Here’s When You Should Use Cooking Spray (and When You Shouldn’t)

We explain which foods work best with cooking spray (like Pam) and when you're better off using olive oil or butter.

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TORONTO, CANADA - 2016/10/23: PAM: cooking sprays in store shelf. PAM is a brand name by Conagra Foods which an American Company. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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A quick spritz of cooking spray magically keeps food from sticking to a pan. But it’s not good for every situation. Sometimes, you’re better off using nonstick spray alternatives like butter, shortening, oil or lard. We break down when to use it, and when not to.

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Chorizo & Grits Breakfast Bowls
Taste of Home

Works well: Low-fat, low-calorie cooking

If you’re counting your calories, cooking spray is the way to go. A one-second spray contains about 7 calories and 1 gram of fat. By comparison, a tablespoon of butter and olive oil both contain over 100 calories and 12 to 14 grams of fat, respectively.

Psst: This is the best cooking spray to use in your kitchen.

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Blueberries and Cream Coffee Cake
Taste of Home

Works well: Creating even, consistent coating

An evenly-greased pan means your baked goods won’t stick. No one wants to make a Bundt cake only to have half of it stay behind in the pan! Cooking spray coats more evenly than butter or shortening. For pans with lots of crevices and hard-to-reach places, consider using baking spray, which also contains flour for extra release protection.

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Close-up of chef's hand sprinkling powdered sugar on croissants with sieve in kitchen.
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Works well: Holding parchment in place

If your recipe calls for parchment paper, give the pan a quick spray with cooking spray first. The spray will hold the parchment in place, keeping it from sliding around as you pour in the batter.

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Measuring cups and spoons with a dark background.
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Works well: Keeping sticky ingredients from sticking

Our favorite alternative use for cooking spray is to spray our measuring cups. It keeps stubborn, sticky ingredients like honey or peanut butter from sticking to the inside of the cup. You can also spray a box grater before grating cheese to make cleanup a breeze.

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Fresh avocado on cutting board over wooden background
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Works well: Keeping an avocado from browning

This one might sound weird, but it totally works. Spray an avocado with nonstick cooking spray to create an oxygen-proof barrier. It works better than rubbing on oil or wrapping the avocado with plastic wrap.

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Lemon Pound Cake Loaves
Taste of Home

Doesn’t work so well: Creating soft edges

Nonstick cooking spray creates a crust on the bottom of baked goods. That might be okay for some recipes, but recipes like pound cake taste better with soft, pillowy edges. It’s better to grease the pan with butter or shortening and coat it with a thin layer of flour for added stick protection.

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pouring eating oil in frying pan
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Doesn’t work so well: Nonstick pans

Cooking spray is not compatible with the coating on most nonstick pans. It can create a buildup over time that’s impossible to remove, ruining your pan. Instead, cook with a small amount of oil or butter.

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Gebratenes Rinderfilet, Medallion, Fleisch, Rindfleisch, dunkle Pfanne, Butter, Pfefferkörner, Rosmarin, Kräuterbutter, braten, Bläschen, schwarzer Untergrund
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Doesn’t work so well: Creating flavor

Cooking spray is usually made with neutral oils, and it won’t help create layers of flavor in your cooking. When sautéing or searing meats and vegetables, use olive oil or butter for a more flavorful experience.

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Man shopping in supermarket, reading product information
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Doesn’t work so well: Soy allergies

Most brands of cooking spray contain soy lecithin as an emulsifying agent that prevents the ingredients from separating. If you’re cooking for someone with a soy allergy, you’ll want to use another cooking oil.

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Green Maize Corn Field Plantation In Summer Agricultural Season. Skyline Horizon, Blue Sky Background.
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Doesn’t work so well: Avoiding GMOs

While there are some cooking sprays with a Non-GMO Project verified seal, most cooking sprays use soy, corn or rapeseed (canola) oil. If you’re avoiding GMOs but must use cooking spray, look for an organic brand.

Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay is a professional chef, recipe developer, writer and developmental editor. After years of working in restaurant kitchens, she turned to writing to share her skills and experience with home cooks and food enthusiasts. She's passionate about using local, organic ingredients and teaching others how to incorporate seasonal food into their diet. Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, writes for several publications and is the co-author of two books about Ayurveda.