A very important element in cooking is the equipment you use. The quality of your cookware, as well as knowing which skillet to choose for the job are both factors which will affect your food for better or for worse. If you have ever sautéed with a thin-bottomed pan, you know what I mean.
But something else to consider is the material from which your pots and pans are made. 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 – my first choice for sauté pans, saucepans and stockpots. 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, it’s not necessary to buy the most expensive stainless out there. There are plenty of good quality, affordable lines available.
Cast Iron – 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. It has built up a fantastic natural nonstick finish and is my go-to pan to cook perfect eggs every time. The downside is that cast iron can be heavy for some people, but the upside is that it is very reasonably priced. In addition to a 10-inch skillet, I have a griddle by Lodge and grill pans by Staub. The key with new cast iron is to follow the manufacturers instructions to “season” the pan before using to form a protective seal. I have also found that I burn food less easily with cast iron than I do with other cookware. Bonus!
Enameled Cast Iron – Among my favorite pieces of cookware are my beautiful enameled cast iron Dutch ovens and saucepans by Le Creuset. Heavy, yes. Durable and dependable, absolutely. Le Creuset can be costly, but it will last forever. I have pieces that I have used almost daily for 15 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 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.
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 a 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.
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 a dangerous chemical called PFTE. Most non-stick finishes are basically plastics bonded to an aluminum pan and contain PFTE even if they claim it’s Teflon-free. 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.
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 from Cuisinart to Bialetti to Xtrema.
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?