How to break up with your non-stick cookware

We’ve come to rely on non-stick cookware, but with research showing it could be harmful, here is how to cook instead.

In the early 2000s, a chemical called PFOA – which was used to make non-stick cookware coatings including Teflon – was found to have cancer-causing potential, and everyone ditched their coated frypans.

Since then, PFOA, which is a type of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), has been phased out and today, about half of all cookware sold is non-stick.

But, on top of research showing that the “safer” PFAS-based chemical used to replace PFOA in non-stick cookware may also be harmful, a study closer to home suggests that as non-stick cookware loses its coating, millions of tiny plastic particles enter our food and our waterways as a result.

“It gives us a strong warning that we must be careful about selecting and using cooking utensils to avoid food contamination,” study co-author Professor Youhong Tang, of Flinders University, says.

“More research is recommended to address the risk assessment of the Teflon microplastics and nanoplastics, given that Teflon is a family member of PFAS.”

Learn to love cookware that’s not non-stick

Another negative about non-stick pots and pans?

They typically need to be replaced fairly regularly and they’re often not recyclable either, which means they’re destined for landfill.

In comparison, a lot of cookware that isn’t non-stick, such as products made of stainless or bare steel or cast or wrought iron, is built to be multi-generational.

“If you invest in a great pan, you’ll have it for life,” Food Health Wealth founder, executive chef and nutritionist Samantha Gowing says.

“For example, I’ve got some Le Creuset pans that I bought at the beginning of my career and I still use them today,” she says.

“They’re lifelong investments, not disposable items.”

Best ways to get the most out of your non-stick alternative cookware

Keen to swap your non-stick pots and pans for something more sustainable?

Once you get your new cookware home, here’s what to do:

Read the instructions

Had a bad experience where the coating on an enamelled cast-iron pan blistered?

Chances are you didn’t follow the cookware manufacturer’s instructions.

“It’s really important to read the instructions or manual before you start using any new cookware so you understand the nature of the element you’re working with,” Samantha says.

Put in the prep work

In the pursuit of a good result, properly preparing what you’re planning on cooking is just as vital as how you treat and use your pan.

“If you’re cooking meat or fish, it needs to be at room temperature before it hits a hot pan to stop it from contracting and releasing all its moisture, which will cool the pan down,” Samantha says.

“It’s also important to pat the protein dry with paper towel and make sure it’s well seasoned just before you put it in the pan.”

Pick your fat wisely

You’ll definitely have to introduce a fat, such as oil or butter, to a pan that’s not non-stick, and different fats suit different dishes.

“For example, olive oil is great for sautéing, but it doesn’t have a high enough smoke point for stir-frying,” Samantha says.

“My preference for that is macadamia oil, but you could also use coconut or rice bran oil.”

Follow the right routine

Getting your timings right, in terms of how and when you add heat, fats and food to the pan, is key too.

As a general guide, Samantha has this advice:

“Heat your pan to a really high temperature before reducing the heat a little and then adding your oil or butter.

“Let that heat through and then add your room-temperature protein.”

Read more on plastics and plastic-free alternatives:

Written by Karen Fittall.