Whatever did we do before non-stick came along? That's right, we either lost half our meal to the frying pan, or we drowned it in oil just to keep it from burning. If you've never given non-stick a go, or if your non-stick frying pan is starting to lose its 'non', read our tips for choosing the right pan.
A good non-stick frying pan is essential in any kitchen. Use it to cook pancakes for breakfast, omelettes for lunch, steak for dinner – and the best thing is, since you only need very little oil, your fry-ups are (relatively) healthy. If you're still battling along with a sticky, stubborn old pan, you'll probably weep with joy the first time you wash one of these up!
You've probably heard conflicting reports about non-stick coatings, such as Teflon, giving off harmful chemicals when heated. Here are the facts. The chemicals used in non-stick coatings can start to break down and release harmful toxins in temperatures above 260°C. Research suggests that no toxins are released from cookware used at or below normal cooking temperatures. The toxins seem to be lethal to birds and may cause headaches, nausea and damage to the respiratory tract in humans.
The US EPA established a 2010/15 PFOA stewardship program, whereby some major industry producers voluntarily agreed to work towards eliminating emissions and the use of PFOA and related chemicals by 2015. All the participating companies stated that they met the programs goals. Hopefully this means we're seeing more PFOA-free frying pans around.
You can reduce the risk of toxins being released by using your pan properly and looking after it so the coating isn't damaged.
- Don't overheat an empty non-stick pan or leave it unattended on the cooktop.
- Never heat fat or oil at maximum temperature to the extent where it overheats.
- Use only wooden or plastic utensils to avoid scratching.
- Hand wash your pan with a sponge and slightly warm water; let it soak in hot water to remove stubborn residue.
- Never use steel wool or heavy-duty scrubbers.
Non-stick frying pans can cost as little as $5 through to $300.
If you have an induction cooktop you'll need a pan that's made of ferrous metal (metal that can be magnetised). For ceramic cooktops (or induction) your pan will need to match the size of your cooktop elements. For solid/radiant electric cooktop your pan will need a flat, steady base.
For easy cleaning, avoid painted exteriors and grooved surfaces, and make sure the frying pan isn't too big to fit in your sink!
Will you be able to handle the load when the pan is filled with food?
Look for a handle with a soft, moulded grip. For larger pans, look for a handle that's long enough to hold with two hands and an extra support handle for lifting heavy loads.
A thick, heavy base generally has better heat distribution and cooking performance; a too-thin base can burn you food.
Assess the flatness of the base before you buy – generally, a pan that is slightly concave (like a wine bottle base) will flatten on heating as it expands. If your pan turns concave on heating, you may find the food runs to the sides of the pan.
Non-stick frypans are great for the minimal oil they require for frying and sautéing and for their "non-stick" capabilities, however, they do require a lot more attention when it comes to maintaining them. Here are our tips to getting the most out of your non-stick frypan:
Condition your frypan before first use by washing it in warm soapy water and once dry wiping oil on the surface and rubbing away any excess.
Don't use metal utensils on your non-stick frypan. Don't cut food in the pan, don't flip eggs with a metal egg flip, don't turn steaks with metal tongs, just don't do it. Silicone coated, plastic or wooden utensils are the way to go.
Avoid extreme temperature changes. Don't put your hot pan in the sink straight after cooking and run cold water on it. This can warp the base so the pan won't sit flat next time you want to cook with it.
Avoid using cooking oil sprays. The sprays can burn at low temperatures and leave behind an invisible build-up of residue that can affect performance of the non-stick surface.
Don't overheat an empty non-stick frypan or leave it unattended on the cooktop. In extreme cases it can cause the surface to bubble and blister, rendering the pan unuasble. Preheat and cook using a medium high heat. For searing meats which require high temperatures it's best to use a stainless steel or cast-iron frypan. Also, be sure to check the manufacturers instructions regarding the maximum temperature for oven safe use.
Clean your non-stick frypans with non-scratch scouring sponges and store them properly. Don't try to scrub off basked on residue straight away. Soak the pan in warm soapy water to loosen any residue and then gently use a soft or non-scratch scourer to wash it away. Don't put non-stick pans in the dishwasher - the detergent is too harsh for the coating. Make sure the pans are dried well before storing and don't stack other cookware on top as it can easily scratch the non-stick surface.
It's time for a new non-stick frypan if foods start sticking (you can try to fix this by rubbing a layer of oil on the surface to season it again), if the pan is warped (you'll no longer get even heat distribution) or if there are noticeable scratches or chipping of the non-stick coating with bare metal showing.