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My boyfriend is convinced that a non-stick coating on a pan (Teflon, seasoned cast iron, eco-ceramic, what have you) is equivalent to eliminating the need for using any cooking oil whatsoever.

Is this in fact the case? I'm fairly sure that it only reduces the amount of oil necessary to keep things from sticking, but I'm having a hard time proving this (other than the empirical tests that keep failing). Essentially, he is a huge fan of fried eggs, but is trying to avoid the eventual heart attacks.

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Fry an egg with no oil? How do you even do that? And worrying about a little vegetable oil when you're eating a fried egg is a little silly. –  Carey Gregory Feb 12 '12 at 19:47
    
I am just as mystified, but he won't take it on just my say-so. –  Hannele Feb 12 '12 at 19:53
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When trapped living a life without butter, one hopes to end it as quickly as possible. –  Brian Feb 12 '12 at 19:53
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Hahaha, I used to be a man of science. Now I just want results :) Good luck to you! –  Brian Feb 13 '12 at 2:50
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Oil is a heat conductor and a solvent for flavors, not merely a non-sticking agent substitute. It's like claiming that if you have a non-sticking teflon pot then you don't need water to make soup. –  Mischa Arefiev Feb 13 '12 at 13:44

2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

There are two parts to this question, the stated part, and the unstated "are you really frying an egg if there is no oil?"

For the first part, most manufacturers of non-stick pans claim that their product makes oil unnecessary, and generally I've found that to be true. A little oil helps, but "necessary" might be a stretch.

To maximize your non-stickyness of a non-stick pan, you should always preheat the pan before adding the food, at least to 250F or so. Preheating causes the teflon to expand a bit, closing up pores and micro-scratches in the surface.

It is also common for oils from the past to form a polymerized layer on top of the teflon, making the pan more sticky. This is actually worse when you use aerosol spray oils, because the tiny droplets hit the pan and very quickly polymerize to form a slightly sticky layer. This layer is similar to the one you intentionally create when seasoning a cast iron pan, but in this case it is not helpful. All-Clad recommends periodically cleaning teflon pans with a light scrub of baking soda and water to remove that coating of oil. It should bring back the maximum slippery of your teflon.

When cooking protein-rich foods, you can also minimize sticking by letting the food cook a bit before attempting to move it. The loose, floppy denatured proteins in an egg are extremely sticky, but when they coagulate (set) from cooking, they become less sticky. It may seem impossibly sticky at first, but may release on it's own after a minute of cooking.

As to the second, unstated part, oil provides flavor, and is also a heat-transfer vehicle. When the food is on the pan, if you looked at it with a microscope only a small portion of the food is actually in contact with the pan. Those areas will get heated more, and other areas will get heated less. A little oil fills those gaps, causing more even thermal contact, which allows fried food to fry, rather than just get burned in some areas.

It is really a matter of taste whether the flavor of the oil and the way that it changes the texture of the food is appealing to your boyfriend. I wouldn't like it without any oil, but if he does, well, so be it. If he doesn't really like the taste, but is concerned about health, I'd suggest using a little olive oil - it has no cholesterol, is low in saturated fats, and has a good flavor. Different than butter, but still very enjoyable.

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+1 for the heat conductivity –  papin Feb 13 '12 at 0:34
    
Thanks! The details, and the explanation on the build-up of stickiness are really helpful. He'd tried seasoning without success, had previously had a teflon pan which stopped working, and now has an eco-ceramic non-stick pan which he really enjoys. –  Hannele Feb 14 '12 at 17:02

I sell most of the frying pans besides Teflon, ceramic is greener and that one is 60% less oil that you need. You can get many versions of this pan; some of them contain silver ions which are antibacterial. My sister has this one and adds a splash of water but no oil).

I would recommend a marble frying pan; with marble you don't need any oil what-so-ever to cook with it. Nothing sticks and it's easy to clean. No need to scrub, just warm soapy water. I get heaps of people coming to my shop saying they bought the blue ones that they sell at big W and the surface peeled; the ones I sell do not peel.

As for cast iron, this really depends on the type of cast iron. Enamel coated ones still need a bit of oil (depending on what you are cooking). The non coated ones don't need oil but you need to season them (which means placing the pan on medium heat and running oil over it after every use) or it will rust.

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chowhound.chow.com/topics/757216 has an answer posted that says "You can find many "Mable Coat" frying pans at grocery stores here in Japan. They tend to be quite inexpensive. They are not actually coated with marble, and I don't think they are ceramic-coated either. Translation of the description of the coating for a frying pan listed at Amazon Japan says "fluorine resin paint film processing", which is the same phrase used to describe a Teflon coating. I figure that "Marble Coat" is just another brand name for a typical PTFE nonstick coating, like "Silverstone" or "Excalibur"." –  barlop Jan 26 at 23:31

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