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I am looking to replace my >10 year old Calphalon nonstick cookware. I can see the nonstick surface coming off the pans, and am starting to worry about how much of that is getting into our food.

I love the ease of cleaning nonstick cookware, but am wary of buying it again. Should I opt for nonstick or not?

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-1 this is super subjective –  Willbill Jul 22 '10 at 9:59
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14 Answers 14

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I'm with @Ward -- I like being able to scour my pans for those times when even deglazing doesn't work. (although, I've found that if you ever forget about the stock that you're trying to reduce ... burning chicken bones is a nasty smell and will stain even stainless steel).

I do have some non-stick, and even a non-stick flat-bottomed wok (from circulon, but then, I'm also using electric, so it's possible I don't get enough heat to ruin it; I also never pre-heat it without oil in it, as you should never heat a dry nonstick vessel).

I'd say to look at replacing your set bit by bit -- which items do you cook that really need non-stick, and what pan do you cook it in? Maybe replace your more beat-up items with something not non-stick, try cooking with it, and see how well you like cooking with them -- it's possible that you won't like it, and it'd be better to be out the cost of only a piece or two than a whole set. You could even try out a few different materials -- cast iron, stainless, anodized aluminum, etc.

It also might take a little time to get used to cooking with out the non-stick. One mistake I've seen people make is not giving their pans enough time to pre-heat. (I think it was the Frugal Gourmet who'd say "Hot pan, cold food, food won't stick" ... which isn't entirely true, but you'll have much less problems with a hot pan).

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"Hot pan, ... food won't stick" is due to Leidenfrost Effect –  Chloe Jul 22 '13 at 15:55
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I'm not going to get into the arguments back and forth about Teflon and its associated chemicals and whether you get them in your body from cookware or not. I think there might be some risk, so just like I don't use aluminum pots (like my family had when I was a kid), I don't use teflon cookware.

I use stainless cookware because I like to be able to scour it clean, because there's tons of affordable stainless cookware with good thick bases to distribute heat evenly, and because if you use oil like grapeseed oil, you can heat it up enough that the stainless is essentially non-stick. Also, you can use any sort of utensil with it, doesn't have to be silicon or wood, or a plastic spatula that might or might not melt.

Sometimes, when I'm doing an omelette I wish I had a nice teflon pan, but that's about the only time I miss it. I think the only teflon I have left is in a George Forman-type grill that I use for bacon.

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well said..teflon or any other chemical is dangerous as it leaches into foods and we will only know it after lot of research studies come out..better to be safe than sorry..stainless steel is the best..+1 –  CodeToGlory Jul 17 '10 at 16:28
    
Is it worth mentioning anodized aluminum as an alternative here? Not as toxic as Teflon, but still is "stick-resistant". –  awshepard Jul 26 '10 at 21:24
    
Another "stick resistant" option is from a company called Sitram. They make some really nice stainless cookware with an alloy coating called (seriously) "Cybernox". Goofy name but it's great stuff, really durable (like, harder than the steel), and it does what they say. Pans are very well-designed too. –  Pointy Jul 29 '10 at 10:56
    
I actually have a few Cybernox pans, though I haven't seen them readily available here in the US in the past few years. They are very nice pans, but also very expensive. They are, yes, "stick resistant", and not "non-stick". Many things will stick to them, but they're very easy to clean up, and they develop a beautiful fond. Unless you want to really sear the food over high heat, they are not great for cooking many of the things you traditionally want a non-stick pan for to avoid having to use a lot of butter - eggs, fish, pancakes, breaded meats, etc... –  fields Feb 8 '11 at 15:07
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@CodeToGlory - stainless steel is also a chemical. Specifically the chromium that makes it stainless is highly toxic. –  Martin Beckett Feb 8 '11 at 23:31
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I don't see a problem with non-stick as long as you replace it when necessary. The only exception to this being woks which (I think) tend to get destroyed easily if they are non-stick.

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The right tool for the right job. Non-stick is great for pancakes, eggs, or grilled cheese sandwiches, steel is great for searing meat and being able blend something right in the pan, cast iron is great for slow cooking and frying.

