Given the current state of the world, many of us are forgoing restaurants and cooking up most meals in our own kitchens—so there has never been a better time to invest in sound cookware! Aside from toxicity and sustainability, there is a lot to consider when shopping for pots and pans: How often you will be using them, what kinds of foods you will be cooking, and how you prefer to clean and maintain your cookware will all factor into which kind is right for you. There are many different types to choose from and each has its own unique set of pros and cons, but these high-performance non-toxic options are the ones I trust most! Here are some of my top brands and safest pieces.
Safe Cookware Options
Stainless Steel Cookware
Although pricey, stainless steel is a healthy choice that can last for decades. With it, you can make soups, steam veggies, and cook legumes and grains. Stainless steel is not great for frying or sautéing because it can be very sticky so you would have to add a lot of water or some oil to keep your food from sticking. If you plan to cook acidic foods such as tomatoes, look for nickel-free options because acids will increase the amount of nickel that leaches into your food. To determine whether a pan is nickel-free, look for the “18/0” label. The “18” signifies the amount of chromium and the second number refers to the amount of nickel. Some good options include:
- HOMI CHEF Ecological Stainless Steel Cookware (Nickel-free)
- Cuisinart MCP-12N Multiclad Pro Stainless Steel Cookware Set (18/10)
- Cook N Home 10-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set (18/10)
- Cooks Standard 12-Inch/30cm Classic Stainless Steel Everyday Chef’s Stir Fry Pan (18/10)
- Proclamation Goods The Proclamation Duo (Nickel content not listed)
Cast iron is quite durable and heats food evenly, but its downsides are that it is heavy to lift, is high maintenance, and tends to be expensive—and it may not be totally safe for constant use because some iron can seep into your food which can be toxic in high doses. Although you have to season your cast-iron cookware with a coating of oil to make it less sticky and prevent it from rusting, cast-iron pans are versatile and can sear fillets, sauté veggies, and fry burgers and potatoes. Note: unless well-seasoned with a coating of oil, acidic foods such as tomatoes will enable higher contents of iron to leach into your food. Here is a good option:
- Lodge 13.25 Pre Seasoned Inch Cast Iron Skillet
Enamel-Coated Cast Iron Cookware
The enamel coating is made from powdered glass (porcelain) making for a dishwasher-safe and rust-proof option that is naturally non-stick—except it will not leach chemicals or iron into your food as a lot of non-stick cookware does. I would suggest that you avoid buying enamel-coated cast iron pants that are specifically labeled “non-stick” because these coatings may be toxic. High-quality enamel-coated pots and pans are great for roasting and braising and making stews and sauces, and they can last a long time. However, you may need to replace them every few years because the enamel coating can wear off. Some good options include:
- Essenso Enameled Cast Iron Skillet Frying Saute Fry Pan, Enamel – Ceramic Coated, 11″
- Le Creuset Classic Stainless Steel Sauté Pan
Purely ceramic cookware does not contain toxic coatings so baking and cooking with it is safe. It is also scratch-resistant and cooks food evenly. Just make sure, with ceramic coated cookware, that you look for “PFA-free,” PFOA-free,” and “lead- and cadmium-free” certifications. Here are some good options:
- Xtrema Pure Ceramic Cookware
- Caraway Sauté Pan
- Greenpan Cookware – products from this brand have a non-stick coating called Thermolon™ which is derived from sand and is free from PFAs and PFOA, chemicals that make standard non-toxic cookware dangerous.
Titanium is often used in surgical tools because it doesn’t negatively affect the human body. It makes for a lighter weight, more affordable cookware option that is durable, and does not leach chemicals into our food. However, it takes a relatively long time heat up compared to other options and it does not always heat food evenly. When done right, titanium cookware is tasteless, odorless, non-toxic, and dishwasher safe. Pure titanium cookware is lightweight, environmentally friendly, hypoallergenic, and corrosion-resistant. Here are some good options:
- Keith 2-Piece Titanium Pot and Pan Cook Set Ti6017
Glass doesn’t release chemicals into food and it is usually inexpensive and microwave- and dishwasher-safe, but it does not work with gas stoves, only electric, and you cannot place hot glass cookware on a cold surface. It is also on the heavier side and is more fragile. Glass can be a great and convenient non-toxic option, but you must make sure that it is lead-free. Here are some good options:
- Pyrex Baking Pan
- Visions 5L Round Dutch Oven
- Visions Glass Cookware
Like cast iron, carbon steel also needs to be seasoned with a coat of oil and does not work well with acidic foods like tomatoes. But on the plus side, it is lighter weight and can withstand high heat. Carbon steel can also develop a brownish film which can leach into your food and is said to affect the taste of your food. Additionally, it can leach iron into food, which in most cases is not something you want.
- Lodge 12 Inch Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet
- Craft Wok Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Cookware
Why Non-Stick Cookware is a No-No
As it turns out, non-stick cookware may not be as convenient as we once thought. Teflon and other non-stick brands are among the most problematic because the very chemicals (PTFE, PTOA, PFOA, and other polytetrafluoroethylenes) that prevent food from sticking to them can get into your food and ultimately pose a threat to your health including with cancer, birth defects, kidney damage, developmental brain damage in children, thyroid disease, hormonal disruption, immunological effects, and heart disease.
And do not be fooled by “green” non-stick cookware. Even if it’s not made by Teflon, any non-stick pan will likely contain Perfluorinated Substances (PFASs), one of the most hazardous (and legal!) chemical groups known to man in terms of toxicity.
Why You Should Aim to Avoid Aluminum Cookware
Aluminum cookware may not be totally safe because the metal can leach into your food, possibly leading to diseases of the liver, heart, bones, and brain, including Alzheimer’s.
Steer Clear of Copper Cookware
Copper cookware, just like non-stick and aluminum, can also be toxic if it is not lined with stainless steel or if it only has a thin layer and the coating gets scratched because it can leach into your food and be ingested at harmful amounts which can lead to neurodegenerative disease.
Helpful Hints When Shopping for the Right Cookware Set
Stainless steel is a solid option for those who do not plan to cook a lot of acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, in which case you will want to make sure you are using nickel-free stainless steel. For more freedom regarding ingredients, ceramic options such as Extrema, a well-seasoned cast iron pan, or lead-free glass cookware are your safest bet. If you are using a cast-iron set, make sure it is well-oiled and that all the rust has been removed. If using clay and earthen cookware, make sure it is free from lead and cadmium.
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