, he says, "The first thing you ought to look at is the pan and its comfort level. What do you feel comfortable using?"
We wanted to see how this surface performed in cooking, so we bought three skillets, the most common cookware in this country, at three price points and in similar sizes: Bialetti's Aeternum, Cuisinart's GreenGourmet and the Original GreenPan.
Labels on all three suggest using plastic or wood utensils, cooling the pan before placing it in water, and washing the pan by hand rather than putting it in a dishwasher.
So what kind of cooking and cleanup do you get with these new non-sticks? We put them to the test: frying sunny-side-up eggs, browning chicken breasts and simmering a basic marinara sauce.
Note that each manufacturer has several similar lines with slightly different base materials — stainless steel versus anodized exteriors, white versus gray interiors.Aeternum by Bialetti
10¼ inches. 1 pound, 15 ounces. $29.99. Info at Bialetti.com
Cooking surface: White, stain-resistant
Use: Stove top only
Heat: Cook at moderate heat. Withstands up to 750 degrees.
Oil-butter: Always use a little
Fried egg: Cooks the fastest. Least amount of edge browning. Very slippery in pan.
Chicken breast: With 1 teaspoon canola oil. Nicely browned after 5 minutes.
Tomato sauce: No staining.
Pros: Looks nice. Lightweight. Cooks fast. Cleans easily. Comfortable handle.
Cons: Should use fat. Not oven-safe. (Note: The Evolution line has an oven-safe metal handle.)GreenGourmet by Cuisinart
10 inches. 2 pounds, ¾ ounce. $39.99. Info at Cuisinart.com
Cooking surface: Cuisinart Ceramica. Black
Use: Stove top, oven, broiler.
Heat: Low or medium. Never use "on high heat, or food will burn." Oven-safe up to 500 degrees.
Oil-butter: Not necessary, except for flavor
Fried egg: No sticking, no residue. Nice light-brown edges over medium heat.
Chicken breast: No fat. Browned well. A bit of residue left in pan.
Tomato sauce: No problems.
Pros: Decent weight. Can be used in oven. Most helpful Web site. Stay-cool handle with stove-top cooking.
Cons: Unable to remove residue with paper towel.Paris by the Original GreenPan
10 inches. 2 pounds, 4½ ounces. $69.99. Info at Green-pan.us
Cooking surface: Thermolon. Gray.
Use: Stove top, oven.
Heat: Resistant up to 850 degrees. For protein-rich foods, "use lower heat settings;" "short high heat for searing, browning."
Oil/butter: A little extra oil "for extra flavor and taste."
Fried egg: With ½ teaspoon butter, very slippery. But no fat, no problem. Light-brown edges.
Chicken breast: No fat. Nice browning. Some residue left in pan.
Tomato sauce: No problems. No staining.
Pros: Can be used in oven.
Cons: Priciest. Heaviest. Once cool, soak a bit before an easy wash.