Should I stick with non-stick?
November 29, 2004 6:52 PM   Subscribe

What's the consensus on non-stick cookware? I find that despite my best efforts the surface always gets a few scratches, and then I worry I'm eating the stuff. So I'd rather avoid it and go with stainless steel or cast iron wherever possible. Is it only worthwhile for particular items, such as omelette pans?
posted by schoolgirl report to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have stainless steel from Cuisinart, and I have no problem with making omelets or sticking. I just make sure the pan is hot before I add butter or oil to it, and they've performed just fine for me. I like stainless for it's durability, and it's inert qualities. Especially good for acidic foods. I don't own a non-stick pan anymore.
posted by Eekacat at 7:00 PM on November 29, 2004

I don't own a non-stick pan anymore.

same here. cast iron is plenty damned non-stick, and for acidic stuff stainless is decent.

someone gave the girlfriend a set of teflon pans as a thoughtful gift, and we've basically had to throw the damned things out.

I think there was a similar thread within the last month but I am just too lazy to look, sorry.
posted by dorian at 7:06 PM on November 29, 2004

Depends on what you're doing. For wokking and basic frying, non-stick is wonderful, couldn't live without it. For most other things, stick with stainless steel or cast iron.

Don't worry too much about scratching though. There are some who claim a teflon to be carcinogenic, but the only link I've seen is a lawsuit against dupont by people living near a factory because of PFOA, a chemical used in the production of teflon coating.
posted by fvw at 7:07 PM on November 29, 2004

Screw non-stick. Go for decent stainless pans, or an enamel--like Le Creuset--when you want something heavier.

First of all, from a purely taste-based standpoint, most good flavors when you're cooking come from the little bits that get stuck to the bottom of the pan as you brown things. (Technically, it's called a "fond", from the French, but who really cares.) You brown some meat in a pan in butter or oil, take it out, and use the brown bits as the flavor base for the rest of the dish. It's almost impossible to get a good fond in a non-stick pan.

Secondly, on preview, eekacat is totally right--if you learn how to cook with butter and oil, you'll only get stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan when you want it (and you'll usually cook it back off when you do).

Finally, if you soak a good pan with soap and water for a bit, and it doesn't really take any extra effort with a scrub sponge or a copper pad to clean it up in 20 seconds. You can actually clean it up quicker, lots of times, since you don't have to worry about scratching off the finish.

You don't have to spend an arm and a leg to get good pans, either. I've always been an All-Clad snob, but one of the best pans we've got is a $30 job my wife picked up at Target one day--whatever their house brand is.
posted by LairBob at 7:07 PM on November 29, 2004

Then there's toxic toxicosis to consider. I was thinking bird deaths from overheated non-stick surfaces was a modern myth, but then I saw the Bird Death Diaries.

Like LairBob, I'm definitely partial to All-Clad and Le Creuset's cast iron.
posted by gonzesse at 7:31 PM on November 29, 2004

I think non stick pans are useless. I much prefer cast iron any day. Easy to use, clean, and I think they give the best taste to the food.
posted by Nenna at 7:33 PM on November 29, 2004

So why do non-stick pans exist if they're so unneeded?
posted by smackfu at 7:42 PM on November 29, 2004

At the risk of being mobbed by all the non-stick haters, I'm gonna jump in and say I LOVE my set of Analon non-stick cookware. I'll be the first one to say for certain kinds of cooking, stainless or cast iron are superior, but non-stick definitely has its place in the kitchen. For everyday cooking, I try to minimize the amount of butter and oil I use - in that respect, non-stick kicks a**.
posted by dicaxpuella at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2004

Although I agree with a lot of the comments about non stick not being all that, I wouldn't say non stick pans are totally useless. For frying stuff or making omelets they are quite nice. I have never understood why people like cast iron though, put in anything even remotely acidic and gah it tastes awful (although you will be 100% anemia free!).
posted by aspo at 7:52 PM on November 29, 2004

teflon toxicosis. Although the next time someone asks me what's wrong, I might be tempted to reply, eyes downcast, "It's toxic toxicosis."
posted by gonzesse at 7:55 PM on November 29, 2004

For quick frying, eggs, et cetera, nonstick pans are great. But a really well-seasoned cast iron pan is a joy to cook with. Never let soap touch it -- just heat up water to soak the gunk off, wipe it out with salt and a paper towel, and you're set.
posted by Vidiot at 8:29 PM on November 29, 2004

Take off your tin foil hats - non-stick coatings are not toxic, aliens are not going to abduct your baby, and there was no shooter on the grassy knoll. Even if I am wrong, I would bet that all the extra fat needed with other pans will be more toxic in the long run.

