A comprehensive guide to help you understand your pans better

Avid cook or not, the allure of a well-equipped kitchen with the best of cookware is an unspoken desire for many of us. Blame all the cooking shows out there—from MasterChef Australia to Netflix’s The Final Table—they’ve not only whet our appetites but also left us hungry for a new kitchen.

A shallow pan is quintessential for any self-respecting cook’s kitchen. From tossing a portion or two of pasta to a simple omelette, a pan comes in handy at the most critical cooking moments. One sturdy pan is all you need to be on your way to becoming a kitchen genius, but what kind of a pan should you get? Use this guide to sharpen your knowledge about two of the most basic pans—cast iron and non-stick—to help you up your cooking game. After all what you use to cook your food in matters too!

Know Your Pan Better
At its simplest, non-stick pans are aluminium or stainless-steel cookware made with a non-porous chemical coating of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) over the interior surface. In order to do justice to their name, they have a layer of artificial or ceramic coating that prevents food from sticking to the pan, explains Ravi Saxena, Managing Director Wonderchef Home Appliances Pvt. Ltd.

Cast iron pans, on the other hand, are heavy-duty cookware, designed for slow-cooking, he adds. They may be old-fashioned but they are considered to be durable and one of the safest options since they don’t contain any harmful chemicals in comparison to other pans.

Versatility
The convenience of cooking with minimal oil or fat has made non-stick cookware a favourite among home cooks. Best suited for cooking food items that tend to release their own oils and fats, they also come in handy when you need a nice golden colour on your grilled cheese sandwich or a delicate flaky fish. However, when it comes to foods that have a longer cooking duration, your non-stick pan can miserably fail you.

Cast iron pans, on the other hand, are known for having a high volumetric heat capacity, and therefore can be used for all kinds of slow cooking. Thanks to its ability better radiate heat, you're not just cooking the surface in contact with the metal, but you're evenly cooking within the food. From a health perspective, this results in ingestion of properly cooked food into your body, points out Kejal Sheth, Nutritionist, Weight Management Expert and Founder of Nutrivity.in. Despite not being naturally non-stick, when used and cleaned properly, they boast of non-stick properties and can be a preferred choice for everything from scrambled eggs, stir-fried vegetables, to delicate sauces, adds Saxena.

Compatibility
While some non-stick pans are oven-safe, pay attention to the instructions that come in the manual or read the labels carefully. You also need to avoid sharp metal utensils and invest in spatulas and ladles made of wood, rubber or silicone.

Cast irons, on the other hand, can be used on the stove, in the oven, or even on top of the outdoor grill. They also do not need any special utensils.

Sustainability
Because of PTFE’s properties of non-stick cookware and of well-seasoned cast-iron cookware, cleanup is simple for both. However, your non-sticks require extra TLC – they cannot withstand steel wool or any other abrasive cleaners. Soap, water, and a soft sponge should clean up most messes. For stubborn spots, soaking your cookware in warm water with a mild detergent should do the trick.

Cast iron pans are capable of handling more rigours; scrape away with steel wool or any other abrasive cleaner and you would still be able to continue cooking in it with no issue. “For persistent stains on enamelled cast iron, soak interior of the cookware for 2 to 3 hours with a solution of bleach, consisting of one teaspoon of bleach for every 2 cups of water. For baked-on food, boil a solution of 2 cups of water and 1/4 cup of baking soda for a few minutes and then use a pan scraper,” shares Saxena.

That said, your cast irons also need occasional re-seasoning to help them stay on top of their game. All you’ve got to do is apply a thin layer of vegetable shortening or lard after each cleaning, shares Saxena. And when it comes to storing both types of pans, he says it’s best to place a potholder, paper towels or folded kitchen towel in between each piece so they don't scratch against each other and break down the seasoning.

It’s important to note that neither type of cookware can be washed in the dishwasher.

Longevity
While new non-stick pans' ability to repel sticky foods fades over time, the average lifespan is around five years, depending on the quality and how you treat them. To ensure that your non-stick gives you your money’s worth, head here to avoid mistreating your non-stick pans.

A well-seasoned cast iron pan is known to get better with age, and should be able to last you for a lifetime. This ultimate longevity is what makes a cast iron pan a great addition to any kitchen. It’s true that they too do require some maintenance, but it's worthwhile to own a pan that will perform under high pressure kitchen scenarios.

Concerns
Despite being one of the most convenient options, non-stick pans have their own concerns. Over the years, they’ve even earned a bad rep on account of the fumes released when the pans are over-heated. Most non-stick pans therefore come with a heat warning label. Cooking on low or medium heat is highly recommended not only for their longer shelf life but also for health reasons, warns Sheth. “Blame their ability to leach chemicals into your food and for having a coating that can turn toxic at high temperatures (anything above 600°C),” she says. Besides, “Cooking or storing acidic foods such as tomato-based curries can quickly wear out your pan’s coating,” adds Saxena.

In the case of a cast iron pan, while the food would only be coming in contact with the layer of oil in the pan, and not the metal itself, there's still a good chance of bare metal interacting with acidic ingredients in your food. For this reason, it's a good idea to avoid long-simmered acidic things, tomato sauce being one. Another concern with cast iron pans is that they may leach iron into your food. If you happen to have health conditions that are iron-sensitive, you may have to trade your cast iron pans for other cooking equipment. For the rest of us, “Cooking food in a cast iron pan can help add to your daily iron intake and can prove to be beneficial especially for those suffering from anaemia,” shares Sheth.

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