These days, nonstick cookware has earned somewhat of a bad reputation. With fears of toxic nonstick coating flaking into food, many people have begun looking for alternatives to their nonstick pots and pans sets. However, cookware has evolved over the years. Nonstick coating isn't synonymous with Teflon anymore, and most high-quality nonstick cookware sets are made with higher quality materials, eliminating the concern of toxic flakes.
If you are in the market for a new cookware set, you may have some pertinent questions before making your pick. And the good news is, if you're reading this, you're already doing your due diligence to identify the best option for you!
What Makes Cookware Nonstick?
The original nonstick cookware came to us courtesy of Teflon. They were invented accidentally in April 1938 when Dr. Roy J. Plunkett and assistant Jack Rebok attempted to identify alternative refrigerant gasses.
The gasses experimented with were stored in cylinders for freezing and compression. One of the cylinders was full of tetrafluoroethylene gas. That gas, when compressed and frozen, became a white solidified material. The result was polymerized polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). The material is slippery, non-corrosive, and chemically stable with a very high melting point.
Teflon became used widely for other purposes first, as a lining for pipes and more. Eventually, it was picked up for use for cooking pans, beginning with French Engineer Mark Gregoire. He used the material for detangling fishing lines, and his wife noticed just how slick it was. So, he chose to apply it to their cooking pans and quickly noticed the difference: Food didn't stick, even with significantly less oil. Thus began the use of Teflon on pans under the brand Tefal.
Nowadays, PTFE is used on many different types of cookware, from skillets to baking sheets and waffle irons. The reason they work so well is relatively simple. If you were to look at a metal pan under a magnifying glass, you would see that the surface is nowhere near as smooth as it feels. It's rough, bumpy, and full of many little crannies. During cooking, the pan is heated, causing it to expand. As the pan expands, the pores enlarge, and food can seep into them. The food is then cooked, causing it to stick.
When we cook, we use oil on metal pans because the oil fills the fissures in the metal to prevent food from entering them, which reduces sticking. Nonstick pans, however, have been coated with PTFE, which then fills in the pan's pores and creates a smooth, nonstick surface for cooking. The result is food that comes right off the surface when cooked.
Benefits of Nonstick Cookware
Nonstick cookware has many benefits that help it stand out in the kitchen. From health benefits to affordability and ease of use, nonstick cookware is often a fan-favorite for novice cooks still learning their way around the kitchen.
Require Less Oil
Because the nonstick coating already fills in the nooks and crannies of the natural metal used to create the pan, there is less need for oil or butter when cooking. As you use less fat in your cooking in butter or oil, the result is a lower-calorie meal.
Fat is an important part of any diet, but when consumed in excess, it is unhealthy. When you have to cook healthy foods in excess oil to prevent them from burning or sticking to the pan, you reduce the healthiness of that food. This is perhaps the most significant of the benefits expected from these pans. If you or someone in your family is on a low-fat diet, a nonstick pan is likely one of the most important tools in your kitchen.
Easy to Maintain and Clean
Since nonstick cookware prevents food from sticking, washing it is much easier than scrubbing off the food from the surface. Washing is best done with a soft sponge that won't scrape the surface and hot, soapy water for the interior and exterior. Alternatively, many nonstick pans are also dishwasher-safe for even easier cleaning.
Doesn't React to Acids
Some foods, especially acidic ones, can react to the pans you use. Copper, iron, and aluminum pans can be reactive with acidic foods. As a result, cooking with acids can cause it to take on a metallic flavor. Nonstick pans, however, are not reactive. They will resist wines, tomatoes, lemons, and any other acids you may choose to cook with.
Great Cooking Tool
Because so many common foods tend to stick to pans when cooked at lower temperatures, like eggs and pancakes, having a nonstick pan on hand for these purposes is a great idea. Even if you choose to cook in stainless steel, cast iron, or any other type of pan, having a nonstick pan on hand is useful for any cook.
No Preheating Necessary
Nonstick cookware does not require preheating in the way cast iron or stainless steel does before adding the food to the pan. This can shorten the cooking time dramatically, as you are not stuck waiting for the preheating process to finish.
Nonstick cookware tends to be much more affordable than many other options. Stainless steel and cast iron tend to be significantly more expensive than similar-quality nonstick cookware.
Quality is not compromised with affordability in good nonstick cookware. By choosing a high-quality brand, you will get enhanced performance and durability, as long as you take care of your nonstick cookware according to the instructions. This means refraining from using scrubbing sponges or metal utensils on its surface.
Easy to Use
Last, but not least, nonstick pans are incredibly easy to use. They are perfect for fried or breaded items that would otherwise break in the pan. They are also ideal for less-experienced cooks because the food will not stick to them if cared for properly.
What to Look for in a Nonstick Cookware Set
There are many different types and brands of nonstick cookware, so knowing what to look for is crucial before you go out and pick one.
