Updated November 9th, 2018 – Non-stick pans are a staple of most kitchens. We simply can’t cook without them. A non-stick frying pan, generally speaking, is coated with a thin layer of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). This coating allows food to brown on the surface of the pan without adhering to it. This means we can use less oil and not worry about ruining the food. Although it might seem like a relatively new or modern idea, the ancient Greeks were using the non-stick concept almost 3,000 years ago.
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Polytetrafluoroethylene Almost Never Was
Polytetrafluoroethylene is known as the most slippery material in existence, throw in the fact that it is inert to nearly all chemicals and it’s no surprise that it found its way into our kitchenware. But it is more than the compound that keeps food from sticking to your cookware and has contributed to advancements in several other areas as well.
It advanced electronics, communications, aerospace engineering, and even architecture, but this magical compound almost never was. PTFE was invented almost entirely by accident when scientists were working with refrigerants, and with a stroke of luck, Polytetrafluoroethylene was born.
This invention of PTFE has impacted technological advancement that the man attributed with finding this miracle, Dr. Roy Plunkett, was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame (yes that is a real thing) in 1973 and joined the likes of the Wright Brothers and Thomas Edison when he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
PTFE in Cookware
Today this stuff is most known for being somewhat of a savior in the kitchen, without this we’d be spending more time scrubbing our pans than we would be cooking with them. You can find non-stick cookware in most every kitchen across the country. It is the reason we can flip omelets with ease without having to douse the skillet with oil or butter first.
Challenges of using non-stick cookware.
When purchasing a non-stick pan, you’ll notice that it’s significantly more expensive than the alternative. This makes it a big investment and one that you’ll want to care for. It’s important not to damage the PTFE coating. Once that layer is gone, your non-stick pan is, well, a stick pan.
The trouble is that our cooking utensils can also have an abrasive, damaging effect on non-stick pans. A metal spatula, whisk, or fork will slowly remove the PTFE surface and deteriorate the non-stick quality of the pan. You need to consider a few alternatives if you want to promote the longevity of your non-stick cookware.
Not all non-stick pans are PTFE.
Recently, health concerns have led some people away from Teflon-coated pans. This is because the chemical, when heated to high temperatures, are released into the air. The fumes are potentially harmful to those with sensitive respiratory symptoms. People exposed to PTFE may develop a respiratory condition called “Teflon Flu,” also known as “Polymer fume fever.”
In small quantities, the fumes, while generally not problematic for humans, are quite deadly to birds. You should never use Teflon pans for cooking if you have a pet bird.
Non-stick Alternatives to PTFE
Even if you choose to avoid using products coated with PTFE, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on non-stick cookware altogether. Read about why you might want to use non-stick ceramic cookware instead.
Ceramic / Stoneware
Ceramic cookware isn’t new to our species by any stretch, it dates all the back to the days of ancient Greece and there is even evidence it was used in ancient Chinese cultures.
Some benefits you’ll get with ceramic pans are; they can withstand temperatures hotter than what anybody would ever cook with, and they are non-toxic with no chemical coatings.
Enameled cast iron
Enameled cast iron is another excellent nonstick cooking surface. They are naturally non-stick, so you’ll never have to worry about chemicals in your dish. Enameled cast iron has incredible heat retention properties making it a great choice for dishes that must be cooked at high temperatures.
Whichever type of cookware you own, the following tips will help extend the useful life of your non-stick pans.
How can I maintain my non-stick pans?
A quality frying pan is not cheap. There are a few steps you should take if you want your non-stick pans to last. Here are a few tips on how to avoid damaging the surface coating and ruining your investment.
1. Cook at lower temperatures
You should avoid cooking on a very high heat with non-stick pans. The high temperatures will gradually damage and remove the PTFE surface. If you need to cook something hot and fast, consider using a wok, which is designed for that purpose.
2. Oil the pan as you cook
Make sure to season your food before and during the cooking process. Not only does this protect the pan, but it also enhances the way the food will cook, too.
Never use a non-stick spray on a non-stick pan. Over time, this spray will build up into a sticky surface that won’t be removed during the cooking process.
3. Know how to clean non-stick cookware
Don’t use scrubbers or steel wool on your pans, which will damage the surface. Read this post to find out about the best non-abrasive sponges.
Never put non-stick cookware in the dishwasher. Many models claim to be “dishwasher safe,” but the extremely hot water and detergents will ruin the PTFE surface over time. (You can, however, use the dishwasher to clean stainless steel). Generally, a wipe with a sponge under lukewarm water is enough, though you can leave it to soak if necessary.
4. Use the right utensils
Finally, as previously mentioned, metal utensils are damaging, and you should avoid them. Instead, opt for ones made from wood or silicone.
Types of materials you can use on non-stick surfaces
There isn’t just one option available to you when cooking with non-stick cookware, nor do you want to limit yourself to only one option. Let’s look at some of the options available to us “non-stick cookware connoisseurs”.
