There are few experiences in the kitchen as wonderful as cooking with a non stick pan – especially when you’re cooking the perfect fried eggs or pancakes! In recent years though, concerns have been raised about the safety of using non stick pans because they contained PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid), a man-made chemical compound that has been linked to a number of serious health conditions including two types of cancer – kidney and testicular cancer. Since 2002 the use of PFOA in the manufacture of non stick pans has been phased out and Teflon, the largest manufacturer of non-stick cookware, completely stopped using PFOA by 2013.
Since then, a new generation of non stick pans has appeared on the market that are made using a chemical compound called poly tetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) which has proved to be safe as it contains no PFOA and manufacturers say that providing it is not heated to a temperature greater than 300ºC it is totally safe to use in the domestic kitchen. If you are considering buying a non stick pan or pan set, it is well worth taking a little extra time to ensure that it bears a label stating that it is PFOA-free.
Despite these changes, many people feel that it is best to avoid using non stick pans, but what alternatives are there?
There are three main alternatives to non stick and these are: ceramic, stainless steel and cast iron. They are all good, but the bottom line is that none of them are as good as non stick, but with some practice, they can be used successfully.
Ceramic pans are made from organic materials and are considered to be the safest type of cooking pans. There are actually two types of ceramic pans. Pans that are made totally from ceramic material are hard to find, very expensive to buy and do not last long. These ceramic pans cannot be used with induction heat.
Most ceramic pans are actually ceramic coated pans with a core of metal. The metal varies, with aluminium as the most common core, but stainless steel and copper also widely used. It is important that a number of layers of metal have been used in the construction of the pan as this ensures the even conduction of heat and also helps the pan to retain its heat Good research is essential as reading product reviews will highlight which brands are best. Some ceramic coated pans cannot be used with induction heat and many can only be used in the oven on a low heat. Ceramic pans do have a relatively short lifespan of 3-5 years.
If you are planning to pop your ceramic coated pan in the dishwasher, do check that you can do so safely as not all brands are dishwasher safe. As ceramic pans do not get really dirty, it is a far safer option to wash them by hand each time.
Stainless Steel Pans
A set of stainless steel pans always looks smart and although they can be expensive to buy, many manufacturers offer a lifetime guarantee. Stainless steel pans are made from up to five layers of stainless steel and aluminium . They are surprisingly practical but when it comes to their non-stick properties, you will find that there is a definite knack to the successful cooking of certain foods.
Seasoned cooks will tell you that there are several steps that should be taken to ensure successful non stick cooking. The pan should be warmed before you begin cooking and then the butter/oil should be heated with the pan on a medium heat before adding the food. Some cooks like to season the aluminium pans that they will use for frying and this certainly does not cause any problems.
Stainless steel pans can be used in the oven and also with induction heat. Pans can be popped in the dishwasher, but hand washing is best. If the pans begin to look dull or have ‘rainbow staining’ this can be quickly remedied with some stainless steel cleaner which can be bought in kitchen shops and hardware stores and will soon have your pans gleaming once again.
Cast Iron Pans
There are many cooks and chefs who love cooking with cast iron pans and they can certainly be used for a range of cooking techniques – but they do require time and effort. If you are planning to cook sticky foods, you will definitely have to season the pan well first. When you want to cook any sticky food, warm the pan thoroughly – which will take time. Add the butter / oil and warm through before adding the food. Once heated, a cast iron pan really retains its heat well.
There are certain things to remember when cooking with cast iron pans. Certain foods can not be cooked successfully in a cast iron pan and these include acidic foods, fish and strong smelling foods as the cast iron retains smells. Cast iron pans must be washed by hand – but not using soap – and must be dried really well or else they can rust.
At the end of the day, non stick pans revolutionised cooking because they were so easy to use, food never stuck and also food could be cooked so quickly. These three alternatives to non stick pans are very different to use and certainly will not be as quick to heat so patience will be a virtue! Each type of pan can cook food that sticks successfully, but practice will be needed to perfect your cooking technique with each. Having said that, days of enjoying lovely fried eggs, crispy chips and golden pancakes are by no means over…