All-Clad makes some really rugged non-stick pans. I have abused them with a day's worth of low heat with nothing in the pan, and metal utensils all without undue damage. I have never tried these, but Sitram Cybernox pans are purported to be much tougher than other non-stick surfaces and do not use Teflon, but may not be quite as slippery as Teflon.
posted by caddis at 8:48 PM on November 29, 2004

I am cast iron convert myself. We had nonstick, then I bought a 10 dollar cast iron skillet and I cook just about everything in it, including eggs. Once an iron pan is seasoned well, it's about as nonstick as nonstick can get. I haven't had any problems, it just takes a little more work to take care of it. If I had a larger budget for cookware, I'd probably buy Le Creuset.
posted by jefbla at 9:26 PM on November 29, 2004

Teflon is a danger only when extremely overheated. And you can eat a cup of teflon with no harm: it comes out the other end as, you guessed it, a cup of teflon.

We have a Wear-Ever nonstick that has held up very well these past four or five years. It's a professional-grade pan, with an extremely thick teflon coating and a good, heavy aluminum chassis.

Dunno if I'd ever bother replacing it.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:10 PM on November 29, 2004

Non-stick pans are more work than they're worth. Cast iron and stainless for me. I don't think I've used a non-stick coated pan in 20 years.

Maybe they've gotten better, but I wouldn't give up the cast iron or stainless for anything.
posted by kamylyon at 12:00 AM on November 30, 2004

I like my Calphalon non-stick set. Good stuff. (They don't make the kind we have anymore... I forget whether it was Commercial or Professional, but it's discontinued.) I have no qualms about using it. I also love LeCreuset but lost most of my LeCreuset stuff in a move.

Different pans for different purposes... it's the way to go. Non-stick is definitely nice for some things, especially if you are cooking low-fat.
posted by litlnemo at 12:53 AM on November 30, 2004

Non-stick pans are more work than they're worth. Cast iron and stainless for me.

You think cast iron is less work than non-stick???

There are good non-stick pans out there- just don't get Teflon. Le Creuset is nice if you've got money to burn, but I'm a fan of Anolon Titanium, which is anodized steel. I have a large skillet and 5-qt. casserole.
posted by mkultra at 5:05 AM on November 30, 2004

we use stainless for most things. i don't know what makes, but the ones we have in santiago were expensive and heavy and clean nicely, while the ones in la serena were cheap, light, and are stain easily. so there seems to be some difference in stainless steels (neither are famous brand names - this whole askme brand-name fetish is faintly disturbing).

for frying we use a steel wok, in what i understand is the traditional manner (ie it's seasoned - black inside). that also works just fine, but doesn't look very pretty (we cook on gas).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:53 AM on November 30, 2004

I like both. I have one fantastic non-stick pan that am extra careful with and baby as if it was my own child. I can burn a brick of cheese on it for an hour without any oil or butter and nothing will stick to it. It's really crazy. I love it - cleanup is always a snap, I never have to scrub at all - but I don't use it for everything. Unfortunately I don't know what brand it is off the top of my head, I received it as a gift. For larger, less sticky cooking I'll typically use a steel pan. The majority of non-stick pans I've had have been complete crap. I don't know what makes the one I have now so good. It's thicker than the others I've had, but that's about the only difference I can spot.
posted by soplerfo at 7:39 AM on November 30, 2004

If I can hijack this a little: can someone explain what the downside to cooking acidic foods like tomatoes in unenameled cast iron is? Will it pit? Will it just need to be reseasoned?
posted by kenko at 7:45 AM on November 30, 2004

I use both - nonstick and cast iron - and I like both for different things: nonstick for scrambled eggs & quick stirfries, cast iron for just about everything else.

