Christopher Kimball: It seems almost every company in the world is talking about being eco-friendly or green, and that’s also true when it comes to nonstick skillets, because the EPA has told us that they have chemicals used in manufacture which are dangerous. So a bunch of folks have come out and said, “Hey, let’s make an eco-friendly skillet.” So I’m here in the Equipment Corner with [turns and gestures toward Adam] Adam, who’s tested these to see: are they nonstick [shrugs], and are they actually safe, I guess.
Adam Ried: The basic component of a traditional nonstick finish, what we know of as Teflon, is called polytetrafluorethylene, or PTFE. There’s another chemical called perfuorooctanoic acid, PFOA, that is used to manufacture PTFE. And this [points at CPK] is the stuff that really is concerning the EPA [CPK nods] at this point. PTFE itself is inert. If you overheat it, it can emit some fumes that might make you not feel well for a little while, but it’s really not that dangerous. The PFOA has been found in water supplies, and they’ve done some experiments with lab animals, and it really causes adverse effects there. So the EPA has mandated that manufacturers get rid of PFOA by 2015 [CPK raises eyebrows and nods]. Now, there are a lot of marketing names [smiles]—Greentech, Excalibur, Sandflow—but according to our research, it really boils down to three different approaches. [Camera pans to ceramic-coated skillets] One of them is this group of pans here, and that’s a ceramic coating. The second type is this [camera cuts to the silicone-coated skillet; Adam picks up skillet handle], which is a silicone coating over a metal pan. And these two pans [gestures; camera cuts to two skillets] have PFOA-free coatings, but they still have PTFE. These two are the closest to a traditional nonstick pan. We put these into circulation in the Test Kitchen, and they got really heavy use. [Inset footage of skillet being used to scramble eggs and sauté fish, both of which adhere to the inside of the skillet despite prodding with a rubber spatula] And everyone noticed the same thing, that after a week or two the nonstick performance diminished. These really don’t hold up like a traditional nonstick pan.
CPK: So that might be two or three months with a typical home use.
AR: Exactly. This was very heavy use, understand that. But you’re not going to get a couple of years of nonstick ability out of these pans. None of these can quite match the performance of a traditional nonstick pan. I probably wouldn’t spend my [point to self in emphasis] money on any of these yet. I would wait until they develop the technology a little more. If I was absolutely bent to get one of these, this one [camera cuts to skillet; Adam lifts skillet handle], the Professional by Scanpan, probably did the best of anything here. It’s $130, [CPK scoffs] so it’s not cheap. The design was not great. It was heavy. It was shallow. That was something that our test cooks noticed with all these pans. The design was never perfect. Some of them were too narrow [shakes head], some of them were too wide, some were too deep, some were too heavy. Handles weren’t comfortable.
CPK: So let me see if I got this summary right [eyes widen]. There’s a chemical used in making nonstick skillets which in the next five years will be outlawed by the EPA.
AR: [nods] Right.
CPK: Second is, none of these pans were very good nonstick, and after a couple of weeks of hard use, they became stickier.
AR: [nods] Exactly.
CPK: Right, okay. And the third thing is, you can go out, like our family has done a couple of years ago, and buy a $25 cast iron pan, take care of it, and you have the original nonstick skillet, and it’s safe [waves arms in emphasis]. Is that right?
AR: The Vermont solution [grins].
CPK: There we go. Cast iron [chuckles], 25 bucks. What more can I say?
View the full report of our Green Skillets testing.
Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH
Tune into America’s Test Kitchen every week! Find the stations and air times in your area.