The 4 Best Nontoxic Cookware
Concerns about cookware and toxicity primarily stem from the use of certain nonstick coatings, but the best nontoxic cookware can be durable, nonstick, as well as free from excessive chemicals. One of the biggest callout in cookware is perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a chemical formerly used in the production of nonstick pans like Teflon, which has raised concerns in the past few decades. However, as the American Cancer Society has written, PFOA is "not present in significant amounts in the final products." Despite low risks to the consumers, DuPont, the maker of Teflon, stopped using PFOA during production in 2013.
The worst known side effect from using Teflon is flu-like symptoms if the pan is overheated. Scratching and overheating can cause the nonstick coating to flake into food, and while there are no scientifically confirmed risks for consuming polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, Teflon’s generic name, many people still choose to avoid it.
That brings up the real issue with PTFE: It isn’t particularly long-lasting, and many experts recommend replacing PTFE-treated cookware every three to five years. That's where ceramic, enameled, or cast iron pans come in as great nonstick alternatives when used with hot fats.
Generally, most PTFE-free cookware is nontoxic. That includes cast iron and stainless steel, which have also occasionally raised eyebrows for the presence of nickel and iron. However, the government of Canada has found them safe and concluded that any levels of nickel or iron that may be consumed after cooking food are far below daily recommended amounts of the metals. That includes when the cast iron is being used to cook acidic foods like tomato sauce, according to America’s Test Kitchen.
With that said, there are also enough nontoxic cookware options to avoid iron and steel if you so choose. Here are the best options in each category:
1. The Best Nonstick Nontoxic Cookware
Ceramic nonstick is a great alternative to PTFE as long as you use it with hot fats and oils. These metal pans use a silicon coating, basically made from sand, that prevents sticking. Unlike PTFE-coated pans, they are safer to much higher temperatures. This budget-friendly set of 16 pieces from GreenLife is highly rated and in addition to three sizes of frying pans, a stockpot, a sauté pan, and two sauce pans also includes an insert for steaming and pasta as well as nylon utensils. However, if you don’t want a set, pieces can be purchased individually or in a 14-piece set. It's also available in eight colors including black and blue. The only downside to this nonstick ceramic pick is that the slick surface won’t sear food as well. So while nonstick ceramic is great for daily use, you may want another pan to get a good sear on things like meat, or tasty browning on vegetables.
2. The Most Durable Nontoxic Cookware
Cast iron can last for a decades if well-cared for. And while traditionally, cast iron had to be "seasoned" through use to make it nonstick, Lodge was the first company to pre-season cookware, making it nonstick from the beginning. Lodge’s cast iron cookware, like this set of four, is well-priced and heavy-duty. Simply wipe clean and dry off thoroughly, then coat with cooking oil to maintain the seasoning for best results. Iron won’t leach into food in significant amounts, unless your pan starts to rust. However, even rusted cast iron can be rescued and re-seasoned.
3. The Most Versatile Nontoxic Cookware
Dutch ovens can be used for cooking, slow-cooking, baking, frying, and deep-frying, and they can go from oven to stove, making them a great all-around pick. Enameled cookware is also easy to clean and care for. The heavy-duty cast iron inside layer is great at holding heat, and the enamel makes the surface easier to clean and adds an extra layer to prevent the iron from interacting with the food. Many high-end Dutch ovens cost several hundred dollars. However, AmazonBasics is built like similar brands (cast iron coated with enamel) at a fraction of the cost. Enamel is nontoxic and safe to use as long as it doesn’t chip.
4. The Best Nontoxic Cookware For Searing Food
Stainless steel is safe to cook with and won't leach a significant amount of nickel or iron, according to the Canadian government. This set is tri-ply, meaning there are three layers of steel, to ensure more even heating. It also helps keep the pan from warping over time. Stainless steel is oven-safe, which can be helpful for finishing dishes or one-pot meals. While enamel and ceramic are more nonstick, stainless steel can be scrubbed down or soaked for hard-to-remove residue. You will likely need to cook with plenty of oils or liquids to prevent sticking, though. Because stainless steel has a “rougher” surface than most nonstick options, this will give food a better sear. Seared or browned food tastes good because of the Maillard reaction, the process that both browns food and gives it more flavor.
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