Non-stick pans are made with a special coating that prevents food from sticking to it. “When you look at a metal pan under a microscope, you’ll see a bunch of little nooks and crannies. When that metal is heated, the metal expands and those nooks and crannies close up,” says Lanning. “If a food comes into contact with the metal as it expands, the metal is like a vise and it bites the food, effectively sticking it to the metal. To prevent this from happening, a coating is added to pre- fill in the nooks and crannies to make it really smooth.”
He explains that the plastic coating is made of a gas that is frozen and then compressed into a waxy substance, and it will begin to flake and break down at high temperatures. “When you consider that a nonstick surface was once gassed and turned into a waxy coating, it makes sense that once abused, it reverts to a gas and begins to degrade like a candle,” he says. Not to mention that when heated above 400-500 degrees, the molecules in the coating break down and release fluorocarbons in the air,” says Lanning. These polymers, common in household products, but inhaling them is related to respiratory disease, which is why overheating your non-stick pans is such a problem. To avoid this (and extend the life of your cookware), Lanning recommends using a nonstick skillet to cook foods that require medium or low heat like eggs and vegetables, and using a stainless steel to cook over high heat.
Another thing that can put your nonstick pan out of commission too soon is how you clean it. Lanning says to just wipe it down with a paper towel whenever possible. If using soap, scrub lightly with something non-abrasive. And never use metal on your nonstick pans, as it will scratch and damage the coating. Finally, it says to always store your nonstick pan with a clean towel inside, so that when you place another pan or cookware on it, the nonstick coating is protected.
Conclusion: “Nonstick pans are really great tools,” says Lanning. “You can’t cook everything in it, but when you want to make a French omelette that would rival Jacque Pepin, cut out that nonstick.”
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