When we bought nonstick cookware for our review, we were a bit surprised to find a manual with instructions for seasoning the pans. We knew cast iron had to be seasoned and that though unnecessary, stainless steel can be seasoned. But nonstick pans? That was brand new information!
On browsing through various sources online, we found many advising to season nonstick pans. They say oil covers the pores and smoothens the surface to prolong its lifespan. Some even claimed that seasoning helps improve the stick resistance of old sticky pans. But honestly, we were not sold on the idea.
Science of Seasoning
Cast iron, being porous, absorbs oil. When you heat it to the smoking point, the oil polymerizes and bonds with the iron to form a slick layer called patina which enhances the stick resistance. But when you try to season nonstick, first of all, being highly stick-resistant it doesn’t absorb oil. Rather, it floats around. So, it doesn’t really cover the pores, and just stays on the surface.
Next, you need to heat oil to its smoking point to polymerize it. Sunflower and Gingelly oil have smoking points of around 232 °C. Canola oil ( rapeseed oil) has a comparatively lower smoking point of 204 °C. But, it is not commonly used in India. Yet another option you could try is coconut oil, which has a low smoking point. But, coconut oil goes rancid quickly.
When you heat sunflower or Gingelly oil to the smoking point, the pan gets dangerously close to 260 °C, which is the temperature at which PTFE breaks down to emit harmful fumes. So, there is a high possibility that trying to season nonstick could end up harming your health.
Some manuals and websites suggest heating oil on a medium flame for 1-2 minutes. But, in such cases, oil doesn’t polymerize. So, it doesn’t develop any seasoning.
To further understand this, we talked with Joshua Champion of Take It Personally Chef. And he concurs. He says while seasoning helps develop a stick-resistant patina in cast iron and carbon steel pans, it doesn’t prove much beneficial for Teflon-coated pans. He further states, “Seasoning at low temperature on a non-permeable surface such as Teflon would not have any real benefits in my opinion. I believe you would need a much higher heat to begin breaking down the oil to have any real effect.”
Delving further into this, we tried seasoning an old nonstick wok to see if it indeed proved beneficial.
To test whether seasoning nonstick pans make sense, we decided to do a “before and after test”.
On the Kadai, we made an egg and checked how well it released it. Then, we cleaned, seasoned, washed the pan in warm water and again made an egg to check how well it released. We noted the difference between the two to understand whether seasoning nonstick cookware was beneficial.
For seasoning, as recommended on various websites, we applied sufficient oil to cover the base of the pan and heated it on a medium flame for some time. In between, we checked the temperature to ensure that it never breached 260 °C.
Related reading: 3 Popular Nonstick Cookware Base Materials
As we did not have any old pans, we used a Kadai that was old and had a few scratches on the coating. But, the coating did not peel off anywhere. We made the egg without using any oil. We made a sunny side up and flipped it. As expected, it did not release properly. So, the egg did not flip smoothly. After taking it out from the pan, there were bits and pieces stuck on to the cooking surface.
Next, we ‘seasoned’ the pan using sunflower oil. We poured a thin layer of oil and heated it on a medium flame for 5 minutes. We controlled the flame in such a way that the temperature of the oil exceeded 232°C, but never touched 260°C. Our initial plan was to heat the cookware for just 3 minutes as mentioned in the manuals. But, as the flame was low, it took us almost 3 minutes to reach 232°C.
After this, we left it for about 15 minutes to let the oil cool down. Then, we poured it out and cleaned the cookware with warm water and soap. Though many sites claim this process smoothes out the pores, we did not find any such noticeable change on the surface texture.
We again repeated the process and made a sunny side up and flipped it over. Yet again, the release was not smooth. But, after cooking, the bits stuck onto the pan were marginally less. That being said, the difference is not too prominent enough to warrant the benefits of seasoning nonstick cookware.
Considering the dangers of overheating PTFE-coated nonstick pans and the insignificant benefits of the process, we wouldn’t advise seasoning nonstick cookware.