Five Ways You're Damaging Your Nonstick Pans (and How to Stop)

Repeat after us: low heat good, high heat bad.

Nonstick pans are certainly not the most beloved pieces cookware in your kitchen (that title belongs to cast iron), but they certainly serve an important purpose. Nonstick is perfect for scrambling eggs and sautéing delicate cuts of fish. However, nonstick pans are also finicky and require more care and attention than you might think. Here are five ways you're damaging your nonstick pans, and how to stop doing that immediately.

Pan-Roasted Curried Chicken Thighs
© Kate Winslow

Exposing your nonstick pan to high heat.

First and foremost, nonstick cookware is not designed for high heat. Higher temperatures will damage the coating over time and high heat can also cause the release of harmful toxins, depending on the type of coating on your pan. When you need to really sear a steak, reach for a stainless steel or cast iron pan instead. While nonstick is great for a lot, it's best to know when to use and not use it.

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Using metal utensils in your nonstick pan.

Did you grow up with a parent explicitly telling you to not use a metal spoon in a nonstick pan? Well, it turns out they were right. Metal utensils, along with steel wool for cleaning, should always be left on the sideline when using a nonstick pan. Metal can scratch or chip the coating and if that happens, you'll definitely need to replace the pan rather than continue using it. Instead, opt for a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.

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Washing your nonstick cookware in the dishwasher.

Glass, enamelware and stainless steel all do fine in the dishwasher. All other cookware, however, should be hand washed, especially nonstick. While most nonstick cookware is labeled as "dishwasher safe," the heat from the dishwasher, along with detergents, will cause the coating to degrade over time. Instead, just take an extra minute or two to wash your nonstick pan by hand.

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Cooking with the wrong kind of fat in your nonstick pan.

When using a nonstick pan, avoid using cooking spray at all costs. While cooking spray certainly has its uses, nonstick cookware is not a good destination for it. Cooking spray causes a build up of residue around the edge of nonstick cookware that simply doesn't burn off. As a result, the effort needed to scrub off the residue can end up damaging the pan. Instead, opt for cooking fats like butter or olive oil to avoid this.

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Adding cooking fat to your nonstick pan at the wrong time.

Every young cook is told to let their pan heat up before adding any cooking fat to it, but the opposite is true when using nonstick. Instead, you should add oil or butter to the pan as soon as it's exposed to heat because cooking fat actually amplifies the coating's effect when added to the pan before the food. Also, and more importantly, some nonstick pans can release toxins when heated without any kind of cooking fat in the pan itself, which is always good to avoid, especially when friends, family or pets are present.

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