When shopping for nonstick cookware, one of the first things you need to do is decide what type of nonstick coating you want. Some brands are very up front about what their coating is made from, and some are less up front. Companies try to come up with catchy names for their coatings, but it’s just marketing. All nonstick cookware currently widely available falls into one of two categories: ceramic, and PTFE. PTFE is commonly referred to as the brand name Teflon. When comparing ceramic vs. Teflon, there are many factors to consider. Let’s start with an overview of each type.
Ceramic is a newer material in the world of nonstick cookware. It’s widely considered to be the safest and most environmentally friendly option. Ceramic is free of PTFE and PFOA (more on PTFE and PFOA below). Ceramic coatings come in a wide variety of styles and colors.
Some argue that ceramic has a shorter life span than Teflon cookware. We have not found this to be the case. However we don’t cook with oil or cooking spray, which can dramatically affect the life span of both ceramic and Teflon cookware.
If you cook with oil, it’s critical to completely clean off all of the cooked oil after each use. Otherwise layers of oil will build up, quickly diminishing the nonstick properties of the cookware. But unfortunately if you vigorously scrub off the layers of oil, you inevitably take the nonstick surface with it. This can cause both ceramic and Teflon cookware to age prematurely.
The easy way out of this conundrum is to not use oil. For this reason, and more importantly for health reasons, we recommend cooking without any oil at all. Even if you cook without oil, some foods contain small amounts of oil. We find that cleaning with white vinegar can help make clean up a breeze.
Because ceramic cookware is a relatively new technology, there have been many advances in quality in recent years. Manufacturers are applying more layers of ceramic, so the coatings are getting thicker. Thicker coatings mean longer lifespans. Look for big improvements in ceramic cookware in the coming years.
PTFE is the “classic” nonstick material made famous by the brand Teflon. While it is very arguably on average more durable than ceramic at the moment, some are concerned about its safety. When overheated, PTFE coatings can break down and release toxic gases.
You can use PTFE cookware safely as long as you use it properly. 500ºF is the maximum temperature recommended for cooking with PTFE cookware. However if you’re cooking in an oven, most cookware handles are only oven safe to 350ºF.
If you own birds, you may want to avoid PTFE cookware altogether. Birds are much more sensitive to PTFE fumes than humans.
When baking, roasting, or especially broiling with PTFE cookware, make sure to check the manufacturers recommended maximum oven safe temperature. For stove top cooking, keep the following tips in mind:
- Always cook on low to medium heat. Never cook with high heat.
- Never preheat an empty pan.
- If you’re not cooking with a broth or liquid that absorbs heat, pay close attention to your cooking surface. Foods that coat most of the pan’s surface will help keep temperatures down.
- Use extra care when using lightweight cookware. Lightweight pans heat faster than heavier pans.
- Pay attention while cooking. Never leave a pan unattended.
Some PTFE cookware is manufactured using a chemical called PFOA. If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your cookware, you want to avoid sets manufactured using PFOA. After reaching an agreement with the EPA, the major manufacturers of PTFE cookware, including Teflon, are phasing out the use of PFOA completely by 2015.
Ceramic vs. Teflon
There are a wide range of options and prices in both ceramic and PTFE cookware. Both ceramic and PTFE offer extremely affordable options, starting at around $20. More expensive options offer thicker coatings, which can significantly improve cookware lifespan. However as mentioned above, using oil or cooking spray can reduce lifespan significantly regardless of the cookware surface.
The main argument for ceramic cookware is that it’s toxin free and environmentally friendly. The main argument for PTFE cookware is that currently it can be somewhat more durable than ceramic in some cases.
Whichever you choose, it’s important to recognize that the way you cook and clean your pan can have as much or more of an impact on cookware longevity than the coating itself. Making the choice to cook without oil can improve the lifespan of both your cookware and yourself!