Sourcing safer cookware is a complicated matter. There are safe and unsafe materials, and then there are the per- or polyfluoroschemicals (PFC) chemical coatings associated with hormone disruption, reproductive and developmental defects, and immune system suppression, among other concerns. While DuPonts infamous Teflon chemical in its original compound was officially phased out in 2015, with a slight change of chemical structure and a brand new name, some of its successors are just as bad. Here, we try to break it down further with a few key pieces of information to keep in mind and 10 naturally non-stick or low-stick cookware brands we trust.
Safer Cookware Materials
- Carbon steel
- Tempered glass
- Cast iron*
- Stainless steel*
Less Safe Cookware Materials
- Unlined copper
- PFC non-stick coated pans
- Unglazed clay**
*Cast iron and stainless steel, while on the safer side of the spectrum, can leach iron and nickel when cooking acidic foods or simmering food for long periods of time.
**Unglazed clay may, at times, naturally contain aluminum, cadmium, or lead. To check for lead, we recommend using a lead test kit on your unglazed clay pot. Its also useful for double-checking enamel surfaces.
Notes on Non-Stick
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is the synthetic coating to avoid at all costs.
- Polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE) can be just as bad, at high temperatures PTFE turns into toxic PFOA. Many alternative non-stick brands boast their rejection of PFOA but still use PTFE-based coatings.
[Editors note: While weve done our best to research the issue using sources from credible agencies like the Environmental Working Group (EWG), we are not scientists, doctors, or environmental toxicity experts. We welcome any additional constructive insight in our comments section below.]Above:There are some ceramic cookware brands that coat their pans with non-stick PFCs. Xtrema is not one of them. While Xtrema pans are not perfectly non-stick (a little oil is useful), they are completely ceramic, non-toxic, and non-reactive. According to the brand that means no PFOA, PTFE, glue, polymers, coatings, or dyes and no leaching of metal, cadmium, or lead. The pans meet California Prop 65 standards being free of over 800 compounds known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. Shown here is the petite 4.5-Inch One Egger Traditions Skillet for $31.99. The full line (which is currently on sale) is available directly at Xtrema. Above: We like the cookware from British brand Crane whose cast iron pans are finished with matte black enamel inside and out. Free of cadmium, lead, PFOA, and PTFE, the enamel-finished cast iron is resistance to thermal shocks and scratches. Shown here is the Crane Cookware Frying Pan ($145) available along with the Crane Cookware Saute Pan ($210) at March. Crane also sells a larger Casserole, a Griddle Pan, and a Two Hob Griddlepan. Above: GreenPan uses Thermolon, a non-stick coating made of silicon and oxygen applied in a single layer followed by a protective top coat. The company claims that Thermolon is PFOA- and PTFE-free and does not contain lead or cadmium. It is also, unlike Teflon, heat-resistant up to 450-degrees Celsius to avoid releasing toxins overhead. There are many editions of GreenPan pans to sift through. Shown here is the Venice Pro Ceramic Non-Stick 10-Piece Cookware Set finished with Themolon Minerals Pro, a metal utensil-safe coating; $499 for the set at GreenPan. You can also find GreenPan cookware at Goop. Above:Prepd is a new cookware brand planning the launch of their Prepd Skillet, a cast iron that the brand claims is naturally non-stick, more so than other cast iron brands. The skillet is machined thoroughly for a perfectly smooth cooking surface, which is, its true, different from other cast iron pans. They claim the extra hours of polishing and repetitive seasoning (with grapeseed oil and high heat) make the pan smooth enough for frying an eggwithout oil. We have yet to try the pan ourselves, but the Kickstarter campaign its currently in, was funded in a day and seems promising. We like these 10 cast iron cookware brandsas well. Above:Le Crueset is a great example of porcelain enamel cast iron cookware. Their cast iron pans are finished with a matte black or glossy beige enamel that withstands high-temperature cooking and is naturally non-toxic and lead-free. Shown here is the Le Creuset Signature Cast Iron 1.5-Quart Braiser in Matte Black for $199.95 at Cutlery and More. Above:The Always Pan from new Los Angeles-based brand Our Place is appealing for its looks and all-in-one cooking capability. It is non-stick but coated with, as the company says, a responsible PTFE- and PFAS-free [poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances] non-stick ceramic coating. The core of the pan is made of heavy aluminum but as its coated with a thin ceramic coating, no aluminum comes into contact with food. The Always Pan is $145 at Our Place. Above:Classic French carbon steel cookware is a classic for a reason: like cast iron, carbon steel, when cared for and seasoned properly, is naturally non-stick. While carbon steel is lighter and easier to wield than cast iron, it is just as reactive when cooking acidic foods and can leach iron when cooking acid. Shown here is the Mauviel Msteel 3 Piece Carbon Steel Skillet Set for $179.95 at Cutlery and More. We also like De Buyers beeswax-finished French Mineral B Carbon Steel Cookware for $45 to $99 each at Food52. Above:New cookware brand Caraway is focused on healthy, non-toxic cookware. The Caraway Cookware & Cabinet Organizer Set is made up of four ceramic-coated pots and pans made without PFOA, PTFE, lead, cadmium, nickel, or other toxic metals. The ceramic surface is naturally non-stick and pans are are not made by way of a toxic hard anodization process. The set which also includes four magnetic pan racks and a canvas lid holder is $395 at Caraway. [Caraway let us know that with the code REMODELISTA10, Remodelista readers receive 10-percent off the set.) Above: Like rival French brand Le Creuset, Staub has a long history of producing cast iron cooking pots in France. Staub, too, is coated with a glass enamel finish for a non- or less-stick surface that builds over time. Staub pans withstand high-temperature cooking and are naturally non-toxic and lead-free. Shown here is the Staub Cast Iron Black Round Cocotte, available in a range of sizes from $119.96 to $320 at Williams-Sonoma. Above:Hand-forged carbon steel cookware from Blanc Creatives in Virginia are made without chemicals, can withstand high temperature, and come pre-seasoned for a naturally non-stick surface. The key to cooking with carbon steel, as the brand reminds us, is to clean with water, dry quickly to avoid rust, and continue use oil repeatedly to maintain seasoning and avoid acidic breakdown from lemons and tomatoes. Available in different sizes of Roaster (starting at $230), Skillet (starting at $210), and Saucier (starting at $350) from Blanc Creatives. For more on the brand see our post Back to the Hearth: Steel Cookware from a Virginia Forge. Above: Danish company ScanPan is made with the brands proprietary nonstick surface called Green Tek, a ceramic-titanium coating free of PFCs. The pan is made of recycled aluminum at its core but finished with the ceramic-titanium surface, no aluminum comes into contact with food. Shown here is the ScanPan Pro IQ Nonstick 2-Piece Fry Pan Set for $199.95 at Williams-Sonoma.
Further resources on the subject:
- Environmental Working Group (EWG) Tips to Avoid PFCs
- 3M LeadCheck Swabsfor testing enamel-coated pans for lead
- The Devil We Know documentary on Teflon featuring Erin Brockovich
For more cookware see our posts: