Non-stick pans are light, easy to clean and do a good job on certain foods, but I don’t recommend them for most cooking. They do have their uses, though, but they must be treated properly.
These pans are good for cooking eggs, pancakes, crepes, fish and things such as grilled cheese or quesadillas, where the cheese tends to leak out. They are useless when making sauces, though, because the coating will not allow those sticky caramelized bits to adhere, which you need for a proper, rich sauce. If you are making a reduction with wine, stock or butter, the sauce will not amalgamate properly in a non-stick pan because the coating is non-porous and does not conduct heat very efficiently.
When using these pans, oil is needed regardless of what recipes tell you. A very thin coating helps to give colour and flavour.
There is much written about the safety of non-stick pans. The fact that the material used for coating can flake into the food and be ingested has been a turn-off for most people. This was true about older pans, but today manufacturers stick to approved substances, such as silicone-based finishes. Having said that, don’t use your non-stick on high heat or put it in a hot oven unless recommended by the manufacturer. Always make sure you have food in the pan when it is heated. High heat will eventually ruin the surface and the pan will warp. Use it for food that needs low to medium heat.
Don’t stick these pans in the dishwasher; the harsh chemicals will eventually destroy the coating. When hand washing, don’t use abrasive cleaners or a steel-wool pad. Dish soap and a sponge work wonders. Throw out scratched or chipped pans; otherwise, you may find bits of coating in your food. And don’t use cooking sprays on them, as they build up in the pan and become impossible to remove.
Don’t buy sets even though it might seem like a good deal – you won’t use half the pans.
While price is a factor, the best non-stick pans I have found are the new Le Creuset toughened non-stick, which feature a PFOA-free, triple-reinforced, non-stick coating that won’t chip or flake, making it worth the investment of just under $200. They’re also dishwasher-safe, oven-safe up to 500 F, and will last forever if treated properly.
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