Note: Post updated 25 January 2016. Nonstick pan pictures coming soon!
It seems that all of us have a few nonstick pans lying around, and some of them are super old. Most of them are ones we picked up on the cheap from Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond. I think I’m still using one from 2003 that’s all scratched up and wobbles. Seriously, why do I even keep it around?
Pan manufacturers have upped their game in the past few years, creating super hard non-stick coatings that are scratch resistant. So much so, that you can get away with using metal utensils in them… or so they claim. I guess time will tell. These ones usually cost a pretty penny more.
As nonstick pans gain popularity, there are basic rules for using them that you should remember. Do your best to follow these rules and you’ll find that your nonstick pans will last longer, and using them will be more enjoyable while cooking.
1. Don’t use metal on your nonstick pan.
This is the most important rule to remember. Unless you’ve purchased a dense, diamond-crusted pan, metal utensils will easily scratch and ruin a nonstick pan’s surface. If you’re unsure, assume you don’t have this.
This means do not cut your foods in the pan with metal knives or pizza cutters, do not turn your pancakes with metal spatulas, and definitely do not use a metal whisk or fork to stir your gravies or vegetable blends. Instead, use scratch-friendly materials such as wood, rubber, silicone, nylon, or plastic.
2. Avoid major water temperature changes.
Taking a hot pan and subjecting it to cooler or cold temperatures can cause your frying pan to warp. This affects cheaper pans more than industrial strength ones. Resist the temptation and don’t do it. Let your nonstick pan cool for a few minutes first. A warped pan keeps the heat from distributing correctly, and they’re annoying to cook with.
3. Clean your nonstick pans with scratch-proof scouring pads.
This is another big deal. Nonstick surfaces are sensitive to steel wool, metal scouring pads, sharp scrapers, and harsh cleaning detergents (more on detergents later). If your food is really stuck, allow the pan to soak for a bit, or you can deglaze the pan. If you use a metal scouring pad, you may not see deep grooves in the nonstick coating, but it’s wearing off the coating a bit at a time. Use cleaning pans that say ‘nonstick pan safe’ on them or a stiff sponge instead.
4. Avoid acidic foods.
Cooking acidic foods in your nonstick pans promotes flaking. I’ve personally not noticed this with the super-hard anodized pans that cost $60+/each, but on the cheaper ones, it’s a problem. Foods like tomatoes and lemons tend to bond and loosen a shallow nonstick coating. Some can be ruined after the first use.
Not all nonstick cookware is stove-top friendly. Baking dishes can also be nonstick. I have a couple that after only a few uses started to flake because I used them for a tomato-based food, like lasagna. If you have some that are meant for bread, then keep them as a single-use pan: bread only. This will extend their life.
5. NEVER use aerosol cooking spray.
Cooking spray will ruin your pan (and any other pan) faster than anything else I know, even if it’s the pure vegetable kind. The store-bought oil aerosol sprays build up and coat a pan’s surface when heated. It’s not an immediate effect, but rather what happens after prolonged, repeated use. I’m not sure what it is, but something about the way they’re produced makes a difference. Instead, use the self-pump oils or a small bit of regular oil. This goes for all pans. Aerosol sprays are better suited for situations where heat is not required.
6. Store your pans properly.
It’s best if you can store your pans hanging, with plenty of space between them. Most of us, however, don’t have that luxury. So if you’re going to stack them, do your best to keep them away from sharper objects and corners. Make sure they can be accessed without having to scrape the bottom of one pan on the top of another.
7. Clean and dry your nonstick pans after using them.
It’s best if you hand wash and dry your nonstick pans soon after using them. Waiting too long to clean your frying pan or washing it in the dishwasher increases the risk of left-over oils baking onto the coating and outside of the pan. The caramel color stains you see on your pans? Those are baked grease and oil spots. They’re tough to remove and cause your food to stick. (Again, avoid aerosol sprays.) Hand dry your nonstick pans to prevent rust from forming.
8. Don’t store food in your pans.
It’s not what your pans are meant for, so don’t do it. Use a plastic container to store your food instead. Some people have complained that their food takes on a metallic taste after storing foods in their pans. It may also promote degradation, depending on what you’re storing.
9. Avoid high heats when using your nonstick frying pans.
Most manufacturers have a heat warning label on their pans, letting you know how much heat they can take. Pay attention to that. If you’re using a single-coating nonstick pan from Walmart or something, chances are yours are only good to 375°F. Others may be good to 450°F or higher, but that’s more often the exception rather than the rule.
Too much heat on your nonstick frying pan can cause it to warp, and the nonstick coating to bubble and lose some if it’s nonstick properties. That means the broiler oven setting is a no-go. If you’re purchasing an electric skillet, it’s especially important to pay attention to this. Many skillets can be heated past the recommended temperature.
10. Use softer detergents to clean your nonstick pans.
Use softer detergents on your non-stick pans. Most detergents used when hand washing dishes are considered soft. Dishwasher detergents, bleach, Ajax, and other cleaners are hard. These ones can damage the nonstick coating.
And there we go!
Remembering the dos and don’ts can be a bit overwhelming when put into a list like this, so let’s summarize: Wash and dry by hand, Avoid high heats and acids, Don’t use metal or cooking spray. Bingo. The most important points in a nutshell.
Nonstick pans are fantastic to have in your kitchen, and if you take good care of them, they’ll last you for years, maybe even decades.