If you're worried about the nonstick scratches, I have to say that unfortunately you get what you pay for. Expensive nonstick will last a long time; cheap nonstick won't. Check for weight - heavier nonstick pans last a lot longer. I have one saucepan that must be nearly 20 years old and a small wok that's 5 years old and still totally unscratched - and I am notoriously hard on all my stuff. I just never never never use a metal spatula or anything harder than a wooden spoon with nonstick & only a sponge for cleanup - and they're fine.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:52 AM on November 30, 2004

kenko- Generally, it'll just dissolve the seasoning and you'll have to start over. It also will corrode the actual iron, which will seep in very small amounts into your food, which can leave a faint metallic taste.
posted by mkultra at 8:39 AM on November 30, 2004

I wouldn't be so quick with the accusation of aluminium millinery. DuPont admits that small birds and humans can get polymer fume fever from overheated teflon. Polymer fume fever can be very nasty.

Additionally, when you use the pan it has to first be manufactured. DuPont discovered in 1981 that showed traces of PFOA (a chemical used in the making of Teflon) in the bloodstream of one of its workers' unborn children -- and then hid the results from the EPA. Resulting in the EPA seeking the largest environmental fine ever levied. Later, it was discovered that PFOA was in the water supply for 12,000 people. The son of a DuPont factory worker who was born with only one nostril and other facial defects (he has had 30 operations) is one of eight families suing the company over PFOA.

If you're willing to live with the risk of flu-like symptoms, or the serious injury or death of birds and small children, from briefly overheating your pan; and if you're willing to support a company that exposes its unwitting employees to disfiguring industrial chemicals that pass through the placental barrier and then tries to cover it up; then by all means, enjoy your eggs with a fine Teflon(tm) non-stick pan.
posted by felix at 8:45 AM on November 30, 2004

Just to add some balance - a good friend of mine is a French chef, and he uses non-stick all the time. Including in the oven, when he can get away with it. He tells me that all of the kitchens he has worked in cook this way.

Personally, my wife and I use non-stick for breakfast, for frying up vegetables for the kid, and for a few pasta dishes. Meats are generally relegated to the cast iron, and the copper bottomed stainless cookware gets everything else.

Just never heat the non-stick stuff when empty; I can tell you from experience that it does feel like you've picked up a bad cold for a couple of days. Same goes for that teflon-based bathroom cleaner. I'm never using that again...
posted by bh at 8:46 AM on November 30, 2004

I use stainless 75% of the time and cast iron about 15% of the time. But non-stick is irreplaceable for me for that last 10% when cooking omelettes, frittatas, and other high-protein foods that like to bond to steel and, yes, even the seasoned coating on the cast iron. And the non-stick is a lot easier to take care of. But don't waste money on high-priced all-clad for non-stick pans since they will wear out within a year or two. You can get top quality non-stick pans pretty cheap from any restaurant supply outlet.

Oh, and kenko: While iron (being water soluble) will corrode when it comes in contact with any liquid, acids will corrode iron faster and will also discolor the acidic food (e.g. acidic red tomatoes will turn brown). This is not a problem, however with well-seasoned cast iron as the iron never comes in direct contact with whatever's cooked in it.
posted by dchase at 9:01 AM on November 30, 2004

The choice of pans really depends on what your cooking. Eggs and such are okay for non-stick, but these pans often have difficulty in distributing heat equally on the bottom of the pan. I also use non sticks for things such as finishing off pastas that have a simple olive oil coating.

When I cook meat, I avoid non sticks like the plague. Stainless steels and cast irons help give the meat the brown crust that I love with meats, and the brown crust (called fonds) stick to the bottom of the pan and with a little deglazed wine, make kickin' sauces.

So.. if you don't want crusty things on your food, non-sticks. If you do... use cast irons or stainless steels.

Of course, I have a crepe pan that is stainless still, so take what I say with a grain of salt (no pun)
posted by AccidentalHedonist at 10:05 AM on November 30, 2004

I only use a non-stick for omelettes, and sometimes not even then. My cast-iron pan is for pancakes, pikelets and other quickbreads, for sauteing, and for frying meat and fish. Acidic things I cook in stainless steel. And I have an enamelled cast iron casserole/pot which is my current pride and joy. The enamel is close to non-stick and it almost wipes clean after a quick soak.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:10 PM on November 30, 2004

To answer the final question in your question, from my point of view: yes. In our kitchen it is cast iron and s/s for everything except one skillet for omelettes. /wondering how to prepare a cup of teflon
posted by Dick Paris at 12:17 PM on November 30, 2004

I use a nonstick (excalibur, which is basically scratch-proof teflon) pan for eggs and omelets, and for frying breaded fish. For anything other that than, I find that it doesn't brown as well (this is due to the fact that teflon itself is an insulator, so the pan just transmit heat in the same way). Often, you >want< things to stick, and they'll release their own. this is often how you tell things are done. if they're still stuck to the pan, they're>
Mostly, I use all-clad stainless or lodge or le creuset cast iron. Really depends on my mood.

