The Homemade Way to Avoid Nonstick Pans

Like most college students, my roommates and I had a hodgepodge collection of kitchenware in our house.  Mismatched silverware, chipped plates, random mugs – basically, whatever our parents no longer needed in their kitchens came to school with us.  This included a wide selection of scratched pots and pans, some of which were coated with nonstick surfaces.  I’ll never forget making scrambled eggs for a late-night snack and finding little black specks from the Teflon coating mixed in.

That didn’t seem quite right to me.

Sure enough, a bit of research revealed that the non-stick coating (usually referred to as Teflon) really isn’t very safe or healthy according to many studies.  When nonstick surfaces like Teflon are heated to 450+ degrees, they release a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is linked to developmental harm and cancer.

Here are some other points to consider:

1. The fumes emitted from nonstick coated pans left over heat have killed pet birds (here’s a link to that study:

2. At 554 degrees Fahrenheit, studies show that ultra-fine particles start coming off a Teflon-coated pan. These tiny particles can embed deeply into the lungs, resulting in flu-like symptoms like headache, chills, backache, and a temperature between 100 and 104 degrees. DuPont (the maker of Teflon) acknowledges this “reversible” syndrome, but downplays it because the symptoms subside “in just a few days” according to spokeswoman Uma Chowdhry.

3. Back in 2004, the EPA found DuPont guilty of withholding blood and water pollution studies.  In the early 1980s DuPont scientists at the company’s West Virginia Teflon plant uncovered startling evidence that an important Teflon ingredient had contaminated local drinking water supplies.  Further, babies of plant workers had a Teflon ingredient in their blood and were born with birth defects of the eyes and nostrils. DuPont maintains that PFOA does not cause birth defects, and that there is no evidence of it harming human health.

4. Teflon is found in more places than just pots and pans. It is used in carpet (as a stain repellent), as a bullet coating (to protect the gun barrel), a roofing material and an insect repellant. It is found in clothes marketed with the brand Gore-Tex.

I chose to avoid non-stick pots and pans altogether.  I’ve come up with a few tips for making life without Teflon a lot less messy:

1. Heat a non-stick pan properly before putting food into it.  Putting food into a cold pan is asking for a sticky mess.  This is especially true when cooking proteins like eggs, salmon or chicken.  When I heat the pan and a bit of oil first, foods can easily move around the pan.

2. Wash the pan right away.  I know the inclination is to let a messy pan soak, but I’ve found that (carefully) washing the pan while its still hot brings up the sticky stuff immediately.  Think of it this way: when you deglaze a pan over high heat (adding liquid to bring up the yummy bits on the bottom of the pan) everything comes up.  Putting a hot pan right into water and washing it brings up all the bits, too! Here’s photo proof that this trick works:

3. Invest in high quality pans. This doesn’t mean spending a lot of money, but it does mean doing a bit of research to find pots and pans that suit your lifestyle.  I use a Lodge cast iron skillet, a LeCruset stock pot and a wonderful stainless steel set from All-Clad.

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11 Comments for this entry

  1. Caitie says:

    I, too, still cringe at the thought of my non-stick pan usage in college. Probably worse for you than binge drinking!

  2. Kathy says:

    Avoid Teflon is the way to go! I almost exclusively use my cast iron frying pans from Le Creuset now (instead of the stainless All-Clad). They are essentially nonstick, and the Le Creuset ones don’t rust like my old cast iron had a tendency to do (when I was dumb and did things like not let it dry properly or cook tomatoes in it).

  3. Sara says:

    I applaud the idea of creating a safer home, and because there’s so much misinformation out there about the Teflon® brand, I’m not surprised that you are concerned. I’m a representative of DuPont though, and hope you’ll let me share some information with you and your readers so that everyone can make truly informed decisions.

    Regulatory agencies, consumer groups and health associations all have taken a close look at the Teflon® brand. This article highlights what they found — the bottom line is that you can use Teflon® non-stick without worry.

    I’d truly be glad to share additional information about it if you are interested, and appreciate your consideration of this comment. Cheers, Sara.

    • Maureen says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sara. I like to consider myself to be very open-minded, and I appreciate thoughtful and well-considered replies to my posts (even when they disagree with my point-of-view). After reading the article you linked to, I am still going to keep a distance between my kitchen and non-stick pans. I don’t find them necessary, especially because I properly clean and care for my stainless steel and cast-iron cookware. If safer and simpler options exist, why bring in a product that carries special warnings and caution labels? I’m a bit of a natural freak – I’d rather take 2 extra minutes to clean an “old fashioned” pan than worry about any potential side effects from Teflon.

      Thanks again…and, welcome to Homemade Mothering. Hope you’ll stick around 🙂

  4. Courtney says:

    Maureen, thanks for the tip about cleaning the pans right away. You were right, they came out perfectly clean with little elbow grease. But here’s my concern–do you think putting a hot pan under running water will cause it to warp over time? I haven’t experienced that, but my own homemade father always warned me about it. Thoughts?

    • Maureen says:

      I’ve been washing my pans like this for years and I have no warping issues. I think if you have high quality stainless steel pans warping is much less of an issue.

  5. Courtney says:

    Thanks, Maureen! As always, you’re my go-to woman for advice like this!

  6. Anyone have good tips for making scrambled eggs without resorting to the non-stick? We use cast iron (great for fried eggs and frittatas) and stainless steel for almost everything else, but I keep a small nonstick skillet, because I can’t get anything else to work for scrambled eggs.

    • Maureen says:

      I use our All-Clad stainless steel pan for scrambled eggs, and as long as I heat the pan (and add a bit of butter) I don’t have a problem with the eggs sticking. The trick is to heat the pan properly – it works every time!

  7. Meghann says:

    Hi Maureen,

    I’ve been reading for awhile but never commented! Just curious, do you use stainless for over-easy (or over medium) eggs, or do you use cast iron? I have a hard time, even with high heat, being able to flip them in stainless. My only cast iron is a grill pan so I’m wondering if I need to get another cast iron pan.

    • Maureen says:

      Thanks for your comment, Meghann! We use both stainless steel and cast iron for eggs (depends what’s easier to reach!). As long as the pan is properly heated we don’t have a problem removing the eggs.

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