How often do you replace your nonstick pans?
June 21, 2007 2:36 PM   Subscribe

How often should you / do you replace your non-stick pans?

The husband and I have jobs that get us home late, but we prefer cooking and eating at home to restaurant food. I've completely grown to rely on my nonstick wok for quick dinners and quick cleanups. I use it at least three times a week. Aaand, this is the second time I've had to replace it in 3 years. Is this as ridiculous as it seems?

(Yes, we plan to try to use our stainless cookware more. However, the nonstick is easier and faster and I refuse to give it up entirely.)
posted by synapse to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Every 2 to 3 years is about right, according to my mom and the National Geographic Green Guide.
posted by puritycontrol at 2:42 PM on June 21, 2007

And: "Overheated" is about 600 degrees F, again from the Green Guide (and Alton Brown) -- which your pans should only reach if you heat them and never bother to put food in them.
posted by puritycontrol at 2:45 PM on June 21, 2007

I think it depends on whether you replace it when the non-stick stuff has worn off. :)

Personally I just keep right on using them, and have non-stick pans that must be from the first-generation of Teflon stuff. Doesn't much bug me; I just use more Pam to compensate. I hate it when the Teflon is actively flaking off, but once it's gone, I just treat it like a regular steel or aluminum pan.

But assuming you want to replace them when the non-stick stuff is gone, 3 years of heavy usage (multiple uses per week) doesn't sound too far off. A wok or skillet that you stir-fry in probably wears out more quickly than one you just fry-and-flip or sautee in, and I expect it's very dependent on your utensil choice and how much pressure you use when stirring.

I expect that cleaning methods probably affect the life substantially, too. All in all, three years doesn't sound too bad; the real question is whether you feel like you got enough use out of it in that time to justify its original cost (and hence, making the replacement of it with an identical item worthwhile).
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:47 PM on June 21, 2007

Also, make sure you're using something soft in them, metal spatulas and all will start the scratching that eventually leads to flaking.
posted by pupdog at 2:54 PM on June 21, 2007

Oops .. misread you a little, you said replaced it twice in three years, so you're getting less than 1.5 years out of each. That does sound pretty quick, unless you're using it every night.

However, my advice still stands, which is to think not quite so much of the time, but how many uses you've gotten out of it, and decide the value for yourself that way.

Personally, I'm a major convert to commercial uncoated aluminum-alloy pans; I got a good deal on some Meyer Commercialware from a surplus store and I'll never go back.

posted by Kadin2048 at 3:00 PM on June 21, 2007

Hmmm. That seems a little often, as I tend to replace mine every 5 years or so, but then again, I have two frypans, and use them alternately. I have found, however, that buying a decent name pan is certainly worth it. The Farberware pan has already lasted twice as long as the house brand pan it replaced, and the Calphalon pan is six or seven years old and still going strong. (I cook 80% of our meals using an 11" deep frypan and a 3qt saucepan, only the frypan is non-stick.)

If you're comitted to wokking, though, I'd really get away from the non-stick. I hated the non-stick wok I got as a wedding present, and we sold it (church rummage sale) rather than move it. A Chinese friend gave us a really nice steel wok, and I found it much easier to use than the non-stick wok, and only 30 seconds harder to clean.
posted by jlkr at 3:01 PM on June 21, 2007

Just get cast iron pans, the original non-stick.

You don't use soap, just wipe them down while they're still warm and rinse them out with water. You can give them to your kids. Overheating? Never heard of it. Stovetop right into the oven? Sure.
posted by jon_kill at 3:05 PM on June 21, 2007

Cast iron pans are great and all, but I don't care how well you've seasoned them, they are not as non-stick as a good non-stick pan. You can also put non-stick pans right into the oven provided they have metal handles or detachable handles (Calphalon have metal handles on many if not most of their pans).

I have Circulon and Caphalon pans that are now a decade old and in great shape. We have 2 medium frying pans that we use a minimum of once a day, that we got when we got married 4 years ago, and they're still great.

Oh... and every non-stick wok I've had except the caphalon has gone to hell practically on the first use.
posted by RustyBrooks at 3:32 PM on June 21, 2007

I'm still using my grandmothers cast iron. When you're done cooking just rinse with warm water and plop it back on the stove top. Then turn the heat to high, wipe off excess water with a paper towel, spray a thin film of oil (Canola works great) and spread that around with another piece of paper towel. When you start to see it barely smoke (about a minute), turn it off and its as good as new (in terms on non-stickiness).
posted by special-k at 3:34 PM on June 21, 2007

I buy the $30 NSF-rated non-stick pans that restaurants use, and just toss them when they start to suck after a few months of heavy use or a couple years of occasional use.
posted by nicwolff at 4:25 PM on June 21, 2007

PS by heavy use I mean daily; you should get a year or so out of one if you're just using it few times a week.
posted by nicwolff at 4:26 PM on June 21, 2007

We love this brand of non-stick cookware. It's anondized aluminum so the coating is incredibly durable. Also, because it's aluminum, it conducts heat beautifully so you don't need to cook above medium heat. (Which, ideally, you shouldn't do with non-stick cookware because it compromises the coating over time.)