An exception to this is something truly outstanding called Cybernox. It's very expensive, but it's amazing. It's some sort of hybrid crystalline alloy from France. It is indistinguishable from steel (it has an aluminum disc base) in the way it cooks, but things don't really "stick" to it. It's hard to explain. Little bits stick to the bottom, and brown, but they come off easily. It is the easiest pan I own to wash. A friend of mine uses his on his boat, where water is scarce.
posted by Caviar at 12:35 PM on November 30, 2004

dchase, iron doesn't corrode because it's water soluble. It corrodes because water is a polar molecule and causes an oxidation reaction across the surface.

There's a pretty good explanation (albeit in an industrial context) here.
posted by Caviar at 12:43 PM on November 30, 2004

Yet another omelet-pan-only for non-stick vote. I get the cheap aluminum ones because when they inevitably get scratched beyond usefulness I can toss them without feeling bad. They suck but I've learned to compensate for their suckosity. Otherwise stainless or cast iron.

I'm very interested in Caviar's Cybernox (despite the name). Has anyone tried any other next-generation non-Teflon non-stick coatings like ceramic (but not Creuset)?
posted by TimeFactor at 1:00 PM on November 30, 2004

We only use cast-iron and stainless. Having a non-stick is nice while you get your cast-iron pans seasoned, but once they have a solid black finish on them, they're better than teflon - provided you continue to care for them and season them after each use.

If you hit a few thrift stores, you can usually find a well-seasoned cast-iron pan for cheep!
posted by rocketman at 2:24 PM on November 30, 2004

A Cup of Teflon. Knock yourself out, DickP.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:59 PM on November 30, 2004

TimeFactor - if you're interested in Cybernox, I'm pretty sure it's what you want. To be clear, it's not a coating, it's a layer of the pan itself. Also, it's something like 10 times as hard as steel and has a very attractive mirror-like reflective sheen. You can scratch it with a strong abrasive (don't use the green scratchpads), but with normal usage, you won't touch the finish.
posted by Caviar at 8:53 PM on November 30, 2004

Felix, please don your tin chapeau. 260C? That is information. If you heat your Teflon pan to that temperature for any time it will be destroyed. They do not like high heat.

If you balance the outside chance of danger from overheating your pan with the known dangers of consuming fat - heart disease, cancer, obesity, etc. - I really do not think that you can prove that Teflon is worse than the alternative. If you really worry, a properly seasoned cast iron pan can handle most low fat tasks. Whatever you do, do not use soap on it or you will wash out the non-stick seasoning. Salt water or lemon juice will get out a nasty garlic smell if you need to prepare something with delicate flavors in the next use. However, if you like eggs but are trying to cut out or reduce the yolks - there is nothing that really works except a non-stick pan.

Some have demeaned their ability to distribute heat and the fragility of their surface. Get a good one and these concerns are seriously muted. As for browning meat, non-stick pans really suffer. They have their limitations, but if you want to reduce fat and still use a frying pan, nothing really beats a quality non-stick pan. Oh, the anodized professional pans noted above are not truly non-stick of the variety which will cook an egg white omelette without sticking.

Quality counts. The cheap ones usually fail to distribute heat quickly or evenly and do not sport rugged coatings. I have used very many non-stick pans across all price points and the only one that I really love is the All-Clad. Calphalon makes great regular pans, but their non-stick pans are a little too thick for quick heating and the coating always seems to fall apart too soon, at least considering the cost. The best of the cheapies is Analon - pretty durable, and reasonable heat distribution. Over the long term I still think the All-Clad is a better buy than most of its cheaper alternatives.

