That’s right I do not like non-stick pans! There are a few simple reasons: They are poisonous, they are too fragile, they are used to make cheap cookware more appealing and they are unnecessary.
How I found out they are poisonous…
About nine years ago my family and I bought the most adorable little bird. As soon as my wife brought the bird home she threw away all of our professional grade non-stick cookware. These pans were not particularly expensive but I was still dumbstruck. Why? My wife showed me a bunch of articles about the deadly effects of non-stick cookware on birds (canary in a coal mine?). It turns out she had the inside track, I had no idea. You can read more about the harmful effects of the gas emitted when non-stick coatings are heated here.
My first experiences with non-stick cookware…
I remember when these non-stick pans came out…my father was advised to go on a low-fat diet to lower his risk of cardiovascular disease which had run in the family for a couple of generations as far back as anyone could remember. He began to eat egg white omelettes which do stick to most cookware pretty easily, so we bought into the whole idea of non-stick pans and less fat. The first non-stick pans were cheap, thin aluminum pans with loose, flimsy plastic handles and the coating was not really non-stick. These cheap pans lost their coating quickly too, no one had high temperature plastic utensils and the metal ones we all had scratched the pans like nobody’s business. Later, better quality pans came out but they had warnings on them not to use high temperatures and not to use metal utensils in them. This was not good if you want to sear a steak or brown onions.
What about Professional non-stick cookware?
Even in the professional kitchen I toyed with the non-stick pans…only a few at a time because they were twice the price of aluminum pans without the coating. They did not even last a week before the coating got scratched and had to be removed which we did by turning the pans upside down over a burner and literally burning the coating off. From that point on I bought only plain aluminum cookware for the restaurant because of price, never being completely satisfied with them because they warped quickly under the demands of the high temperature and rapid cooling required in a professional kitchen,but that is what we could afford to use.
Plain steel or cast iron pans were not particularly good for most of our cooking needs either with the exception of my favorite crepe pans and the huge cast iron skillet I used for pan frying because they take a long time to heat up and steel is not a very good heat conductor which caused hot and cold spots in the pan making for uneven cooking. Fortunately, a few companies like All-Clad and Lincoln (just to name a couple) started coming out with stainless steel cookware with other metals bonded to the steel so that the food only touched stainless steel and you got the even heat distribution of the more conductive copper or aluminum. The only drawback was and still is price.
The pots and pans I use every day at home…
I happen to have a ton of cookware in my personal kitchen (go figure); most of which is either very expensive copper, stainless steel or enamel coated cast iron; the remainder being rather inexpensive, plain old cast iron. I love them all! They all perform beautifully for me, you just have to treat them properly to get great results. I have no problems with foods sticking or burning. On the rare occasion that something sticky remains after the meal is served, a relatively short soak in hot water usually removes the offending particles (especially in the stainless lined pans). The cast iron pots and pans, either enamel coated or plain, do require different care but not necessarily more difficult care. I use my plain inexpensive cast iron very often (daily) and once they get well seasoned they require the least care; a simple rinse, scrub with a soft brush, a quick dry back on the stove and they are ready for the next use. The more you use them the more stick resistant they become.
Reduce fat consumption with proper technique instead of non-stick cookware…
The non-stick pans seemed very important when all of the medical experts were touting a very low fat diet, we are obsessed with that. Still, even I think it is good to use fats sparingly. You might be saying to yourself,”I bet you have to use a lot more oil in your uncoated pans than in a non-stick pan”. Not true! Most of my sauteing is done with 1 or 2 Tbsp of good oil (the correct oil for the type and temperature of the cooking) and when I cook eggs in my cast iron skillet I use the same amount of oil spray that I would use in a non-stick pan. The secret is heating the pan to the right temperature and applying the oil at the right time. I always write into my recipes the fact that the pan must be heated prior to adding the oil. The oil is then given the shortest amount of time to heat up before food is added to the pan so that the oil does not burn. Over heating some oils creates trans fats (which we all know are bad for us) and burnt oil tastes bad.
The Stainless steel pans can be made non-stick by doing a procedure called seasoning which is a little different than the procedure for a cast iron skillet. You can see the steps here.
What I would do if I needed a new pot…
Now that I have explained myself, here are my thoughts on what you should actually do about cookware:
You may be thinking,”I don’t have one of those gourmet, expensive stoves; so I don’t need good pots”. The opposite is true: the less heat you have coming from your burners, the more critical it is to have decent cookware. Good cookware heats up faster, holds the heat better and will cook your food both better and faster if BTU’s are lacking. You may even be saying to yourself,”I am not a very good cook, so good cookware would be wasted on me”. This is a fallacious argument as well; poor quality cookware may be the reason foods don’t turn out the way they should (and a little training will go a long way too).
- Stop using non-stick cookware or if you have no alternative at this time be very careful about overheating the pans.
- Get only the pots you need; most people can get away with a saute/fry pan, a stock pot (1.5-2 gallons), a 1½ to 2 quart sauce pan with the lid to start with and then add other pots as you find them necessary or just plan on buying one pot at a time.
- I highly recommend professional grade, stainless steel pots and pans made from 18/8 or 18/10 stainless steel with either copper or aluminum bonded to the bottom. They are worth the money.
- Go to a restaurant supply store and pick their brains, many are open to the public.
- See what is available and what good pots cost. Buy the best quality you can afford and only the pots you are going to use. Good cookware is neither spectacularly shiny to look at or light weight. Stainless Steel Lined Copper pots work great but are much harder to keep clean on the outside and are a lot more expensive.
- Get a good 12 inch cast iron fry pan, you will not regret that. Use it every day.
- Remember to get the lids that go with each pan if you can, they really come in handy.
- Don’t be afraid to get good used equipment. I know people who have their grandmothers favorite pots and I still use some of my great-grandmothers kitchen equipment.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t need to know how to take care of good equipment? We could buy cheap equipment and throw it away when they got scratched or dirty. Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t need to know how to cook for ourselves? We could get food out of a box, heat it in a microwave and take pills for the rest of our nutritional needs. I say No! Good food and good cookware is an investment that will pay dividends for the rest of your life. Tradesmen have a saying: use the right tool for the job. To prepare delicious and nutritious food, one of the most important tools to have is good cookware (another is a good knife-a subject for another post) and a good handle on a few basic techniques. Speaking of techniques, those of you who read the blog will know that I include critical information with each recipe that will help you get the results you want. so don’t worry that you don’t know everything at this point, I am here to help. I welcome questions on any food topic and usually give the answer within a few hours. I would love to hear from YOU!