How often should you replace your frying pans?
I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day when she asked me that question, and we had a fascinating discussion on the topic. So, in this post, I’m going to give you the rundown.
While more than one factor should go into deciding when exactly to replace your frying pan, the answer depends mainly on the material the pan is made from, and whether the cooking surface is coated or not.
Ceramic and non-stick pans need to be replaced every 2 to 5 years, as their coating eventually wears off. With enough care and attention from your side, a copper, cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel skillet can last a lifetime.
Before we get into the specifics of each of these, let’s take a look at the universal sign that you should replace a frying pan: warping.
Warping is arguably the most common problem that cooking vessels of this type are prone to having—especially those with a thinner base. It can happen when you place a hot pan on a cold surface (and vice versa), and the thermal shock is so stark that it damages the construction.
You could probably keep on using a warped pan, but it won’t be able to distribute heat as evenly, so your food will come out burnt in some areas and undercooked in others. The best thing to do with a warped pan is to recycle, repurpose, or throw it away if none of the two are an option.
That being said, some pans require more maintenance than others.
How Often to Replace a Stainless Steel Pan?
A good stainless steel frying pan doesn’t have to be replaced at all. It will not only last you a lifetime but, of all other materials, makes for the easiest cooking vessels to care for.
To begin with, there’s no non-stick coating or cast iron seasoning for you to worry about—you’re cooking on bare steel—so you can safely flip and stir foods using a metal spatula when cooking with them.
Nonetheless, stainless steel cookware manufacturers recommend using silicone or wooden utensils as metal utensils can lead to heavy scratches on the cooking surface.
Stainless steel is an alloy of iron and carbon enriched with chromium and nickel, which protect it from corrosion and rust. The chromium and nickel content not only gives their cooking surface its distinct metallic shine but makes them dishwasher-safe.
Unsurprisingly, a good few professional cooks and home chefs opt-in for stainless steel cookware because it works on any cooktop, can be used in the oven, and is extremely easy to keep spick and span.
I put mine in the dishwasher without hesitation almost every day (their cooking surface is made from 18/10 stainless steel, which is considered to be of the highest quality), and I have yet to see a sign of corrosion or rust on any of them.
After all, corrosion and rust are a sign of oxidation. There’s a reason why stainless steel is known as inox in French and a few other European languages, which stands for “not subject to oxidation.”
How Often to Replace a Ceramic or Non-Stick Pan?
Ceramic and non-stick pans offer a lot of conveniences since foods don’t stick to them, and all it takes to clean them is to wipe them down, but those conveniences come at a high price.
Eventually, the coating will wear off and render your pan unusable. Cheaper pans last for as little as 1-2 years, while pricier pans last for as long as 3-5 years.
Lifestyle and parenting author Kristin George recommends at Reader’s Digest that you look at your pans frequently. “When they start to appear warped, discolored, or scratched, be sure to stop using them.”
How long a ceramic or non-stick pan lasts boils down to the quality of the materials used, the overall reliability of the production process, as well as how carefully you use it.
So what can you do to maximize your pan’s life?
As a general rule of thumb, you should never preheat a ceramic or non-stick pan empty, or you can exceed its maximum operating temperature and damage the silicone oil (ceramic) or Teflon (non-stick) coating. You know you’re there when the pan starts to smell like burnt plastic.
Unless you want to scratch your frying pan’s coating and have to buy a replacement, you should only use silicone or wooden spatulas to flip and stir foods in it.
Last but not least, putting a ceramic or non-stick frying pan in the dishwasher is a no-no. The chemical harshness of the detergent and the clinking and clanking of dinnerware and utensils during the cleaning cycle can crack, scratch, or peel off the coating.
How Often to Replace a Cast Iron Skillet?
Cast iron skillets are built to last. As long as you keep yours well-seasoned, clean it only by hand, and avoid cooking overly acidic foods with it, it can last a lifetime.
Heck, you could even hand it down to your children, who can then hand it down to your grandchildren, and so on, and so on (vintage cast iron skillets still in use today can be centuries old and counting!).
Cast iron reacts to—and doesn’t get along well with—air, moisture, and acidity. So, if you own a cast iron skillet, you need to season it before using it for the first time to give it protection against corrosion and rust.
The good news?
Even if your cast iron skillet gets rusty, most of the time, you can restore it by soaking it for 1 hour in a 50/50 solution of water and white vinegar, then sprinkling it with baking soda to neutralize the acid and scrubbing it down with a metal scouring pad (then season it).
The “seasoning” on a cast iron skillet is basically a thin layer of baked-on oil, which shields the iron from contact with its surrounding environment. As a bonus, it acts as a slick coating that keeps foods from sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan.
Seasoning sounds intimidating, but, in reality, it’s a thing that’s pretty easy to do. Simply preheat your oven to 450°F, grease your skillet with cooking oil on the inside and out (you can use any oil with a smoke point higher than the temperature of your oven), and bake it face-down for 1 hour.
You’re flipping the pan upside down so that oil doesn’t pool in it. To keep that oil from dripping down onto the bottom heating panel of your oven, place a rimmed baking sheet on the lower rack.
Soap will wash away the seasoning, which is why you should never put a cast iron skillet in the dishwasher and seldom clean it with soapy water. Instead, wipe it down with a paper towel, give it a rinse after each use, and pat it completely dry using a lint-free cloth.
How Often to Replace a Carbon Steel Skillet?
Like cast iron, carbon steel reacts to aid and moisture, which is why carbon steel skillets also need to be seasoned before being used for the first time.
The rules for looking after them are absolutely the same as those for their cast iron cousins. To learn more about this type of pans, check out my post “Carbon Steel Pans: All You Need to Know.”
How Often to Replace a Copper Pan?
With periodic retinning, copper cookware can last for centuries.
Copper is a heavy metal that’s toxic to humans when consumed in large quantities. At the same time, it’s an unrivaled conductor of heat that makes for the most performant cookware on the market.
To keep them from leaching copper into your foods, cookware makers line their copper pans with tin, stainless steel, or silver. While these pans can last for generations, they require a fair share of maintenance. For example, they may need to be re-lined every decade or so.
Copper cookware won’t rust. Rust is a phenomenon that’s characteristic only for metals that contain iron—and copper contains too little iron in the first place.
However, copper pans and pots can catch brown to black discoloration (called “tarnish”) and develop a green film (called “patina”) over the years from their continual exposure to oxygen. Tarnish and patina can usually be removed with the help of vinegar, baking soda, and a little elbow grease.
You won’t see copper pans in most kitchens because they’re ridiculously costly to buy (a 12-inch copper skillet, depending on the make and model, can set you back anywhere from $250 to $400).
Some cooks are lucky to be able to afford them, others to have had them handed down as a family heirloom.