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Non-stick Skillets

Friday, 9 January 2009 | Tags: ,

A good-quality skillet can make a huge difference in your cooking. And non-stick coatings help for both cooking and cleaning. With many celebrity chefs designing their own cookware lately, we decided test a few skillets in a fry-off.

The Basics

  • Non-stick coated pots and pans became popular due to the trend towards healthier cooking because they require a lot less butter or oil. And they’re also super easy to clean.

  • Teflon is the brand name for the polytetrafluoroethylene coating, which was created by accident in 1938 by chemist Roy Plunkett, though not used for cookware until the mid-1950’s.

  • Other non-stick coatings recently developed are made from ceramic, which can be heated to a much higher temperature without any damage occurring.

  • Look for pans with 2 to 3 layers of non-stick coating (e.g. “dual-finished”) since they’ll last a bit longer. You can also buy pans with 4 or more layers of coating, but they are pricey, and still vulnerable to scratches.

  • Baked-on non-stick finishes are more durable sprayed-on. To tell the difference, look at the screws or rivets holding the handle on. Sprayed on, coating will also coat the screws. Baked on coating is done without the handle attached, so the screws will still have their metal finish.

  • The base material of the pans is usually aluminum or stainless steel:

    • Look for hard-anodized aluminum for the most durability and best heat conduction.

    • Non-anodized aluminum pans scratch easily.

    • Copper bases are also available but will be expensive, and the non-stick finishes won’t last any longer so may not be worth the cost.

  • Skillet handles are typically metal or coated in silicone to help keep them cooler. Other important features to examine:

    • Look for a handle that is riveted directly onto the pan for more durability and a cooler touch when cooking.

    • Hollow handles are generally cooler to touch and make the pan lighter, but check that they don’t feel flimsy and that the pan feels well-balanced.

    • Handles should also be long enough to provide good lifting leverage and wide enough to give you something to hold onto.

  • The shape of the pan area can make a difference to what you use it for:

    • Straight-sided pans are often have a larger cooking surface (greater capacity), but are harder to flip food in. Use them for preparing large sautéed dishes that are stirred, rather than flipped.

    • Slope-sided pans usually have smaller cooking surfaces (and smaller capacity), but they are easier to flip food. Use them for preparing dishes that require a lot of flipping, like fish fillets, fried eggs, or French toast.

  • Don’t buy a full set of non-stick pots and pans because they’re not suitable for all types of cooking and it’s a big investment. We recommend buying 2 different size skillets: one small (4-8″), one large (10-12″).
  • All non-stick pans degrade over time and you’ll have to replace them every few years anyway, so don’t spend too much on them.

Other Considerations

  • Use non-stick pans to cook delicate foods like fish and egg. For browning foods or creating sauces, use a regular pan, since non-stick pans don’t allow the right sticky texture to be created.

  • Use non-stick pans at medium or lower temperature, since very high temperatures can damage the non-stick finish, causing it to peel or emit harmful fumes.

  • Use a small pan for small jobs (not a large pan), and stir and shift food in the pan regularly to reduce the potential of creating hot spots, which can cause toxic fumes to be released from the Teflon. (See the Be Aware section.)

  • Use wooden or plastic (e.g. nylon) utensils with your non-stick pots and pans, and never cut food in the pan.

  • Always hand wash (regardless of what the manufacturer says). Coatings and finishes just don’t hold up well in the dishwasher.

Be Aware

  • Do not leave an empty non-stick pot or pan on high heat. This can create toxic fumes.

  • Do not use metal or sharp utensils in the pan. They can damage the coating and release harmful chemicals.

  • Never put non-stick pans under the broiler. Even if a non-stick pot or pan says it’s oven-safe, consider keeping your non-stick items for stove-top use only.

  • Bird owners beware: keep your birds out of the kitchen, especially when using non-stick pans. Fumes from burnt food in general and those emanating from non-stick coatings that have been heated too high can be lethal to birds.

TEST CRITERIA

We tested four celebrity-designed non-stick skillets to see how they stacked up against each other.

  • Paula Deen (12-inch stainless steel): $44.99
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Rachael Ray (12-inch hard-anodized aluminum): $59.99
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Gordon Ramsay by Royal Doulton (12-inch stainless steel): $149.99
. . Cookware.com Amazon.com
  • Jamie Oliver by T-Fal (12-inch heavy-gauge aluminum core): $109.99
. . The Bay

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

Durability Test

We took our pans to a welder’s shop and put a grinder to them to test the durability of the non-stick coating. We timed how long the grinder took to get through the coating:

  • Rachael Ray: 6 minutes, 20 seconds
  • Jamie Oliver took 4 minutes, 50 seconds to show damage.
  • Paula Deen: 4 minutes, 35 seconds
  • Gordon Ramsay: 3 minutes, 50 seconds

Usability Test

We used each of our pans (before we did the scratch test!) in our everyday cooking to find out which we liked the feel and cooking qualities of best:

  • The Gordon Ramsay felt sturdy but a bit cumbersome.

  • The Paula Deen was super light and easy to lift. We could tell it was designed by a woman.

  • The Jamie Oliver pan was heavy but well-weighted. It also retained heat very well.

OUR TOP PICK

Even though the Jamie Oliver T-Fal skillet didn’t last as long in the durability test and was also a bit on the heavy side, we liked using it in our everyday cooking the best.

 

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