The gradual rounding edges of wooden utensils make them among the most comfortable tools to use, and they are perfect for stirring or mixing sauces. Wooden utensils are also typically very sturdy and you can be a little rougher with them without worrying about breaking it.
Of course, there is a downside to wooden utensils the most glaring of which is keeping them clean without ruining the wood. I personally hate the way wooden utensils feel after washing them by hand, but I also can’t put them in the dishwasher, so, that sucks.
Wooden utensils are also generally pretty thick and not suitable for flipping, often times breaking up the food as you attempt to get under it.
Silicone utensils are great for your non-stick cookware because there is zero chance of it scratching the surface of your pans. Silicon spatulas are extremely flexible and get under food without breaking it up, but that flexibility can also be it’s downfall as they are usually too flimsy lift heavier foods.
Silicone’s most redeeming quality is its ability to withstand high temperatures without melting staining or releasing damaging chemicals into your food.
Nylon utensils are probably the most common kitchen utensils. They are inexpensive, easy to replace, and because they are dishwasher safe they’re easy to maintain.
The downside to nylon utensils is they melt at high temperatures, this is obviously a bad thing. Luckily, you won’t usually be cooking at extremely high temperatures when using non-stick cookware.
Hybrid utensils are easily my favorite kitchen utensils, not just with non-stick cookware either. They combine the sturdy frame of stainless steel utensils and the soft touch of food grade silicone, making for a perfect tool in every conceivable way.
You’ll find that hybrid cooking utensils are the most versatile and the most dependable utensils in your arsenal. And it is for that reason, that you will find yourself giving them way more love than the rest of the tools in your cabinet.
These utensils will generally cost more than the other options but, it is my opinion that they are infinitely better than the rest the competition.
So, now you’re aware of the potential issues with using non-stick cookware, and how to mitigate them. You know the options you have to choose from, where they excel, and where they falter. Now all you need are the right tools (for you) to pair with your pan! Here is a list of some excellent kitchen utensils for non-stick pans.
This unique utensil set by Miusco is quite beautiful. The heads are made of FDA-approved and BPA-free silicone, heat-resistant up to 464° F. The handles are made from natural Acacia hardwood, which has natural antimicrobial properties and looks quite elegant.
Miusco’s 5-piece set includes a soup ladle, “spoonula,” spatula, turner, and a slotted spoon. The care instructions indicate that they are handwash-only. As the handles are made of wood, avoid leaving them to soak in your sink basin or exposing them to extreme temperature changes.
NexGadget 6-Piece Set
This nylon and silicone hybrid set comes with nearly everything you need in the kitchen, if you find yourself needing more they also have a seven and 38-piece set available to purchase (the 7 and 38-piece sets have some stainless steel hybrid utensils in them).
In this set, you’ll receive a cooking spoon, slotted turner, soup ladle, flexible turner, spaghetti server, and a serving spoon. The nylon heads of the utensils are able to withstand temperatures up to 410 degrees, although I certainly wouldn’t recommend keeping them in contact with the heat for prolonged periods.
HULLR 10-Piece Silicon Kitchen set
This colorful set will add some extra color to the kitchen, making dinner prep a little more interesting and is a great way to get the youngsters to want to join in as well (never too soon to get the kids involved).
It has the usual food-grade silicone coating that is BPA free and heat resistant up to 480 degrees Fahrenheit. In the set you get; two tongs, two turners, two basting brushes, a whisk, and two spoons.
The downside to this set (though it isn’t much of a downside at all) is that is has the companies name branded in huge bold letters on the handless. That aside this is an excellent set, for the price its listed at.
StarPack Ultra Flexible
Here is a nice starter pack from StarPack Home that comes with three different sized turner spatulas (regular, extra long, and extra wide), meaning you will have the perfect spatula for any job.
The spatula heads are ultra thin and extremely flexible making it easy for you to get under the crepes, omelets, or pancakes, yet sturdy enough to carry the weight of the food on top of it. This set is also dishwasher safe and can withstand temperatures up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
di Oro Living
This flex spatula is perfect for making omelets, pancakes, or anything else that needs a little extra love when flipping it over. The combination of the flexible stainless steel frame covered with food grade silicone offers a sturdy tool with a sturdy flipping surface while still protecting your non-stick cookware
This spatula really leaves nothing to be desired, it has a smooth flat surface that gracefully glides under even the most delicate foods, and it is 100 percent dishwasher safe. The handle is also made of silicone so you’ll never again, have to worry about your tool melting when you absentmindedly leave it in the skillet for too long.
E4U Cyclone Hyrbrid Utensil Set
If you like to add a splash of color to your kitchen this set will probably be a set that you enjoy (if purple is your thing at least). While the color is the first thing that you will notice, it certainly isn’t the greatest feature of this set.
The silicone coated whisks provide your cookware much-needed protection from scratches and the spatulas included with the two whisks are made of food-grade silicone capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures.