If you do have a teflon coated non-stick pan, here are some tips to make it last a long time from my experience hawking cookware before I got my act together and found a more satisfying career (and by a long time I mean well over ten years):

- Avoid cooking on high heat
- Don't use extra-virgin olive oil for cooking. It seeps into the pan over time; this is what causes discoloration and smoking in older pans when you heat the pan. Use virgin olive oil or, better still, vegetable or canola oil. Any oil with a higher smoke point works great.
- Only use silicone or nylon utensils in your pan.
- Avoid harsh abrasive cleansers or brillo pads when cleaning.
- Store your pans on a potrack or layer bubble wrap in between your pans when storing in a cabinet to prevent chipping or scratching your non-stick surface.

Oh, and as others have said, I love cast-iron, too. Enamel coated cast iron cooks beautifully and is easy to clean, though I understand that storage can be tricky. Not to mention it weighs a ton. But, all things considered, I think it's worth it.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 4:32 PM on June 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

You have to be gentle with non-stick and you have to have quality. Caphalon non stick pans are not expensive on the internet and are absolute warriors. Use wooden utensils when you cook with them (and with everything, really) and absolutely do not use anything remotely like a brillo pad to clean.

I also must agree that a non-stick wok is not the way to go. It will take a little while to properly season a wok, but it's. Well worth it. You want to absolutely blaze your wok, and a nonsticker will never give you true wok smoke. In other words, your nice stainless steel wok will be a pain in the ass for a couple of weeks or months (depending on frequency of use) and will thereaster be one of your favorite pans, right up there with your old-timey seven pound cast iron behemoth.
posted by kosem at 5:49 PM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

May I suggest a stainless steel All-Clad wok? I have one and I love, love, love it. It is simply stainless steel with no coating but I find that rarely does anything stick to it. (Probably because the steel is very smooth, and the metal is so heavy that hot spots don't develop and food doesn't scorch.) If anything sticks just let the leftovers sit in the wok while you eat dinner and the stuck bits will have softened up, most of the time. If that fails, you can soak and/or scour the pan without worrying about ruining the finish or seasoning (I recommend Barkeeper's Friend, which doesn't scratch the steel).

I recommend that you get one cheap nonstick frying pan for dishes that really need a nonstick surface, and replace it every couple of years. For everything else, get good heavy stainless steel pots and pans and and you'll find that they are surprisingly low-stick without any coating at all. I am totally in love with my All-Clad pans and recommend them without reservation. (OK, the price is kinda steep but they'll last a lifetime and your kids can inherit them.)
posted by Quietgal at 7:58 PM on June 21, 2007

My cast iron pans are about 90% as non-stick as any teflon pans I've ever used, and I expect them to last decades, if not longer. But the weight can be hard for some people. However, I find that they cook much better than nonstick pans, and with less oil and sticking than stainless steel pans. I also appreciate that they are really strong and resilient -- metal utensils are good for the pans, and even burnt-on crud comes out with a little soaking. I've never used a leCruset enameled pan, but they are really lovely to look at.

I do keep one "non-stick" pan in the house, for the rare occasion when I want to use it, and even under very rare use I find myself replacing it every two or three years -- these are cheap store-brand pans, and the coating starts flaking and they develop scratches after very little use. So I would say that if you want longer life out of your nonstick pans, go upmarket rather than ultra cheap.
posted by Forktine at 9:19 PM on June 21, 2007

Response by poster: I have cooked on cast iron, and will invest in proper pan for myself in the near future, but the non-stick has been so versatile and easy to clean that I'm not willing to relinquish it. Given this addiction, I may just have to spend more on a better quality version if I want it to last longer. I already only use silicone implements, and have never taken anything "scrubby" to the pan.

