So you bought a non-stick pan and, before you get cooking with it, you want to be sure you know how to use it right?
Let me start by congratulating you on your purchase! Thanks to the slick surface that keeps foods from sticking to them, non-stick pans are by far the easiest type of cookware to use. Also, it’s smart of you to want to know how to use yours properly.
People buy these pans, ignore the instructions, then end up wrecking them and wondering what happened. There’s more than one anecdote out there of someone who got a perfectly good non-stick pan as a present and ended up ruining it on their first use.
Despite what most of us think, non-stick pans—even high-quality ones that come at a steep price tag—are not indestructible.
So, in this post, I will tell you everything you need to know about using a non-stick frying pan for the first time.
We’ll also talk about the dos and don’ts of non-stick cooking in general so that, by the time you’re done reading, you know what things to do to max out your pan’s useful life.
If that sounds like what you came here to find out, keep on reading.
To use a non-stick pan for the first time, wash it by hand with soapy water, then pat it completely dry and lightly grease the cooking surface with a paper towel soaked in cooking oil.
Washing your pan for the first time is important because it helps you get rid of any dirt or dust that’s left from the manufacturing, shipping, and storage. Besides, some pans are not boxed, and you have no way of knowing who touched them before you and what hygiene they had.
I clean mine under lukewarm running water, with a squirt of dish soap on a wet non-scratch scrub sponge. 99.99% of the time, there’s no need to put in much elbow grease (or any elbow grease at all), as the slick surface practically cleans itself.
Here’s a step that’s just as important, but many of us tend to ignore:
Most manufacturers will instruct you to “season” your non-stick pan by applying a thin coat of cooking oil to the bottom and sides before the first use. They’ll also tell you to do this every ten uses or so if you often clean it in the dishwasher.
For some reason, I had a hard time finding a YouTube video on the topic that walks you through how to do this in English, so I’ve shared one from Tefal Indonesia. There are no subtitles, and you can probably guess what the lady says, but, at the end of the day, it’s the technique that matters:
By seasoning your non-stick pan, you’re ensuring that the cooking surface stays slick, even when you’re preparing delicate foods such as eggs or fish that have the tendency to dry out and stick.
What kind of oil should you use?
Go for one with a high smoke point and a neutral taste, such as avocado oil, canola oil, rice bran oil, or sunflower oil. For the same reasons, butter and olive oil are not good choices.
As soon as you’ve washed and seasoned your non-stick pan, you’re ready to get cooking. But first, get to know some of the ground rules for usage and care below.
Should You Preheat a Non-Stick Pan?
As a general rule of thumb, the maximum operating temperature of a PTFE-coated pan is 500°F (260°C). However, the exact figure varies with the make and model.
While that probably seems like a high number to you at first glance—and it’s definitely hard to exceed it with normal cooking—keep in mind that an empty frying pan can get really hot, really fast.
So a couple of things to keep in mind before you fire up the stove:
Never preheat an empty non-stick frying pan. It can quickly overheat, which can cause the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating to emit toxic fumes and sustain permanent damage that renders your pan unusable.
If your recipe calls for a hot pan and there’s no way around this, drizzle enough oil to lightly cover the cooking surface and preheat your pan on medium heat for up to 30 seconds before adding your food or a cooking liquid to it.
Is It Okay to Cook Over High Heat?
One thing they won’t tell you in every cookbook is that you seldom need to use high heat. In fact, you only need it when there’s too much sauce in your pan, and you want to thicken it by evaporating the majority of it.
In any case, non-stick pans are not meant for high-heat cooking, especially when there’s no liquid in them. To maximize their useful life, try not to get overly aggressive with the heat dial on your stove.
Personally, I’ve found that medium-high heat is the best setting for browning steak, cooking burgers, and searing salmon, and medium heat is ideal for sautéing veggies and making eggs.
If you don’t know what “searing” and “sautéing” mean, check out my post titled, “The Home Cook’s Guide to Cooking Methods.”
These techniques have fancy-sounding names that scare many of us off from even learning about them when, in reality, they’re pretty simple to master (and can help you take your home cooking to the next level).
Can You Use Cooking Spray in a Non-Stick Pan?
Avoid using PAM or any other cooking spray in a non-stick pan, and opt-in for butter, animal fat, or vegetable oil instead. Over time, the spray will build upon the sides of your pan and become sticky (and hard to clean off).
Whether you cook with or without any fat is entirely up to you. But, as you watch chefs use non-stick pans in their homes, you’ll see that virtually all of them drizzle a tiny amount of oil before cooking with the pan.
That’s what I tend to do, too.
Can You Use Metal Utensils on Non-Stick Pans?
Essentially, non-stick pans are made of aluminum or stainless steel bodies sprayed with a polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating that gives them a slick, matte-black finish.
That coating is generally durable and can last or anywhere from 1-2 years on cheaper pans to 3-5 years on pricier pans. When it starts to peel, you know that it’s worn off—at which stage you should get a new pan.
Yet there’s one sure-fire way to wreck a pan, even when it’s brand new:
Non-stick pans are prone to scratching, which is why you shouldn’t use metal utensils to flip, stir, or lift the foods that you prepare with them. Go for silicone or wooden spatulas and spoons instead.
Can You Put a Non-Stick Pan in the Oven?
Not all non-stick pans are oven-friendly, and those that are can’t withstand very high heat. This is not only because non-stick coatings can only be heated up to 500°F (260°C) before disintegrating, but because the handles on this type of pans are usually made of bakelite or plastic.
Before putting your non-stick pan in the oven, check if this particular make and model is oven-friendly by referring to the usage and care instructions or calling up the manufacturer’s phone line to ask.
Are Non-Stick Pans Dishwasher-Safe?
Though non-stick pans are generally safe to put in the dishwasher, it’s recommended to wash them by hand, with soapy water. The harshness of the dishwasher detergent and prolonged exposure to hot water can shorten their useful life.
Still, doing the dishes isn’t anyone’s favorite thing to do and, as long as you make sure that there’s no danger of floating dinnerware or utensils banging against your pan, nothing is stopping you from occasionally cheating the system and cleaning it in the dishwasher.