By BOB TEDESCHI
Published: May 29, 2013
As the family’s Sunday morning pancake and bacon chef, I have long scorned my stove’s front-left burner for its inability to distribute heat evenly. My quest for uncharred bacon, I knew in my bones, would fail unless the gods dropped a Viking range in my lap.
Deep breath. Yes, I’m that ignorant.
And it’s not like I have an excuse. For years my wife has been telling me to treat our cookware with a little more respect, since a ruined pan can destroy food as readily as a bad stove. Not buying that logic, I asked three culinary specialists for advice on how to maintain and store pots and pans.
My panelists included Jacques Pépin, the renowned chef and author; Michelle Foss, Williams-Sonoma’s vice president for cookware; and Bruce Mattel, the Culinary Institute of America’s associate dean for food production.
Their counsel helped me save more than a few of the family’s cookware items from premature death, and it may have moved me one step closer to the bacon preparation Hall of Fame. Their advice also prompted me to spend a couple of days revamping a junky kitchen wall to match Mr. Pépin’s. But more on that later.
The most important advice they offered was to pay close attention to the nuances of different cooking materials, whether it’s stainless steel, nonstick, cast iron or something less conventional. For novices like me, a pan is a pan. It gets hot, it burns things, it occasionally cooks food correctly and then it stares at me and demands pampering until I give it a cold bath and a cursory scrub with whatever hits my hand.
That backwoods, get-it-over-with-quick approach, Ms. Foss said, is one likely cause of my burned bacon. Quenching a hot pan, as is my habit, can cause a pan to warp, which can lead to hot spots. An abrasive sponge, meanwhile, can quickly strip the nonstick coating.
My panelists agreed that nonstick pans must be treated with kindness. Avoid metal utensils or anything else that might scrape the surface, Mr. Mattel said, and cook with only medium or low heat. “You want to avoid using it for pan roasting or high heat sautéing or deep frying,” he said. “Excessive heat will cause it to wear and discolor.”
Mr. Mattel said propellants used in aerosol cooking sprays can leave a residue on nonstick pans in particular. If that is a concern, he said, an oil mister is a good alternative.
When it comes to cleaning these pans, Ms. Foss said that certain lines of nonstick cookware made by Calphalon are dishwasher safe, but most nonstick coatings are not. Ms. Foss and Mr. Mattel both suggested handwashing nonstick pans with a nonabrasive cleaner and a sponge, to preserve the nonstick coating.
At my wife’s urging, I had been keeping a new nonstick pan clear of our dishwasher for the last few months, but when scrapes started appearing soon after we bought it, she suspected me.
Mr. Mattel understood the real culprit. He said many people (ahem) stack their pans after cleaning them, without accounting for the scrapes that can result from the metal-on-metal contact. “It’s best if you don’t stack them, but if you do, just put a cloth between them,” he said.
Stainless steel pans are much more forgiving because they withstand high heat, resist scratching and can be tossed into the dishwasher and then stacked for storage. “But with a pure stainless steel pot, you want to avoid stacking, because the more the handles slam around, the more they can loosen, so you could have leakage,” Mr. Mattel said.
Meanwhile, given the strength and durability of cast iron, I was surprised to learn that it requires more finesse than stainless steel. I would think nothing of tossing any food item in my house into our cast-iron skillet, which looks to be from the Civil War era. Mr. Mattel said it would be unwise to use such cookware for dishes like steamed vegetables, though, since water can lead to rust.
How, then, does one avoid water when washing a cast-iron pan?
By cleaning the surface like you would a grill.