Cookware isn't intended to stick, but there are huge differences between types.
Leaving food behind in cookware is not only (we'll assume ) delicious food not enjoyed, but a clean-up job to boot. Presentation can be lost as well, and this is important, as we eat with our eyes first. Cookware isn’t intended to stick, but there are huge differences between types of cookware. Some are intentionally non-stick, and with others, you just need to know the little tricks. One thing that is consistent throughout, is a sturdy, heavy bottomed piece is the way to go with all cookware. It helps absorb heat and distribute it evenly, eliminating hotspots, warping, and creating a better surface to cook on, whether coated or not. Flimsy cookware can’t claim that.
High Quality Stainless Steel 5 Layer cookware is what most of my collection is comprised of. There are many options in the marketplace. You’ll find that the center layers are aluminum, aluminum alloy, or copper, for rapid and even heat distribution. The stainless steel is on the outside because it’s attractive, doesn’t rust, is easy to care for, there are no emissions, and they are quite durable overall. You may need butter or oil to keep many foods from sticking, but preheating a pan will go a long way toward this end. My first time using a 5 layer stainless steel piece was with nothing but a preheated skillet and a chicken tender. I tested it by throwing a plain chicken tender in, and it was stuck like glue for a minute or two. Then with a wiggle of the skillet, it shook loose, and flipped it with a flick of my wrist. It was perfectly seared golden brown, stuck to the other side for another minute, until it was seared and loose too. It was amazing, and I was sold!
Enamel Coated Cast Iron is great, for the same reasons as the several layer stainless steel. Preheating is recommended. You may need some butter or oil for particularly stubborn food items (eggs), but no emissions, and they are quite durable. Most of my Dutch ovens are enamel coated cast iron, and I can’t think of anything I’d prefer for soups, stews and chili! I have several Dutch ovens because I teach classes, many “pots” are going at a time. This has given me numerous opportunities for non-scientific experiments, I’ve discovered these make the most rich, delicious soups and stews of all my other cookware of that size.
Cast Iron is in a league of it’s own. It’s entirely durable, can take preheating, high heat, and is the best non-stick surface in every way when well seasoned. You will not likely require any butter or oil, it can take any amount of heat you can throw at it, and the only thing it emits is trace amounts of iron, which we need anyhow. I avoid heavily acidic foods because acid can ruin the seasoning. White sauces will turn a bit grey. No other “non-stick” can be turned around once damage is done, enabling you to pass them for many generations. I’m in very good company with my strong positive opinion of cast iron. For cast iron care, see my first blog.
Carbon Steel is so similar to cast iron in that it needs seasoning, but is a very nice, durable piece of cookware. I only have one, a wok, but it’s big, heavy, non-stick, total badass piece of cookware, and somehow, the only in-animate object I own with a name - Perceval.
Particularly stubborn foods, such as eggs, make a few solid “non-stick” pieces seem mandatory to many of us. Non-stick means that the food won’t stick, even without fat in the pan. However, if you want it to slip and slide around the pan, you very well may need to add butter or oil, even with these coatings. Something needs to be in pans with coatings when getting heated, or the heat will attack the non-stick coating, possibly ruining it. There are many non-stick coating choices out there, but for the most part, your selection includes: Teflon, Ceramic, and Ceramic & Titanium blend. Any of the coatings will have some things in common: Quality pieces will be on a solid, base, reducing the likelihood of warping and cracking. This will be layers of stainless steel and aluminum or hard iodized aluminum. Aging will occur in time, faster or slower, depending on your treatment. Coatings don’t like metal, so spoons, forks, metal turners, and metal scrubbers are all out. There are plenty of great wood, wood composite, nylon, and silicone cooking utensils to choose from. Hand wash rather than using the dish washer, and use non-abrasive cleaners & sponges. Shocking your coated non-stick cookware with hot to cold temperatures is bad, as it can cause cracking of the finish.
Teflon is just fine until one of three things happen: it cracks, it gets scratched, natural wear and tear. Teflon coating doesn't stand up to high heat, so check manufacturer recommendation on that, but assume you can’t sear, bake, or broil in these pans. Personally, I’m not a fan of even the best Teflon. Once it’s scratched, cracked, or old, it emits poison gasses (PTFE and PFOA), needing to be thrown away sooner than later. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, I have always avoided Teflon. I like things built to last a little longer.
Ceramic cookware is super non-stick, and great in many ways. Once it gets scratched, it doesn’t work as a non-stick, but it won’t emit poisonous gasses either. Whew! Ceramic cookware can take the heat, and is good up to about 600°F, so you can bake, broil, sear, and even braise in them. I love my 8” ceramic skillet. It’s my favorite for a small frittata or crepe, but does get run through it’s paces regularly. I am very protective of it though, which can be a pain, depending on the people in your kitchen.
Ceramic and Titanium blend offer a very nice combination of non-stick and durability. It can easily take heat up to 500°F, and it’s okay with metal. I often use a metal whisk in mine, and sometimes a fork, but still stay away from any abrasive cleaners or metal scrubbers. I’ve got two ceramic/titanium skillets that get regular use in my home. They will wear with time, but for a non-stick, they are impressively durable.
Silicone is more likely found on bakeware than cookware, but is a nice non-stick surface. You want to be careful of scratching it, but it can take high heat. Avoid metal utensils, abrasive cleaners, and metal scrubbers. I like my silicone baking pieces very much, and they have lasted several years of more than average home use.