Fed up with Non-Stick cookware that just doesn’t last? Read this comprehensive report and learn how to make your non-stick cookware last up to 10 times longer! Learn all the secrets to maintaining and caring for your cookware as well as all the myths, truths and lies that are often spouted about non-stick cookware.
There are six main reasons for the deterioration of non-stick cookware and the great news is you have control over most of them. They are;
- How much heat is used.
- Types of utensils used.
- Type of food being cooked.
- The Cleaning Method.
- Materials and thickness of the base pan.
- Quality of the non-stick coating.
The Nonstick Coating.
The non-stick coating on a piece of cookware is probably the most controversial and most often discussed aspect of non-stick cookware but suprisingly enough it is one of the least important factors. Most people are unaware of what the actual non-stick coating is and how it works so we will dispel a lot of myths and mistruths in this section which most people will find incredibly interesting.
The first and most important thing to know about the non-stick coating on every brand of cookware is; Its made of a totally food safe, heat resistant plastic, its invisible (you can’t see it in your pan) and you can scratch it without knowing it! There are many different types of non-stick compounds, all coming with proprietary names like Teflon (owned by DuPont), Viking and many others. They are all basically the same, offering a non-stick surface made from a completely safe plastic compound, They are all “heat proof” plastic. The best versions of these will be able to take heat up to about 270 C before overheating, and if you go above 350 C even just once, you can pretty much guarantee you will destroy the structure of the coating and end the non-stick property of your pan. The good news is there is never any reason your pan should reach these temperatures so with a little care this is not really an issue.
A lot of people will stop me about here with statements like “Its okay my nonstick cookware is Ceramic (or Titanium or Diamond or Steel Mesh) and it says its metal utensil safe so I don’t have to worry”. What people are talking about here is a substrate that sits beneath the non-stick layer. Non-stick cookware manufacturers have become quite sophisticated and, understanding that both the nonstick surface and the underlying aluminum are both quite soft, they have inserted a very hard, very sophisticated substrate surface in between the non-stick surface and the base of the cookware. This stops flaking, bubbling and scratching and keeps you cookware looking good, but it does not protect your non-stick surface from scratching or overheating.
Heat is the single biggest destroyer of the non-stick coating and properties of any cookware. Far more significant than mechanical damage such as using turners, spatula’s, knives and coarse cleaners, heat has a great influence on the effects of bothing the cooking qualities and the nonstick coating of your pan. So in summary, a non-stick coating has two significant weaknesses regardless of what pan you purchase. It is a soft invisible surface that is easy to scratch or damage without you knowing it. More importantly it is sensitive to heat and high temperatures can destroy very quickly its non-stick properties.
The Material and Thickness of the Base Pan
The type of metal and the thickness of the base metal used is a key factor in the conducting of heat evenly around your pan. This is even more important in non-stick pans than other types because heat can destroy your non-stick surface. (Note also the bigger the diameter of your pan the more important this becomes too.) Different metals conduct heat at very different speeds and the thicker your pan is the quicker and more evenly it distributes heat so it is absolutely key in determining how your cookware is going to perform. Image a very large fry pan being heated by a small stove element. The pan will get very hot in the middle but will be cold near the edge. Even with an exceptional pan, by the time you got the heat to the outside the heat at the centre would destroy your nonstick surface. Even if the heat did get there eventually there would always be a huge difference between the centre of the pan and the outside edge. This highlights the importance of using the correct size burner on your pan.
Now the reality is it is not as extreme as this example, but if you choose a metal which transmits heat very fast then you stand less chance of creating that hot spot in the centre of the pan. This hot spot makes good quality cooking almost impossible and a high chance of burning off your non-stick coating. So for example, a good crepe pan, instead of turning out pancakes burnt in the middle and chewy dough on the outside edges will instead turn out beautiful golden pancakes with a uniform colour from edge to edge. It is essential to understand if you a buying a pan that the base material of a new pan your buying makes a huge difference to the quality of you cooking. Below is a list of the types of material you can get with a non-stick surface.
Non-stick Aluminium Pans
Aluminum is the second best conductive of heat of all cookware bases. (Copper is the best, but you cannot buy copper cookware in Australia with a non-stick interior.) It is a great material to make pans from. It is relatively economical and spreads heat even and quickly. A good aluminum pan needs to be a minimum of 3mm thick and the absolute best are 5mm or thicker and are made from virgin poured aluminum.
Non-stick Stainless Steel Pans
Non-stick stainless steel pans have become popular only recently. Stainless steel is a material generally acknowledged to have some great qualities such as looking shiny and bright, easy to clean and very tough and resistant to scratching. The biggest problem however, is that stainless steel is a very poor conductor of heat. It is crucial that your manufacturer add at least 1 and preferably three layers of aluminum between the stainless steel and the cooking surface. Heat has trouble conducting across the gap between two different metal types so it helps to slowly change metal through metal compounds. The more layers your cookware has the better the heat distribution will have.
