When it comes to nonstick cookware, there are a lot of nebulous-bordering-on-nefarious-seeming terms thrown about: Teflon, PTFE, PFOA. If you’re in the market for new nonstick cookware, or wondering whether the pots and pans you currently own are safe to use, it can be a lot to process and parse through. With that in mind, we’ve answered some frequently-asked questions related to safety, shopping for, and use of nonstick cookware here.
Some Frequently-Asked Nonstick Cookware Questions
What Should You Do When Nonstick Coating Is Coming Off?
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if your nonstick pan is deeply-scratched, flaking, or no longer nonstick, it is time to replace it. Small amounts of the coating may end up in your food, and while the coating is technically safe to ingest, it’s not something we’d recommend. Additionally, the pan itself will no longer excel at the task it’s meant to do. Unfortunately, nonstick pans have a shorter lifespan than cast iron, stainless steel, and carbon steel; typically around five years if properly maintained.
Is Teflon Toxic?
First things first: Teflon refers to a plastic called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE); it is often colloquially referred to as Teflon, Dupont’s brand name for PTFE. When applied to a pot or pan, PTFE creates an extremely-smooth, nearly-frictionless surface that repels sticking). PTFE itself is not considered toxic, but perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical which historically has been used in the manufacturing process of PTFE pans has raised some questions. In recent years, many manufacturers have begun to or completely phased out the use of PFOA, but older cookware may have been manufactured using this chemical.
While it may all sound alarming, PTFE-based pots and pans made using PFOA are safe to cook with when appropriate precautions are taken. In other words, if your older nonstick pans are in good condition, there’s no need to toss them out. These pots and pans only become potentially dangerous to use when heated above 500ºF, as at that temperature, the nonstick coating may begin to break down and release PFOA fumes. For this reason, traditional PTFE-based nonstick pans will come with a warning to not exceed this temperature.
It is worth noting that aside from ceramic cookware, virtually all nonstick pans—even those that are marketed as non-Teflon or PFOA-free—are coated in PTFE, including “environmentally-friendly” pans. Some PFOA-free cookware may allow for use at temperatures higher than 500ºF, but it is a good rule of thumb to avoid using nonstick pans for ultra-high heat cooking (ceramic nonstick and outdoor high heat nonstick can be an exception, as some of it withstands temperatures of 600ºF or higher). Instead, a cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel skillet is a better choice for cooking at high temperatures. Reserve cooking with nonstick pots and pans for recipes that involve delicate proteins that are prone to sticking, and that call for cooking at a lower temperature, like when scrambling eggs or searing fish. For best results, use heavyweight, multi-ply nonstick pans that are less prone to overheating than their thinner lightweight counterparts. Turning on your vent hood when using nonstick cookware is also a good precaution.
In short: Teflon and other PTFE-based nonstick cookware is safe to use at low to medium temperatures. Assuming it is in good repair, there is no need to replace a nonstick pot or pan that was made using PFOA . But if you are in the market for a new nonstick pan, we recommend seeking out a heavyweight PFOA-free option.
Do I Need to Season a Nonstick Pan?
Unlike cast-iron and carbon steel pans, nonstick pans do not need to be seasoned before use. Little needs to be done before using a nonstick pan for the first time: Simply wash it well with warm soapy water, and wipe it dry before use.
Furthermore, do not prepare your pan with nonstick cooking spray. Not only is this an unnecessary step—a properly-maintained nonstick pan does not need this extra layer of lubricant—but it may actually reduce the nonstick properties of your pan. Many nonstick sprays burn at relatively-low temperatures, creating a layer of difficult-to-remove buildup on your pan’s surface. In some cases, the use of nonstick spray may even void your pan’s warranty. Instead, prepare your pan with a bit of cooking oil, butter, or ghee: Adding oil to the pan before cooking will generally aid in browning and boost flavor, but high-quality, multi-ply nonstick pots and pans, such as those from Zwilling’s Forte line, does not actually require the addition of oil.
Is Nonstick Induction Cookware Safe to Use?
Nonstick induction cookware is just as safe as using nonstick cookware on a traditional gas or electric range. Note that not all nonstick cookware, especially aluminum-based pots and pans, is induction compatible, as aluminum is not magnetic. (Induction ranges can only conduct heat into magnetic surfaces.) Some cookware, such as All-Clad’s NS1 line or Zwilling’s Forte collection, is layered with other metals for use on induction ranges; if you’re unsure whether or not your pan will work on an induction cooktop, either consult the manufacturer’s website, or simply test by seeing if a magnet will stick to the pot or pan.