Something I have always been curious about, is what is the difference between cast iron and nonstick pans? I knew cast iron lasted forever, but I also thought that they were ridiculously expensive and maintaining them was just much too cumbersome. Turns out, I was kinda wrong!
I have always had nonstick pans. I found them lighter, easier to maintain and clean.
Initially, I wanted to find out why some fry pans were $200 at Williams Sonoma while others were $20 at Canadian Tire. But before I get into what I found out, there is a controversy out there about nonstick pans-specifically, Teflon.
Teflon is the name of the material that is applied to pans that make them nonstick. And from what I understand, it doesn’t matter if the pan is $20 or $200-if the pan is nonstick, the pan has Teflon on the surface. It is the Teflon that is the crux of the controversy. Now, Teflon contains PFOA which is a chemical that does not break down. That is a fact. The controversy is whether Teflon is carcinogenic and toxic which of course is a potential risk with multiple health implications. It it for this reason, many retailers and chefs refuse to use nonstick pans.
That being said, there is no proof via reports that clearly state that Teflon is toxic. In fact, some physicians and researchers who chimed in on their opinion, use Teflon pans themselves as they prefer the convenience and do not believe there is a risk.
However, something that did resonate with me is that Teflon pans are esentially disposable cookware. Think about it-I bought my last fry pans about 6 years ago. Did they chip? Yup. Did they scratch? Yup. I finally made the decision to chuck the old pans in the trash and buy some new pans from Canadian Tire. Quite a heafty carbon footprint and it is because of this purchasing cycle that businesses depend on.
Still Want Nonstick?
If you are still interested in purchasing a nonstick fry pan, what should you be looking for?
There are 2 key reasons why some pans are more expensive than others: design and quality.
I know, all fry pans look exactly the same, right? Wrong.
Expensive fry-pans have a higher quality nonstick coating that has been more carefully applied. The example that I read about compared the application of the nonstick coating to painting a room. If you add one coat of paint and “slap” it on haphazardly, it will look pretty crappy. Whereas if you take your time painting a room and add a couple of coats of paint and ensure consistency across the walls, it will look so much better. The same concept applies to applying Teflon to fry pans.
What To Look For When Buying a Nonstick Fry-Pan
First of all, the high price of a pan does not equal quality or longevity. Then how the heck do you find a pan that fits the budget, and meets your culinary needs? Follow these simple steps:
- Ensure the base of the pan has a thick bottom to hold in the heat.
2. Ensure the handles are securely fastened to the pan.
3. Find a pan that has low flared sides vs tall and bowl-like.
4. Ensure the pan has multiple layers of metal.
5. Ensure the base contains either copper or stainless steel which promotes the heat to be distributed evenly.
How Do I Take Care Of My Nonstick Pan?
I will confess, I am a stacker. I have all my pots and pans stacked on top of each other to save space in my cupboard. But with the new fry pans I purchased, I want to have them as long as possible. No, we did not opt for Greenpans (The ones that Bobby Flay uses) but we did opt for a middle-of-the-road nonstick fry pan. So here are some tips that I found out to promote the longevity of your fry pans:
- Do not use abrasive items on the base of your pans-no metal utensils!
- If you are a stacker-like me-place towels between the nonstick coating to prevent scratching.
- Clean your nonstick pans with a soft soapy sponge. No SOS pads, or abrasive cleaning pads.
So, let’s say that you want to reduce your carbon footprint and you want fry pans that wil last longer than a few years-as in, you will be able to pass them along for generations. What are your options and what are the pros and cons for each?
Stainless steel pans are a great option as they are a good value and won’t break the bank. If you do opt for stainless steel pans, be sure not to use olive oil as the compound in the oil will cause your food to stick. Instead, use grapeseed oil. Also important to note, food cooking in stainless steel will burn faster and easier.
Carbon steel pans are a good option as the handle doesn’t get hot however, the pan does not season as well as a cast iron pan. If you plan on checking out a carbon steel pan, be sure to find one that is deeper and one that has a comfortable handle for easy maneuverability.
The Rolls Royse of fry pans are enamel cast iron. These are the best sellers of the pan category for a variety of reasons: the pans season very well, they are easy to take care of, the handle size is comfortable and the finish on the pan makes it the easiest to clean and maintain.
If you are toying with making the transition from nonstick-like me-there is a bit of a learning curve and smidge of work. But the benefits are reducing your footprint and passing along a piece of cookware for generations. A few other rules of thumb; heavy pans are good as this ensures even heat distribution. Want to be a better cook? Buying a good pan is the easiest way without even trying. without even trying.
Now, you know everything. What kind of pans are you going to buy?
Me? I’m going to start saving my pennies and buy an enamel cast iron. Although the brand is not everything, the two fry pans that came up the most in my research are Blacklock and Field.