You’ll be shocked when you see how much longer your beloved nonstick skillet will last once you break this all-too-common bad habit.

By Betty Gold
Updated: April 15, 2019
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Nonstick pots and pans have made cooking foods that are prone to sticking—omelets, pancakes, seafood, sticky rice—ungodly easy. Their coating lets you stir fry, sear, or sauté without worry that you’ll be unable to dislodge a scallop or scrambled egg from the surface if you didn’t use enough oil. The best nonstick pans can actually cook foods without using any butter or oil at all.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “yeah, right—my nonstick pan could only keep foods from sticking without adding a half a stick of butter for the first week,” I bet I know why. It’s called nonstick cooking spray.

Using cooking spray (PAM is the most popular) is a surefire way to ruin your skillet’s nonstick coating. These products—essentially cooking oil in a can—are meant to make your pan’s surface nicely lubricated, but the problem is that oil isn’t the only ingredient. Cooking sprays also contain lecithin, which is an emulsifier, dimethyl silicone, which is an anti-foaming agent, and a propellant such as propane or butane.

Over time, the lecithin in the nonstick spray will cook onto the surface of your pan, build up, and become nearly impossible to remove. The result? See you later, skillet. The coating gets completely degraded from the spray and will no longer act as a nonstick surface.

Cookware manufacturers agree. According to Anolon’s website, “The use of cooking sprays is not recommended for use on non-stick cookware as cooking sprays burn at lower temperatures and will damage the non-stick coating of your product. An invisible buildup will impair the nonstick release system causing food to stick.”

RELATED: How to Clean and Season a Cast Iron Skillet

If you love cooking sprays because they’re able to disperse a very sparse amount of oil over the surface of your pan, you can DIY your own thin fat coating on your skillet by dipping a paper towel into your favorite cooking oil and wiping the interior of your pan before cooking. Problem solved!

Seriously, once you put down the spray you’ll be shocked at how much longer your nonstick pan will perform just as well as it did when you fished it out from its box.

Here are a few other best practices for cooking with nonstick. Follow these rules and your pots and pans will sing:

  • Never preheat. Heating an empty nonstick pan will make it way too hot, which damages the surface and its nonstick properties.
  • Don’t cook over high heat. Unless the product manual says otherwise, nonstick pans are generally not made to be used over a burner that’s cranked up above medium heat. If you’re looking to sear, use a stainless steel or cast iron pan instead.
  • Don’t scrub with an abrasive sponge or cleaning pad. Every time you do, you’re scraping off the nonstick finish bit by bit.
  • Don’t get your knife (or other sharp and/or metal utensils) anywhere near them. Little cuts on the pan’s surface translate into peeling and sticking. Wooden and silicone utensils are a nonstick pan’s best friends, and always transfer foods to a cutting board before you get at them with a knife.
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