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When choosing cookware for your home it is important to know the risks of each type of cookware and decide which is the safest cookware for you.
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.
When it comes to choosing the best cookware these days, we’re spoiled for options! There are countless options, from classic cast iron to modern silicone cookware. With so many options available, we can afford to be pickier when choosing cookware. But, there are concerns about the safety of cookware, especially around non-stick coatings. Learn what are the safest cooking pans and best non toxic cookware.
Why Cook at Home?
Cooking at home is one of the best things you can do for your health. You will save money, have more control over the quality of your ingredients, and likely eat better when you are in charge of your own meals. Cooking at home is a lot easier when you meal prep and plan out what you’re going to make for the week. See more in my article about how to eat clean.
But, of course, to cook at home you need to have the right equipment. A well-stocked kitchen will have a healthy pantry, the basics like an oven, stovetop, and refrigerator, and then a variety of accessories like knives, cutting boards, and other helpful appliances.
Safest & Healthiest Cookware Options
1. Ceramic Cookware
Ceramic cookware is clay cookware that’s kiln-baked to high heat, rendering the quartz sand surface effectively non-stick. It’s a popular choice but here are some pros and cons to help you decide if it’s the best choice for your kitchen.
Pros of ceramic cookware:
100% ceramic cookware (not ceramic nonstick, which falls under the non-stick category) is naturally nonstick and does not leach or emit potentially harmful fumes. So, ceramic cookware is among the best non toxic cookware options.
Eco-friendly and Long-lasting
100% ceramic cookware is not manufactured with chemicals and is made of durable, inorganic materials. It’s an eco-friendly choice that will last for decades if maintained properly.
Cons of ceramic cookware:
Not Completely Non-stick
It’s hard to compete with synthetic non-stick coatings, especially if you’re accustomed to eggs sliding right out of your pan with no residue at all. While 100% ceramic cookware is effectively non-stick, it’s still advisable to use a little bit of oil when cooking.
It’s important to trust the sourcing of your ceramic cookware. The labels “100% ceramic” and “non-stick ceramic” or “ceramic-coated” are not FDA regulated, so be sure you’re getting authentic 100% ceramic rather than ceramic-coated metal or nonstick ceramic. A set from a reputable brand like Xtrema will be an investment of over $300.
2. Aluminum Cookware
Aluminum cookware is just that–pots and pans made from aluminum! They can also be nonstick coated or anodized, meaning that the pan won’t react with acidic foods. Here are some pros and cons on aluminum cookware.
Pros of aluminum cookware:
Conducts Heat Well
Aluminum is a great heat conductor, which means that your pan will heat up quickly and cook food evenly.
Aluminum cookware is a popular option because it’s relatively inexpensive. Anodized aluminum will set you back only about $100 for a complete set, so aluminum is still one of the more affordable options out there.
Cons of aluminum:
Uncoated and non-anodized aluminum cookware can leach heavy metals such as aluminum and lead into food during the cooking process. Acidic foods in particular increase leaching. The amount of leaching has been found to be minimal and well under the tolerable level, but it is still a contribution to your heavy metal intake.
Aluminum cookware, especially non-anodized, isn’t as durable as options like cast-iron or ceramic. Watch for scratching and corrosion with this type of cookware.
Not Non stick
Aluminum cookware is pretty low-stick, but not non-stick. You’ll need to coat the surface of your pan with oil to prevent sticking.
3. Stainless Steel Cookware
Stainless steel pans are popular and have been in kitchens for decades. These are made from a metal alloy that also contains percentages of nickel and chromium or other metals. Here are some pros and cons to help you decide if stainless steel should be your cookware of choice, especially as you consider what is the safest cookware.
Pros of stainless steel:
Stainless steel is pretty resistant to scratches, dings, and corrosion. When properly cared for, it will last you years!
You’ll still need to use a little bit of oil, but high-quality stainless steel cleans easily.
Cons of stainless steel:
High-quality stainless steel cookware is an investment that can reach almost $1k. You can choose mid-range sets for a few hundred dollars, and also go for more affordable options if you’re on a budget–just keep in mind that you get what you pay for, and high-quality stainless steel will be safer and more durable.
Similar to aluminum cookware, stainless steel cookware poses a risk of leaching. While stainless steel isn’t treated with a chemical coating, it is comprised of an alloy containing nickel and chromium. Nickel isn’t necessary for the body, while chromium is only needed in trace amounts from food. When you’re cooking acidic foods such as tomato sauce, leaching can be a concern.
4. Non stick Cookware
Nonstick cookware is any form of cookware coated with a non-stick surface, rendering it slippery and mess-free. Commonly, non-stick cookware is coated with PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene, often referred to as Teflon) or silicon. PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which was introduced in food manufacturing in the 1940s, is no longer used in non-stick cookware due to health concerns; however, there has not been official evidence proving PFOA as a carcinogen. Here’s some pros and cons of non-stick cookware so you can make the best decision for yourself.
