Non-stick cookware promises easy use and even easier cleanup. With few skills required to make a delicious, low-fat meal in any non-stick coated pan, you’d think there’s no real way to mess it up, right?
It turns out that you may have been using non-stick cookware wrong all along.
In the second of our three-part non-stick guide, we’ll share comprehensive how to’s so that you can get the most out of your coated cookware every meal.
Read the Directions for Your Brand New Non-Stick Cookware
Did you know that your non-stick cookware likely came with directions? Each branded cookware is slightly different, so your first step when unboxing any new non-stick cookware item is to read the instructions.
If you’ve already tossed yours in the garbage, no problem! Just Google “instructions + (brand and model name),” and you can locate a copy online. Here’s an example of instructions for a Red Copper Square, so you can identify exactly what you’re looking for.
How to Season a Non-Stick Frying Pan
Because non-stick coatings are prone to wearing off, most manufacturers suggest that you season your non-stick pan before first use. (You’ll also need to repeat the seasoning process two times per year for the life of the pan.)
Just like with a cast iron pan, the purpose of seasoning a non-stick pan before first-time use is to create an even smoother surface. Unlike a cast iron, non-stick pans can’t withstand the extreme temperature in your oven for prolonged periods.
Here’s how you season your non-stick pan:
- Wash and dry your non-stick skillet, ensuring that no moisture remains.
- Dab vegetable oil onto a paper towel and spread a thin coating over the interior of the pan.
- Refer to your product’s manual for heating instructions.
- Once cool, wipe off any excess oil with paper towels.
Seasoning requires that you heat the pan so that the oil is polymerized to the metal’s surface. However, non-stick cookware is not all heat-tolerant to the same degree.
Some products instruct you to season them in the oven at 300℉ for twenty minutes, others on the stovetop at medium for five.
If you’re in doubt about the appropriate heat setting, be sure to contact your product’s manufacturer through their website.
Can I Use Non-Stick Pans With My Stovetop?
Surprisingly, not every cookware type compliments all stovetops. We’ve categorized stovetops by how they heat your cookware and shared some specific tips for using non-stick:
Gas and Electric Coil Stovetops
Gas and electric coil stovetops generate heat, which is transferred through contact from the burner to the base of a pot or pan in a process known as thermal conduction.
All non-stick cookware can be used safely on a gas or electric stovetop provided you don’t cook over high heat. Keep the burner set to medium or lower when cooking in a nonstick pan.
Smooth Electric Cooktops
Smooth electric cooktops work just like their electric coil predecessors, except that the top surface is covered with a smooth piece of ceramic glass to give a more sophisticated appearance.
The same rules apply here: Smooth electric cooktops work equally well with non-stick cookware, just make sure to keep the heat at medium or below. For the best results, ensure that you’re purchasing only a flat-bottom pan for maximum thermal conduction.
Induction cooktops might look just like smooth electric cooktops on the surface but work differently under the hood. Namely, induction cooktops don’t generate heat.
Instead, induction burners have a coiled wire just below the ceramic surface, which generates an oscillating magnetic field.
So, if you have an induction cooktop, you’re limited to purchasing cookware that’s made from a magnetic metal. Meaning aluminum, glass, and copper pans won’t cut it with an induction range. What will work is cast iron, steel, and magnetic stainless steel.
For those with an induction cooktop, that doesn’t mean you’re completely cut off from non-stick options. There are plenty of brands that make non-stick cookware with a magnetized bottom. Unfortunately, these do tend to be pricier than standard non-stick by $15-30 more a piece.
Shop brands such as Nuwave, Techchef, Royale, Update, and Cuisinart. Or, simply bring a magnet with you when shopping and see if it sticks to a prospective pan’s bottom.
Once you’ve got a magnetic bottom non-stick pan, the same rules apply: Keep your range at medium or lower so as not to damage the inner coating.
Seven Rules for Using Non-Stick Cookware
In the first part of this series, we explored why non-stick cookware has heat limitations — too high of temperatures results in the coating releasing gasses. High heat will also permanently damage its slippery texture.
Maximum temps differ which each product, but it’s safe to assume that your non-stick cooking should cap at medium heat. That means this type of cookware just isn’t a good fit for some ingredients.
From foods to utensils, here’s a breakdown of what should (and shouldn’t) go inside your non-stick cookware and other cooking tips:
1. Know Which Meals Do Best in a Non-Stick Pan
Non-stick cookware is great for specific tasks, but they’re not able to cook all meals with equal success.