StarPack Premium Silicone Kitchen Utensils
This five peace silicone set comes with a turner, basting brush, whisk, and 2 different sized spatulas (large and small). Each is made to be able to withstand temperatures up to 480 degrees Fahrenheit, uses 100% BPA-free and is dishwasher safe.
The only issue I have with this set is that the spatulas don’t have smooth edges. This makes it a little more difficult when mixing cake batter and causes unnecessary messes.
The Farberware Classic Nylon Tools set comes in a convenient mesh bag and contains the classic kitchen utensils. This includes a ladle, a mini-turner, a basting spoon, a pasta server, and a slotted spoon.
All of the utensils in this kit are constructed from nylon, so they won’t damage your non-stick pans. Plus, they’re dishwasher safe, making for an easy cleanup
Bizanzzio Stainless Steel Silicone Kitchen Utensil Set
This Bizanzzio set uses the combination of a stainless steel body with a layer of silicone covering it on all the areas it should be. Of course, everything inside of the box is made of premium food grade silicone and high-quality 304 stainless steel.
The Bizanzzio stainless steel and silicon hybrid set come included with six premium utensils; slotted spatula turner, solid serving spoon, slotted spoon, pasta server, ladle, and a skimmer. Hand-wash or put them in the dishwasher—the choice is yours!
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Saving the best for last, the best kitchen utensils I’ve found for non-stick surfaces were those in the Joseph Joseph 6 Piece Kitchen Utensils Set. The first thing you’ll notice is the beautiful design of the utensils, which will look great in any kitchen. They are heat resistant up to 392° Fahrenheit, which makes them suitable for non-stick kitchen pans.
The best feature of the Joseph Joseph utensils is that the handles are nicely weighted. This serves to elevate the heads above dirty surfaces where they might absorb harmful bacteria. They’re dishwasher safe, so you don’t need to worry too much about the cleanup.
This collection comes equipped with a slotted spoon, a spaghetti server, a slotted turner, a ladle, a solid spoon, and a flexible turner. Made from durable stainless steel, this is a collection of utensils that will stand the test of time.
Avoid a sticky situation
With one of these quality utensils, you’ll be well-prepared for cooking delicious meals in your non-stick pan. Remember, your kitchenware is an investment. If you take care of it, it will take care of you!
Potential dangers of non-stick coated cookware
Nonstick cookware makes your job so much easier when preparing meals for your family, but this cookware isn’t all roses and sunshine. If you don’t take the necessary precautions you’ll find yourself running into some issues down the road.
Some experts consider non-stick surfaces potentially toxic, while there still seems to be some debate about this one thing is certain. Before you decide to use non-stick cookware you should educate your self on the potential hazards of it – if not maintained correctly.
You’ll remember that stated earlier these surfaces should not be overheated because the coating will begin to break down. Understand, this isn’t only a detriment to your pan, but to your health as well.
When the non-stick compound begins to break down, it releases toxic particles and gasses. These particles are actually the reason that food doesn’t adhere to the surface, but they are also very detrimental to our health when they break down.
Luckily, people much smarter than myself have determined the temperatures that this begins to happen, that being at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. So, as long as you stay within the recommended cooking temperatures you should be just fine.
How to make sure your pan stays in good shape
There are a few ways you can make sure that you don’t accidentally heat your cookware past the recommended temperatures:
- Do not preheat empty pans
- Don’t cook on high heat
- Don’t sear or broil meats in these pans
- Do get heavier nonstick pans (they’ll cost more, but they be more durable as well)
- Use utensils that prolong the pans life (anything suggested in this post is perfect)
What happens if the non-stick surface begins to chip?
Even with the most expensive pans, even when meticulously caring for the pan, the nonstick surface will eventually break down and start to chip. When this happens, you should stop using the pans as soon as possible.
There is no direct evidence that these flakes will harm you if you swallow one (in fact, one officer from the FDA says it would most likely pass through your system without being absorbed), but I wouldn’t want to take that chance.
How long should my nonstick cookware last?
This is largely dependent upon how well you care for your cookware and the quality of pan that you purchase. If you get a high-quality pan and treat it right, you can expect your cookware to last at least a couple of years.
My Favorite Choice
Having the proper utensils for your non-stick cookware is the single most important aspect of keeping your investment in top condition. All of the available options may leave you more confused than you were, to begin with, and that is okay, we’ve got you covered here at The Kitchen Professor.
My favorite set of utensils in our lineup is the StarPack Ultra Extra Flexible Silicone Spatula set. I love this set because it has a silicone coating with a flexible stainless steel frame to help you maneuver the heavier food that you cook on a day to day basis.
Non-stick cookware is likely to be the most utilized cookware in most kitchens, and for good reason, it makes our lives so much easier. If you have a set of this miracle cookware make sure you take care of it properly, the best way you can do this is by making sure you use the proper cooking utensils.
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