Over the years I have relied less and less on nonstick pans. In part, it’s because of safety concerns, but I’ve also found that in a lot of cases, a well-seasoned cast iron pan can be just as effective. However, when it comes to cooking eggs, nothing works as well as a good quality nonstick surface. It is for that reason alone that I keep at least one nonstick pan around the house.
So when my 7-year-old nonstick Calphalon pan began to flake, I decided it was time for a new one. All nonstick surfaces wear out sooner or later. How long they last is a matter of how frequently you use them and how well you take care of them. According to Good Housekeeping, the average lifespan of most nonstick surfaces is three to five years with moderate use. My Calphalon pan itself had been designed to last a lifetime, but all I got out of it was seven years thanks to the nonstick coating. I was not about to buy another expensive high-end nonstick pan. So I set a budget of $40 and began my research.
I found a review of inexpensive nonstick skillets on Cook’s Illustrated’s website in which they gave their highest recommendation to T-Fal’s 12.5 inch Professional Total Nonstick Fry Pan. One of the tests they used to determine how well the nonstick surfaces worked required frying eggs without any oil. In the case of one pan, it only took three eggs before they began to stick, whereas the T-Fal model went for 76 eggs before the testers declared it the winner. While I never cook more than a dozen eggs at any one time, the T-Fal sounded like just the ticket for me, and at less than $30, I had little to lose.
With visions of fried eggs sliding effortlessly from pan to plate, I placed my order online. When the pan arrived one afternoon, I couldn’t wait until morning and broke out the eggs right then and there. Unfortunately, my very first egg stuck like a tattoo the moment it hit the pan. It eventually did release, but not without leaving behind a tissue-thin layer of browned egg white (called the thin albumen). It did ultimately rinse clean with just a little water, but I had wanted picture perfect eggs that released with ease.
What had I done wrong? Was the surface two hot? Were the eggs too cold or not fresh enough?
I contacted Cook’s Illustrated for a little guidance. Senior Editor Lisa McManus came to my aid, “I’m not sure if temperature or other factors (like defective coating) might be contributing to the sticking you’re seeing. We heated the pans to 350 F, and put an egg in the middle of the pan (no fat), cooked it sunny side up, and slid it out of the pan. The T-fal has a red circular temperature indicator in the center of the pan, which I believe turns solid red when it’s heated to around 350; it’s very handy.”
Lisa also suggested I wipe a small amount of vegetable oil over the surface of the warm pan. It turns out that many nonstick manufactures actually recommend doing this with new pans. Known as seasoning, this practice is common with cast iron cookware, but it turns out the be a good first step in the long term care of your nonstick pans as well. The only problem was that I was wise to this and had already seasoned my pan before the first use.
I decided to start over with a fresh batch of eggs and made certain I heated the pan until the indicator was solid. For a little extra insurance, I wiped the pan down with a half-teaspoon of canola oil. After all, my goal was not fat-free frying as much as it was nonstick frying. It’s amazing what a little fat can do. The results were much better; the promise fulfilled. My eggs slid out of the pan just as I had wanted. There was nothing left behind in the pan sans a couple of drops of oil. My eggs looked like something out of a Denny’s ad.
Other features I like about the T-Fal include the solid stainless steel base, which provides better heat distribution and makes for a sturdier pan. The 12.5 size provides plenty of cooking surface. I also like the fact that the outside of the pan also has a non-stick coating, which makes clean-up from spillage and overflow much easier. Although the heat indicator is a nice feature, I’m not sure how accurate and reliable it is.
Caring for Your Nonstick Pans
As I alluded earlier, care and maintenance can dramatically extend the life of nonstick cookware. In addition to seasoning a new pan, here are some other tips to keep the nonstick in your nonstick pans.
- Never use metal utensils. I keep a plastic spatula, spoon and tongs on hand to use with my nonstick pans.
- If you nest your pans inside of one another when you store them, cover the nonstick surface with an old dish towel or a piece of Duck Easy Shelf Liner to prevent scratching.
- Even if cookware is deemed “dishwasher safe”, I find that all types of pans last longer and look nicer if washed by hand. When cleaning nonstick cookware, use warm soapy water. Do not use abrasive brushes or scouring pads. You shouldn’t need to scour a good non-stick surface. Try soaking first, and if necessary, use cleaning products that specify “safe for nonstick” surfaces.
- Do not heat a nonstick pan beyond 500℉/260℃. At these temperatures, the nonstick coating begins to break down and gives off toxic particles and gases. To avoid this, never preheat a nonstick pan and do not cook on high heat.
- Do not use cooking sprays, such as Pam, on your nonstick cookware. An ingredient in these sprays, soy lecithin, can cause a sticky film to build-up.
While I may not have been able to “dry fry” an egg with the T-Fal’s 12.5 inch Professional Total Nonstick Fry Pan, it worked just fine for me with a little oil, and with a price tag of less than $30, it’s hard to find fault with it. I’ve since used it to prepare everything from fish to pasta sauces, and it has outperformed any nonstick pan I’ve owned to date. Only time will tell how long the pan will last. I’ll let you know how that goes, but I would have to go through three or more in the next seven years for the T-Fal to be a worse bargain than my old Calphalon pan. Judging by what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think that’s likely at all.
Please note, this is not a paid endorsement of T-Fal nonstick cookware, Cook’s Illustrated, or Duck Easy Liner brands. I do not accept paid endorsements.