Nonstick pans can use many different base materials. However, different base materials will change how pans heat, cook, conduct, and maintain heat. The most popular option is aluminum, which response well and can be used on any cooktop.
Stainless steel is popular due to its heaviness. They are built more substantially and are less susceptible to dents.
Copper is commonly used for extreme responsiveness to changes in heat, meaning you can go from high heats to low heats and have the pan respond accordingly.
Then, you need to consider what is used to coat the pan on the inside, which is likely either ceramic, hard-anodized aluminum or PTFE. The best choice is the one that meets your needs.
Weight and Size
The size and weight of a cookware set will also change the user experience. Most people do best with a mid-weight cookware set. Lightweight ones typically are flimsier and heat up quickly, and heavier cookware allows for a good sear but may be harder to lift for those with limited mobility.
Number of Pieces
Different people will need different cookware set sizes. A large family may need a set with more pieces than a single person. Most likely, you will use a large nonstick skillet more often than anything else. Likewise, you will probably need a large saucepan for cooking rice, stews, and soups. Choose a set that's large enough to meet your family's needs.
Nonstick cookware is usually best for low and medium temperatures. Keep in mind that PTFE coatings are typically approved for use to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Hard-anodized cookware can heat up to 400-500 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are the type to sear on the stove, then cook in the oven, make sure that the pan you've chosen will withstand those temperatures.
Not all pans will work for all types of cooktops. Make sure to check the manufacturer's instructions to ensure that your choice will work on your stovetop. Induction stovetops often do not work well with aluminum cookware.
If you are on the go, you may want to ensure that your cookware is dishwasher safe. This will save you both time and energy. However, confirm with manufacturer instructions to be sure that the pan will withstand the dishwasher.
Nonstick cookware is often available at a wide range of prices. The least expensive is lightweight aluminum pans coated with either Teflon or ceramic. Medium or heavyweight pans will often be more costly due to needing more material. Remember that whatever you buy will eventually need to be replaced; nonstick cookware typically wears out quicker than other options.
When selecting your nonstick cookware, consider the manufacturer warranty. Often, they offer coverage for defects in material or construction but do not cover damage caused by improper use.
Sometimes, cookware sets come bundled with nonstick-compatible utensils and items. You may not need these, but they are worth considering during your shopping.
Finally, consider the handle how your cookware feels when cooking is important. Choose the one that feels best in your hand.
Different Types of Nonstick Cookware
Nonstick cookware describes any kind of treated cookware that can help prevent sticking to the pan.
Traditional Nonstick (Teflon)
Teflon-coated pans are the traditional nonstick cookware. These pans clean easily and are effective, but do wear out over time. Typically, they require at least three coatings to be effective.
Ceramic cookware is coated in material derived from silica, which is sprayed or dipped to coat the inside of the pan. Then, the silica is cured in an oven. Ceramic nonstick pans can use just one coating. However, ceramic tends to be more brittle than nonstick coatings. It will lose nonstick properties quicker than Teflon in most common use scenarios.
Carbon steel is not naturally nonstick but can be seasoned to be. The seasoning process can be time-consuming, but once completed, it works well. These pans can also get hotter than Teflon or ceramic, making them perfect for searing and charring.
Cast iron, like carbon steel, requires seasoning to be built up over time while cooking. It is often heavier and not quite as nonstick as carbon steel, but it is durable and will last decades when well-maintained.
Hard-anodized aluminum bakes in the nonstick surface by electrochemically hardening aluminum to force it to oxidize on the top layer. This is tougher than a traditional nonstick coating while still offering similar benefits. These pans can withstand high temperatures, don't scratch, react to acidic foods, and are not prone to chipping as the nonstick surface is part of the pan itself.
Recommended Nonstick Cookware Sets
At this point, you may be wondering which cookware set is best for you. Here are two top contenders for highly-recommended cookware sets.
This cookware set is durable and perfect for a wide range of stoves. This set includes a 5.5 qt casserole pan, a 4.2 qt saute pan, a 1.6 qt saucepan, a 9.5" frying pan, an 8" frying pan, and 3 tempered glass lids. It is safe up to 302 degrees Fahrenheit and can be used on gas, electric, induction, ceramic, and halogen stovetops.
This set stands out as the aluminum surface is infused with synthetic diamonds to help keep the nonstick surface durable. With silicone touch handle grips, you can cook safely without worrying about burning your hands.
For a larger family, this 16-piece cookware set is a great option. It includes a 9.5" frying pan, an 11" frying pan, a 2.07 qt pot and glass lid, a 5.54 qt pot and glass lid, an 11" square frying pan, an 11" high frying pan with a glass lid, three silicone cooking utensils, two insulation pads, and two insulation gloves. They are safe to use on ceramic, gas, electric, and induction stoves.
In particular, this cookware set offers a thickened base for even cooking. The cookware is scratch-resistant, and the handles are covered with soft rubber to keep your hands safe.