Retro Saturday: Talking Teflon

Retro Saturdays give Heather and Ivy a chance to catch up with their families and give new Home-Ec101.com readers a chance to check out a blast from the past.

Dear Home Ec 101,

My popover pan that has been with me through thick and thin (and one husband and a couple of boyfriends!) has suddenly started misbehaving. Where before I could simply tip the pan over and golden fabulous popovers will pop right out.. Now when I pull the pan out of the oven, all my popovers STICK TO THE PAN.

I never grease the cups (the recipe I used never called for that). It’s one of those black Teflon ones.

What could be causing this?

Love,

Hellz (and Popovers) NOT a’poppin

Heather says:

Teflon has a limited lifespan. There are several things you can do to ensure your pans meet their expected use, but the nonstick properties will only last a finite amount of time even following all instructions to the letter. Since your pan was used for popovers, which are cooked at high heat, I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did.

Eventually, even with perfect care the nonstick coating will lose its effectiveness. At normal cooking temperatures Teflon is inert. This simply means it is nonreactive. However, at high temperatures (572F) the PTFE (polytetrafluoethylene, the chemical name of the nonstick coating) will break down, releasing fumes that can cause flu-like symptoms that is fatal to birds. The bird owning community suggests that it can happen at lower temperatures, but I have only seen anecdotal evidence.

Here are five tips for ensuring your Teflon meets its expected lifespan.

  1. Never, ever, ever, ever (did I make that clear?) use metal utensils. Do not use them to stir, to cut, or to scrape your Teflon cookware. Seriously, put the fork down and use a nylon, rubber, or wooden utensil. I mean it.
  2. Keep the cookware out of the dishwasher. Most detergents are too harsh for the coating and will cause it to wear out prematurely. Hand wash with dish soap and use either nylon scrubbers or scrapers for particles that don’t wipe off easily.
  3. Carefully store your pans. If you must stack them due to space limitations, use a dish towel between pieces to prevent unintentional dings or chips.
  4. Do not use Teflon pans with acidic foods. Nonstick cookware is best used for foods such as eggs, baking, or foods that are pan fried. Avoid vinegar or tomato based sauces. Never use your nonstick cookware to store foods. Remember, it’s called cookware.
  5. Finally, avoid temperature extremes or sudden changes in temperature. If you have a hot pan, do not place it in cool water, these temperature extremes stress the coating.

If you are worried about cooking with Teflon, seasoned cast iron is a fabulous, if heavy alternative.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.



4 Comments

  1. Stacy on May 25, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Heather,

    That would be great. I do have a book by Alton Brown that does have a lot of gear info. I should probably pull that out again and start thinking about what I could put on my list if I ever get some extra money. When I bought the book for my husband (he really liked Alton at the time), I looked through it but hadn’t become as serious about cooking as I am nowadays. He’s great, by the way–I recall you saying somewhere that you like him a lot. I’ve made several of his recipes and written more down. The one I’ve made the most is his stovetop mac and cheese, but I’ve also made the oven version as well. I want to make his brownies, but have to find a place to buy the type of cocoa he recommends. Anyway, sorry to get off topic. The cooking supply series would be great whenever!

  2. Nancy on May 25, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Have any of you found a durable meatloaf pan? I have purchased several over the years. They start out great, then the nonstick coating starts peeling off, and I end up lining wiht aluminum foil, before I finally get tired of the mess and go get another one. Has anyone found just a plain stainless steel one?

  3. Heather on May 25, 2009 at 7:18 am

    Stacy, that is an excellent question. It’ll take me a while to put together the resources to answer that question as I don’t necessarily own the products I would like to recommend. I think I can work it into a series of barest necessities, mid level, and pipe dream. 😉

  4. Stacy on May 24, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    This reminds me that a topic I’d love to see is one about kitchen supplies. That is, what are the best types of utensils, pans, appliances, etc.? For example, I would like to buy a new food processor and blender at some point, but haven’t a clue which are the best for the lowest price. I’ve never used either very often in the past, but would like to use them more now that I’m learning how to cook better.

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