Ask Wirecutter: My Family Uses Scratched Nonstick Pans. Is That Bad?

Ask Wirecutter, an advice column written by Annemarie Conte, explores the best approaches to buying, using, and maintaining stuff. Email your biggest product-related problems to askwirecutter@wirecutter.com.


Dear Wirecutter,

How bad is it to keep using old, scratched nonstick pans? Everyone in my household seems to think it’s fine and normal, but I’m worried. What do you think?

LV


Dear LV,

There are a few things here that we need to, um, unstick.

I can hear the groundswell of internet criticism as I type this, so I’m going to tune out the chorus of commenters for a moment to lay this out clearly: Although this is a wildly debated topic, our experts think that health risks from a scratched nonstick coating are unlikely. Setting that aside, we recommend that you stop using a pan that is no longer nonstick. The coating can flake into your food, which is especially unappetizing.

We advise replacing your nonstick pans whenever the coating starts to degrade, or about every three to five years. Knowing that it’s not a buy-it-for-life thing, our kitchen team thing our top-pick nonstick pan, the Tramontina 10-Inch Professional Restaurant Fry Pan, based on its solid performance and relatively low price. If you have an induction cooktop, our runner-up pick, the Ozeri 10-Inch Stainless Steel Pan with Nonstick Coating and our also-great pick, the All-Clad B1 Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan Set 8″ & 10″, are both induction-compatible.

If you’ve been intrigued by the Facebook and Instagram ads for the Our Place Always Pan and others like it, our experts say to keep scrolling. One of the reasons we don’t recommend it is that having to replace a $100-plus pan every few years doesn’t strike us as a good value. We get the draw—these pans are beautiful, and for some people that’s a perfectly good reason to buy one. “But if you’re looking for cookware that will last—that’s high quality—this isn’t going to be it,” says supervising editor Marilyn Ong in our review of these pans.

How to take care of your nonstick pans

We have an entire section of our guide on this topic, as well as a video on how to clean your nonstick cookware. The TL;DR is don’t use nonstick cooking spray (ironically, it builds up over time and makes your pan prone to sticking), don’t put it in the dishwasher, don’t use metal tools (we like the GIR Mini Flip silicone spatula for nonstick cookware), and don’t overheat the pan. The best thing you can do for your nonstick cookware is to pamper the heck out of it. A nonstick pan is for making creamy French omelets, fish fillets, crepes—not searing a steak. Anything you do that breaks down the nonstick coating will make the pan wear out faster.

GIR Mini-Flip

This silicone-coated spatula is a must if you use nonstick cookware because it won’t scratch your pan. Its angled, tapered edge easily slips under fried eggs without mangling them.

Nonstick pans can have a place in your cookware collection, but they shouldn’t be the only pans you use, and rotating in other cookware for your less delicate culinary adventures will help your nonstick pans last longer.

Alternatives to nonstick cookware

If you want whatever the opposite of a nonstick pan is (a stick pan?), buy a sturdy, reliable pan that will last you for years.

A stainless steel skillet can go from stovetop to oven and is pretty easy to clean. The All-Clad D3 Stainless 12″ Fry Pan with Lid, for one, comes with a limited lifetime warranty. You can throw it in the dishwasher or use metal tools on it without worrying about scratching the surface, and it gives you the versatility to sear or sauté. You can read more in our guide to the best skillet.

Cast-iron skillets are great for high-heat cooking and can build a fairly nonstick surface through “seasoning,” which is a black protective layer of polymerized oil. They tend to be heavy, but our top pick, the Lodge Chef Collection 12 Inch Skillet, is 6½ pounds as opposed to 8½ for the classic Lodge skillet. Cast-iron pieces do need a bit of special attention to clean and season them properly, but they’ll last for generations (as opposed to a few years for a nonstick skillet). You can read more in our guide to the best cast-iron skillet.

Sometimes you can recycle nonstick pans through your local recycling service or, less preferably, drop them off at a scrapyard when you’re finished with them. My best advice is to thank those scratched babies for all of the great meals they’ve given you and your family—and then shuttle them right on out of the house.

This article was edited by Jason Chen and Ben Frumin.

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