Nonstick cookware, first made available in the 1960s, has become ubiquitous due to its easy cooking and cleaning properties. It requires less oil or grease to keep food from sticking, it disperses heat evenly, and cleanup is a breeze with soap and water. Over the years, improved techniques for adhering nonstick coatings to pans have led to different grades of nonstick cookware.
The least expensive type of nonstick cookware features a single, thin layer of nonstick coating. This type of cookware tends to scratch easily, and in some cases might even begin to peel off after repeated use, particularly if abused. This is most often generic nonstick cookware intended for mass-market use. A better grade of this type of cookware has a dual layer coating: the nonstick layer is followed by a sealer that helps adhere the first layer and protect it. Dual layer nonstick cookware is more resistant to scratching and peeling, and with proper care should last longer than single layer cookware.
As price increases, so should the layers of coating. Triple-layer nonstick coating is incrementally more durable than dual-layer, and so forth up to four or more layers. A high quality finish is easy to tell from a single layer coating. The better finish feels smooth to the touch, unlike a single layer in which one can feel tiny ridges. If the finish is shiny, it has likely been coated with silicone. This is fine for bakeware, but is not recommended for cookware.
Nonstick coating is made with chemicals that have been deemed carcinogens or likely carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Though a nonstick surface is inert, as it heats up, it can begin releasing harmful gases that can be fatal to pet birds and cause flu-like symptoms in humans. It is recommended to cook with low-to-medium heat with nonstick cookware. Do not leave empty nonstick cookware on a burner, as it will get hot quickly and may begin to release harmful fumes.
An alternate type of nonstick cookware that does not use potentially harmful coatings features a baked enamel or porcelain finish. Baked enamel cookware is inert at any temperature, does not scratch or peel, and cooks food evenly and deliciously. Baked enamel can be applied to cast iron and other metals and is heavier than most types of cookware.