With so many choices of frypans on the market today, it’s difficult to choose the one that’s right for you, as the same thing is not necessarily right for everyone. You really need to look at your cooking habits and also whether you prefer to add some oil in your frying, or whether you prefer to cook without oil entirely. As we become more savvy and aware about the impact on ourselves and environment, one of the factors will also be whether the manufacturing process and use involve any chemicals which might be harmful to us and our environment. And last, but not least, is the convenience the frypan offers – do we have time to look after it and season it, or do we prefer just wash and go (or even better – chuck in the dishwasher and go).
Another aspect you might like to consider is how heavy your cookware is – squeezed or cast aluminium will be much lighter than cast iron or layered stainless steel and copper, so if you are struggling, or suffer pain in your arms, wrists or hands, you need to go for the lighter materials. But no matter what the frypan is made of, it will be finished either with a non-stick layer or a layer that will need to be seasoned and will need to have oil added before and after cooking. It is not recommended to use oil sprays on frypans, as the oil mist is so fine that most of it burns off before it even hits the pan and it can create a burned layer on your frypan even before you started cooking and damage your frypan. If you don’t want to use too much oil (with most cookware that doesn’t have non-stick layer it’s usually enough to just wipe the surface with paper towel dipped in oil) or prefer to use oil spray (always spray food, not frypan) or no oil at all, then you should go for a non-stick frypan. And if you do decide to add some oil to your cooking in the non-stick frypan, it’s recommended to heat your frypan dry on a low to medium setting and then add oil when the pan heats up to cooking temperature.
What is PFTE and PFOA?
The main compound of the non-stick layer is PFTE, Polytetrafluoroethylene, non-conductive, water-, heat- and chemical resistant material, which was created in the 1930’s. It’s been used for various other purposes (laboratory equipment, ball bearings, insulation, etc.), before it was applied on cookware in the 1950’s. The original PFTE coating is of course Teflon and the first non-stick, Teflon-coated pans were of course Tefal. The non-stick layer on cookware (and other surfaces) is sprayed on and polymerises with the metal body of the pan. To make it possible to use it as a spray, PFTE needs to be liquidized and this is where PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) is used. PFOA is released into the air during this process, so there is actually no PFOA in the frypan you bring home from the stores. PFOA is the chemical that is harmful to people and to the environment, so this problem occurs in and around the factories where non-stick cookware is produced, but it does not affect you at home. Most manufacturers however improved this manufacturing process, including the original producer Tefal, and so now the process does not actually rely on PFOA and therefore most non-stick pans are PFOA-free and it should be fully phased out of production by 2015.
Is PFTE harmful to us in home cooking?
PFTE has been extensively tested and under normal use in home kitchens, it is hardly going to do any harm to you at all. You would have to try very hard and make the coating very unstable before it releases any chemicals – you would have to heat the frypan regularly at very high temperatures (above 260°C) and leave it dry and empty on the hot stove for extended period of time for PFTE to start deteriorating and releasing anything into the air. Non-stick frypans and pots should not be used under the grill either, as the high direct heat will speed up the decomposition of PFTE. You will not be harmed by eating the non-stick coating, even if it accidentally does get scratched off, the harmful compound are the gasses that are released when the PFTE breaks down.
Can non-stick be scratched?
All regular non-stick surfaces can be scratched off over time. Usually, the more layers of non-stick there are, the longer it takes to damage the surface, therefore even some of today’s non-stick surface can be virtually scratch-free and you can use metal utensils on them (although wooden and or silicone is always recommended to extend the lifetime of your pans). The manufacturers also developed a series of tests to ensure the non-stick surface is durable under normal home use. One of these tests is the scourer pad abrasion test, where the resistance of the coating is measured by constant scrubbing. The pad is changed after every 10,000 strokes and the pan is carefully inspected, then an an egg is fried in the pan to document the release of the non-stick. Obviously the more cycles the pan endures, the more durable is the surface. Good brands would endure a minimum of 7 – 10 cycles. Many manufaturers also add other components to the surface layer, such as ceramics, titanium, precious stones etc., which improves the durability of the non-stick layer further.
What does PTFE-free mean?
PFTE is the main compound of the non-stick layer, so any non-stick frypan or any other non-stick surface for that matter will use some type of PFTE coating. If cookware claims it is PFTE-free, it simply means it is not non-stick and some oil or other lubricant will need to be used for food not to stick. These surfaces might be ceramic, stainless steel, carbon steel, blue steel, cast iron or porcelain enamel. These types of surfaces need to be seasoned to become non-stick. Seasoning means that the surface needs to be regularly oiled and only washed in mild detergent (or preferably just water). So having a PFTE-free surface does ensure presence of no chemicals even at extremely high temperatures, but at the same time it does involve a bit more work. This type of cookware can be very rewarding, if looked after properly and most develop a special film which will make them virtually non-stick. This goes for most surfaces, with the exception of stainless steel. Stainless steel is not non-stick and it will not develop a non-stick layer, but it also doesn’t need to be seasoned. Stainless steel is ideal for when you’re planning to make gravy out of juices that caramelize on the surface. This is the advantage of stainless steel which is so often forgotten – the food will stick to the surface and create caramelized residue which is perfect for this purpose and cannot be achieved with neither non-stick, as the food will simply slide around without caramelizing nor surface where you need to create non-stick surface by seasoning, as the addition of liquid would damage the non-stick seasoning of the pan.
Whichever surface you decide to go to in the end, always follow manufacturer’s instructions, as specific cookware might have specific care needs, and following the instructions will ensure your frypans will serve you well with great results.