I once splurged and bought a non-stick griddle for my house. I was 20, living with 5 or 6 other irresponsible adults in a smelly townhome, and the picture on the box of bacon, eggs and pancakes simultaneously sizzling sent me into a frenzy matched only by Tom Cruise’s couch dance on Oprah.
I was so excited to christen my newly-acquired griddle that I didn’t take any precautions to ensure its longevity. Long story short, I ruined it instantly. Anything I could do wrong, I did wrong. I’ll even wager that I could have pitched the story to Touchstone Pictures under the name “Ernest Cooks Breakfast” and made enough money in royalties to cover a new griddle.
But I digress.
For those who have non-stick pans of any sort, it’s important to give them proper care so they continue to be non-stick. My poor griddle never stood a chance, but yours can—as long as you do the opposite of what I did. Here’s how to ruin your non-stick pans right out of the box, just like I did.
1. Don’t prep your non-stick pan before its first use
What I Did: When I brought my griddle home, I popped it right out of the box, plugged it in and threw on some sausage. The sweet sound of sizzling links was heavenly until I tried to turn the sausages and found they were sticking. I chalked it up as “breaking in” my non-stick pan. The rational college student in me should have reasoned there was a problem when my non-stick pan was sticking, but in the battle of common sense and breakfast, the latter will almost always win.
What I Should Have Done: Out of the box, non-stick pans need to be prepped before they enter a life of making glorious sunny-side eggs and perfectly round pancakes for their human masters. Before you so much as sauté an onion, wash and dry your non-stick pan with hot, soapy water and a paper towel. After that, it’s smart to “preseason” the pan by lightly rubbing oil into the coating with a paper towel.
2. Cook everything at a high temperature
What I Did: I now realize it’s never smart to fry or sauté anything on the highest setting, but I couldn’t wait for the inaugural griddle breakfast. So I did what any sensible 20-year old college student who had already gained 10 pounds that year and had just pulled an all-nighter: I cranked that sucker up to 10 and threw the sausage links on there. My deductive thinking told me I’d enjoy my maple-laden links sooner this way. But after a few minutes of crackling, I realized it wasn’t just the sausage that was making noise—it was the griddle, too.
What I Should Have Done: That crackling I just told you about was from the surface of the griddle. High temperatures cause the coating to crack, leaving your food cooked unevenly. Non-stick pans work much better at lower temperatures—the heat distributes evenly, and therefore cooks food more evenly. In my case, if I would have cooked the breakfast sausage at a lower temperature, they would have come out slightly blackened and crispy on the outside and steaming on the inside—not charcoal-burnt on the outside and raw on the inside.
3. Use a metal or hard-plastic spatula
What I Did: At this point in the story, my maple sausages were producing a black smoke and the non-stick coating was cracking and peeling off. But alas, it was time to turn over the links. The drawers in my kitchen only yielded one spatula the whole year I lived there. I’m pretty sure someone picked it from a garage sale or a dumpster—the metal on the front was rusted, the wooden handle was covered in some sort of grease, and a chunk of raw egg was permanently stuck to the left corner. When I used the spatula to turn over the sausages, I cut the non-stick surface and scraped it off. This only made the smoke worse.
What I Should Have Done: Non-stick coatings are sensitive in that sharp objects can easily cut them. Soft spatulas go with non-stick coatings like chocolate and vanilla and help ensure a long life for your non-stick pans.
4. Clean it in the dishwasher before it cools down
What I Did: Only after I cracked and scraped the non-stick coating did it occur to me that I should have washed the griddle before cooking the sausages. I decided to hold off on the eggs and pancakes until I could run the griddle through the dishwasher. When the cycle was finished, the non-stick coating looked like a rusted car that had been sitting in your grandfather’s garage for the last 45 years—half of it had come off in a spotty fashion, revealing a silvery surface that wouldn’t cook anything.
What I Should Have Done: Cleaning your non-stick pans is imperative after every use. But using your dishwasher for the deed is an expensive mistake. The high-temperatures and harsh detergents essentially chip away at non-stick surfaces, rendering them stickier than a fly trap. Instead, wait for your pan to cool down before scrubbing it with a soft sponge in hot, soapy water. Wipe off the excess moisture with a soft cloth or a paper towel.
5. Store directly on top of other pots and pans
What I Did: To be completely honest, at this point I was more upset about not eating breakfast than the fact that my brand-new griddle was now useless. Still, my anger led me to throw the griddle into the cupboard below the sink where all the other pots and pans lived. The already ruined surface became so scratched it looked like Mickey Rourke’s face in the final scene of “The Wrestler” than a griddle.
What I Should Have Done: Not that it mattered, but I should have placed the griddle in an area where the non-stick coating wasn’t at risk. If you have non-stick pans, hanging them on hooks is a great idea. If you can’t afford the space or have a phobia of hooks, you can stack them anywhere as long as there is a paper towel or soft cloth between each pan.
To recap, remember one thing: My tragedy doesn’t have to be yours. The ballad of your non-stick griddle could be a much happier story, so long as you do exactly what I didn’t.