Sunday, December 19, 2010

Frying Pan 101: Teflon

Part 1: What is a frying pan?
Part 2: Basic Metals

Next Day Gourmet Teflon Platinum Fry Pan 7'' diameter
Sprayed-on PTFE $14.99
Teflon and PTFE
The world has a love and hate relationship with Teflon or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).  Stainless steel pans are given a layer (or more) of this magical chemical, and suddenly there are no more burns, stick-on, and crust.  Thanks to China, PTFE products are widely available for very cheap.  Is Teflon the kitchen god's answer the prayers of millions of busy mothers and lazy chefs? No, not at all.

Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 10-Inch Omelet Pan
Baked-on PTFE $39.95
When PTFE is heated above 500F (260C), it decomposes, and the by-product is scientifically proven to be lethal for birds and causes mild poisoning for human.  DuPont, the producer of Teflon, recommends that people do not keep their birds in the kitchen for this reason. Does this mean everyone should throw out all their pans containing PTFE? No.  Although Teflon releases detectable carcinogen and toxin over 392F (200C).  Although like mercury, these toxin will stay in your body for a long time, long term proper use of Teflon pan has not been directly link to any health risk.
  1. Don't use metal utensil on the pan and avoid putting it in the dishwater: Once the pan is scratched, it releases toxins into the food and especially sauces.  Metal utensil will directly damage the surface, while dishwashing will slowly wear it out. 
  2. Put oil in early: most oil (except for avocado and safflower oil) will smoke and become unusable before the pan reaches 500F.  Do not heat dry or empty Teflon pan for more than a minute.
  3. Only use Teflon pan on low or medium heat.
  4. Couples planning to have children or pregnent women should avoid using Teflon pan.
All-Clad Stainless 12-Inch Nonstick Fry Pan
All-Clad Baked-on PTFE $127.95
If you are an attentive careful chef (unlike me), are not a bird owner, and are not planning to have children, then PTFE based pan may be right for you. However, you should still do your research before buying your frying pans.  Pans that are not manufactured properly can cause a bigger problem than the above studies suggest.  Super cheap Teflon pans are made by spraying PTFE onto the stainless steel pan - these comes off very easily just from regular use.   You want pan that has baked on PTFE onto the cooking surface during the manufacturing process which is more durable and longer lasting.  You can easily discern the quality by the colour of the screws used to secure the handles of the pans .  If it is black, PTFE was sprayed on.  If it is clear metal colour, then it was baked on, before the handle was screwed on.

Your Best Options:
Swiss Diamond 12-1/2-Inch Fry Pan
Swiss Diamond $114.99
With the rising notoriety with Teflon, a lot of manufacturer avoid mentioning it in the product descriptions and instead focus on other qualities to confuse shoppers.  For example, Calphalon sells their PTFE based product as "Anodized Aluminum Nonstick Cookware" without mentioning PTFE anywhere on the products, labels, or advertisements.  Pure anodized aluminum cookware does exit, but this metal is not non-stick.  Calphalon does bake PTFE onto the cooking surface of ALL their non-stick cookware to make them non-stick.  All-Clad is even trickier.  They claim their non-stick product is PFOA-Free.  PFOA is a very toxic chemical that can be found in some low-grade Teflon cookware.  They painfully avoided mentioning the fact that their non-stick surface is still baked-on PTFE, and same health restrictions do apply.  However, to their credit, they have taken extra precaution to make sure their non-stick cookware can withstand more heat before it releases toxin, making All-Clad non-stick frying pan the second safest PTFE product on the market. Swiss wins by using mixing diamond (or titanium) with their PTFE (euphoniously named "nano-composite"), but it is not oven safe (plastic handle).

Environmentally and healthy non-stick frying pans do exist, but that's for the next post.  Stay tuned!


  1. Do you have anything on steel frying pan? Im not referring to cast iron but rather the pressed steel pans like duBuyer steel blue pans.

  2. Du Buyer's non-stick line has PTFE on the surface; however they are PFAO free, similar to All-Clad.

    Du Buyer's Force Blue line features traditional French pans. It is made with well tempered carbon steel (not even stainless). These do not contain PTFE nor are they technically non-stick. You need to season these pans before and after use and never use soap to wash them. I made a mistake of soaking this pan in soap water over night and it rusted...

    Thanks for bringing it up! I just realize I skipped on the entire category of carbon steel.

  3. I added carbon steel to to my previous post:

  4. Hi There -- I applaud the idea of creating a safer home, and because there's so much misinformation out there about Teflon, 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 Teflon. This article highlights what they found -- the bottom line is that you can use Teflon 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.

  5. Thanks Sara. I will add the link to my next post. It's always nice to get different perspective and more information on the topic.

    Also, Merry Christmas! Happy Holiday!