Nonstick Cookware & What You Should Know About It

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If you’re still using your grandma’s nonstick fry pan, it might be time to upgrade. Today’s new high-quality nonstick pans are ready to tackle whatever you put in them and then some, without the potentially harmful materials of the original models.

sunny side up egg cooking in a nonstick pan

You might have a range of sizes of cast iron or French copper cookware, but when it comes to cooking eggs flawlessly, chances are you reach for some sort of nonstick skillet to get the job done. In truth, if you have high quality nonstick sauté pan or fry pan, you have a versatile piece of equipment that cooks food fast and lets the true flavor of the food you make shine through.

Perhaps best of all, you probably don’t need to run out and buy a whole new set of coated cookware. Most of the time, all you need is a couple of good pieces to get rolling in the kitchen, so upgrading your nonstick is affordable, too. If you’re trying to use less fat and oil in your diet, cooking your food in a pan with a nonstick coating can reduce your caloric intake.

nonstick cookware

Pan construction

Nonstick skillets and cookware are usually made of aluminum, which is a good heat conductor. At the very least, nonstick cookware is constructed with an aluminum base, for responsiveness to temperature. A heavier aluminum pan is generally better because it’s less likely to overheat. The nonstick coating is then applied to the pan at the factory.

Teflon surface

The most common non-stick coating used to coat pots and pans is Teflon, a chemical mixture of perfluorochemicals. Teflon is a surface protector that is used as a fabric protector and additive to paints, carpets, and clothing. The primary chemical in Teflon, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), has a high melting point which is ideal for cookware.

Teflon safety concerns

While Teflon is extremely functional, there are some concerns about its long term safety. When used at very high heat, PTFE coatings can break down and release gases. However, you can use PTFE cookware safely as long as you use it properly. 500ºF is the maximum temperature recommended for cooking with this kind of nonstick cookware.

Some PTFE cookware is manufactured using a chemical called PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid. If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your cookware, you want to avoid sets manufactured using PFOA. When baking, roasting, or especially broiling with PTFE cookware, make sure to check the manufacturer’s recommended maximum oven-safe temperature.

Ceramic nonstick cookware

Although ceramic is relatively a new material in the world of nonstick cookware, it’s widely considered to be the safest and most environmentally friendly option. It’s PTFE and PFOA free and comes in a wide variety of styles and colors. Critics argue that the life span of ceramic is short, but with a few tips, you can use ceramic successfully.

If you cook with oil, it’s important to completely remove all of the cooking oil after each use; layers of cooked-on oil can build up and impede the slick surface of the pan. When you use ceramic pans, manufacturers recommend not using any oil at all.

Hard anodized cookware

Calphalon invented hard anodized cookware in 1968. Hard aluminum cookware has been hydroelectrically treated to harden the aluminum to the strength of stainless steel cookware and has a layer of oxidation that gives a non-stick consistency of Teflon brand pans.

These pans are made from light or medium weight aluminum but are almost as hard as stainless steel pans. Aluminum pans are fantastic in some ways, because they conduct heat very efficiently, and respond to changes in temperature quickly. It is also an inexpensive metal, compared to cast iron. Aluminum is reactive, however, so be careful what you cook in it.

pancakes cooking in a nonstick pan

Advantages of nonstick cookware

  • Can be healthier because of the minimal oil you need to use to cook with it.
  • It’s also a lightning-fast way to cook food.
  • Nonstick cookware can be very affordable.

Disadvantages of nonstick cookware

  • It’s not the best to use with high heat cooking, and the surface of the pan can be fussy and require some careful handling.
  • Nonstick cookware usually contains a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA or C8. According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to “PFOA has the potential to be a health concern because it can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. Animal studies have also presented a link between PFOA exposure and cancer development.” Again, the potential risk is minimized when you use nonstick pans at medium to low temperatures.

