The Care and Upkeep of Nonstick Pans
Whether you are a beginner cook or a master home chef, nonstick pans can be a great asset to your kitchen.
Beginners: For novice chefs, the nonstick surface provides a better learning curve compared to using a stainless steel pan while learning to cook. Plus, it’s frustrating when food sticks to the bottom of the pan. Once you do pry the residue off your pan, you’re still left with some serious scraping and scrubbing when it’s time to wash the cookware.
Experienced chefs: For those days you’re in a hurry to cook and rushing around the kitchen, you may forget to be as attentive to stirring and flipping as you need to be, so the nonstick surface gives you a bit of a grace period before your food starts to burn.
Either way, once you bring your nonstick pans home, you’ll be eager to pull them out of their packages and start cooking! Before you toss the boxes into the recycling bins, be sure to take a look at the directions. Yes, pots and pans come with directions.
Scoff if you like, but the instructions contain important information on how to take care of the specific pan set you bought. Better to take a few moments to read, then to damage your new pans by not reading.
Shopping for nonstick cookware
Haven’t purchased nonstick cookware yet? If you want the best possible nonstick cookware for whipping up meals, here are some things to keep in mind as you shop:
- Heat conductivity: Nonstick cookware often has an aluminum base for the best heat conductivity. If you have an electric stove, a pan with a flat aluminum bottom will heat more evenly. If you use a gas stove, however, you may want to look for stainless steel pans with aluminum cores.
- Oven-safe handles: Some recipes call for dishes to start on the stove and finish in the oven. Therefore, you should look for a handle that’s oven safe.
- Durability: If you know you’re going to be tough on your cookware, look for a nonstick pan that will stand the test of time. Search for a brand that places heavy emphasis on durability.
- Consider a set: If you’ll use all the pieces on a regular basis, a set is a great investment. If you won’t, maybe individual pieces is a better way to go. Otherwise, you’ll have pans taking up unnecessary space in your cabinets.
Be sure you properly prep your pans before using them for the first time. (How? It’s in the instructions.) Even though the pan is marketed as “nonstick,” you still need a little something to act as a buffer between the hot pan and your ingredients. Add a drop or two of olive oil to the pan or rub it down with butter so food will slide across the surface easily.
However, avoid coating your pans with a cooking spray—you don’t need them with nonstick surfaces. If you do use them, over time they may make your pots and pans sticky and you may notice a residue build-up. If that happens, take your pan and sprinkle it with a nonabrasive cleaner like Bar Keeper’s Friend. Use a little warm water to create a paste with the cleanser, a nonabrasive scrubby, and a little elbow grease. Once the pan is clean, with a paper towel rub a small amount of cooking oil across the surface. Wipe any excess oil out of the pan and your pan is ready to cook with again.
Choose your utensils wisely
Is that a metal spatula in your hand? Put that away if you want your nonstick pans to last for more than one or two uses! Check your cookware’s instruction manual—yep, those directions again. In many cases, the manufacturer recommends swapping out metal utensils for wood, rubber, silicone, nylon, or plastic cooking tools. When cooking on a nonstick surface, make sure you are using the kinds of utensils recommended for flipping, stirring, and sauteing. Metal utensils—even spoons used to lightly stir—can scratch the surface.
While the scratches will be shallow, they are deep enough to disrupt the smooth surface and cause foods to stick. The more damaged the surface becomes, the less nonstick your pans will be. However, the nonstick quality isn’t the only thing to worry about. If your pans become noticeably scratched, there is a good chance the surface has begun to flake away over time—and that’s not good, because those flakes could end up in your food.
Now that you’ve finished cooking a quick and easy meal with the help of your nonstick pans, you’re likely looking forward to an equally speedy clean up. However, in the long run, it will be better to wash your pans by hand. Putting them in the dishwasher can cause them to become scratched and warped from the hot jets of water that make the appliance so efficient. Those water jets will also cause other dishes to knock into them, increasing the risk of scratches.
- Allow your pan to cool completely before cleaning. Don’t attempt to cool a very hot pan or dish with cold water as this can warp the pan.
- Hand-washing is preferred with a gentle dishwashing liquid and non-scratch scrub sponge.
- For baked-on grease, hand wash with soft scrub cleaner and a soft brush that will easily remove any potential stains.
- Rinse well to avoid leaving any residue.
- Avoid water spots by hand-drying your nonstick bakeware with a soft kitchen towel.
After all the care you have taken in the preparation, use, and cleaning of your nonstick pans, follow through with an appropriate storage strategy. One optimal method for storing your pans is to hang them side by side along your pantry wall. However, while this looks really cool and nicely displays your investment, it does require a lot of space.
If you decide to stack your pans within each other, as many people do, you’ll want to provide a little cushioning to prevent the surfaces from scratching. Many people purchase (or make) simple cloth liners that coordinate with their kitchen colors.