I’m a firm believer in the idea that spending more than the minimum on certain kitchen tools is beyond worthwhile. For example, a few really good knives will last you for many, many years. A really good skillet/saute pan is worth its weight in gold—for evenness of both heating and cooking. A crazy-heavy enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, like a Le Creuset, will not only last a lifetime, but you can will it to your heirs. So, for these things, I say be willing to open your wallet. They are worth the cost.
When it comes to another pan most of us rely on frequently, I say buy the cheap ones!
That pan is, of course, the nonstick skillet.
Nonstick cookware, as we know it today, came about almost by accident. A DuPont chemist was working for the WWII effort, and discovered that the substance he developed, eventually called Teflon, was very, very “slippery.” And then a French engineer coated some fishing gear with it, to prevent tangles. His wife wondered if it might work in her skillet, et voila, the rest is history.
A basic pan, one that can be made of any number of metals, is coated with Teflon. But the trouble is, Teflon can easily be nicked, or chipped, or scratched. And once that happens, the nonstick qualities are compromised. Those same qualities also begin to fade simply with use as well. You’ll begin to notice the changes, and once food begins to stick, either in scratches or to the whole pan, it’s time to toss it and get a new one. And having the Teflon coating flaking into your food is not a good idea.
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These changes really begin at around six months of heavy usage. I’m not suggesting that this timetable will be the same for everyone. But, for example, I use my 6- or 8-inch nonstick skillets on a daily basis for dishes like eggs, sauteed potatoes, fish, and crepes, so they get quite a workout. I replace them at least every eight months, if not more often. And because of that, I go to restaurant supply stores (most every town has one) and buy cheap restaurant aluminum nonstick pans for less than $16-$18, and that way, I don’t feel quite as guilty about frequently replacing them. (Other than the guilt I feel throwing anything away!)
Looking for an Inexpensive Set? Try This: Farberware Reliance 3-Piece Aluminum Nonstick Frying Pan Set
The point of this cookware is its non-stick quality. When that quality is gone, there's no point in keeping it. Yes, you can spend a fortune on higher-end nonstick cookware, and it may last a bit longer. But not a lot. It will eventually scratch and chip and lose its qualities just like the cheap ones, and you’ll still need to replace it frequently enough. But if you care for it properly, use it correctly, and replace it often, your eggs and fish and potatoes (and even crepes!!) will slide perfectly onto your plate. It’s worth it.
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