Here’s what you should plan on cooking in your non-stick pots and pans:
Foods with a delicate texture. Non-stick cookware is best for foods that easily flake or become tattered, such as eggs, pancakes, and fish fillets. Non-stick cookware is also great for warming up leftovers.
Foods that are cooked on low to medium heat. Because non-stick coatings break down at high temperatures, your ingredients should require no more than 350-400℉. (Note that some non-stick pans can go up to 500℉, so check your instruction manual.)
Equally important is to know what’s best left to another cookware material, such as:
Steaks or meat that you hope to sear. A good sear requires temperatures of almost 600℉, which is too hot for non-stick coatings to withstand.
Additionally, non-stick coatings are a poor heat conductor, which means that any attempt to sear will result in an uneven crust.
Note: If it’s a good sear that you’re looking for, cast iron pans are king. Check out our comparison of different cookware materials to learn more.
Stovetop-to-oven dishes. While some non-stick cookware is oven safe, most is not. That’s something to consider before cooking up casserole or shepherd's pie.
2. Have Silicone or Wooden Cooking Tools Handy
Metal spatulas, spoons, and other cooking implements can easily scratch coatings, and those blemishes will ruin the cookware’s non-stick capabilities.
For that reason, use only wooden, silicone, or plastic tools that won’t scratch the interior of your non-stick pot or pan.
3. Don’t Try to “Charge” Non-Stick Pans
“Charging” cookware is when you heat a dry skillet on the stovetop, allowing it to reach a certain temperature before adding you cooking fats and ingredients. Doing so ensures that the cooking surface is evenly heated.
Because non-stick pans are generally made of a thin metal (as opposed to heavy-bottom stainless or cast iron pans), they’re not good at retaining heat.
Attempting to charge a non-stick pan will allow it to exceed its maximum recommended temperatures too quickly, resulting in off-gassing (which can result in flu-like symptoms) and a potentially ruined coating.
Instead, when you’re cooking with your non-stick pan, it’s important to have all your ingredients washed, prepped, and ready to go before ever touching that stovetop dial.
Pro Tip: In the first part of this series, we shared that non-stick coating can emit gas when exposed to high temperatures. This gas is not a cancer-causing carcinogen as once feared, but can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and is deadly to pet birds.
As a precautionary step, we advise turning on your exhaust fan whenever cooking with a non-stick pot or pan. As you can see in our next point, the thin metal non-stick pans can reach high temperatures quite quickly.
4. Keep an Eye on Those Temperatures
You already know that your non-stick cookware has a heat limit. But, how to measure what’s too hot on a stovetop?
There’s no single answer to how quickly a non-stick pan will heat up because the thickness of its metal base makes a difference.
However, Good Housekeeping performed a test on several pans and the results showed that maximum heat was reached faster than they’d assumed:
Our advice for avoiding risky temperature territory is three-fold:
- Purchase non-stick pans made with thick metal bottoms. (We’ll discuss what to look for in detail in the next article.)
- Ensure that your stovetop dial stays below medium.
- At least for the first several uses, employ a kitchen thermometer to accurately track the heat inside your pan.
Finally, if you see your pan start to smoke, remove it from heat while remaining under the exhaust fan, and let it cool before rinsing and examining for damage.
5. Use a Cooking Fat When the Pan Is Still Cool
Despite the name non-stick, coated cookware still requires a teaspoon of oil or butter to lubricate the ingredients.
This is needed due to the fact that all cooking surfaces, non-stick included, have variances in their surface texture at a microscopic level. These pits and valleys mean that there will be areas of the item that you’re cooking which isn’t in contact with the pan.
Because an item in your pan contains moisture, be it greens or meat, that moisture will turn to steam. This can create a steam pocket, which creates a buffer of space that will lead to areas of your food being cooked unevenly.
Because fatty lubricants are great at conducting heat, even a teaspoon is enough to help your pan to transfer that heat evenly to the item that’s being cooked.
If you already use stainless steel or cast iron cookware, you’re likely familiar with adding a cooking fat. However, there’s a difference in application.
Unlike other materials which should be heated before adding the fat, cooking with a non-stick pot or pan demands that your smidge of oil or butter should be added when the surface is still cold.
This prevents the non-stick coating from getting too warm and potentially smoking as it heats.
6. Wait for the Oil or Fat to Barely Bubble, Then Add Your Ingredients
We’ve explained why non-stick pans still require a teaspoon of cooking fat. But, it’s also important to let that fat, whether oil or butter, heat to a sufficient temperature before adding your other ingredients.
Because non-stick pans can only be heated to medium, this won’t take very long at all. Just watch for the butter or oil to bubble slightly before adding in your items to be cooked. But, plop ingredients in too soon, and they’ll just absorb that fat instead of allowing it to enable an even transfer of heat.
