Our Top Picks for the Safest Cookware
Throughout the years, our team has tried out some of the latest and the greatest non-toxic cookware options on the market. Some live up to the hype, some fall flat, and at the end of the day, everyone wants to know: “what is the safest cookware to have in my kitchen?” We’re sharing everything you need to know about the safest cookware available today, as well as sharing the top picks that we’ve been testing and trying just for you in this review!
Non Toxic Cookware Guide
If you’re hanging out here with me, I have a feeling that you like to put a lot of thought into what goes into your kitchen. You want to fill your cabinets and refrigerator with food that’s well-rounded, nourishing, and safe for you and your family. You want to fill your table with balanced meals that are delicious and healthy at the same time. And you want to have plenty of yummy options available for when you want to indulge, too.
I totally get it. We want to have it all!
“Having it all” isn’t about eating clean all the time. In fact, I’d argue that this kind of all or nothing mentality will just stress you out and backfire in the end. The way I see it, a clean lifestyle is about looking for opportunities to make safe, balanced choices for yourself and your loved ones whenever possible. This goes beyond food!
Choosing safer cookware is one more way you can pursue a cleaner lifestyle. I’ve started integrating safer options into my own cookware collection and have been really happy with the results. I’m excited to share with you what I’ve learned about the world of cookware and how it might impact our health!
Here is Why Safe Cookware Matters
OK, let’s think about this for a second. Remember how we talked about all of the thought you put into the food you stock in your kitchen? Why would you prepare those foods in cookware that’s not engineered with your health in mind?
Right. When you really break it down that way, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Many mainstream cookware products are made with less-than-safe materials. The nutritional value of the meals you prepare — no matter how healthy or fantastic they are! — can suffer when pots and pans leach harmful chemicals and heavy metals into them. And that’s why your choice of cookware has a role to play in your balanced lifestyle.
Let’s break this down. My friends at Branch Basics have taught me so much about all of this!
Here are a few things to avoid in cookware to maximize safety:
- Perfluorinated Substances (PFAs): This is where things get really tricky. Many cookware brands advertise their products as “green,” which doesn’t necessarily make them safe. As a matter of fact, plenty of the so-called “green” cookware brands contain PFAs, which is a class of organic chemicals that happens to be one of the most hazardous, legal chemical groups ever created. PFAs have been linked to many health consequences, including cancer, brain damage, and hormone disruption. These chemicals become even more dangerous when exposed to heat, which makes them especially problematic in the kitchen! Non-stick “green” cookware is likely to contain these chemicals, so you may want to consider contacting the manufacturer before you use these products yourself.
- Anything branded “non-stick:” Retweet above! The phrase “non-stick” really should be a red flag in your cookware collection. If you’re attached to those items, call the manufacturer for more specific information about how they’re made ASAP.
- Silicone: Technically, silicone baking pans and mats are neutral, but they’re not the best, healthiest option. Some brands (especially the cheaper ones) use fillers that may release toxic fumes. Putting parchment paper on safe cookware is a great alternative to silicone.
- Aluminum: Stainless steel is a safer alternative to aluminum, which can be dangerous if it leaches into your food.
- Lead or cadmium: We’re big fans of many glass, clay, and earthen cookware lines (more on that below!), but it’s not all created equal. Some of these brands manufacture their products with lead or cadmium, both of which are unsafe. If you have older glass, clay, or earthen pots or pans in your kitchen, it might be worth investigating.
What to Look for in Safer Cookware
Generally speaking, here are a few things to look for in terms of safer alternatives:
I’ll get into my favorite specific products in a second, but first, let’s talk bigger picture. These materials are great non-toxic alternatives to the items I mentioned above…
- Stainless steel: Once you’ve kissed your aluminum cookware goodbye, it’s time to bring in the stainless steel. Nickel-free stainless steel is ideal, since nickel can leach into more acidic foods. Look for stainless steel cookware with the number 18/0 printed on it. This tells you that you’re dealing with a heavy duty, nickel-free product that’s perfect for non-toxic pan roasting, stir frying, and sauteing.