I think a very minimum solution set is a cast iron skillet and a large stainless steel frying pan and steel sauce pan. Adding a non-stick griddle/square pan and medium frying pan helps round out a set.

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I would definitely go for a cast iron skillet. After reading this blog post on Salt and Fat - http://saltandfat.com/post/535900861/the-cast-iron-skillet I decided to give it a go. I picked one up from my local camping store for about (AU)$20. Once properly seasoned it is surprisingly non-stick.

I've been using it now for the last couple of months and have cooked everything from pancakes, chili, curry, sausages and chicken all without any issues.

The only downside so far is that it can take a while to heat up and if it gets too hot it tends to smoke out the whole house.

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Don't buy a large set of ANY kind of cookware, buy cookware to match the tasks you need it for! For most of these tasks, nonstick surfaces cannot handle the high heat you want, and will wear out and become super-stick. Since you can't properly scour them, once the coating degrades, nonstick pans are actually harder to clean.

So, you want nonstick only where you absolutely need it, which is for eggs, crepes, delicate fish, and starchy stuff that dries onto metal surfaces and is a pain to scrub off. At most you need a nonstick saute pan, and a nonstick saucepan.

I think the ideal cookware for a kitchen is:

  • One nonstick TEFLON slope-sided saute pan for cooking eggs, crepes, and delicate fish, because the slipperiest surface really is best here. It should be thick-gauge aluminum for even heating, but fairly cheap, because it will wear out and need regular replacement.
  • Main saucepans should be stainless stainless-clad aluminum. This gives even heating, usability with metal whisks, and the ability to scour off anything burnt on.
  • An all-metal, workhorse frying pan: cast-iron, stainless-clad aluminum, or thick cast-aluminum from a restaurant supply store. This pan will be used for searing and sauteing, and may go from the range to the oven, where the handle needs to take high temperatures. If you get stainless-clad, buy a nice, heavy one that you'll be happy to keep for a lifetime.
  • Optional: an enameled cast-iron dutch oven. While I'm not a big fan of these, some people swear by them.
  • Optional: one thick, hard-anodized aluminum nonstick saucepan for starchy stuff that will dry onto stainless surfaces. Hard-anodized aluminum is considered a "next generation" nonstick material. The surface presents a happy intermediate between teflon and stainless, where it is hard, durable, and transfers heat well, but reduces sticking.
  • Optional: one stockpot, NEVER EVER EVER nonstick. This will be your most expensive single item, and your wallet will cry if you have to replace a worn nonstick stockpot. If you buy nonstick, it WILL get damaged, because stocks leave a nasty, gummy residue when reducing, and this residue demands vigorous scrubbing.
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I have a single hard-anodized pan that I got as a gift two years ago, and it's the best cooking-related present I've ever gotten. If you have the money to invest, definitely go with hard-anodized over regular non-stick cookware. –  mdegges Jan 5 at 17:35
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Awhile ago we've faced similar problems and gave a chance to old-style cast iron pans. I must say that every [artificial] nonstick surface is only trying to compete natural properties of cast iron (tempered with salt) + thin oil film surface. It's already three years since we're using cast iron pans without any problems. However, they're rather gentle (not stainless) - you have to keep them dry and without food left inside while not cooking.

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A full set of nonstick cookware is probably overkill. For the bulk of our recipes, we use either a large, semi-deep nonstick pan, or a deeper steel-clad aluminum pan. The biggest reason to choose one over the other for a given recipe is shape, but certain recipes benefit from the higher temperatures and extra browning power of the steel-clad pan, while others are sticky enough to work better with the nonstick surface.

The only other nonstick cookware we use is a very shallow square pan, almost a griddle, for pancakes. However, it's showing its age, and should perhaps be replaced. The nonstick coating on that one has been a minor bonus, allowing us to use less oil, but I wouldn't consider it essential.

For cooking anything with plenty of liquid, the nonstick coating is completely useless, so anything with really high sides should be uncoated metal. A minor bonus of pure-metal cookware, without even any plastic on the handles, is the ability to use it in the oven, in case that factors into your decision.

