The allure of a non-stick pan is right under your nose. And in case you still aren’t clear, it’s the part about being non-stick. Whether frying, sautéing, searing, baking or boiling, non-stick pans help preserve the quality of your food while cooking and are much easier to clean when all is said and done.
Different manufacturers utilize different methods to make their pans non-stick. Cost also dictates the quality of material used to take pans from run-of-the-mill to kitchen hero. So to help you decide whether or not you should invest in a non-stick pan, we created this article to guide your choice.
But First, a Little Science.
Materials used for non-stick surfaces can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. The most common material used for non-stick pans is made from a polytetrafluoroethylene base (PTFE). PTFE is perfect for non-stick pans because it contains fluorine atoms that do not react with any other chemicals—including your food. This helps reduce friction and keeps food from sticking.
Manufacturers bond PTFE to a pan through a branding process in which one or multiple coats of non-stick material are applied to the pan. This means two things:
- The more coats, the better the non-stick surface
- The more coats, the higher the price
Finding the Right Pan
Clearly, not all non-stick pans are created equal. The lowest price should not be the only motivating factor in what pan you choose, nor should you go out of your way to purchase a non-stick pan that you just don’t need. Ask yourself these questions while shopping for a non-stick pan:
- Are you working in a high-traffic kitchen?
If the answer to this question is yes: You will want to seek out a non-stick pan with multiple coats of non-stick material. PTFE is a very soft material and can be chipped away at with utensils over time when food product is moved into, from and around the pan. This can cause uneven heat distribution on the surface of the pan that causes food to burn and stick. More coats of PTFE ensure the life and functionality of your pan with heavy use.
If the answer to your question is no: You can likely settle for a low-priced non-stick pan with fewer coatings. However, you can’t go wrong with a higher-priced pan as better construction leads to extended product life and will save you money in the long run.
- Do you often cook with high heat?
If the answer to this question is yes: If this is the case, you may want to consider not purchasing a non-stick pan. As previously stated, PTFE is a very soft material and becomes even more malleable when exposed to head for prolonged periods of time. High heat can also cause the loosned particles of coating to burn up and produce smoke.[Source]
In this case, the better option would be cast iron pans. When seasoned properly, cast iron pans can provide a suitable non-stick surface to work with. Stainless steel, copper or natural finish aluminum pans also provide great alternatives for cooking but are not known for their non-stick surfaces.
If the answer to this question is no: You’re in luck: a non-stick pan is just what you need. Non-stick pans perform better at low to medium heat, especially when the pan is lightly oiled prior to cooking, soft utensils are used to maneuver food while cooking and the pan is properly cleaned following cooking.
- Do you do a lot of low-fat cooking?
If the answer to this question is yes: Aside from the obvious benefits of non-stick pans – food doesn’t stick and they are easier to clean – the other advantage of using non-stick pans is that you do not have to use as much oil to prevent food from sticking. This translates to increased health benefits which is especially beneficial if you pride yourself on preparing low-fat recipes.
If the answer to this question is no: Don’t worry, you can still use non-stick pans while making gravy or frying chicken or scrambling eggs. We won’t judge.
- Do you spend a lot of time baking?
If the answer to this question is yes: Yes, even bakeware can be non-stick. Non-stick bakeware is often lined with heat-resistant silicone which allows cakes and brownies to lift from the pan, cookies to be easily plucked from sheet pans, and pineapple upside down cakes to right themselves without trauma. Since baking often requires sugar, and since sugar burns easily, non-stick bakeware comes in especially handy.
If the answer to this question is no: If you dabble in baking, stick with economical choices like your common aluminum sheet pans. If you don’t bake, make it your new hobby.