April 5, 2024

Last Updated: April 9, 2024



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Can You Really Season a Nonstick Pan?

By trk

Last Updated: April 9, 2024

how to season nonstick pan, seasoning cookware, seasoning nonstick cookware

Seasoning nonstick pans has become quite popular, with everyone from manufacturers to America's Test Kitchen recommending it. But do nonstick pans really need to be seasoned? And what does the seasoning actually accomplish?

We take a closer look at what seasoning nonstick cookware really means, and if it's something you need to do.

Introduction

If you're over 40, you probably know that seasoning nonstick pans is a new thing. In fact, none of our testers or writers had heard anything about seasoning nonstick pans until a few years ago--and we are considered cookware experts. Is it possible we all missed something? 

It's possible (because anything is possible), but it's unlikely. So when you bought a nonstick pan, say, 20 years ago, you just expected it to be ready to go (after a thorough washing, of course). And it was ready to go, with no seasoning required. So what's changed? 

The pans themselves haven't changed, or if they have, they've changed for the better. Reinforcements like titanium, diamonds, and granite make nonstick coatings more durable and longer lasting (at least in theory). However, the basic formula for PTFE--polytetrafluoroethylene, also known by its popular brand name Teflon®--hasn't changed. 

The newer option, invented in 2007, is ceramic nonstick, which is a completely different product than PTFE nonstick. As with PTFE cookware, some makers recommend seasoning it, and some makers do not. But the process recommended is the same as that used for PTFE. 

Our theory is that a cookware marketing person came up with the idea of seasoning nonstick cookware, and it took the industry by storm because it's said to increase the lifespan of the nonstick coating--and long life is the Holy Grail of nonstick cookware: the average nonstick pan lasts just 1-5 years, which is paltry considering that cast iron and clad stainless steel pans last for decades (possibly even centuries).

It's debatable whether "seasoning" nonstick makes a pan last longer, but it might make it more slippery during use, especially when the coating starts to age. Keep reading to find out what we mean. 

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How Do You Season a Nonstick Pan?

Eggs sliding off nonstick pan

If you check a few different sources, you'll see a lot of different instructions on how to season nonstick pans. Most methods say something like this:

  • Wash the pan thoroughly.
  • Wipe a thin layer of oil on the pan's cooking surface.
  • Place the pan over medium heat and let it heat for a few minutes.
  • Remove the pan from heat and let cool before using.

Some instructions say to re-wash the pan before use, some don't. Some say to wash the pan initially with vinegar and baking soda, some don't. Some say to wipe the pan with a dry towel or paper towel after cooling, some don't. But most follow these basic steps.

Another method, though less common, has you "seasoning" the pan in the oven: 

  • Wash the pan thoroughly.
  • Heat your oven to no more than 350F.
  • Wipe a thin layer of oil on the pan's cooking surface.
  • Place the pan in the oven for up to an hour.
  • Remove the pan from oven, let cool before using.

Again, some sources say to wash the pan after using and some don't. Some say to wipe the pan out with a dry cloth or paper towel, some don't. But all are some version of the steps above.

Let's see how this differs from traditional cast iron and carbon steel seasoning.

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Why Do You Season Cast Iron and Carbon Steel Pans? 

The primary purpose of the seasoning is to prevent the pans from rusting. Both cast iron and carbon steel rust quite easily, so the seasoning provides a protective coating. You still have to dry these pans after washing or they can still rust, especially around the rim and exterior, but seasoning greatly prohibits this and makes the pans infinitely more functional.

The added bonus of seasoning is that it creates a smooth, slippery coating similar to that of a nonstick pan, but without the hazardous chemicals. 

You can also buy enameled cast iron, which is also a protective coating that prevents rust. Enamel is permanent, so seasoning isn't necessary--but it's there for the same basic purpose, which is to prevent the cast iron or carbon steel from rusting. Many people prefer enameled cast iron because they don't have to season it, which is true, but enamel is at best stick resistant--it is not nonstick, so seasoned pans tend to have the better nonstick cooking surface. 

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How Do You Season Cast Iron and Carbon Steel Pan?

