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Protect your investment and learn how to treat your cookware right.
Don’t think you need a cookware care guide? You’re probably committing at least one cardinal cookware sin, so think again before you answer this next question.
Are you truly taking care of your pots and pans properly? Most of us don’t exactly read the owner’s manual when we purchase a new frying pan (I know I’m guilty), but it turns out we probably should.
Cookware materials like cast iron, aluminum, and stainless steel have really specific care guidelines, and if you aren’t following the “rules,” you could significantly decrease the performance, efficiency, and lifespan of your pans. If you’re unsure of the proper way to care for the cookware in your cabinet, here are some of the most common—and harmful—sins that you need to avoid.
Have you ever accidentally gouged the finish on a nonstick pan? If you have, you know scratches significantly reduce the nonstick capabilities of Teflon—the compound used to make this wonderful, easy-to-clean finish.
With this in mind, it makes sense that metal utensils and nonstick pans don’t mix. It’s all too easy to catch the edge of a metal spatula on the precious finish, leaving behind a scar that will reduce the usefulness of the pan. Instead, stick to wooden or silicone utensils, which are much more gentle. And whatever you do, please do not use a knife of any sort to cut things in a nonstick pan!
It’s worth noting that some newer nonstick cookware is marketed as “safe to use with metal utensils.” Manufacturers have figured out how to make nonstick coating more durable, but we generally err on the side of caution anyway.
It’s often tempting to immediately fill a hot pan with cold water after you’re done using it, as this will prevent food particles from sticking and make it easier to clean. However, subjecting a warm pan to a blast of cold water is a surefire way to warp the metal—a lesson I learned the hard way.
If you do this, the bottom of your pan may warp due to a reaction called thermal shock, and your precious cookware will no longer sit flat on the burner, leading to uneven cooking. I accidentally did this to one of my nonstick frying pans, and I had to replace it.
The lesson here? Be patient and wait until your pans have cooled off before filling them with water.
The process for cleaning cast iron is quite unique—you’re supposed to use salt and oil in lieu of soap in order to preserve the seasoning. But did you know you also have to be diligent about drying off this material, too?
The rationale here is simple: Cast iron is, ultimately, iron, and iron rusts when it’s wet. So if you put your favorite cast iron pan away when it’s still wet, the moisture could wreak havoc on the metal.
When there are tough little food bits stuck to the bottom of a pan, you might be tempted to get in there with steel wool and scrub everything away! Steel wool is quite effective at removing baked-on particles, but its abrasive texture can damage cookware materials like stainless steel, cast iron, and nonstick finishes. The steel wool will scratch the surface, which can make the material more susceptible to rusting or discoloration. It may also void the warranty on your cookware!
Instead, you’ll want to use a non-abrasive sponge or gentle brush. It might take a little longer to get those food particles off, but the added elbow grease is worth it to maintain the condition of your favorite pots and pans.
Have you ever cooked tomato sauce in an aluminum pot? If so, you might have noticed a bit of a metallic flavor in the finished dish. This is because the metal reacts with acid, and particles end up leaching into your food. It can also cause discoloration on the pan itself.
However, this only applies to pure aluminum—commonly used for pots and baking sheets. If your pan only has an aluminum core or is anodized aluminum, you have nothing to worry about. The same is true for copper—pure, unlined copper is reactive and shouldn’t be used to cook tomatoes, but is fine to use if lined with tin or stainless steel.
When you’re cooking pasta, do you put the salt in before or after the water starts boiling? To be honest, I didn’t know it made a difference, but it turns out that you should always do it after the water has warmed up.
Why? If you put salt into the cold water, it can cause pitting on the surface of stainless steel. The pockmarks are tiny, but they can’t be fixed and may make food stick to the surface more readily.
Just like you shouldn’t put all your clothes in the washing machine, there are certain pieces of cookware that need to be hand-washed. Some are just too delicate to be blasted with water, while others may react to the heat and/or soap.
You’ll want to keep these materials out of the dishwasher:
- Cast iron
- Aluminum alloys
- Nonstick finishes
- Brass, bronze, and pewter
Many people (myself included) have limited storage for pots and pans, and as a result, we just stack them together willy nilly. However, this often leads to bumps, dents, scrapes, and scratches on your cookware, which can impact their performance in the long run.
If you struggle to store your cookware neatly, it might be worthwhile to invest in a pot rack, which will keep your belongings organized and accessible, while preventing scratches. There are even adjustable cookware organizers that you can use with larger pots. So there’s really no reason to build a leaning tower of pans in your cupboard anymore! If you’re not convinced, though, at least invest in some cheap felt pan protectors.