In any case, thanks for all the excellent advice, I couldn't choose just one "best answer"!
posted by synapse at 11:52 PM on June 21, 2007

Non-stick pans are great, but If I used a non-stick wok I'd make sure to pick an oil with a smoke point of 400 or below so that I had a visual indicator to avoid teflon flu and teflon overheating.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:41 AM on June 22, 2007

I decided after replacing umpteen cheap-ish non-stick pans to go for something of higher quality - over the course of a few Christmas and birthday presents, and saving up myself (I'd just moved out of the parental home, back from Uni) I acquired a good set of Anolon pans... totally awesome, nothing sticks to them even if burned on, easy to wash, and have lasted me about 6 years so far. Two (a saucepan and a frying pan) have been damaged by someone using rough sponge/spoon/something on them, but everything else is hunky-dory.

Virtually everything gets used at least 2-3 times per week, and I'd never ever ever go back to using anything cheap again - unless it is for use in a "risky" location (like Uni) where people won't look after them...
posted by Chunder at 5:37 AM on June 22, 2007

Another vote for cast iron. I cook every day, usually twice a day, and almost always in a (nonenameled) cast iron skillet. When I wind up cooking in someone else's kitchen and using even high-end non-stick, I'm always baffled why people buy these at all unless it's for the lighter weight. It's not any less sticky than cast iron, and you can't use it at high temperatures or with metal tools. With cast iron you can use both. Plus, cast iron is incredibly cheap. I have a cast iron wok that I bought for $20 and it's fantastic. (You can buy them on Amazon, and cast iron woks are for some reason much lighter than the standard cast iron skillet.) NEVER buy a non-stick wok. Wok cooking must be done over heat too high for any nonstick pan.

If you've had less than great experiences with cast iron, it's probably because the pan hasn't been properly seasoned or cleaned. It's not difficult or time-consuming, to the contrary. The main and most important trick is never to put soap in it. It should just rinse clean with a swish of one of those little plastic dish scrubber brushes. I've occasionally let mine sit with hot water for 10 minute to loosen eggs, the only thing that ever seems to stick at all, and that's all it takes to swish it clean.
posted by Lauram at 6:01 AM on June 22, 2007

Consider investing in one or more nonstick ScanPans. They are made in Denmark ('Scan(dinavian)Pan'), have a lifetime warranty, and are designed to allow use of regular metal utensils.

You can find lots of reviews online. You can find them on sale as well; I see the retail for the classic saucepan is $150, but I found it for $50 when I bought it a couple of years ago.
posted by jjsonp at 7:35 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I started using cast iron once I found out that the chemicals from nonstick pans are now found in most newborns' blood, and that the company knew Teflon was dangerous but rejected safer options, and that it stays in people's blood for seven years, and in the environment indefinitely. (The first link talks broadly about PFOA, but the last article, which is the best link, clarifies that Dupont is the only maker of PFOA in North America.)

Most of this has to do with the manufacture of the pans. But also --

Robert Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and author of What Einstein Told His Cook, if Teflon-lined pans are heated to 600 degrees, "all kinds of toxic chemicals are released."

If you leave an empty, or a nearly empty, nonstick pan on a hot burner for a few minutes, he says, by the time you smell it in the next room, toxic fumes are in the air. The fumes can cause headaches and chills and even kill pet birds...
posted by salvia at 10:15 AM on June 22, 2007

Just reread my comments, and sorry if that barage of links came off as harsh, I just meant to be matter of fact. Anyway, the other thing I wanted to say was that I use cast iron and love it -- kept well-oiled, it's as nonstick as my nonstick pan was, plus it heats better (I like its solidness).
posted by salvia at 10:23 AM on June 22, 2007

I have used non-stick exclusively for 10 months and have come to some conclusions. I got Farberware and it has worn down from extensive use and yes, I used silicon or wood so the wear is from cooking. So for the money and result I would suggest going with restaurant level teflon pans which are usually inexpensive and very good pans.

Now, I would NEVER use a non-stick for stir frying because of the amount of heat required for a decent stir fry. The pan used by professionals is Volrath which is < $60 and can be seasoned (email me for specifics)br>
I use cast iron for certain things, stainless and anodized (calphalon) for others but certian things, like eggs and delicate fish, I use teflon.

So for the amount of use you are putting on your pan I would say you are clocking in the same rate as I am on the Farberware with cooking everyday.
posted by jadepearl at 11:05 AM on June 22, 2007

Stainless is easily as non-stick as "non-stick". Get a good scouring pad (3M's are great, but too expensive, dollar store ones are useless - the grit must have a sand-papery feel, or forget it), and you'll be amazed!
posted by Chuckles at 2:21 PM on June 22, 2007

As long as people are touting cast iron, I'll recommend this nickel-plated cast iron skillet which has all the heat conductivity and retention you love but needs no seasoning and can be soaked in the sink or thrown in the dishwasher.
posted by nicwolff at 8:37 PM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

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