Unlike the vague rules governing nonstick seasoning, varying from two minutes to an hour of heating at a medium temperature, traditional seasoning done on cast iron and carbon steel is done quite differently and serves a specific and essential purpose.

There are a lot of different methods for seasoning cast iron and carbon steel, too, but they all produce the same result: a polymerized coating that protects the pan surface from rust, with the excellent by-product of creating a smooth, slippery surface that rivals nonstick pans without the potential health hazards. 

A very thin coat of oil is applied to the cooking surface, and the pan is placed atop a very hot hob or in an oven set to 450-500F (the oven method is preferable because you have better control over the temperature). The high temp is required because it causes the reaction which actually changes the molecular structure of the oil. This creates the polymer that coats the pan. Polymerization is the key to proper seasoning. 

If the temperature is too low--below 450F--then the oil won't polymerize, and you'll have a sticky, gloppy coating that is not seasoning. (Yes, you'll see some sites recommend temps as low as 300F, but they're wrong! The most trustworthy sites, such as Lodge and Serious Eats, all recommend a temperature of 450-500F.)

There is a fairly complex science behind cast iron/carbon steel seasoning, explained very well by Sheryl Canter's article, The Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning. Here's a brief excerpt:

Fat polymerization can be triggered or accelerated in a variety of ways. As best I can tell from my reading, the cast iron seasoning process is an example of “radical polymerization”. The process is initiated when something causes the release of free radicals in the oil. The free radicals then “crosslink” to form the tough, hard film you see in a well-seasoned pan.

Canter recommends--after a preliminary prepping procedure--to heat your oven as high as it will go to season cast iron. The whole idea is that the oil must be heated above its smoke point to break down into free radicals and polymers. The free radicals evaporate off, and what's left is a tough, shiny--and slippery--polymer coating to the cast iron. 

NOTE: The high heat creates a lot of smoke, and the smoke contains free radicals, which are not healthy to breathe--so always season cast iron in a well ventilated area, and avoid breathing the smoke. 

There's more to it, of course (best type of oil to use, prepping process, etc.), but the big takeaway is that heat higher than the smoke point is required, or the oil doesn't polymerize, which does not result in a seasoned pan.

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Does Traditional Seasoning Work on a Nonstick Pan?

No, traditional cast iron seasoning methods do not work on nonstick pans, for two simple reasons:

  • The high heat needed to polymerize oil ruins the nonstick coating: no polymerization, no seasoning.
  • The nonstick coating contains no molecules that can bond with oil to form a polymer.

Thus, even if you used heat high enough to polymerize the oil--which you could technically do on a ceramic nonstick pan without ruining it--a nonstick coating can't create polymers. So there's no way to season nonstick in the same sense as you season cast iron and carbon steel. 

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So, What Are You Really Doing When You Season a Nonstick Pan?

When you wipe a thin layer of oil on a nonstick pan, heat to a moderate temperature for a short time, then wipe it out, you are doing...well, not much. At least, you're certainly not creating a protective surface like a polymer on cast iron and carbon steel. 

It may not be a complete waste of effort, though. The oil will leave a light film (probably even if you wash the pan). Some of the oil will fill in the microscopic pores in the pan, which will almost certainly help food to stick less.

By the way, this is true for all types of cookware, not just nonstick--which is why you'll also hear now about seasoning stainless steel cookware. We've even heard of "seasoning" enameled cast iron, which is completely unnecessary, and will produce the same result as seasoning nonstick.

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Is Seasoning Recommended for Both Types of Nonstick (PTFE and Ceramic)?

As we said, some makers recommend seasoning and some do not. This is true for both PTFE and ceramic nonstick. So whichever type of nonstick you have, you can coat it with a thin film of cooking oil and see if you prefer the way it performs. But it is not necessary to do so on either type of nonstick coating, regardless of what the manufacturer says.

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So Do You Need to "Season" a Nonstick Pan or Not?

No: you don't need to season a nonstick pan, and doing so in the traditional sense is likely to ruin the pan. The whole point of nonstick cookware is that food doesn't stick to it as is, which is why you buy it in the first place. 