How to shop

Try to assess what you already have in your kitchen. While sets are often more economical, you might not need all the pieces that they offer, and you’ll be left with extra cookware you may never use. The number of pieces you need depends on what you want to cook. If you like to cook many dishes at the same time, you will need a set with more pieces. If you’re just needing a frying pan, or a couple of skillets, or even a nonstick wok, shopping for individual pieces may be the way to go.

If buying a set, look for cookware with interchangeable glass lids so you can see what you’re cooking clearly. Will you need them to be oven-safe? What kinds of handles do you prefer and how will they be stored? An investment in any new cookware deserves a little research and introspection.

Nonstick grill pan

A nonstick grill pan is a fun way to cook indoors any time of the year, and still practice those grill marks you worked so hard to get in the summer. Chicken breasts are ready in minutes for advance meal prep or a family dinner.

What brand of cookware is best?

As people become more aware of the potential hazards of PFOA, new technologies in nonstick surfaces are flooding the market. Finding just the right one for your specific needs may take a little work, but there are several good choices for every budget.

What is the safest cookware?

Products like the Danish Scanpan Classic (affiliate link) offer traditional non-stick surfaces with added safety and durability. Its patented GreenTek non-stick surfaces use a special bonding process the company developed to avoid PFOA entirely.

Belgian company Greenpan (affiliate link) uses a ceramic nonstick Thermolon coating around a durable hard-anodized exterior that boasts maximum strength with a scratch-resistant construction. Thermolon makes its nonstick coatings from sand and doesn’t use PFAs or PFOA in the manufacturing process.

Technique & uses

One important tip before you even turn on the stove: never preheat a nonstick pan. To protect the pan’s surface, keep the heat at medium or lower. Also, invest in some wooden spoons and heatproof silicone spoons and spatulas for moving the food around. Steer clear of metal tools that will scratch the cooking surface. Always use nonstick pans in a well-ventilated kitchen.

Should you use nonstick cooking spray?

It sounds confusing, but nonstick cooking spray is not compatible with nonstick cookware. Using the spray will result in a buildup that is almost impossible to remove. For the sake of the pan, use a minimal amount of fat, such as canola oil, olive oil, or butter. If you are trying to minimize calories, invest in an oil mister, which allows you to coat a pan with a small amount of oil.

Is oil required when cooking with nonstick pans?

A little oil is beneficial for conducting heat inside the pan, but you usually use much less than you would if cooking in some other kind of cookware. However, the fat should go into the cold pan before heating. There are two reasons for this — the oil enhances the nonstick effects of the cookware when added before the food can soak up the oil and, more importantly, some nonstick pans can emit potentially unhealthy fumes when heated without a lubricant. Ceramic pans are an exception; you don’t need oil when using them.

Types of recipes

Pans with nonstick coatings are absolutely the best for cooking food that needs a guaranteed easy release from the pan: omelets, pancakes, and eggs. But because it’s so versatile it can be a wonderful way to cook a stir-fry or pan-fry delicate fillets of fish or chicken with very little added fat or oil. And if your cookware is oven safe, your nonstick skillet can go from stovetop to oven if you need to.

panfrying chicken in a nonstick pan

Cleaning & maintenance

Some nonstick cookware being made today is scratch-resistant and safe to use with metal utensils; some are even dishwasher safe. However, to extend the life of your nonstick cookware, it’s best to wash your cookware by hand using soapy water and a soft sponge or microfiber towel. Avoid abrasives when cleaning. Do not use scouring pads or steel wool. And make sure the pan is cool before washing.

To help protect that nonstick surface which keeps food from sticking, treat your pots and pans gently and don’t overheat them. Do not store food in the pan, and don’t soak them overnight. To protect the inside of the pan, store them with a paper towel or dishcloth inside before stacking up in your cupboard or cabinet.

When to buy a new pan?

At the first sign of peeling, flaking, or wear of the nonstick interior, or when food begins to stick to it stubbornly, it’s time to swap it out for a new pan. These pans are more likely to release toxins when they are used while the nonstick surface is chipped or flaked. To stay safe, it is recommended to discard the pan every couple of years before this even becomes an issue.

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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