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In Defense of Nonstick

February 13, 2012

Nonstick pans will always be a topic of debate in the food world, especially among gear nerds.  Lots of home cooking “foodies” (a term that makes me cringe, but that’s another topic altogether) swear against them.  More than likely, they’re stuck with memories of teflon coated $8 grocery store specials that they owned in college, and are now confident that they can cook just as effortlessly without a nonstick pan.  While becoming an established adult, for some of us, may involve an opportunity to invest in nicer cookware, I just don’t think it’s necessary to fork out for an complete kit of expensive AllClad pots and pans.  For the sake of discussion, I’m excluding other brand options like Calphalon and Scanpan – those brand are overpriced poor performers for one reason or another.  Copper cookware, like Mauviel, is sexy but outrageously expensive and high maintenance.

The best performing pans are thick and heavy – there’s no economically viable way around it.  A thick pan holds heat evenly and doesn’t change temperature when food is placed in it.  In contrast, a bad pan doesn’t distribute heat evenly and thus creates hot spots on its cooking surface.  These hot spots cause food to burn and cling to the pan.  Cheap pan manufacturers know this, and so they coat their pans with a nonstick coating.  Regardless, we still end up burning our food because the pan is impossibly thin, ad infinitum.  And so, we throw the baby out with the bathwater and end up disregarding nonstick pans altogether.

There is a time and place for nonstick.  I like to keep one on hand, specifically for eggs, and so should you.  My ideal egg pan is made of heavy gauge aluminum with a thick nonstick coating and a flat handle (unlike the awkward concave handles on AllClads).  While some of you may have strong feelings in defense of vintage cast iron pans (I have a few myself), these beauties are a beastly challenge when making an omelette.  Making a proper omelette requires a balance of finesse and manhandling (watch Jacques Pepin here, fast forward to 4:00).  To quote Bourdain “I think that it should become sort of a right of passage that if you sleep with a virgin, whoever the most experienced person is should cook an omelette for the other. Wouldn’t that make the world a nicer place?” As if manhandling an omelette pan on the morning after isn’t violent enough, slamming a cast iron pan on your cooktop could send the wrong message to your new lover altogether.

For cookware like sauce pans, stock pots, and most sauté pans, AllClad is great and will last you a lifetime.  But nonstick pans are not made to last forever, so there’s no sense in investing at AllClad prices.  Vollrath Wearever nonstick pans are the perfect compromise, built of a heavy gauge aluminum alloy with a thick nonstick coating.  They’re sold with a bright blue heat proof handle condom, but that’s removable if you’re used to cooking with a side towel in hand.  But be careful, that handle will get really hot.  I picked up my Vollrath 10″ nonstick pan at a restaurant supply store for about $20, which is about 20% the cost of an AllClad equivalent.  When you’ve sufficiently worn out the nonstick coating, you can recycle your pan and pick up a new one.  Restaurant supply stores are a no-brainer when it comes to buying high performing affordable cookware, but somehow they’re also the kitchen supply industry’s best kept secret.

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