When the nonstick coating ages and food starts to stick, you may be able to bring back like-new performance by lightly coating the pan with oil before use. This will work for awhile, but as the coating ages, it will become increasingly sticky and harder to get the performance you want. That is just the nature of nonstick pans. If you get more than three years of use out of one, you've gotten your money's worth.

If you're dealing with ceramic nonstick, you can also try to restore performance by scrubbing the pan with baking soda, a mild abrasive that can help remove cooked on food and oil stains. But never do this with a PTFE (Teflon®) pan, as the abrasive could destroy it.

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Why Not Just Buy Cast Iron or Carbon Steel?

Cast iron pan with steak

If you're seasoning your nonstick pans, why not just buy cast iron or carbon steel? Well, it's certainly something to consider. The prices are about the same--or even less--and they will last for generations. You'll hand them down to your children rather than toss them in a landfill. 

The also have fewer use and care restrictions than nonstick cookware. You can use high heat, metal utensils, and abrasive scrubby pads to clean (although you don't want to scrub off the seasoning layer). You do have to wash by hand and then dry, but this is easy to do.

Best of all, seasoned cast iron and carbon steel are much more environmentally friendly than nonstick cookware, not just because less ends up in landfills, but because they don't use toxic forever chemicals that have polluted the world's water supply  (and will continue to do so until there are regulations passed regarding their use and disposal--which, believe it or not, hasn't happened yet). 

The "real" seasoning process you do for cast iron and carbon steel may seem like a hassle, but it's not difficult, and these pans are the safer, cleaner, healthier choice. 

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Seasoning Nonstick FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions about seasoning nonstick pans.

Do You Really Need to Season New Nonstick Pans?

No, despite what many manufacturers, kitchen sites, and social media influencers say, you do not need to season new nonstick pans. In fact, all you're really doing is wiping the surface with oil, which can help food to stick less, but doesn't really do anything to protect the nonstick coating. 

Does Seasoning Make Nonstick Pans Last Longer?

Probably not, although wiping an older nonstick pan with oil will probably help food to stick less, especially if the pan has begun to lose some of its nonstick properties.

How Is Seasoning Nonstick Different from Seasoning Cast Iron and Carbon Steel?

When you season nonstick, you wipe the pan with oil and heat it on medium heat for just a few minutes. When you season cast iron and carbon steel, you wipe the pan with oil and heat it as high as your oven goes, usually 450-500F. You have to heat the oil above the smoke point to create the protective coating that prevents rusting and makes the cooking surface smooth and slippery. Heating a nonstick pan this high could ruin it, and just as importantly, nonstick coatings aren't able to form the protective polymer coating that cast iron and carbon steel do.

What's the Best Oil for Seasoning Nonstick?

It really doesn't matter. Since you're just wiping the cooking surface with oil, any food safe oil or fat works. (This is not the case for cast iron and carbon steel.)

Can You Season Both PTFE and Ceramic Nonstick?

Yes, you can season both types of nonstick, and both benefit in the same way. That is, the oil coating may help food stick less, but won't form a protective layer or increase the life span of the nonstick coating.

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Final Thoughts

Seasoning a Nonstick Pan featured image

Seasoning nonstick pans has become popular, but it is not seasoning in the same sense as you season cast iron or carbon steel because nonstick coatings can't form a protective layer the way cast iron and carbon steel do. You're really just coating the pan with oil, which fills in the microscopic pores and helps food to stick less. This is true for both PTFE and ceramic nonstick. 

So while this "seasoning" may help food stick less, it isn't necessary or essential, and it probably won't help a nonstick pan last any longer--although it may help an older pan that's started to lose its nonstick properties temporarily work a little better

Thanks for reading!

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About the Author

The Rational Kitchen (TRK) is a collaborative effort, but the founder, editor, and writer of most of our articles is Melanie Johnson, an avid cook, kitchenware expert, and technical communications specialist for more than 20 years. Her love of cooking and the frustrating lack of good information about kitchen products led her to create The Rational Kitchen. TRK's mission is to help people make the best decisions they can when buying kitchen gear. 

When not working on product reviews, Melanie enjoys reading, playing with her dog Ruby, vintage video games, and spending time outdoors and with her family.

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