- Cast iron: Cast iron cookware is considered classic for a good reason. It’s great for preparing meats, veggies, burgers, potatoes, and, well, pretty much everything else. When you take good care of your cast iron pans, they can work even harder for you! I share more about how to do this later on in this post.
- Glass: As long as it’s not manufactured with lead, glass cookware is a nice option.
- Enameled cast iron or steel: These materials work well for roasting, braising, stewing, and sauces. Stay away from anything marketed as “non-stick” enameled cast iron. They may be made with PFAs.
Thanks again to my friends at Branch Basics for helping me get a handle on these rules of thumb!
Why Variety Matters When it Comes to Non-Toxic Cookware
As I’ve learned more and more about safer products, I’ve made an effort to stock an assortment of pots, pans, and other cookware in my own kitchen. After all, variety is the spice of life.
One thing you might find as you begin to swap out some of your older cookware for cleaner options is that each item is better suited for preparing a certain category of foods. Cookware made with less safe ingredients tends to be a bit more of a jack of all trades. Figuring out what pieces of safer cookware work best for different types of cooking may be a bit of a process, but I’m here to help!
Once you get a handle on what pieces to use when, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to make the switch. Trust me: it really does feel good knowing that you’re choosing safer cookware and preventing any dangerous chemicals leaching into your food.
Our Safest Cookware Recommendations
Having done the legwork to figure out the best assortment of safe cookware to have around the house, I’m ready to share my favorites with you! My team and I have found that there are certain brands and products that work best for everyday, high-heat cooking and other brands and products that work better for everyday, lower-heat cooking. In my experience, collecting a variety of items from these brands will ensure that you have what you need to make all of your go-to recipes in the kitchen… and safely!
Our favorites for everyday high-heat cooking…
(Generally speaking, I do not use ceramic cookware when cooking with higher heat. Think searing salmon, making a stir-fry, etc.)
- All-Clad: All-Clad makes really great stainless steel cookware. They’re pricier, but they last. I love having a small and large pot, and a few skillets in various sizes.
- Le Creuset: These enameled cast iron products come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and look great in your kitchen. Just be sure that the color you choose has been third-party tested for lead and cadmium! My favorite is this skillet and dutch ovens.
- Staub: This is my other go-to brand for all things enameled cast iron. I love their dutch ovens and their grill pan!
- Lodge: Classic cast iron. I recommend one good cast iron skillet in your collection. You’ll want to season your cast-iron pan for best use for years to come: Wash your skillet well in hot soapy water and dry completely. Brush a thin layer of melted oil inside your skillet. Place upside down on a middle oven rack at 375°, and place a baking sheet or foil on a lower rack to catch any oil drips! Bake 1 hour; let cool in the oven.
Our favorite non-stick options for everyday lower-heat cooking…
(I use these everyday for things like pancakes, eggs, etc.)
- Caraway: All-around, Caraway is a fantastic brand. Everything is made with high quality, ceramic-coated aluminum. There’s no lead, cadmium, or other toxic materials.
- Pros: Oven safe, heavy, beautiful, great non-stick, and retains heat REALLY well.
- Cons: Not to be used for high-heat cooking, or really cooking nearly any meat.
- Our Place: I’m a big fan of the Always Pan from this brand, in particular. It’s designed to replace eight pieces of traditional cookware — a fry pan, a saute pan, a steamer, a skillet, a saucier, a saucepan, a non-stick pan, a spatula, and a spoon rest. It can do it all! The coating is made without toxic materials, including PFAs.
- Pros: Steamer insert is amazing, beautiful, and great non-stick.
- Cons: Only one size, not oven-safe, and not for high-heat cooking.
- Greenpan: This company manufactures a variety of cookware options, all of which use a ceramic coating called Thermolon. Everything is made with natural materials and does not release toxic fumes, even at a high heat. This is by far the least expensive option of the bunch. But with that inexpensive cost, comes a price. These pans seems to go through wear and tear a lot quicker.
- Pros: Inexpensive.
