Is non-stick safe for searing?
I've heard so many different things about the safety of non-stick pans like never heat it while empty, never heat it higher than medium, and such so the pan does not release toxic fumes (PFOA - a carcinogen). So what about the non-stick grill? It's supposed to be used for searing meats at very high heat. I am tempted by the Calphalon Unison Non-stick grill from Williams Sonoma. Or should I just stick with the cast-iron grill?
The Calphalon grill you are considering is hard-anodized aluminum, which is safe for high temperature cooking. There is no teflon or other plastic coating to degrade or give off fumes, toxic or otherwise.
I use both cast iron and aluminum skillets for high temperature cooking. Most of the time I use aluminum because it heats up much faster and is easier to handle when sauteing. The only time cast iron has a clear advantage is when you need to get that sucker really, really hot, like when searing the outside of a piece of tuna for sashimi without cooking the inside.
The OP referred to the Calphalon Unison nonstick grill from Williams Sonoma.
I was curious about Calphalon's new line with different Sear and Slide nonstick depending on the pan so I headed on over to W-S and asked the rep if it was a nonstick coating. He said yes it is. It definitely looks and feels like a PTFE nonstick coating. The Sear version (on grill pans, stock pots and saute pans) is a dark grey colour with a slightly rough feel. The Slide version (on omelette pans, sauce pans and griddles) is a lighter gray colour and has a very smooth slippery finish.
I think the only anodized aluminum Calphalon makes that does not have a nonstick interior surface is the original Calphalon One (not the nonstick version).
"Non-stick" does not equal PTFE. It's a commercial, not a scientific or legal term, and both hard anodized and PTFE coated pans are advertised as non-stick, so the WS rep was not lying. However, the pan in question (if I have the right link) is hard anodized according to the WS web site.
I want to clarify some things in my response, while staying on topic for the original poster. If you have not seen Calphalon Unison and you can get to a Williams Sonoma you should go check it out. It really is different.
I went to WS to see and feel the Calphalon Unison cookware, and asked the rep about it. He said it has a nonstick _coating_. I did not say the cooking surface is PTFE, since I don't know that. I did say it feels like and looks like PTFE.
Also the cooking surface is different than the exterior of the pans. The outside is hard, metallic and not slippery -- anodized aluminum. The cooking surface is slick, slippery and plasticy feeling -- like PTFE.
Calphalon's website and care instructions refer to anodized aluminum as "stick-resistant". They have a different description for nonstick, stating that it is a synthetic polymer nonstick coating. And we know that PTFE is a synthetic polymer. It also states that hard anodized is safe for broiler use and is safe for metal utensils; whereas nonstick is not approved for broiler use and metal utensils are not recommended.
Sorry if I have been a bit long-winded here, but seeing and feeling the referenced grill pan, and a read of Calphalon's website has me convinced it has a nonstick coating on the inside surface of the anodized pan, and I would hate to see the OP misled.
Searing generally means putting a piece of protein down on a very hot, flat surface. Grill lines are not usually part of the plan because the grill pan is not a flat surface and is not usually the tool of choice for this. My advice would be to avoid heating any non-stick pan up to as high a temperature as true searing requires because they are only supposed to be used on moderate heat, for all of the reasons listed by other posters. That said, if what you are really doing is browning, the non-stick should certainly be safe because that can be done at a lower temperature, and in spite of all of the traditional wisdom out there, I know I can brown meat nicely in most non-stick pans, even if it takes longer due to the lower temperature. If you are looking just to get grill marks onto the food and then plan to finish in the oven, either cast iron or a non-stick will work, but the same temperature requirements apply.
I don't see any point in it. For one thng,
the claims are dubious. If the coating
is all that safe for searing, why are
there three coats? Presumably because
the top coats will wear off and get in
your food, or vaporize. It says the pan is
oven-safe to 500 degrees. But with searing
on a burner, the temp will get higher
than that. Cast iron is safer, and
I'm not even going to get into the health factors because there will be many that agree it is bad and many agree it isn't.
I'm sure it is obviously not as good as a good ol' original cast iron pan but honestly I do use it. Steaks, chicken, frying, potatoes, eggs, bacon and many many food I cook in my cast iron. But some delicate fish, scrambled eggs and some other dishes I do use my non stick and love it.
I have read articles and pros and cons and truthfully, I don't care. If the use of a non stick pan is my biggest worry, I feel pretty lucky. There is so much more to be concerned about. I try my best but ... a couple of non stick pans don't bother me.
But cast iron ... I use mine a lot but that is just because I love it. My stainless pans I have had for years are my second fave, but I do have my non stick and for some things ... you can't beat them. I have used them for high heat, I also use them for low heat.