10 Signs of Nonstick Pan Abuse

nonstick-pansIf your nonstick pans could speak, would they thank you for the tender loving care you give them?

Or would they say “Hey! Not so aggressive with the utensils!”

This is a follow up to the previous blog post, “Dangers Lurking in Your Camp Kitchen–Nonstick Pans.”

As I said in the previous post, “Nonstick pans are popular cooking tools in our home kitchens as well as in our camp kitchens; they are easy to use and clean, and they don’t require a lot of oil to grease the surface,” but they are a high maintenance piece of equipment. They require a lot of TLC. Following are 10 signs that you’re not giving them the TLC they require, which can lead to unsafe and, potentially, toxic cooking.

1. Flaking

If the nonstick coating is flaking off into little bits, or you can see silver through the black nonstick coating, it’s time to replace it. This is the biggest sign of pan abuse. There are mixed reports on whether the flaking bits are safe to consume or if they are harmful. But I say: Why chance it?

When deep scratches occur, the nonstick coating starts to flake and peel.

A possible reason for the coating to flake could be high heat. Never use high heat on your nonstick cookware. Nonstick pans work best with low or medium heat. They are not meant for frying or boiling water. Do not put them under the broiler.

Your nonstick pan might also be flaking because it has been deeply scratched and it will continue to peel.

2. Small scratches in the nonstick surface

Some folks believe that using nylon and wooden utensils can cause these minor surface markings. (More on that in #5 below.)

Another suspect of minor scratches is cooking meat with bones in it (i.e. T-bone steaks or pork chops) and then moving the meat around in the pan. The bones can cause these minor scratches. That can’t always be helped, but it’s something you should be aware of.

The point is: minor scratches are signs of surface wear and could develop into large scratches, which could lead to flaking (refer to #1 above).

3. Your nonstick pans have greasy residue in them even after you’ve cleaned them

Don’t use non-stick cooking sprays. They leave a residue on the pan and eventually the pan will start to stick. Lightly coat your nonstick pan with oil (olive, canola, vegetable, etc) or use butter.

4. The bottom of the pan is warped

Warped pans can happen for a few reasons:

  • Harsh temperature changes can warp your pan.
  • Don’t put hot pans in the sink with cold water.
  • Don’t heat up your pans too quickly. If you want medium heat, put temperature on low for a few minutes, and then turn it up to medium so the pan can rise to the desired temperature slowly.
  • Inexpensive pans can be made cheaply. I’ve had a few pans that were warped upon purchase. Use quality cookware.

Over time, your pan might become slightly warped because of the temperature changes. But they shouldn’t be warped so much that they are rocking back and forth on your cook top.

5. Not using proper utensils

Most home cooks know this: Never use metal utensils on your nonstick pans. No forks, knives, metal spatulas, whisks. You name it. The slightest bump on the bottom of the pan with metal will leave a scratch. The pan manufacturers advise to only use nylon and wooden utensils. But I have noticed that these nylon and wooden utensils can leave those tiny surface scratches (noted in #2 above) and over time, cause your pan to lose its nonstick coating.

Some people I spoke to swear by silicone. It can handle high heat and it won’t scratch your pans, even if you press hard or aggressively.

If you’ve never used a silicone utensil and would like to purchase one, you may wonder how you can tell if it’s silicone or nylon. Nylon is a harder plastic. Silicone has a rubbery feel to it and is more flexible.

6. You put your nonstick pans in the dishwasher

Even though some nonstick pans are stamped with a “dishwasher safe” marking, they really shouldn’t be put in the dishwasher. The conditions are just too harsh and you’ll be buying new pans a lot sooner than if you hand wash it.

7. You use the scratchy side of the sponge

Never use scratchy pads to clean your nonstick pans. Even the scratchy pads that say “non-scratch” are not good for your nonstick pans. Use the soft side of the sponge.

8. You use your nonstick pans to cook your famous fried chicken

Cooking techniques like frying require high heat for an extended time and you should never use high heat on your nonstick pans. Never use them to boil water. When a recipe calls for high heat, use medium to medium-high heat instead and live with the longer cook time or choose a non nonstick pan. This is why I don’t feel nonstick pans are suitable for camping because controlling the heat can be challenging.

9. You stack ‘em

How you store your pans is just as important as how you cook with them. The bottom of one pan can scratch another’s interior. If possible, store them on a hanging rack. If you nest your pans because you have limited storage space, you should be placing something in between your pans, such as a piece of cloth, which could be an old dish towel, pot holder, soft placemat, etc.

10. Food is sticking to your pan

This could happen for a combination of many of the reasons mentioned above: using cooking sprays, scratches over time appearing in the surface, or using high heat. If food is sticking to your pans, it’s time to replace it.

By addressing these issues, you should be able to extend the life of your nonstick pans.

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