If you’re like me, your nonstick skillet makes its way from storage to stovetop on a frequent basis—the efficient go-to for creamy scrambled eggs, crispy salmon skin, and fluffy pancakes on the regular. With all that use comes a sense of responsibility, because if my nonstick is showing signs of misuse, it’s hard to pass the blame—the culprit is very clearly: me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about nonstick cookware over the years, it is that it’s among my most trusted helpers in the kitchen, but not without a little TLC.
Nonstick, like many other cookware materials, can be a little finicky to take care of. While there are clear rules for how to handle these pots and pans, it can become confusing to parse out which rules apply to nonstick, and which guidelines you may have heard in passing that actually apply to the care of a different material. Is nonstick the one that needs to be dried immediately, or is that copper? And is it best to clean it with kosher salt, or was that cast iron?
If you’ve noticed your nonstick cookware is starting to lose its… nonstickyness (can we get away with that one?), it’s likely that it hasn’t received the proper attention it requires. While other materials have a tendency to bounce back to full luster with some extra love (we’re looking at you, copper), nonstick pans made with a ceramic or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating tend to be irretrievable once damaged.
I’ve certainly experienced the dreaded signs of misuse—peeling, flaking, warping, and a less-than-perfectly-slick surface—and I imagine that many of you have, too. Unfortunately, those often mean our pans are approaching retirement. Luckily, though, there are a number of simple tips that one can follow to keep that at bay for as long as possible, so our pans can keep sliding out omelettes to perfection, year after year after year.
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A good place to start? Always consider the strength of the flame you’re cooking over. First things first: Do not use over high heat, which is a surefire way to ruin your pan; cooking over low or medium heat will help maintain a smooth, stick-free surface. Plus, remember: ceramic non-stick, if that’s what you have, is a fast heat conductor (hi, Five Two Nonstick Skillet and Food52 x GreenPan Nonstick Skillet), retaining and distributing heat so nicely that an A+ sear won’t require the high heat it usually would.
Next up, be careful to use the right fat. Reach for oils with a high smoke point—like grapeseed, sesame, or avocado—over those with a low smoke point, like EVOO. This is because low smoke point oils burn more easily, which can decrease the pan’s nonstick properties. Also worth keeping at a distance? Cooking sprays of all kinds. When I asked Ashley Holmgren, GreenPan’s Head of Ecommerce, for their best nonstick maintenance tips, she was quick to explain that cooking spray will develop a residue that can shorten the lifespan of nonstick cookware.
Another helpful tip: Once you’ve got your oil of choice in hand, always preheat the pan, being careful to add oil—and distribute it evenly—while it’s still cool (it’ll help with both sticking and the integrity of your ingredients), and remember to employ rubber or wooden, and never metal, utensils (which can lead to scratching or even material deterioration).
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Of course, proper cleaning and storage will also send you on your way to success. The first step: Always wait for the pan to cool before letting it come into contact with cold water. Submerging a hot pan in cold water or even running cool water over hot nonstick cookware is the quickest way to warp a pan.
Also, the faster you get to hand-washing, the easier it will be. I know it can be hard to skip the dishwasher, but if you’re committed to caring for your cookware, you’ll keep the nonstick in the sink—just not for too long. Under no circumstances should you use steel wool or other harsh, abrasive cleaning materials to wash your nonstick pan. Instead, use a gentle dishwashing liquid and a soft sponge or cleaning cloth. After your pan has been flawlessly cleaned and towel- or air-dried, place a pan protector, or a cloth or paper towel, over its surface if your storage space requires high stacking. This way, you'll ward off any scratches.
If you do ever find yourself in a sticky situation—maybe your pan is nearing the end of its lifespan (usually around five years, depending on how often it’s being used, and how carefully) and it’s been used over high heat one too many times—don’t despair, just follow these simple steps: Partly fill the pan with water, and add a ½ cup of white vinegar. Bring it to a quick boil over the stovetop, then remove and let cool, skimming away any residue that made its way to the top. Once cool, pour out the liquid and wash out with warm, soapy water—the burnt food should be easy to wipe away.
As you can see, there’s nothing complicated about caring for your nonstick cookware and keeping it in great condition—all it takes is some mindful cooking, cleaning, and storing. And although your trusty skillet won’t last a lifetime, with proper care, its best years are sure to yield so many treats. Worth the effort? We think so.
In the event you’re looking for the very best ways to clean all of your cookware, you’re in luck. We’ve compiled guides on cleaning and maintaining the most popular materials you’ll find in the kitchen (your pots and pans will thank you):
Copper is a bit more delicate than many other cookware materials, requiring a lighter touch (no harsh scrubbing!) and a polishing from time to time to restore its original shine.
Stainless steel is ideal for a successful sear or sauté, but can get easily dinged and spotted with signs of meals past. Many of the tricks to keep them looking new have to do with what goes in them, and when.
Most of us know that cast iron isn’t to be cleaned with soap and water, but did you know that you actually can give it a more conventional deep clean once in a while? For real!
How do you keep your nonstick cookware in tip-top shape? Tell us in the comments below!
This article was updated in November 2020 with even more nonstick care tips.