Pros of non stick cookware:
Mess-free and Easy Maintenance
Non-stick cookware is coated with silicon or PTFE. The non-stick finish allows for easy clean-up and quicker cooking. All you need to do even after cooking a messier meal is rinse with water or wipe out with a damp cloth.
Non-stick cookware is a pretty affordable option. I have a set from Analon that I really like. You can find a range of brands from less expensive to more expensive, and it’s generally available at any large store.
Cons of non stick cookware:
Not Suitable for High Temperatures
The coating on some non stick cookware can emit toxic fumes if heated past 450-500 degrees; it may be a surprise that a frying pan can easily reach or surpass that temperature on the stovetop. There’s also some concern that PTFE coatings emit toxic fumes even at normal temperatures. If heated to the point of degradation, PTFE can cause flu-like symptoms.
Leaching and Fumes
PFOA and PTFE are suspected of being linked to health problems (such as breast cancer.) There is no direct evidence that PFOA, PTFE, or silicon coatings are carcinogenic, however.
Even high-quality non stick cookware may start to stick eventually. The coating isn’t as durable as the surface of regular cookware, so scratches are common and the coating may become less effective over time, especially if heated to temperatures surpassing 350 degrees. Even though some brands claim to be dishwasher-safe, regularly putting this cookware in the dishwasher can damage the coating.
5. Cast Iron
Cast iron cookware has been around for centuries. This cookware is cast as a single piece of metal and then seasoned (through a process of oiling and heating) to protect the bare cast iron and give it a low-stick coating. In addition, some cast iron cookware is enameled, giving it a nearly non-stick finish and more aesthetically-pleasing appearance. Here are some pros and cons of cast iron in your kitchen.
Pros of cast iron:
Holds Heat Well
Cast iron is unique in its heating abilities. It’s a solid, heavy piece that requires pre-heating to best conduct heat, especially to incredibly high temperatures. Meat sears well and pan-fried food turns out crispy. If your cast iron is pre-heated properly, you can even take it off the stove and it will retain enough heat to cook or warm food.
Can Be Used in the Oven
Cast iron is formed as a single piece of metal, so you can easily transfer from the stovetop into the oven. This technique is often used for cooking meats or finishing dishes.
Affordable and Durable
Bare cast iron (such as Lodge) is affordable, often costing less than $30 for a large skillet. Enameled cast iron (such as Le Creuset) is pricier, but just as durable. Cast iron of all types is notorious for lasting generations; cast iron skillets from the 19th century are still used in many households today.
Properly seasoned and maintained cast iron cookware is virtually non-stick and easy to clean.
Cons of cast iron:
Cast iron cookware will require more of a time investment than other options. You’ll need to make sure it’s seasoned and stored properly, and follow proper cleaning procedures if the seasoning fails to make it nonstick enough.
Not Great for All Types of Cooking
It’s generally advisable to avoid cooking acidic foods in cast iron so as to avoid harming the seasoning. In addition, you may want to avoid cooking delicate food like fish or crepes in cast iron.
Take care when choosing what to cook in cast iron–savory dishes may linger and impart a taste to sweet foods and some may notice a distinct metallic taste with foods such as fish or eggs.
May Leach Heavy Metals
Cast iron is a great choice if you wish to avoid chemically-treated cookware, but it presents its own risk of leaching iron into food. This iron is not easily assimilated in the body and may contribute to iron overload for some individuals. You can help avoid this by not cooking acidic foods in your cast iron cookware.
Copper cookware has been around as long as, or longer than, cast iron cookware. Made from copper, this cookware is often lined with tin. It’s a beautiful option for cookware that many chefs favor. Here are some pros and cons to see if copper cookware is right for you.
Pros of copper cookware:
Conducts Heat Well
Copper is notoriously nimble with heat. It conducts heat quickly and also loses heat quickly, which is a reason many chefs prefer it. You can easily control the cooking temperature with copper.
Copper cookware is lined with tin, giving it a nearly non-stick surface.
The tin lining won’t react with acidic foods, so it’s great to have on hand for sauces and tomato dishes!
Cons of copper cookware:
Copper cookware is a serious investment, with the cost of a set soaring into the thousands. There aren’t many low- or mid-range options, but you can purchase individual pieces. Home chefs who want a piece of copper cookware can purchase just one for a few hundred dollars or less.
Doesn’t Retain Heat
Though some appreciate the easy temperature regulation, keep in mind that your copper cookware will rapidly cool down if taken off the heat. Make sure to time your cooking correctly so that food cooked in your copper cookware is plated last.
There are so many choices available for cookware now. Whether you choose a matching set or a hodgepodge of different types, consider what you cook most often and choose your cookware based on that.
All of the items on this list fall into the category of non toxic cookware, but there are pros and cons of each option. Those who cook acidic dishes such as tomato sauces most often may want to choose ceramic or copper. Those who cook at high temperatures may go for cast iron, while those who want mess-free clean up may choose nonstick options.
Ultimately, my recommendation is to choose which works best for your budget, but know the pros and cons of each option and then decide what works best for you.