Stainless vs. Non-Stick
I dunno - you want a Porsche or a Chevy pick-up?
Easy answer: get both.
Get cheap NS pans and plan on replacing them fairly often.
Invest in the best SS pans, and treat them well so that they last for a while.
Get NS for egg/omelette pans (8" and 11" fry).
Get SS for large saute with lid that can be started on top and then put in the oven.
Get SS for pots.
Get a well made large wok. (Make sure your burners can do it justice.) Keep it clean and oiled, so it doesn't rust. (Get bamboo steamers.)
Get large enameled cast-iron oval or round dutch oven for braising.
Afte the Jfoods redid kitchen several years ago i spent a fair amount of time on ebay and all the internet store looking for bargains on Calphalon. I never paid more than 35% of retail on any p&p. Took about 14 months but I have not purchased any in 5 years since. I have NS and anonized and each has a place in my routine. Of course the easy one is NS for eggs. I have a single burner NS Calph skillet for little jfood b'fasts, great for 2 over easy, ham and toast. Other end of the spectrum is my 7.5 Calph anonized dutch oven. Paid $39 (close to $200 retail) and it is my answer to La Creuset (way too heavy and pricey). My go-to pans are 2 10" NS sarteusse (sic) pans. I have one with two "U" handles and one with a real handle. I like the latter much better, not crazy about the two "U"s. For my new favorite method for fish (sear and bake) I use an Calph NS oblong pan, fits a fish filet nicely and it can go right into the oven for step 2. And yes I do sear in NS, in spite of all the posts stating otherwise. For sauteing I use 10" Calph NS and love it.
OTOH, for boiling water for pasta I use my 20 year old farberware. It heats up waaaay quicker than the Calph. And lastly for hard boiled eggs, I have a white pot, and only white pots are good for boiling eggs. Others may disagree and that's OK for them but I find boiling eggs in non-whites give a tinning taste to the eggs.
SS is best for sauce and dutch oven pots, easy to clean and take the heat. I have all clad, just look for a heavy aluminum core all the way up the side and ss inside and out, I have a Anolon saucier like that that is terrific and costs much less than all clad. NS is necessary in the omelet skillet and it gets alot of use, currently, for my family, the most imprtant is 12", but we also have 10 and 8 NS skillets. Heavy anodized aluminum has its place as well, Calphalon is the best known, I have their flat bottom wok and the roasting pan, read their literature, the carmelizing and durabilty are terrific features. Incidentally I didn't think I would like glass lids but find them to be very good. The 3 and 4 qt straight side saute pans are a tossup, either NS or SS, I have both and would have trouble doing without both.
Stainless. I have a bunch. Treat it right and it'll outlast you - and it's *not* prima donna cookware. TJ Maxx, lotsa Farberware. Since it's so popular, you can sometimes pick up Farberware in excellent condition at thrift shops. Get at least one covered pot with a really thick bottom.
I've never used SS and have gone thru a few NS pans...all have flaked off and lost their non-stickiness. And here I am considering SS. Then I remember I've found a great not expensive frypan...with my cast iron skillet. It gets real hot, always releases and cleans up nice. I like to keep things simple.
Foodstorm is right in that you can't really do one OR the other. NS is unbeatable for eggs and delicate foods, but it's useless at searing meats or stirfry. Buy yourself a nice clad stainless pan - Calphalon's tri-ply is decent if you don't want to pay for All-Clad - and grab a 10 or 12" heavy aluminum NS pan at a restaurant supply store. I got mine in NYC for $22. No matter the manufacturer's claims, the NS coating wears off after awhile. At $22, I could replace it annually if need be.
I have one and only one non-stick pan, a shallow skillet for cooking eggs. Non-stick cannot handle high temperatures, most sorts of strong cleansers or anything abrasive. It will eventually flake off the pan no matter how gently you treat it, and it will flake into whatever you're cooking.
I thought that too until I bought a Swiss Diamond brand nonstick pan. It handles high heat fine, browns beautifully, and is over safe to 500 degrees. It says its safe for metal utensils but I've stuck to non-metal just to maximize longevity-- although it has a lifetime garauntee. After 6 months of use the pans still look practically brand new. I bought the 12.5 frying pan, which comes with a glass domed lid. The lid's knob has a slider that allows you to control how much steam to let out so it can be used for baising as well. I liked this pan so much that I also bought a 10" pan for eggs and such. I find myself using these two pans for 90% of my cooking these days. My 11" All-Clad copper core and Mauveil saute pan rarely leave the drawer now. The Swiss Diamond pans cost way less than these other two pans. I bought the 12.5" pan for around $80 during a storewide 10% of sale at a local cookware store. Best of all, since the pan uses diamond crystals for its non-stick properties, it doesn't have the health concerns of Teflon-- not to mention blistering and peeling issues.
"Best of all, since the pan uses diamond crystals for its non-stick properties, it doesn't have the health concerns of Teflon-- not to mention blistering and peeling issues."
Swiss diamond uses PTFE - teflon - just like every single other "non-stick" pan. You can't use the term "non-stick" without using PTFE. ...not saying that SD isn't a great pan - just that if you have canaries, don't heat the pan up to 500F.
From their site: "The secret behind this advanced cookware technology is the result of combining diamond crystals - the hardest material known to man - with a non-stick nano composite to form a virtually indestructible non-stick cooking surface."
nano-composite = PTFE
See A Cook's Ware site for further info (also great page for the op or anyone else to compare all pans):
Here's a quote from them:
Swiss Diamond Pans are produced similarly except they are diamond-reinforced. Actual diamond particles and fused to the pan and PTFE applied. The result is that Swiss Diamond Nonstick pans are virtually indestructible. In addition, diamond conducts heat more efficiently than any other medium, even copper. So it will always render optimum heat transfer.
I think SS is more useful in the kitchen than NS. About the only thing I'd CHOOSE NS for (IF I didn't have my LC skillet handy) is cooking eggs (I have a double burner NS griddle that I break out only when the DH's family comes for brunch). You have to be really nice to NS, don't machine wash it, don't use sharp or metal utensils in it, and don't overheat it or you've killed your pan. SS you can treat badly and it'll hold up. Also, imo it is superior to NS for browning meats, and creating the fond you need for gravies, sauces, etc., (although I hear Scanpan is up to the task, but have never used one). In several forums I have heard people sing the praises of Costco's SS and NS lines, and they are not "hugely expensive--maybe look into those?