Do you have nonstick pots/pans in your kitchen? Most of us probably do. If you were to look in a professional kitchen, you would probably find only a few, if any at all. Why is that? What do professional chefs know that maybe we do not? That is the subject of this Cooking Tip – nonstick cookware.
When I first started cooking, I had a friend who sold Pampered Chef. My first cookware set, therefore, was a set of nonstick pots/pans from Pampered Chef. I used them for many, many years but as they aged and went to Cookware Heaven and I grew in my culinary knowledge, I replaced them with other types of pots/pans. The only nonstick pans I have now are a couple of small skillets. The rest of my cookware is a mixture: stainless steel, cast iron and enameled cast iron. Because I use induction for most of my cooking, I must take that into consideration when buying cookware. I love my induction cooktop but it does limit my cookware choices. (If you have never read my Cooking Tip on induction cooking, here is a link to it.)
One of the first things to be aware of is that nonstick finishes have different names. Trade names include Teflon, Radiance, Eclipse, Excalibur, Quantanium and Halo. Just because the pan isn’t called “Teflon” doesn’t mean it isn’t the same thing – it just has a different name.
There are some advantages to nonstick cookware.
- Certain food items are best in nonstick cookware. Making a great omelet is easiest in a nonstick skillet. Flipping out your homemade crepes is a job tailor-made for nonstick. Many also prefer to cook delicate fish in nonstick.
- They do not require much oil in which to cook, if that is a concern for you.
- They make for easy clean-up although you do need to take care as I will discuss below.
There are also disadvantages.
- They cannot withstand high heat. Do not cook above medium-high as at too high of a heat, the nonstick coating can vaporize, which is harmful to the pan and could possibly be bad for your health. (It is definitely bad for birds. According to the Cookware Manufacturers Association, CMA, fumes from a nonstick skillet that has been heated too hot can be harmful or even fatal to birds as they have a very sensitive respiratory system. It is recommended, then, that any pet birds not be exposed to these fumes.)
- Although it is possible to brown meat in a nonstick skillet, you will not develop the fond that is so important to flavor and making a pan sauce. (What’s fond? – email me for a Cooking Tip on this subject.) Even though you can sear meat in a nonstick pan, I still do not recommend it as it is very easy to over-heat the pan.
- They are not as durable and are easy to damage if you are not careful.
- Some people are worried about the nonstick coating for health reasons. According to FDA’s 2017 Food Code “Perfluorocarbon resin is a tough, nonporous and stable plastic material that gives cookware and bakeware a surface to which foods will not stick and that cleans easily and quickly. FDA has approved the use of this material as safe for food-contact surfaces. The Agency has determined that neither the particles that may chip off nor the fumes given off at high temperatures pose a health hazard.” Others have more concerns both for our personal health and the environment. To minimize these issues, do not over-heat them, clean them gently and do not use utensils that could cause the coating to chip off the pan.
- Concern has also been raised about perfluorooctanoic acid (known as PFOA, APFO or C-8). This was used in the manufacturing of the nonstick coating. There may be debate on whether this chemical is truly harmful but there was enough concern that as of 2015, producers of nonstick cookware in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to eliminate it from their products. An interesting note is that according to the CMA, “While used during the manufacture of the product and while there is a small amount in the finished non-stick liquid product when it is shipped to the applicator, all of the PFOA is driven off in the curing process following the application of the PTFE spray to the pan’s surface. The finished pan does not contain any measurable PFOA after proper curing. The consumer is never exposed to PFOA while using their nonstick pan.”
I feel there is a definite place in our kitchen for nonstick skillets. I do not think other nonstick pots are probably necessary. No matter which you have, be sure to follow the recommended care instructions. Besides the caution against over-heating the pan, here are few other considerations.
- Take care not to scratch the surface. Nonstick surfaces have gotten much more durable over the years, but rubber, silicone or wood utensils are better than metal ones to minimize the risk of scratching.
- Store them carefully. Avoid stacking them if possible or, at least, put something like a paper towel or plate between your items to reduce the possibility of scratching.
- Clean gently. Don’t use an abrasive sponge, which can create tiny scratches, and avoid harsh cleaners. It is best to handwash rather than putting them in the dishwasher, no matter what your instructions say. Also, let it cool before washing it so thermal shock doesn’t cause it to warp.
- Season your nonstick pan. Before using it for the first time, wash it and dry thoroughly. Apply a thin layer of oil to the surface, heat it gently for about 2 minutes. Allow it to dry and wipe out any excess oil. You may also want to apply a small amount of oil prior to each use. This not only improves its performance, but also prolongs its life.
- Do not use a nonstick cooking spray. This leaves a stick residue that is very difficult to remove. Rather, use a fat such as butter or oil.
Because of the concerns of the chemicals used in the manufacturing of nonstick pans, companies have been trying to make a “green” skillet. To date, none of these are as nonstick nor do they retain their nonstick quality as long as regular nonstick skillets.
My husband bought me a small Bialetti ceramic nonstick skillet. Although it was very pretty and worked great at first, I found it deteriorated very quickly to the point it lost all its nonstick qualities. This is the only one I have ever tried. What are your experiences with ceramic? Let me know.
I also purchased a “Black Cube” skillet manufactured by Frieling that is made without PFOA. The food cooks on raised stainless steel pixels. It is also advertised to be safe up to 500°F as well as 100% scratch resistant, even with m
etal utensils. I purchased one of these and they do cook very well. You can get good browning, develop fond and even put it into the oven. In my experience, though, it is not nearly as nonstick as advertised. Have you tried other green pans? What was your experience? Let me know.
In summary, do not feel guilty about having nonstick cookware. Just be aware of what they are best for, how to minimize the risks and how to prolong the life of the cookware.