I love baking. And I love cooking. I love helping people and informing people about cookware. At my position with Meyer Cookware, I inform people about the differences, pros/cons, and care of their cookware they are about to buy.
I have dedicated blog posts about cookware before, but this is post is for NON-STICK COOKWARE.
First off, cookware comes in three main materials:
1) Stainless Steel
2) Aluminium (with non-stick coating over it)
3) Cast Iron
Second, here are the steps a pot goes through to become a non-stick pan:
1) Aluminium Sheet (thick or thin sheet).
2) Molded into desired pot/pan shape.
3) The ENTIRE pan/pot is hard anodized (an electro-chemical process).
4) Non-stick coating over the hard anodized pan.
*Some (poor) cookware companies will only put non-stick coating on the inside. Leaving the exposed hard anodized aluminium on the outside.
*Some (good) cookware companies will put non-stick on the inside AND outside to protect the hard anodized aluminium.
*Some (decent) cookware companies will put non-stick on the inside and a colored enamel on the outside.
5) Handle is fitted and placed on pot/pan.
Thus, all non-stick cookware IS aluminium. WHY? Aluminium is good heat conductor, abundent, and easy to manufactuer. Remember, "hard anodized" is short for "hard anodized aluminium." You want the cookware package to say "hard anodized non-stick," NOT: lightly anodized, infused anodized, or just non-stick.
Answers to popular questions about non-stick cookware:
Q: So, is all aluminium the same?
A: Yes. There is no "better" or "worse." What you want is a THICK gauge of aluminium so it won't worp on the bottom. The heavier the pan, THE BETTER. Do you want a somewhat "light weight" pan? Look for one with heat safe silcone-handles, versus stainless steel handles.
Q: What is hard anodizing? And why is it important?
Hard anodizing is an electro-chemical PROCESS a pan goes through to BECOME STRONGER. A straight, pure aluminium pan is reactive with food and known to be toxic. Thus, hard anodizing is a STANDARD for all non-stick pan. Plus non-stick coating "sticks" to a hard anodized pan BETTER than a pan that was not hard anodized.
In geekie terms, : "Hard-anodization is an electro-chemical process that hardens aluminum. (Hard-Anodized aluminum is 30% harder than stainless steel.) During hard-anodization, aluminum is submerged in an acid bath, then subjected to electrical charges. The result is a chemical reaction wherein the surface of the aluminum combines with oxygen to become aluminum oxide. This reaction is also known as oxidation, a process which occurs spontaneously in nature. Hard-anodization is actually controlled, accelerated oxidation."
Q: So, do I always want to buy hard anodized non-stick cookware?
A: YES! You always, ALWAYS, want to buy a hard anodized pan. How do you if you did? Well, the package will always advertise it because hard anodizing is costly. Hard anodizing does a physical apperance: a light, grey, soft-textured surface. But non-stick coating will be over your anodized pan...so, how do you REALLY KNOW? Well, some cookware companies only put non-stick on the inside of the pan, not the outside, so you can look on the outside of the pan. Other companies will just put a colored-enamel coating on the outside of the pan, so you are unable to see the hard anodizing.
Q: When I am buying a hard anodized pan, I want non-stick on the outside...then what on the outside?
A: Buy a hard anodized pan with non-stick on the INSIDE and OUTSIDE. Even a straight hard anodized pan, with zero non-stick coating, chips, scratches, stains, reacts with food, and is VERY difficult to clean. It will be difficult to maintain a "nice" looking pot. Colored-enamel (on the outside only) on the outside on the pan also gives protecttion.
Q: How does the non-stick coating making a difference?
A: First off, EVERY COOKWARE COMPANY either makes their own non-stick coating OR they have another company that makes it. This is what makes every non-stick pan different from one another. This seperates the GOOD from the BAD. How do you know what cookware line makes their non-stick? Some (good) cookware companies will advertise who makes their non-stick coating. Others (poor) will not. Thus, you will have to personally call the company to find out who makes it. Then, do research to find out if the company who makes the non-stick coating has a decent reputation. Poor cookware companies will use an outdated and/or patent non-stick.
Also, the cookware company can apply 1-3 "layers" of the non-stick coating to the pan. The more layers = the better! How do you know? Once again, you would have to personally call the cookware company. (Most have a customer support line.)
Q: My non-stick pan constantly chips and flakes. Thus, my food is sticking! Help!
A: You pan was either: 1) NOT hard anodized 2)A poor non-stick coating was applied to you pan AND/OR 3) You did not maintain/clean your pan correctly.
Non-stick coating goes on a hard anodized pan better than a pan that was not hard anodized or hard anodized properly. If it was not hard anodized, then the non-stick coating has a very good chance of chipping.
If a company used a cheap non-stick patent and only put one layer of it on the pan, it is very likely to scratch and die away.
Q: Then, how do you properly take care/maintain/clean a non-stick pan?
A: First, hand-wash your non-stick pan ALWAYS. For a non-stick pan to be dishwasher safe, the entire pan must be protect by non-stick and a metal on the bottom (like stainless steel).
Second, constant high heat kills all non-stick pans, good or bad. Use medium-high heat as your highest setting. A well-constructed pan won't need the burner to be blasted on high. You will probably only need medium heat. Poorly made pans conduct heat slowly, thus you are always blasting the heat on your cooking range.
Third, aresol sprays like PAM-brand. Why? The propellent itself is so strong, it leaves a caramel-color GUNK on top of your non-stick coating. Now, you are cooking on that gunk instead of that pan. There is no need for aresol sprays. Instead, use a "mist-o" spray or just use measuring spoons. A good non-stick pan will require very little, or zero, REAL oil/butter.
Q: I heard non-stick coatings causes cancer and can make you ill! Really?
A: Nope. There has been NO PROVEN case with cancer, or any other diease, and non-stick coatings. The synthetic chemical: Perflourooctanoaic acid (PFOA) are present, in VERY TRACE amounts in the non-stick coating. There are such a little amount that the FDA banned a petition that required ALL non-stick coatings to have a warming label. FYI, PFOA are also "found" (in trace amounts) in pizza delivery boxes and microwave popcorn bags. So, what is the best way to avoid the very little PFOA in non-stick cookware: Properly maintain, clean, and take care of your cookware! With all cookware, do not let it "die" on high heat, on the cooking range.
Q: SO, overall what do I need to look for in a good non-stick pan?
-Only buy hard anodized non-stick pans.
-A pan with some "weight" to it!
-A non-stick coating company with a decent reputation.
-A pan that is covered 100% with non-stick coating in the inside.
-A pan that is covered with either non-stick coating or enamel on the outside.
-The bottom on the pan can be left exposed, that is OK and safe. OR, some companies will put a disk of stainless steel on the bottom for better heat conduction.
-Heat safe silicone or stainless steel handles.
-Tempered glass or stainless steel lids.
-A cookware company with a great reputation.
I always advise people to do personal research when buying good pots and pans. Read consumer reports. Ask your friends and family. Look to see what is online. See what fits YOUR cooking lifestyle.
Yes, there are some "pricey" cookware out there. Is it really worth it? Well, if you do cook gourmet meals on a daily basis. I believe there are decently priced, well-made and constructed cookware for ANYONE. There are some cookware lines designed for restaurant cooking...and restaurant cooking is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from everyday, domestic cooking. Just like professional driving is different from driving your car on a daily basis.
Any more questions? Please ask. Wondering what brands I like? (You know I am going to support Meyer Cookware Company!) For a great value, I like: Anolon Nouvelle Cooper, Anolon Advanced, Circulon Symmetry, and Circulon Espree. All have the specifc features of a well-made non-stick pan.