Should You Buy Nonstick Cookware?

Many people think that nonstick cookware is a must in a kitchen. Although I definitely don?t agree, I can see their reasoning. The biggest advantage to nonstick cookware is obvious: food doesn't stick to the pans while cooking which makes clean up very easy. You can cook foods with less fat than you would need to use with uncoated cookware. And, although most nonstick pans shouldn?t be washed in the dishwasher because the harsh chemicals can remove the coating, washing these pans by hand is pretty easy.

But, there are also disadvantages to nonstick cookware. First, you can?t use metal utensils on nonstick cookware because the nonstick coating can be easily scratched off. The coating can cause the pan to be less efficient in terms of heat transfer. And, from a culinary point of view, cooking in a nonstick pan doesn?t leave you with the wonderful bits of caramelized food, called ?fond?, the basis for many tasty pan sauces, on the bottom of the pan.

And then there is the question of safety. Is nonstick cookware safe to use?

Before I begin, let me state for the record that I?m not a doctor and I don?t work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. What I?m saying here is just my opinion as a cook and consumer and nothing more than that.

But, it seems to me that there are two possible dangers from nonstick coating. First there?s the danger involved when the coating flakes off and gets into your food. As most of us have probably seen, over time, as nonstick cookware ages, the coating begins to flake off. Logic would tell me that it has to be going into the food being cooked and ultimately ingested. I don?t know if this is bad for us or not, but I don?t like the idea.

The second possible danger from nonstick coating is from the emitting of fumes that occurs when a nonstick cooking vessel is overheated. Most experts say that if you heat nonstick cookware beyond 450-500 degrees, the nonstick coating can outgas, releasing fumes into the surrounding air. You may be able to get the pan that hot on the stovetop, but it?s more likely to happen if you use the pan with your oven?s broiler. The fumes that are released can make you sick with flu-like symptoms that are temporary, but who really knows the long-term effects? And, these fumes have proved fatal to pet birds. 

So, if you already own nonstick cookware, I?d suggest erring on the side of caution. Don?t use those pans under your broiler or over a really hot burner. And, if you have pet birds, keep the little guys far away from the kitchen whenever the nonsticks come out.

In terms of future purchases, should you buy nonstick cookware?

Obviously, that?s a personal decision. But, I can tell you what I do. The only nonstick pans that I own are a couple of small skillets that I use exclusively for cooking eggs. And I always cook my eggs over low heat. I buy these skillets at a local or online restaurant supply store, where they?re relatively inexpensive, and I replace them as soon as they show any sign of wear. 

I also have a couple of carbon steel pieces, a skillet and a wok, that I?ve seasoned. Well-seasoned carbon steel is very close to nonstick. I use the skillet for egg dishes that go in the oven, like frittatas, and I use the wok for high-heat stir frying. 

Besides these pieces, everything I have is uncoated and that works fine for me. I?ve found that uncoated cookware is much less likely to be sticky if you thoroughly preheat the pan, use a little bit of fat and avoid turning the food before its ready.

But, if you still feel that you want nonstick cookware, keep a couple of things in mind. Never use metal utensils with a nonstick coating. Replace the pan when the coating shows any signs of wear. Never use these pans over a very hot burner or under the broiler. And keep your pet birds (and all small creatures, in my opinion) away from the kitchen when you?re cooking.