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Cookware 101

This blogpost is updated from one I wrote many, many years ago.  I want to be able to have a place where I can direct the same questions I receive over and over again. I am happy to answer those questions, but it is more helpful for people in my community to be able to have a reference. 

A very important element in cooking is the equipment you use.  The quality of your cookware, the materials your cookware is made from, as well as knowing which skillet or saucepan to choose for the job are all factors which will affect your food, and even your health, for better or for worse.  By arming yourself with a little knowledge, you can steer yourself towards safer options and away from cookware that can compromise the quality of your food and your health.

BEST CHOICES:

Stainless SteelCan be used for anything and everything, but go for heavy duty stainless steel so you don’t burn your food. It is lighter than cast iron, which can be a factor for some people. Look for heavy bottomed pans which distribute heat evenly and help prevent scorching.  You may see a “18/10” stamped on the underside of the cookware to indicate a composition of 18% chromium and 10% nickel. If you are sensitive to nickel, stainless steel may not be a good option for you, but it is otherwise non-reactive.  Even though I do love my All-Clad, there are other good brands, but you get what you pay for.  Use dish soap and water to clean; use Bar Keepers Friend or Bon Ami to polish. For stuck on bits, you can add water and baking soda, bring to a boil and scrape with a wooden spoon.

Cast Iron – There is standard cast iron, which can come preseasoned or not seasoned (you have to season it at home yourself), and enameled cast iron which is coated with, obviously, enamel (totally safe.).  Good quality cast iron should last you your whole life, maybe even your grandchildren’s lives.  My mother still has an amazing cast iron skillet that was passed down to her from her grandmother.  Cast iron, when maintained properly, can build up a natural nonstick quality. Cast iron is great for searing anything like proteins and vegetables. It holds heat really well and is great for going from stovetop to oven. It is also pretty to serve out of.

If unseasoned, you need to season it before using.  It is recommended to avoid washing regular cast iron with soap and water, if possible.  If you do use water, you must dry the pan right away. Scrape stuck-on food with a wooden spatula OR sprinkle with kosher salt and rub the surface with a dry rag or a ball of aluminum foil. Wipe clean and rub with a layer of avocado oil before storing.  Downsides to regular cast iron:

  • heavy
  • best not to wash with soap and water, if possible
  • best not to simmer acidic foods for long periods of time because the iron can leach into your food
  • must be careful about the pan staying wet.

I have a griddle by Lodge and grill pans by Staub.   Field Company is pre-seasoned and a little lighter than traditional cast iron. I have their #10 pan and I love it.  Lodge is a classic and comes seasoned or unseasoned. I have also found that I burn food less easily with cast iron than I do with other cookware.  Bonus! 

Enameled Cast IronHas an enamel glaze applied to the surface that prevents rusting. You can cook acidic foods in these pans for as long as you want. Easy upkeep; can be washed with soap and water. Great for searing proteins and vegetables. Holds heat well and is great for going from stovetop to oven. It is also pretty to serve out of. Among my favorite pieces of cookware are my beautiful enameled cast iron Dutch ovens and saucepans by Staub and Le Creuset. I have much more Staub than Le Creuset because I prefer the colors and design of Staub. My favorites include the 13-inch Staub Double Handle Fry Pan and 5 quart Staub Tall Cocotte

Heavy, yes.  Durable and dependable, absolutely.  Staub and Le Creuset can be costly, but they will last forever.  I have pieces that I have used almost daily for 20 years and they still look amazing.  I have tried cheaper “enameled” cast iron pieces that I purchased in reputable stores with a famous chef’s name on them.  They chipped within a week.  Make friends with a nice salesperson in the housewares section of your local department store that carries Staub or Le Creuset and ask him or her to alert you when the line will be on sale.  I have bought one new piece per year this way, most of the time at 50% off retail. 

13-inch Staub Double Handle Fry Pan

5-quart Staub Tall Cocotte

Baking Dishes:

The best options are Pyrex (I have 8 x 8 and 13 x 9 pans) and stainless steel (I have 8-inch cake pans.) I use this Pyrex for a loaf pan.   I have a lot of glazed ceramic pieces and I need to start contacting the manufacturers to check for the presence of lead in the glazes. I line my muffin tin with unbleached parchment liners.  If you have a special nonstick bundt pan that you use once a year, no big deal.  It’s what you do everyday that matters!

Here’s a link to the Staub baking dish with glass porcelain finish above with the baked feta (Quicker Than Quick recipe.)

WHAT I AVOID:

Aluminum – I don’t own a single piece of cookware lined on the interior with aluminum, nor do I heat food in direct contact with aluminum foil.  Aluminum is a highly reactive metal which at the least can impart an unpleasant taste in your food.  But worse is that when heated, aluminum, which is toxic to our bodies, can leach into our food and then enter our bloodstream.  Cooking with acidic foods, such as lemon, tomatoes or vinegar, can cause aluminum to leach even more quickly.  If aluminum is anodized, it is dipped into a hot acid bath to seal the aluminum and it should not leach.  However, if you use metal cooking utensils and scratch the surface of the pan, I think you’re taking a risk.  Cookware that has an aluminum CORE is fine.

