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Jul 31, 2010 06:59 AM

Scanpan vs. cast iron?

Hi, I saw Sur La Table is running a sale on Scanpan fry pans. Was about to run to the store, when I decided to check out CI's reviews first. To my surprise, they noted that Scanpan uses PTFE. I wish they had included a traditional seasoned cast iron pan in this review process for comparison.

Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia on PTFE:

"PTFE is a thermoplastic polymer, which is a white solid at room temperature, with a density of about 2.2 g/cm3. According to DuPont, its melting point is 327 °C (621 °F), but its properties degrade above 260 °C (500 °F).[6] PTFE gains its properties from the aggregate effect of carbon-fluorine bonds, as do all fluorocarbons.........

The pyrolysis of PTFE is detectable at 200 °C (392 °F), and it evolves several fluorocarbon gases[10][11] and a sublimate. Animal studies indicate that it is unlikely that these products would be generated in amounts significant to health at temperatures below 250 °C (482 °F),[12] although birds are proven to be much more sensitive to these decomposition products.[11][13]

While PTFE is stable and nontoxic, it begins to deteriorate after the temperature of cookware reaches about 260 °C (500 °F), and decomposes above 350 °C (662 °F).[14] These degradation byproducts can be lethal to birds, and can cause flu-like symptoms in humans.[14]

Meat is usually fried between 200–230 °C (392–446 °F), and most oils will start to smoke before a temperature of 260ºC is reached, but there are at least two cooking oils (safflower oil and avocado oil) that have a higher smoke point than 260°C. Empty cookware can also exceed this temperature upon heating."

Chowhounders, are there really any better options than my old cast iron?

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  1. First, I won't reply on C.I. review. Second, Scanpan is not the exception here. There are other green pans which do funny marketing. Like Swiss Diamond:

    I don't know specifically what you are looking for, so I don't know what "better options" mean. Certainly a Teflon pan is more nonstick than a cast iron pan, so if you are looking for nonstick property, then a Teflon pan is better than a cast iron pan. If you are looking at heat response, than a copper pan is better than a cast iron pan. If you are looking for easy of care and even heating, then a triply stainless-aluminum-stainless pan is better than a cast iron pan.....

    4 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      I didn't mean to imply that they are misleading, in fact, they have the coating info on their site. I was suprised because the retail salespeople hadn't clued me in in the past. As for what I'm looking for, I use a large fry pan for sauteeing greens, cooking eggs, goal of a more non-stick surface is to reduce cooking fat a little. My disk bottom pan does not cook evenly, if I sweat chopped onion, some pieces burn. I also want to concentrate more on developing fond on meats, and building sauces. I read elsewhere in the boards that non-stick may not be ideal, seems like a toss up between cast iron and try-ply, maybe you have some thoughts? I don't know much about cooking with copper, by responsiveness, I assume you mean how fast the pan reacts to the stove? Seems best suited for sauces, right? I'm all for mixing and matching different materials/brands for different purposes. In your opinion, for the sauteeing and the browning, what materials do you like? And for what puropses do you think copper is worth the spend?

      1. re: MCFAC

        Hi MCFAC,

        Yes, by heat response I meant the how the fast the pan reacts to the stove heat. It is unfortunately that your disc-bottom pan does not cook evenly. I would have thought most disc bottom pans should provide a more uniform heating surface than cast iron pans. Yeah, a real nonstick pan will have problem developing fond or bits. My guess for sauteing and browning is that an aluminum based (like a triply or anodized aluminum) cookware are not bad choices because they can heandle high heat and provide an even heating surface. A lot of people used to love anodized aluminum. A carbon steel pan is also very good. A few people here love their carbon steel pans. Like a cast iron pan, a carbon steel pan need to be seasoned. It is lighter, so it has less heat capacity, but it has faster heat response and easy to move around. A cast iron pans is great for searing and browning.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Thanks, Chemicalkinetics, you're right. I scored a deeply discounted All Clad 6 quart saute pan and lid at Sur la Table. (I have trouble staying away from there! Currently, their clearance items are another 20% off, so worth checking out.) BTW, I do find my cast iron more even than the disk bottom that will be going to charity, but I have some disk bottom sauce pans made in Italy that have performed much better. SLT also had some nice carbon steel pans on sale. Not an option I had considered, but if I were choosing between brand new cast iron and those for eggs and other non-stick critical tasks, I'd give them a try. (My cast iron predates the dimpled finish that they all seem to have now. I found mine at a yard sale, have no idea how old they are!) As they aren't that expensive, I may also try a carbon steel out soon. Agree with some other posters, skipping the coated products for now.

          Happily made dinner, pork chops perfectly seared in the old cast iron and finished in the oven, with a side dish of chard sauteed in olive oil and nice, evenly cooked shallots in the new All Clad.

        2. re: MCFAC

          Hi, For fond and pan sauces non-stick won't help you. Cast Iron and carbon steel are also not great at it because A) They are relatively non-stick and if you get things right you will not get much fond B) You limit your sauce options (no acid) and techniques (whisking, etc) because of the seasoning surface. I know people with 100 year old pans will say they can cook a sulphuric acid reductions in theirs, but I can't. For that sort of cooking I use something with a stainless steel surface - brown meat, deglaze fond, incorporate fond, build sauce, serve. I use copper because it works really well and I am quite traditional, but you could use tri-ply stuff with aluminium and you'd never know the difference for this type of cooking. Like you say MCFAC, it's delicate sauces where the copper really shines, imo.

