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Are Nonstick Pans Safe?

Nonstick pans allow you to cook with less oil and clean-up is a breeze. But are they safe?

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #458

Tips for Using Nonstick Cookware

Choose high-quality nonstick pans. The coating is more likely to be sprayed on in multiple layers rather than rolled on, and that makes it more durable. More expensive pans are usually also heavier and that reduces the risk of accidental overheating.

Keep the heat down. Cook only over low or moderate heat. If you do accidentally overheat a nonstick pan, open doors and windows to dissipate the fumes as quickly as possible. If you must preheat your pan before adding food, be sure to watch it carefully and preheat it only as long as necessary to get the surface hot.

Protect the surface. Although you don't need to worry about ingesting the coating, the pans will perform better if you avoid scratching them. Don’t use metal utensils or scrubbers and store them carefully to keep them from getting scratched by other pans.

Ceramic nonstick coatings have become a lot more popular lately.  

Learn to let go. If the surface becomes scratched or starts to flake off, or begins to lose its nonstick properties, it’s best to replace them. Even higher quality nonstick coatings will only perform well for three to five years.

Alternatives to Nonstick Pans

Finally, if you like the convenience of nonstick but would just as soon keep the polytetrafluoroethylene out of your kitchen, there are some newer types of cookware that feature nonstick surfaces made without Teflon.

Ceramic nonstick coatings have become a lot more popular lately. The coating is much more heat resistant and will not release any fumes at high temperatures. Unfortunately, however, the nonstick properties of the ceramic coating don’t seem to last quite as long as Teflon. Using them at high temperatures may shorten the lifespan even more. For that reason, manufacturers of ceramic nonstick cookware still recommend using them only over low or medium heat.

For high heat cooking, such as browning or searing meats, it’s best to steer clear of nonstick altogether. A cast iron pan can really take the heat and, if it’s well-seasoned, it should also be nonstick. As a bonus, cooking in cast iron may increase the iron content of your food!

Image of nonstick cookware © Shutterstock

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.