- Cons: Doesn’t really seem to last more than a year, even when taken care of well and the handle can smell like it’s burning if too high of heat.
How to Take Care of Ceramic Non-Toxic Cookware
If you’ve never cooked with ceramic cookware, it may be helpful to have a few rules of thumb so you’re ready to go when you start adding non-toxic pots and pans to your collection.
Before we give you our recommendations, our first piece of advice is to read the instructions included with your cookware. The manufacturers will usually have the best advice for how to specifically take care of each type of cookware.
Tips for Cooking with Ceramic Cookware:
- Give your ceramic pan a good wash before using it.
- Don’t use cooking oil sprays or virgin olive oil on ceramic.
- When preparing food in ceramic cookware, do not use metallic utensils. This can cause scratches on the surface of the pots or pans. Use silicone-coated utensils.
- Don’t use ceramic to cook food at high temperatures! (This is why all of the ceramic brands are in my “lower-heat cooking” category above.) Use low to medium heat when working with ceramic.
- Do not add frozen foods directly to ceramic cookware. Give it time to fully thaw to room temperature first.
- Never leave a ceramic pan empty on the burner.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that you will probably have to replace some of these safe cookware options more frequently than you would more traditional cookware. Here’s how I feel about it: if I can use the Always Pan or Greenpan on a daily basis to safely make eggs or pancakes, for example, I’m happy to invest in replacements every few years. I think that having a non-toxic option is worth it!
While these non-toxic cookware alternatives will probably never outlast your old school options (just being honest here!), you can extend their shelf life by taking good care of them. That’s where maintenance comes in.
Tips for Maintaining Ceramic Cookware:
In addition to the tips I offered above about how to cook with ceramic, I have a few other thoughts on how to clean and care for it. If you apply all of these recommendations, you’ll maximize the years you get out of these products.
- Do not wash ceramic with harsh chemicals! Scouring powders, nylon scrubbing pads, and steel wool will be too rough on the material. If you’re having trouble removing stains or burnt food, I recommend soaking the pan in warm water and then using a gentler cleaner.
- Do not put your safer cookware in the dishwasher. Many ceramic pans are not dishwasher-safe. The dishwasher could damage the coating or scratch their surface.
- Keep cast-iron cookware seasoned. I described the seasoning process you should use the first time you use a new pot or pan above, but you should repeat the same process twice a year.
I know it’s not possible to swap out all of your current cookware with safer alternatives immediately. It’s okay to take your time! Here are some things you can do in the meantime to keep your kitchen and the products you use as safe as possible. Follow these to minimize your exposure to toxic materials until you’re ready for replacements…
- Throw away damaged pots and pans. Cookware that is chipped or damaged can more easily leach chemicals into your food.
- Avoid metal utensils when cooking. In the interest of minimizing chips and scratches to the cookware you already have, avoid using metal utensils when working with them. It’s also best to store this cookware carefully so that it doesn’t get extra scratches.
- Heat to lower temperatures. Heating cookware to 450* F and above can cause coatings to break down so that those toxic materials can find their way into the food you make.
- Use your exhaust fan. Turning that exhaust fan on while cooking with products made with toxic non-stick coatings will help ensure that the air circulates properly out of your home.
Overall pick/review for safer non-stick pans:
- We have stopped using our GreenPans since we got both the Caraway and Always Pan. I used wanted something a little more durable for how often we use them. I really love having them both. Mike tends to gravitate towards the Always pan for everyday eggs and whatnot, and I tend to gravitate towards the Caraway pan. I use the steamer insert with the Always Pan almost daily for cooking for Skylar.
Like the many other clean, safe alternatives I share in this space, safer cookware offers you one more opportunity to find areas of your life where you can make more balanced choices for your family. Over time, you can collect an assortment of safer cookware that will ensure that the food you prepare is that much more nourishing for you and the people you love.
Build your own set! It may not be as simple as ordering a full set of one, but you’ll have them for years to come and be so happy. Grab a dutch oven from Staub or Le Creuset, one or two stainless pans in different sizes + pots, this skillet, and one of the non-stick options!
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January 2, 2021
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