          For high heat searing I use carbon steel, or cast iron if I need the heat capacity of the pan to make up for the low output of my gas cooker - like if I was cooking loads of mushrooms or cooking 4 steaks instead of 2.

          So,... for me, SS surface (copper or tri-ply, doesnt matter much) for sauteeing and browning if there is pan-sauce involved. Carbon steel (with occasional cast iron) for higher-heat searing or sauteeing or browning something that won't end up with a pan-sauce.

      2. I think you worry too much. This is not your grandma's Teflon. Scan Pans use PTFE, but it's stabilized in the titanium-ceramic substance they infuse the pans with. I've had Scan Pans for years and I had cockatiels for years - they coexisted happily. If you heat the pan up hot enough to start it outgassing, you've got bigger problems - like whatever you're burning!

        I can't see Cook's Illustrated's review of (one) scan pan, they want my credit card info and fat chance they're getting that. But I can give you my OWN review, and its that Scan Pans are the best cookware I've ever used, bar none. I HATE cast iron though I've cooked on it extensively in my youth.

        I had the original Scan Pans and bought a 2nd generation set for my son. My pans are fine and still operate the way they did when I bought them over 10 years ago, but his are a dream! I've used other expensive "non-stick" cookware and they all lose. When I have a real job again (working on my doctorate) the first thing my disposable income will buy will be a new set of Scan Pans. His are going on 4 years old and are every bit as non-stick as the day he bought them. They've been "abused" heavily in his bachelor households (he had 4 college-age male roomates) - for instance I found the saute pan under a pile of other pots and pans with a cast iron skillet sitting directly in the Scan Pan - and they are still truly, TRULY, nonstick. My first generation pans were only ever stick RESISTANT. His are slicker 'n . . . . well, something really slick. I can dry-fry tofu in them, no problems. I can make dosai - even rava dosai -in them without using ANY oil and using a thin, flexible metal spatula instead of those clumsy thick plastic things you usually have to use around "non-stick" surfaces. Best of all, all it takes is a quick swipe with a damp dish towel and the still-hot surface is clean and ready for the next dosai (or whatever it is you are cooking). The new use and care instructions tell you to take the hot pan and immediately quench it with cold running water and boy does that work to keep the surface clean! (Though wiping it down with a wet towel has worked just as well so far).

        I wouldn't trade a single Scan Pan for all the Calphalon in the world. I wouldn't trade a single Scan Pan for TWICE all the cast iron in the world!

        1. Why not look into de Bruyer pans...they get excellent reviews on this board (and I recently acquired a 12 inch skillet, and am very happy with the performance.) It's easy to season, heats very quickly, and food does not stick. They are made of carbon steel.

          Here is a very informative thread:

          3 Replies
          1. re: penthouse pup

            Here's a video about the de Buyer seasoning process--
            I used it for my de Buyer "country"(deeper than usual) fry pan, which I love.

            1. re: blue room

              How is the country pan compared to the shallower frying pan? Pros and cons?

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                I don't have any other de Buyer fry pans, just this 9 1/2 inch helpmate. I wouldn't give up my larger shallower frying pans-- one All-Clad, one Scanpan--but the seasoned de Buyer is so reliably non stick now, and a good size because I cook just for two.

          2. In my opinion Teflon has become a quagmire. There are properties that we all love, the ease of cleaning, the slickness of the surface. But there are the properties that we hate, they frequent replacement cost, the high heat discharge of toxins (there are those who will take me to task for this but if you can honestly say that nothing has ever distracted you from tending to your cooking then you are either a better man than I or less human).

            Personally I find cooking in cast iron (and although at present I don't own any carbon steel from all respects I can appreciate all the positives) the best thing to be brought from the past for cooking on a glass/ceramic top electric stove.

            What I want from a 21st century pan is one that conducts heat well (it doesn't have to be the best conductor) regardless of the heating element, be it gas, electric or induction. A relatively non stick surface, and at least a 10 to 20 year lifespan. I don't hug trees but I feel a needless filling of landfills to be silly. My selling of a product as a consumer should not be because of repeat purchases to replace worn out cookware every two to three years but by purchasing additional pieces to augment existing cookware and through word of mouth, due to the satisfaction that I currently derive from using my existing cookware.

            I'm willing to spend more on a product that will last, but I'm not willing to spend more on a product that has a relatively shorter lifespan while proclaiming itself to be a better alternative to the previous Teflon offerings. I'd love a better nonstick, but manufacturers, you keep sending me back to cast iron and stainless steel.

            2 Replies
            1. re: SanityRemoved

              I have a Scanpan (SS) not the non stick and cast iron (2). Both are excellent. I use the cast iron for browning and the Scanpan for everything else.

              Personally I would avoid any frying pan treated with chemicals to provide non-stick qualities.

              While the manufacturers market the features in glowing terms pause for a moment and reflect what you may doing to your health long term. Why take that risk!

              1. re: SanityRemoved

                You might want to check out Silit Silargan frying pans from Germany. Thick stainless steel with a tough ceramic inner coating. Not totally nonstick, but pretty close (kind of like Le Creuset enameled cast iron). Can handle high heat, seem indestructible, easy to clean, work great on induction.