Cavier - how well do the Cybernox non-stick pans work, in terms of cooking foods without oil and without the foods sticking?
posted by caddis at 9:00 PM on November 30, 2004

caddis, I continue to avert the use of my conductive-metal hairpiece. From the article you read:

"According to EWG's study, Canaries in the kitchen, a generic non-stick pan left on a conventional stovetop burner can reach 391 C in three minutes and 20 seconds. A Teflon pan can reach 382 C in five minutes. "

It's true that this will rarely happen. However, certain kinds of foods are cooked at much higher temperatures:

"The Chinese way of cooking is quite different from that of Westerners, and the respective requirements for cooking temperature are also different. In Western countries, cooking temperature doesn’t exceed 200 degrees centigrade. But in China, for many dishes, especially deep fried ones, they range above 340 degrees centigrade. So the conclusion: Teflon non-stick pans are not safe to Chinese consumers." (link)

And even if you're not one of the billions of people who cook food at high temperatures every day, (a) why risk it and (b) why support a company that attempts to conceal information having to do with serious illness and death resulting from 'common sense' use of its products?
posted by felix at 10:32 AM on December 1, 2004

felix, the question was not about cooking food at such elevated temperatures. Teflon is not suited for that for other reasons as well, namely those temperatures destroy it. As for not supporting DuPont, where do you find that they conceal information on the "common sense" use of the product? Every non-stick pan I have ever seen came with a warning not to use high temperatures or to overheat the pan without food in it - this is to avoid damaging the pan - thus the common sense use of the pan does not include heating it to 500 F. Common sense use does not include product destroying uses. Why risk it you ask? Because the alternative of using extra oil to prepare my food is probably even less healthy, all things considered. Why support DuPont? I doubt any of the pans I have employ DuPont's coatings, but if they did so what. I am not one to boycott products from a company because of some alleged misdeed they may have committed. If I did I would probably have to hand craft all of my own products.
posted by caddis at 1:51 PM on December 1, 2004

Well, at this point we're just arguing in a thread that archaeologists will uncover in late 2009. Hi archaeologists. But as a last note:

"I am not one to boycott products from a company because of some alleged misdeed they may have committed," you indicate.

From Chief Executive magazine (link [scroll down]):

"DUPONT HAS BEEN DEALT a setback in the controversy surrounding a chemical it uses to manufacture Teflon. The Environmental Protection Agency said in a complaint filed in July that it would take action against the company for failing to disclose the “substantial risk” to human and environmental health posed by the chemical, known as C-8.

The complaint cited violations dating back to 1981, when the EPA says DuPont discovered C-8 in blood samples from pregnant women who worked in its Teflon plant in West Virginia.


In the mid-’80s, DuPont discovered C-8 in the public water supply near its plant, and in 1991 recorded the substance in levels surpassing the company’s internal safety guidelines. The Toxic Substances Control Act requires companies to immediately report any health concerns, yet DuPont failed to notify the EPA, the agency said. In addition, the agency cited DuPont for failing to provide requested toxicological data on C-8.

The latest action could result in the largest fine ever levied by the EPA under the federal act. The law allows the agency to issue fines of up to $27,500 a day. In DuPont’s case, the fines could total $300 million. DuPont denies the charges and says it will appeal the finding."

(emphasis mine)

The EPA, especially under the Bush Administration, is not in the habit of filing frivolous lawsuits against corporations. This may be because DuPont actually admitted to the charges but is fighting it on different grounds. But please, enjoy your grilled cheese sandwich.
posted by felix at 2:04 PM on December 1, 2004

mmmmm, grilled cheese.
posted by caddis at 2:07 PM on December 1, 2004

caddis -

Cybernox works pretty well as a non-stick alternative. It's in the "use less oil", not "use no oil" category. For example, you can cook an egg on a high-quality teflon pan with no oil or butter, and it won't stick at all. On Cybernox, it will (but once you're done with it, it'll be really easy to clean). The point here is not to eliminate sticking entirely, since you often want things to stick temporarily, so they brown. And, like steel, when they're done, they release on their own. This, Cybernox does very well.

In summary, you have to use some oil, things stick when they're supposed to stick, it's very easy to clean, you can't hurt it with metal utenstils, and it cooks very much like steel. Other than that, it's hard to describe - you kind of have to try it.
posted by Caviar at 7:16 PM on December 4, 2004

« Older Can I handwash my merino wool sweater?   |   Hangovers and red wine Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.