That said, I do use aluminum baking sheets, but I line them with parchment paper, unless I am broiling (paper will catch on fire.)

 

Non-stick – Notice I didn’t come right out and say Teflon.  This is because Teflon is just a brand name trademarked by Dupont and contains dangerous chemicals called PTFE and PFOA.   You should watch the movie “Dark Waters” to learn more.  Most non-stick finishes are basically plastics bonded to an aluminum pan and contain toxic chemicals even if they claim it’s Teflon-free.  Some of these chemicals in Teflon have been banned from use.  There used to be a class of chemicals used in non-stick pans called C8.  BUT these have been replaced with just as bad, C6 chemicals.  Once these surfaces chip and scratch, toxins can be released into your food.  In addition, Teflon and Teflon-like pans are not meant to be used over high heat since they release gases into your kitchen poisonous enough to kill your pet parakeet.   To cook your morning eggs without sticking, heat your skillet, then add the fat to the warmed skillet.  When the fat is heated, add your eggs and they won’t stick.  Watch my YouTube video to see how it’s done.

JURY’S STILL OUT:

Ceramic and Titanium-Coated Non-stick – There are new types of non-stick pans that are PFTE and PFOA-free, and instead use a ceramic or titanium coating.  The surface is supposed to be durable and non-reactive.  There are different brands using this new technology such as Cuisinart, Bialetti , Caraway, and Greenpan. I have no use for non-stick pans, ceramic or otherwise. But I know people want to use them, so ceramic seems to be the cleanest option even if it’s low quality and you’ll have to replace them in a few years. They are not heavy duty and they do scratch easily, so only use silicone or wood to saute. A ceramic skillet would be good for something sticky like caramelizing bananas or making crepes or cheesy eggs.  I have heard from people that they want to use nonstick pans because the clean up is easier.  NOT WORTH COMPROMISING YOUR HEALTH, sorry.  Or they want to use less fat.  Good fat is not the enemy.  I would look elsewhere in my diet and cut other foods out before I would cut out fat and use dangerous pans.  Just my opinion, but remember – toxins have a cumulative effect in the body.  

EXCEPTION:  Xtrema is a line of 100% ceramic cookware.  It is not the same ceramic that is used to coat this other class of cookware mentioned above.  Xtrema is, from what I can tell, quite safe.  But it is 100% ceramic, so it can break and chip if you’re not careful.  It’s not 100% nonstick.  It’s a little pricey, too.  I have not used it, so I cannot comment.

Caraway Ceramic-Coated Cookware

Please let me know if you have purchased any of these new, supposedly safer, non-stick pots and pans and which brand.  What has your experience been?  What are your favorite pieces of cookware in your kitchen?

 

You can shop my favorite cookware items by clicking on the images below.  Some of the links in this blogpost are affiliate links.  Thank you for supporting the maintenance of this website!

 

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Comments

48 Comments

  1. I would like to replace my baking sheets which I use almost nightly to roast vegetables. So is aluminum my only option and is there a brand you would recommend? Also I would love a recommendation for a wok.

  2. This is all so helpful as I am trying to purchase new pans. Looking to get a healthy non-stick pan for eggs…have you heard of Caraway? Trying to choose between Xtrema and Caraway and having a tough time deciding.

    • Hi Kathi! Great timing for your comment. Whereas I have never tried Xtrema, I have heard that it’s not super nonstick. I do, however, have some Caraway pans and I love them. I have never found a ceramic-coated nonstick cookware line that I thought was high quality and cooked evenly. Caraway is great! The true test will be to see how well they hold up after several years of use. I don’t use them as often as my other pans and I don’t use them over high heat. They have a promotion right now until the end of the day for up to 20% off using this link: https://caraway.go2cloud.org/SH70

      • Oh so happy to have your quick response…may now have to go buy myself an early Christmas present! Thanks, Pamela!

  3. Love the cookware education.
    Are you familiar with the Scanpro double handle skillet? There’s one that looks similar to your Staub .

    • Actually it’s called SCANPAN not Scanpro! oops

    • I haven’t tried the newer scanpans. The older ones contained chemicals I try to avoid. I just don’t know how well these new ceramic pots and pans hold up over time. They’re generally not very high quality.

  4. Hi Pamela, I’m on an eternal hunt for an electric griddle for pancakes – similar to the one my mom always used – but without the harmful chemicals. I have the super heavy lodge grill plan but heat isn’t distributed evenly on our gas stove so I always use the regular cast iron skillet which doesn’t make pancakes fast enough for my 2 kids. lol. I don’t believe a safe, electric option exists but thought it was worth asking. Thanks, as always!

    • I’ll keep my eyes open for you!

  5. What are the difference size baking sheets that you use? Is there a brand that you recommend?

    • I use 3/4 sheet pans, 1/2 sheet pans, and 1/4 sheet pans. I have many brands. Norpro is a good one that is widely available.

  6. This post has been so helpful as a resource for replacing a few pots and pans that we had that really needed to go… made some changes to All-Clad and Staub and couldn’t be happier!