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Food52 x GreenPan Nonstick Cookware Collection $59–$299 $59–$299
ZWILLING Madura Plus Nonstick Pan $50–$149 $50–$119
Where would we be without grapes? Think of all the culinary marvels the fruit yields: Jelly, balsamic and red wine vinegars, and of course wine. But lofty cakes, ethereal meringues, and chewy snickerdoodles also owe their existence to another child of the grape: cream of tartar. The white powder is most often found in baked goods, where it serves as a stabilizer, a leavening agent, or a crystallization inhibitor (more on this later).
If you’ve just embarked on some baking endeavor only to find your jar of cream of tartar empty, there’s no cause for alarm. There are plenty of substitutions for cream of tartar, you just have to decide which purpose that sub needs to serve.
But first, what is cream of tartar?
Cream of tartar forms as crystals (rather glamorously known as “wine diamonds”) on the walls of wine barrels during fermentation, before it’s refined and crushed to the white powder probably sitting in a jar in your pantry. Chemically speaking, this powder is potassium bitartrate, a salt of mild tartaric acid, with a whole range of useful kitchen applications, from stabilizing beaten egg whites to keeping caramels smooth and chewy. Should you run out, replacing cream of tartar seems daunting at first, but there are actually a number of cream of tartar substitutes—many of which are probably already in the kitchen.
Short of harvesting your own wine diamonds, here are 9 cream of tartar substitutes, divided up by use.
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When egg whites are whipped to form peaks, their proteins gradually denature, stretching and linking to form an open lattice that transforms liquid whites into airy foam. But once proteins start linking, they can get carried away, turning the foam into a weepy mess. Cream of tartar is often added to whipped egg whites in recipes like meringues or angel food cake to keep whipped egg whites stable. But there are plenty of other ways to achieve the same fluffy result.
Like cream of tartar, lemon juice helps achieve lofty beaten egg whites. The general rule is 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice per egg white, so if a recipe calls for a teaspoon of cream of tartar, just multiply by four. Of course, unlike cream of tartar, lemons come with a distinctive, but bright and zingy, flavor.
Other acids, like vinegars, help egg whites hold their peak in exactly the same way, but their harsh flavor can spoil a delicate confection. Try distilled white vinegar for the least overbearing flavor; substitute four times the amount of vinegar, by volume, for cream of tartar.
A Copper Bowl
Though it sounds like Dadaist word art, you can actually replace cream of tartar with a copper bowl. The French have used copper bowls to beat egg whites for centuries, but it wasn’t until author of On Food and Cooking Harold McGee became curious about this odd habit, that anyone understood the science. Molecular copper, McGee discovered, forms strong bonds with sulfur groups, which, like with acids, prevents them from bonding with each other and squeezing out air and water. As you beat eggs in a bowl, minute amounts of copper are freed from the surface of the vessel and mixed into the eggs. I haven’t tested this, because copper bowls are expensive, but apparently whites whipped in copper take on a faint pink hue.
A Silver Bowl
Silver works similarly to copper, but with a more ruinous effect on your wallet. Don’t debase a silver bowl by whisking eggs in it unless your meringue is very, very important.
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When cream of tartar is mixed with baking soda, it creates a fantastic raising agent. So fantastic, in fact, the combination is a typical pantry ingredient: baking powder. Baking soda reacts with cream of tartar, releasing clouds of carbon dioxide, making a cake rise. If you’re out of cream of tartar, here are a few other ways to get a rise out of your baked goods.
As noted above, technically if you have baking powder, you do have cream of tartar. It’s just mixed with baking soda, in a ratio of one part baking soda to two parts cream of tartar. That means that for a recipe that calls for cream of tartar and baking soda, you can leave out the baking soda and substitute 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every 2/3 teaspoon cream of tartar.
Lemon and Vinegar
If you’re out of baking powder too, consider acidic ingredients like lemon or vinegar to create a rise in your bakes. Try double the volume of cream of tartar called for in the recipe, but note the added liquid might alter the texture a bit.
Fluffy buttermilk biscuits and pancakes rely on the sour dairy product’s acidity for leavening. But because buttermilk is much less acidic than vinegar or lemon, you’ll need to use a lot of it to replace even a small amount of cream of tartar. Unless you have the leeway to do some recipe testing, your best bet is to find a recipe that already uses buttermilk for leavening.
When you sink your teeth into a rich caramel or a chewy cookie like a snickerdoodle, you’re enjoying the absence of crunchy sugar crystals. As sweets cool, the dissolved sugar tends to return to crystal form, ruining the smooth texture. Cream of tartar’s acidity disrupts this process by hydrolyzing some of the sugar into its component parts, glucose and fructose, keeping your sweets satisfyingly smooth. You can achieve this same effect in a few other ways.
Corn syrup is almost pure glucose, and it does an excellent job disrupting sugar crystal formation. Just replace some of the sugar in your recipe with corn syrup and skip the cream of tartar for the desired effect.
Everything's better with butter—often chewier, too. Like glucose and fructose, fat molecules help disrupt the formation of sucrose crystals, preventing unwanted sandy cookies and crunchy caramels. This is obviously not a one-for-one substitution with cream of tartar, and there may be some trial and error involved before you find the right balance. But generally, when it comes to butter, the more the merrier.
And next time you’re grocery shopping, buy an extra jar of cream of tartar to have on hand for your next baking project. You don’t have to worry about them going bad. As they say, wine diamonds are forever.
Have you had any luck using one of these cream of tartar substitutes? Let us know in the comments.