I’m old enough to remember a time before nonstick cookware and can’t forget my mother cooking with her ancient cast-iron pans and pots. They were so heavy that I couldn’t even lift them up to the stove. To prevent the food from sticking, she always threw in a generous glob of margarine as soon as she lit the burner under the pan. Cleaning them was a chore and a half!
But cooking was about to change forever. By the time I had my own apartment, “Teflon” nonstick cookware was all the rage. I loved that I didn’t have to add fat to the pan, and the nonstick coating made cleanups easy. But my pans didn’t brown foods as well as cast iron, and they didn’t last long. After six months, the coating would begin to peel off and I’d have to throw out the pan and buy a new one. Then I read that fumes from the pan could actually kill my pet parrot. What’s in that stuff anyway?
Since then, nonstick pans have evolved with greater safety measures and better durability. I spoke with Naomi, a sales associate at Sur la Table, a nationally recognized retailer of high-quality cookware, kitchen appliances, dinnerware, gourmet foods, and more. Since opening its first store in 1972, the company now operates more than 130 retail stores nationwide and offers in-store cooking classes. Read on to learn our take on how to buy a quality nonstick pan.
PTFE in “Teflon” Pans
A lot of media attention on nonstick cookware centers on the fumes that might be emitted from overheated cookware coated with polytetrafluoroethylene. Most nonstick cookware has PTFE on it. Like the proverbial “canary in a coal mine,” birds succumb to contaminants in the air long before we do. But you generally must heat a Teflon-coated pan to over 600 degrees for several hours to cause any problems, although a scratched pan may release some PTFE at a lower temperature. Research has determined that PTFE on pans is safe for humans.
However, another chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, has also been used in the process of making PTFE. PFOA is actually more of a concern, and most companies have stopped using it. My Bialetti pan, for example, is PFOA-free. So how can we find nonstick cookware that’s not toxic and lasts for a long time?
The Best Nonstick Cookware
According to Naomi, many companies have now stopped using PFOA in their pans. “The surest way to get a safe nonstick pan,” Naomi said, “is to buy one made with baked-on ceramic. These pans have no Teflon, they are more durable and scratch-resistant.
The best pans I’ve found are made by ScanPan. They have more layers of ceramic, last longer, and come with a lifetime warranty. Plus, ScanPans are OK for high heat, up to 500 degrees.” Made in Denmark, ScanPan’s new STRATANIUM+ nonstick has a unique textured surface, harder than steel, that sears and browns food like cast iron, yet releases without sticking, using little or no oil.
Other Ceramic-Coated Brands
When asked if there were any other brands she liked, Naomi replied, “Another company, GreenPan, also makes very good cookware, but GreenPans are not really meant for use with high temperatures. They tend to warp.”
Ceramic-coated nonstick pans are rapidly gaining in popularity. I have a red 10-piece set of Cook N Home ceramic pots and pans. This entire set costs less than one ScanPan, but the pots will warp with high heat, and the white ceramic surface can become discolored if you’re not careful.
Nonstick Cookware Care
When asked how to care for nonstick cookware, Naomi advised, “Don’t use metal utensils because they can scratch nonstick pans, especially the Teflon ones (ScanPan claims metal is OK on their pans). Use silicone, wood, or melamine utensils. Scratches on Teflon will eventually cause the coating to begin to peel, and then you should discard the pan.
Unlike Teflon, ceramic pans are still good even if you do get some scratches, because they have multiple layers of ceramic. Of course, don’t leave an empty pan on the burner, or it will overheat. Don’t use aerosol sprays; these can even void the warranty. We recommend butter or olive oil. Be aware of the oils you cook with and their smoke points; you don’t want baked-on grease.”
Naomi suggests not to thrust a hot pan into cold water, lest you warp it. With ScanPans, she recommends cleaning them in the dishwasher.
This brings up a big difference between cleaning nonstick cookware and cleaning traditional cast iron or stainless steel. Traditional pots and pans should be “seasoned” before use to give them a coating of oil. Many chefs avoid using much soap on their heavy cookware and finest knives. Thoroughly clean nonstick cookware after each use.
“Leaving grease on a nonstick pan and using it again will actually reduce its effectiveness,” Naomi said. I use an IKEA ANTIGEN dish brush that is somewhat stiff yet doesn’t scratch, so my hands don’t get in the hot water. And I’ve actually used a scrub sponge and Ajax cleanser on my bargain white ceramic pans a few times, when I cooked with too much heat and there was brown food residue on them. So far, they are holding up well, but I wouldn’t do that with Teflon or any expensive pans. And next time I buy a nonstick pan, it’ll be a ScanPan.
Shop our favorite non-stick pans and accessories easily:
- Bialetti PFOA-free nonstick pan
- Heavy-duty ceramic coated ScanPans
- Ceramic coated GreenPans
- 10-piece set of Cook N Home cookware
- Silicone utensil sets
- Wood utensils set
- Melamine utensil sets
- IKEA ANTIGEN dish brushes
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.
Crista Worthy writes about aviation, travel, wildlife, and more from her home in Idaho.