    Do you have any recommendations for food storage pieces? I’ve found the lids, etc. of some brands to sometimes break quite easily.

    Thank you!

    • Oops – I meant to specify glass food storage pieces. Thank you!

      • Hi Valerie, I personally use and like Glasslock, Pyrex, and Frigoverre, but there are others as well!

        • Great! I’ll check out those as options.

  7. Thank you so much for this! Great info. I do own the “Greenpan” set. I am not happy at all since they do scratch easily (ok, I do share them with my husband!!!) and also don’t look nice overtime. It is time for a change. That said, the All-Clad seems awesome, but is a bit much for my budget. I found a good article about the Tramontina 18/10 (https://www.seriouseats.com/2010/08/equipment-the-all-clad-vs-tramontina-skillet.html). Have you ever tried them?

    • I would only recommend the Tri-ply pieces of Tramontina. But that is a decent option for a good price.

  8. Great post full of such helpful advice, Pamela – thank you! And…how wonderful that 2 of the Staub pieces you recommend are currently on sale at SLT! (the 10″ skillet and 5.5 Qt cocotte)
    When looking at the All-Clad SS fry pans I came across the All-Clad Copper Core line fry pans and was curious if you have any insight into differences/similarities between the two?
    Thanks!

    • How fortuitous! I have the All-Clad Copper Core line and I used to have an older set of ALl-Clad stainless steel that I handed down to my older daughter. I love the copper core line, but I loved my old set. Both have a nice heavy bottom and heat very evenly.

      • Sounds like I can’t go wrong either way then! Thank you for the great advice. Sharing this post with my mom, who is in the process of buying some new equipment, also! 🙂

  9. Thank you so much for all your wisdom these many, many weeks. You are certainly helping us all “up” our game!

    • My pleasure!

  10. Pamela,
    This post on safe cookware is so helpful!
    I am seeing my kitchen in a whole new light.
    Thank you for sharing all your amazing knowledge.

    • Glad I can help. 🙂

  11. Great info! I am constantly telling friends & family to get rid of any non-stick pans, especially ones that are scratched, and potentially leeching chemicals into their food.

    • Keep telling them!

  12. Thank you Pamlea for all of your IG videos, education and insight on food!

    Can you tell me if the Cusinart brand for pots and pans is bad? It says its the core is aluminum?

    • Aluminum core is what almost all stainless has. No bad, no, because food doesn’t touch it. I have used the Cuisinart stainless steel before and it doesn’t hold a candle to All-Clad. Bottoms are not heavy duty and thick like All-Clad and didn’t cook the food as well.

  13. Very informative and honest. What would you recommend for a wok? Some of the heavy cookware (cast-iron especially) is very diffficult for those of us with arthritis, to lift and hold onto.

    • You could use a really large stainless steel skillet or something like this stainless wok

  14. Thank you and miss you! xoxo

    • I know!! Miss you too!!!

  15. Pamela, you are such a gift to all who cook and those that do not! Your enthusiasm and patience are unmatched and we (I’m sure I speak for all your peeps) have really “upped” our cooking game during these quarantine times..Thank you, thank you! And for this list, wow, we all appreciate the time it took to not only teach it, but write it down for us! BONUS.

    • Loren, you are as lovely as can be. I am rooting for you and all my peeps! xx

  16. You are so kind and amazing-So informative!
    Want to spread the word…for everyone’s health and safety. At your convenience, if there is such a thing, can u send link for adorable staub that you cooked your baked feta recipe in. (Another amazing recipe!)
    Greatly appreciate all you do

    • My pleasure, Marcy! I just added the link to that baking dish right under the photo. It is porcelain, not cast iron. But it is clean 🙂

  17. Thank you for sharing! What do you think of copper skillets? And what do you use for a loaf pan and casserole dishes?

    • copper is fine, but I can’t deal with the upkeep to keep it looking pretty. I linked the Pyrex loaf pan for you in the baking dishes section. I have a combo of Pyrex for every day and if I have guests, I have white porcelain casserole dishes.

  18. Great article…thank you for breaking it down!

  19. If you cook with no oil can you still use stainless steel pans? I thought food would stick. I am assuming you do not recommend scan pans but I admit, i do love them

    • No, you need oil. But oil/fat helps you absorb the fat soluble vitamins in your food and it is an essential nutrient. I don’t advocate cooking without any fat. If you do a water or broth saute, you can use stainless steel. The older Scanpans are not good. The new ones are ceramic coated and I am on the fence about those. Once they scratch or flake, they need to be replaced.

  20. Thanks Pamela for writing this all down ! My new go to Cookware Bible !! My notes from class where not as thorough! Such great info !!

    • I understand! Thanks, Lisa!

  21. So helpful! Thank you!

    • You are welcome!


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I come from a large Italian-American family with 28 first cousins (on one side of the family!) where sit-down holiday dinners for 85 people are the norm (how, you might ask – organization! But more on that later …).

Some of my fondest memories are of simple family gatherings, both large and small, with long tables of bowls and platters piled high, the laughter of my cousins echoing and the comfort of tradition warming my soul.

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