If you’ve been cutting down on the oil you use in cooking, you’ve likely invested in some nonstick cookware. These Teflon-coated pans are an excellent way of reducing fats in cooking. Their super slippery surface makes frying up eggs a treat, but what happens if you overheat a nonstick pan?
Nonstick pans have a synthetic polymer coating that breaks down at 500°F (260°C). Avoid overheating a nonstick pan by adding oil when it’s cold and immediately adding food. Take care not to scratch the surface by using wooden or silicone utensils and cleaning with soft cloths or sponges.
Nonstick cookware makes cooking easy and is a breeze to clean, thanks to the slippery coating. However, you may have noticed your nonstick pan comes with a heat warning. Excess heat can ruin the nonstick coating and even has the potential to be harmful—so how hot is too hot?
What Happens If Nonstick (Teflon) Pans Get Too Hot?
Most of us have at least one nonstick pan in our kitchen cupboards. Mine gets a lot of use and is starting to get discolored, making me wonder how safe it is. I was also concerned about whether or not I was using the pan correctly, as I’d heard that high temperatures are not great for Teflon coatings.
Nonstick pans are made by using a coating of a synthetic chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. This coating, commonly known as Teflon, creates a surface with very little friction.
Since we are heating a chemical surface while we’re cooking, people began investigating how safe this was for our food.
Until 2013, Teflon was made with perfluorooctanoic acid (or PFOA), which was a cause for concern. Today’s Teflon coatings are free of PFOA. However, scientists need to figure out what the effects of other chemicals in Teflon might be.
Heat and Polymer Fume Fever (Teflon Flu)
Since Teflon takes incredibly high temperatures to break down, nonstick pans with a Teflon coating are generally considered safe.
The problems begin when you heat your nonstick pan above 500°F (260°C). At this temperature, the Teflon coating on your pan will begin to disintegrate and release toxic fumes.
If you’ve ever heard of the Teflon Flu, this is when you inhale toxic chemicals aka polymer fume fever. While there have only been a few reported cases, the symptoms are temporary and are usually over within two days.
Before you throw your nonstick pan away—these cases involved people exposed to Teflon heated to temperatures of 730F over four hours! Your everyday five-minute fried egg will not cause these kinds of issues.
The takeaway here is; don’t fall asleep while cooking!
Will Heat Ruin Your Teflon?
While Teflon is made to withstand high temperatures, with a melting temperature of 635F, it’s still not a good idea to use your Teflon pan and too high a heat.
You should never use Teflon at temperatures higher than 500°F, whether on the stove or in an oven.
Teflon heats up very fast, reaching these unsuitable temperatures quickly when placed in a preheated oven. When cooking meat on a Teflon-coated pan, you can reach 600°F after 8-10 minutes on high heat.
For these reasons, you should only cook with a Teflon pan on low to medium heat. Fats in a Teflon pan will heat very quickly, so there’s no need to preheat the pans before adding oil, as you would with regular cookware.
The higher temperatures can affect the integrity of your nonstick coating and leave it discolored.
As the Teflon coating is ruined by excessive heat, it will also lose its nonstick properties.
How To Use Nonstick Cookware
Teflon cookware is not inexpensive, and I’m sure you want to keep yours in the best condition for as long as possible.
Here are the cooking tips that will save your nonstick pan and keep it performing well:
- Don’t use cooking spray. The build-up from the long-term use of a cooking spray on your Teflon pan is hard to remove and will eventually ruin the surface.
- Use an oil mister. Buy an oil mister, which will allow you to add only a tiny amount of oil to your pan, helping you avoid those excess calories!
- Add the oil to a cold pan. If you use regular cookware, you’re likely used to the idea of heating the pan first before adding your fats. With a nonstick coating, you want to avoid this. The oil heats up too fast and can release chemical fumes. Cold oil on the pan is also better for the nonstick properties.
- Avoid high cooking temperatures. Not only can high temperatures ruin the nonstick coating, but they can also warp the metal of your pan. Some nonstick pans should never be placed in the oven, so check your manufacturer’s guidelines first.
Cleaning Nonstick Cookware
You can also prolong the life of your nonstick pan by taking care when cleaning and packing them away.
- Remove leftovers. Don’t leave leftovers sitting in a nonstick pan; instead, transfer them into suitable food storage.
- Don’t soak your pan overnight. Clean the pan as soon as possible rather than leaving water in it.
- Use wooden or silicone utensils. Metal cooking implements can scratch the surface of your Teflon coating, making it lose its nonstick properties. Avoid this by using utensils made from heatproof silicone or wood.
- Clean with sponges or dishcloths. Never use abrasive cleaning tools on your Teflon coating. Stick to soft sponges, microfiber towels, or cotton dishcloths.
- Wash by hand. While some Teflon cookware is dishwasher safe, if you’re not sure, then it’s better to wash them carefully by hand to avoid ruining the coating.
How Do You Know When Nonstick Pans Get Too Hot?
Butter, oils, and fats usually begin smoking in a pan at about 400°F so that can help you gauge the temperature.
Since an empty Telfon pan will heat oil extremely fast, it’s always better to add the oil to a cold pan rather than preheating.
Just one session of having your nonstick cookware at a temperature of over 500°F can be enough to ruin your Teflon coating permanently. This chemical degradation can begin happening even as low as 400°F. Avoid using your pans in high heat settings.
When Should You Replace Nonstick Pans?
Scientists recommend replacing your nonstick pans every five years.
You may need to replace them sooner if you have ruined the coating, such as with high heat or metal spatulas.
You can check your pan to see if it’s time to replace it.
- Look for discolorations and browning; this is a sign you have overdone the high temperatures.
- Warped pans must be replaced as they will not heat evenly.
- Examine the Teflon coating for any scratches or blemishes.
- Related article: Is A Wok Really Necessary? (Pan Vs Wok)
What Else Ruins Nonstick Pans?
Besides cooking on too high a heat, here are some other things that can ruin your nonstick pan:
- Cooking with nonstick cooking sprays like Pam.
- Cooking tomatoes and other acidic foods—acids in foods like citrus and tomatoes are likely to speed up the degradation process, even causing the surface to blister.
- Using metal utensils while cooking.
- Cleaning your pan with an abrasive scrubber or scourer.
- Washing your pan in a dishwasher.
- Not seasoning them occasionally with oil. Every so often, season your nonstick pan just as you would cast-iron cookware by rubbing in a teaspoon of oil after the pan has been cleaned.
Hopefully, you now know more about overheating your nonstick pans. Your nonstick pan should be used on a lower heat setting rather than a high one, as the surface will begin to deteriorate from 400-500°F.
Replace your nonstick pans every five years, or more often, if they have been ruined by excessive heat or sharp utensils.
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