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There are some new generation non-stick surfaces appeared on the market during the last 3-5 years. Manufactures claim these coatings to be PTFE-free, high temperature resistant (up to 450°C/850°F) hard ceramic.

I had to replace my old teflon-coated pan several months ago and opted for a Green-Pan with Thermolon coating. The first impressions after several months use: the coating is fine and non-stick enough to cook eggs even without any oil (some articles state that these ceramic coatings are more sticky then regular old PTFE-based coatings). If you definitely want a non-stick pan, I would try one of these with next generation coatings.

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When frying very delicate food - most notably, fish - you can't beat a nonstick pan. For everything else though, stainless steel is best because you can heat it so much higher and don't have to worry about scraping it.

I've owned nonstick saucepans and casseroles in the past but as they've deteriorated, I've replaced them with stainless steel since I couldn't recall any times I'd been glad they were nonstick.

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Cast iron is the best cookware you can get. Go in to any serious French kitchen and it's cast iron all the way. One of the best things I ever did was buying a Le Creuset casserole dish, food tastes amazing and its so easy to clean.

It's expensive, but cast iron cookware will last you a lifetime and you'll love using it.

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That's not really true - in addition to cast iron, domestic French kitchens also have carbon steel pans and possibly copper. Cast iron is really not appropriate for a variety of typically French recipes involving reductions of acidic liquids. –  Pointy Jul 17 '10 at 12:05
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@Pointy : LeCreuset is enamalized cast iron, which is what many other countries (eg, France) think of when they hear "cast iron" –  Joe Jul 17 '10 at 15:59
    
I have two pieces of Le Creuset -- are you sure the casserole dish is cast iron? Mine's enamelized, but it's ceramic, not iron. –  Joe Jul 17 '10 at 16:01
    
Ah ok well I agree that those are different, but because (at least here in the US) plain cast iron is extremely common that's what I assumed was being discussed. –  Pointy Jul 18 '10 at 16:48
    
@Pointy Ok, not everything is cast iron :-) @Joe Yup, it's WAY too heavy to be anything other than iron... lecreuset.co.uk/Product-Range-uk/Cast-Iron-Cookware/Casseroles/… –  akashic Jul 28 '10 at 21:47
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Personally I would opt for heavy stainless steel pots and pans, the kind you see in professional kitchens, because they will last a long time, you can scrub them with a scourer to clean them if you have something burned on and they clean up fairly easily even if you've been making toffee or some other sugar work.

Aside from that Le Crueset stuff is great.

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I've worked in couple professional kitchen, and all I see are cheap encapsulated-disk-bottom saucepans/saute pans and thick aluminum stockpots and saute pans. Tell me, which kitchen should I be working in? –  BobMcGee Sep 3 '11 at 17:05
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Hands down, the Cuisinart Green Gourmet ceramic line is the best non-stick cooking surface I've ever used. It works well over high or low heat, it is very non-stick, it has no teflon, the shapes are extremely well designed, and they're pretty affordably priced. I particularly like the two-burner griddle, which has an aluminum base to conduct heat evenly, and is the perfect size and shape for making lots of breakfast foods. It also has a notched corner for pouring off the excess grease.

Some of mine have after a year or so built up a residue (I think this depends on what kinds of fats you use for cooking - I avoid cooking spray at all costs, but even other fats will eventually build up), but the pan surface is extremely hard, and I was able to get them back to prime condition in a few minutes with a little barkeeper's friend and a nylon SOS pad. Unlike with teflon pans, you can really scrub them without damaging the pan.

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Some people do have reactions to non stick cookware especially if nothing is put in the pan and it is heated up. Also parrots and birds can die off of the fumes of an empty non stick pan. There are options now that use different coatings and are usually categorized under "green cooking pans".

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I saw a lot of dead birds in my pans before, and there were no fumes. So, I think, fumes and dead birds an unrelated. Never experimented with parrots, though. –  belisarius Nov 3 '10 at 2:30
    
Does "choking, hacking misery" count as a reaction to burnt nonstick cookware? –  BobMcGee Sep 4 '11 at 4:08
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