Importantly, the lamination of different materials must go up the sides of the pans, not just be a disc on the bottom of the pan (Scanpan, Kuhn Rikon and All-Clad are examples of cookware that does this, Tefal is an example of a company who just uses a disc on the bottom). This does two things. It spreads heat up the sides without hot spots and it saves the non-stick from getting overheated around the outside bottom edge as it tends to do with the more conventional sandwich base. This multiply technique looks good, performs well but unfortunately has a much higher manufacturing cost due to the technical difficulties in laminating these metals together.
In summary, copper is superb but no one does it with a non-stick coating. Aluminum is a close second and is a personal favourite for general purpose non-stick pans. High quality stainless steel pans with at least 3 layers of total encapsulation are the best but come at a price!
Another important lesson is DON’T USE METAL UTENSILS IN YOUR NON-STICK PAN! Many manufacturers claim that their pans are metal utensil safe but this just means that you can’t scratch the substrate layer not the invisible non-stick layer.
You might wonder why the manufacture is willing to do this? Cynics would suggest they just want to sell more pans, but having spoken to some very good manufacturers who are in the business for the long term and proud of their products its more complicated than that. Trying to tell people not to use too much heat and don’t scratch your pan with a metal utensil is a very subjective exercise. How much is too much heat and how does somebody at home measure the difference between 250 C and 280 C. Professional cooks really know how to treat a pan gently with a metal fish slice, but does the average home cook? So the dilemma for the manufacturer is how does he tell customers not to abuse his pans without making them sound inferior to the next manufacturer who stretches his claims to the limit. So while the manufacturers do their best, which is why they introduced substrate layers we can guarantee you that you will scratch and impair your non-stick surface if you use a metal utensil regardless of what brand of non-stick cookware you purchase.
Remember that all that is between your pan and the food is a few microns of plastic. It may be reinforced with high tech named substrates but they are still vulnerable to metal and even hard plastics like melamine utensils. So stick to either soft nylon, wood or silicon utensils and your cookware will love you for longer.
Its all very simple really. Don’t use too much! We are impatient, we are hungry, we are in a hurry and we are led by all those TV chefs using big flames for show (they get away with it because they don’t pay for their pans and they can toss them away after the show!)
As stated earlier, non-stick is only heat resistant to a point. The best ones don’t go much beyond 280 C. Instead food starts to catch/burn on it and when you try to clean it you remove the non-stick coating along with the food. That is the end of your non-stick properties in your pan. So the moral here is use less heat and your cookware will repay you handsomely with a long life (always assuming it is a reasonable quality cookware in the first place). As an experiment try turning down the heat you normally use by 25% or 30% and see what a difference it makes. You will find that your food tastes better, your cooking improves and your gas and electricity bill will drop a bit. And most importantly, you cookware will last a lot longer. Another tip, a lot of recipes say to heat your pan up before putting your oil in which is fine, but never heat it more than a medium heat. Your pan heats up much more rapidly and conducts your heat faster when their is nothing in it.
Type of Food
Strangely enough, even the type of food you are cooking makes a difference to the performance of the non-stick. With a good non-stick pan it is easy to cook an omelette without butter or oil as eggs that normally stick to everything in sight will just slip off a non-stick surface. Bacon on the other hand has a high salt content and is quite likely to stick to even the best non-stick pans if the heat is too high. So don’t think that a non-stick pan is proof against every form of food sticking, although it will be more than useful for most types.
For aluminium pans, shove them into hot soapy water straight form the stove top and use either a nylon brush or nylon based scourer. This treatment is also okay for stainless steel pans as well. If you have a thinner quality pan (less than 3mm) let them cool down before you place them in the water. Never put a non-stick pan in the dishwasher unless you are absolutely sure they no other item will come in contact with the non-stick surface while washing.
One of the most often comments from customers who have had a non-stick fry pan for several years is that its lost its non-stick property and the surface has a brown tinge to it. In this cased the surface has not deteriorated, rather a film of carbon has built up on the surface of the pan. This covers your non-stick coating and prevents it from doing its job. The reason this happens is because largely we use too much heat in our pans, burning carbons into the surface of the pan. These can be very difficult to clean out and if you don’t wash immediately with hot soapy water they remain in the surface of the pan. The correct method for removing a carbon layer is to boil on the stove a mixture of half water half vinegar for at least 15 minutes. This will dissolve the carbon layer. Put it in hot soapy water immediately afterwards to finish off the cleaning process.