Pro Tip: Don’t use PAM or other cooking sprays. They might work well at first. But, after a time, the build-up in the areas where the heat doesn’t burn the spray off, like on the sides of a frying pan, becomes sticky and pasty.
7. Allow Your Non-Stick Cookware to Cool Before Rinsing in Water
Most of the time we're cooking at home, we’re in a hurry to get food onto plates and minimize any mess.
And, in an effort to multi-task, who hasn’t been guilty of taking a freshly used pan directly from stovetop to sink so that it can soak while we eat our meal?
It turns out that, like with cast irons, subjecting non-stick cookware to drastic temperature changes can cause microscopic cracks in the coating. Those crack can, in turn, lead to flaking, a loss of non-stick texture, and the overall demise of your pan.
How to avoid creating cracks? It’s as simple as embracing a little procrastination, just allow any non-stick cookware to sit on the stovetop or counter to cool before rinsing in the sink.
How to Best Clean Your Non-Stick Cookware
To preserve non-stick’s abilities to give heated ingredients the slip, it’s important to wash them correctly. Here’s how:
When Cleaning Your Non-Stick Pan, Reach for the Softest Tool First
While you should wait for your non-stick cookware to cool before rinsing, there’s nothing wrong with giving that surface a good soak in water if needed. Clean your pan with the softest side of your dish sponge, moving to a nylon-bristled brush if necessary.
Don’t Put Non-Stick in the Dishwasher
While non-stick items are easy-care, they should be hand washed. The high heat and harsh detergents used in a dishwasher can ruin the coating.
Are Stubborn Bits of Food Still Hanging On?
It’s rare that a well-kept non-stick pan will hang on to food bits unless they were burnt on. If that’s the case, never use steel wool!
Instead, soak the pan in baking soda and hot water for an hour. Then, switch to vinegar and water, and all the debris should come clean.
Afterward, be sure to inspect your non-stick pan for any discoloration that could indicate the coating has been damaged. If so, you should discard the pan.
Remember, any abrasive action or exposure to high heat can compromise your cookware non-stick coating, which only creates more microscopic crevices for food to stick to next time.
Avoid this vicious cycle by being gentle when cleaning your non-stick and it should remain smooth and glossy for several years.
How to Take Care of Your Non-Stick Cookware
Properly storing and maintaining your non-stick cookware similarly focuses on protecting the coated, inner surface area from any scratches.
It’s best if you can store your pans hanging, with plenty of space between them. Most of us, however, don’t have that many empty shelves available.
If you’re going to nest your cookware to save space, know that you’ll have to take extra steps to avoid damage:
1. Lay a paper towel or a dishrag between each item to prevent the aluminum bottoms of one pot or pan from coming in contact with those beneath it.
2. Make sure there’s enough overhead space that they can be accessed without having to scrape the bottom of one pan on the top of another.
Apart from careful storage, you should also re-season your non-stick frying pans twice a year.
Seasoning every six months fills in any pits or inconsistencies that have developed on the pan’s surface, as well as help to protect your pan’s nonstick coating.
Know When It’s Time to Toss Out Your Non-Stick Cookware and Buy Replacements
Depending on how often and how well you use your non-stick cookware, they can last up several years.
Early indicators include cookware that appears to be peeling or looks pitted. Even though the non-stick coating is non-reactive and will pass through your system, a damaged coating simply won’t give food bits the slip as well as when new.
Even those who are vigilant with care should expect to replace each non-stick piece after about five years. By that time, the coating will likely have worn thin and it may perform noticeably less effectively as when first purchased.
A Quick Recap of How to Treat Your Non-Stick Cookware
Follow these points and your non-stick cookware will maintain its smooth coating and offer easy use for several years:
- Read the directions to verify your non-stick cookware’s maximum temperatures.
- Season the inner part of your pot or pan before using the first time.
- Always use plastic, wooden or rubber utensils during cooking to avoid scratching the coating.
- Cook on low to medium heat. High heat can cause foods to stick as well as break down the non-stick coating.
- Use a teaspoon of cooking fats, but stay away from non-stick sprays.
- Cool your pans after cooking before placing in water.
- Clean with warm soapy water and a soft sponge or washcloth. No abrasive metal cleaners and avoid putting non-stick pans in the dishwasher.
- Store your non-stick cookware with care to avoid scratching.
- And lastly, replace your pan if the coating is visibly deteriorating.
Did you just look at your current non-stick cookware and realize they’re in desperate need of replacing? Check out our third installment in this series to learn what to look for in a non-stick pan when shopping.