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Over the course of the last 4 years I think I seem to have been working my way through non-stick pans at a ridiculous rate, I think I'm on my 3rd frying pan and 4th wok - or something of that nature.

Admittedly the first couple I had were very cheap, and I've been steadly buying what appear to be better quality. However, for the coating to become damaged so quickly I must be doing something wrong.

I'm not using sharp or metallic objects when cooking with them, nor to I stick them in the sink with said sharp objects when clearning.
I've recently learnt that "over-heating" them can damage the coating, but is this true?

But, what other advice can you offer to help extend the life of my non-stick cookware?

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Heat will definitely destroy teflon. Teflon is basically a plastic coating. Have you considered cast iron? – derobert Jul 21 '10 at 8:35
up vote 14 down vote accepted

I'm still happily using a non-stick frying pan that I've had for almost 4 years.

I only use Teflon utensils.

I never use harsh abrasives.

After cooking, I fill it with boiling water, let it soak for a while and then wipe out with paper towels. Most of the time I just give it a quick rinse and it's ready for the next time.

And buy quality - "Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten".

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I'm getting the hang of the quality statement, but unfortunatly it took me several years of cheap equipment to make me start realising the difference it can make. – DMA57361 Jul 21 '10 at 10:14
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How can you tell if something is "quality" with respect to its non-stick coating? – intuited Jan 8 '11 at 19:15

The main secret is to buy high quality non stick cookware in the first place and then not abuse it. Teflon coatings come in three varieties. Two layer coatings which are found on cheap cookware sold to low end buyers (essentially every thing you see at wal-mart/target), three layer coatings found in mid range to upper end cookware, and reinforced / highly reinforced coatings which are found in good quality consumer non stick and and pretty much all commercial nonstick.

The key word to look for is "metal utensil safe". Only reinforced coatings are metal utensil safe because the reinforcements in the coating protect the coating from abrasion, and cause any damage to be localized.

Whitford worldwide (a major Supplier of nonstick coatings has plenty of information about the science of all this on their website).

The best material for a nonstick pan is straight anodized or pressure cast aluminum. Only copper conducts heat better and nothing else is as light or cheap. Clad stainless is wasted in nonstick cookware, because you aren't cooking on stainless steel, you are cooking on Teflon. You are paying for durability you don't need and can't use.

As for taking care of the coating.

Metal untensil safe doesn't mean you should use metal utensils. They will scratch the surface which is aesthetically displeasing, and create openings for corrosion under the surface. Use soft utensils and don't be stupid. Protect the pans surface with a towel before puting other things on it in storage.

Dishwasher safe, doesn't mean put it in the dishwasher. Nonstick coatings are not impermiable, and so the alkalinity in the dishwasher detergent will eventually corrode the metal and resins under the Teflon rich layers.

The best way to clean nonstick, is to put water and soap in the pan while it is hot and let it sit for a while. Wash and rinse twice, let the soap and water do the work for you. Don't scrub.

If you don't clean the surface well, then over time you can build up a layer of brown cruddy varnish on the surface which is sticky. Nonstick cook cooking sprays contribute to this as well. Your wash water should be nice and foamy, indicative that soap no longer has any grease to work with.

Use low heat/medium heat. High heat will scorch your food, The temperatures that can damage nonstick are well above the smoke point of fats found in food and oils.

The best place to buy nonstick is at a gourmet retailer like Williams Sonoma, or a restaurant supply store. In commercial pans Vollrath is nice and made in the USA. Scanpan and Swiss diamond are nice european brands,as is the good Calphalon that you find at gourmet retailers rather than bad Calphalon you find at middle market and low end retailers. Analon/circulon from Meyer is good value for money, But again metal utensil safe is the key mark of quality.

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I had the same problem. I switched to stainless steel pans. I make a non-stick layer by heating some oil in it and cleaning it with salt and paper. Then the pan is ready for use. One advantage is that I can use any ustensils without risk. Some people only clean this kind of pan with salt and paper, so that the non stick layer gets stronger after every use.

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One thing that was drilled into me was that you never pre-heat an empty non-stick pan -- the issue being that there's nothing in there to regulate the temperature or to warn you when it's overheating.

I always toss a litle oil in the pan before pre-heating it. If nothing else, I have a warning when I hit the smoke point of the oil, but I've typically tossed in whatever I'm cooking well before it gets that hot.

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As said I'd only recently heard that overheating was a problem. From the answers here so far that does seem to be correct. I'm much more cautious than I used to be in this respect, but I reckon it probably contributed to the death of at least one of my previous woks... – DMA57361 Jul 21 '10 at 10:19
    
@DMA57361: Well-seasoned cast iron (or I imagine steel) is relatively nonstick and almost completely immune to overheating. Consider replacing your wok with one that isn't teflon coated. – derobert Jul 21 '10 at 22:31
    
@derobert - what do you define as "well seasonsed" cast iron? – DMA57361 Jul 22 '10 at 8:33
    
@DMA57361: Something like the recommendations in cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/641/… should produce well-seasoned cast iron. – derobert Jul 22 '10 at 12:08
    
I've switched to a cast-iron (they call it Chinese style here, but don't know whether that's true) myself a few year back, and it helped a lot. Season it well, for sure, and change your cooking technique to match. Additional advantage is that you don't need as large a (or custom) gas flame underneath your work if you pre-heat it well. Don't overfill either, but that's more about cooking result than damage. – Tobias Op Den Brouw Jul 24 '10 at 19:33

How are you storing your teflon pans? People are often super-careful when using or cleaning their pans, but then store them in stacks, with the base of the pan above in contact with the teflon! When storing teflon cookware, if you have to stack, put a bit of cardboard (e.g. the packaging from when you bought it) between each item. I can guarantee this will increase their life.

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@Jean A good point, but isn't a problem for me - my frying pan & wok are the only two non-stick pans I've got, and they are stored independently on top of my cupboards for that very reason. – DMA57361 Jul 21 '10 at 10:13

This will depend on the type of non-stick surface. In my experience, anodised cookware will last a lot better than teflon coated cookware.

There are some sensible tips to prolonging the life of all non-stick cookware though; such as waiting until the pan is at room temperature (or at least no hotter than the washing water). I've also found the hard way that you should not ever heat a pan that isn't perfectly clean, as any thin films of oil can burn and affect the surface - if frying, oil the meat, and not the pan.

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And with 'isn't perfectly clean' - that goes for the outside as well. – Tobias Op Den Brouw Jul 24 '10 at 19:29

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