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.
Stainless Steel – Can 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:
- 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 Iron – Has 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.
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.
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.
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?
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