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Aug 7, 2009 07:25 AM

Why are non stick pans recommended for stir fry? Isn't the high heat a safety issue?

I'm reading the Cooks Illustrated Best Recipe book right now and it says the best pan to use for a stir fry is a non stick skillet. However, I thought that proper stir fry cooking meant extremely high heat but also that non stick skillets can become toxic with too much heat. Isn't there a bit of a conflict there?

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  1. In a word....yes. You want non-stick? You want high heat? You want economical? Use cast iron.

    I really like America's Test Kitchen recipes. They really work. Their equipment recommendations are generally reliable too, but they do hawk Cooks Illustrated merchandise until I'm ready to puke.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ambimom

      In this case though, they are not recommending a specific brand. They are simply comparing in general a non stick pan with a wok and a stainless steel skillet and they recommend using a non stick for stir fry.

      I'm with Tanuki Soup in that I generally use my stainless steel pan. Just wondering why CI would advise a non stick.

    2. I'd reach for my carbon steel evasee. It seems to me that it would perform most like a wok.

      1. if they're not recommending using super high heat then it likely doesn't matter, and there's no conflict.

        2 Replies
        1. re: tommy

          Yeah, but you can't do real stir frying with anything BUT super high heat.

          1. re: ricepad

            yeah, but the OP was referencing the recipe from the Cooks Illustrated Best Recipe book.

            i can only imagine how this thread will turn into a bunch of people sharing their ideas of "real" stir frying, rather than considering the OP's post.

            meat, vegetables, flavor. it's really not that complicated, and just regular ol' normal middle-class stoves can do the trick. thinking otherwise is a bit silly.

        2. Having cooked through several Asian COTMs here on the Home Cooking board I have to say that the most recommended cooking pan for stir-fry is a carbon steel wok. It takes high heat and has enough breadth and width to accommodate whatever amount of food you're wanting to cook. There are pluses for the non-stick stir-fry skillet already noted, but non of them will eventually season like a carbon steel pan nor will it give you the ever eliusive "wok hay"... That seasoning which gives the ultimate flavor to the dish you're trying to create.

          1. The "extremely high heat" required for stir frying is significantly less than the "too much heat" that causes PTFE and PFOA to atomize.

            With an industrial-strength wok burner, you can get a carbon steel wok to glow bright red before you put the food in. That's way too hot for non-stick, but it's also too hot for most stir fries; the oil instantly atomizes, ignites, and sends flames shooting many feet into the air. Pretty cool, but don't do it inside.

            If you're working with typical indoor stir-fry temps (500F maximum), a nonstick skillet shouldn't be a problem. If you've got pet birds, it makes sense to remove them from the kitchen, but otherwise you don't have too much to worry about.

            3 Replies
            1. re: alanbarnes

              Boy, you just covered most or all of the bases on this old argument.

              1. re: alanbarnes

                Hey thanks for sharing this info. I've wondered about this myself.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  Essentially true. However, if one is using a thin non-stick pan, the "ring" where the gas flame touches the pan can reach above 500F. More egregious during the preheating phase.