What Cookware Is Best?
By Brenna Thompson, MS, RD, LD
February 22, 2017
Are you looking to update your cookware this year and wondering what the best choices are? We're frequently asked this question by clients looking to get the most out of their food and avoid as many chemicals as possible.
So let's dig right in! You may recall several years ago when a study came out showing that residents living near the West Virginia DuPont Teflon (a common non-stick cookware material) factory were at an increased risk for cancer, liver disease, impaired immune systems, and growth defects. It made headlines across the country and since then many people have thrown out and replaced their non-stick cookware believing that the same might be true when it is used in cooking. While studies have been inconclusive, we do know that the chemicals TFA and phosgene that are released when Teflon is heated too high (above 500°F) cause headaches, chills, back pain, and fever in humans. Yikes! All signs point to us needing a better option. With this in mind we've created a guide to help you choose the best pots and pans for your cooking needs.
- Try anodized aluminum. This coating is extremely durable and some companies boast a lifetime warranty if cared for appropriately. Anodized aluminum can be nearly as hard as a diamond under the right anodizing process. I have been using an anodized aluminum pan for several years now and think it's the best cookware I've found for cooking eggs; they never stick! And cleaning the pan is as easy as using a damp cloth to wipe it off. Some options include, Le Creuset, Calphalon, and more listed here at All Cookware Find.
- The Green Pans advertised on TV are also non-stick; for a while. Several of our nutritionists and their extended families have tried them and found that after about 6 months the ceramic coating began to chip and food began to stick. Even with proper care and cleaning the coating is nowhere near as durable as anodized aluminum.
- Cast iron is a wonderful non-stick option when it's well seasoned, but this can take time. Something similar happens with the new ceramic/stone bakeware on the market. Both cast iron and stoneware are great non-toxic options. They can withstand very high heat, and distribute that heat evenly through your food. If you want to brown meat and vegetables, or grill indoors these are probably the best option. But be careful when cooking in a new cast iron skillet/pot, the iron will react with acids found in tomatoes, vinegar, wine, and lemon juice causing your food to have a metallic flavor and become discolored. This is not an issue with stoneware or enameled cast iron.
- Of course cast iron cleanup is different compared to other pots and pans; you never want to use soap since it will remove that beautiful layer of seasoning you are trying to develop. Use a scrubby pad and a little water to remove stuck on food, then wipe it down with a very thin layer of oil. The only downside is how much they weigh. Most 10-12" cast iron skillets weigh anywhere from 5.5 to 8 pounds without food in them. Finally, another option is an enameled steel and cast iron combo. You've probably seen them in a variety of colors, and they make great Dutch ovens and casserole dishes. The enameled coating allows it to be used on a variety of heating surfaces and makes clean up super easy; and yes, you can use soap.
- Aluminum is the least expensive of all the options. These strong pans conduct heat really well and will stand up to a beating. There have been concerns in the past that aluminum may be associated with Alzheimer's disease, but studies have shown that even acidic foods (tomato sauce) cooked in an aluminum pan for two hours contained only 0.0024mg of aluminum per cup. This is much less than the 1-10mg that we ingest each day through other foods. However, beware that an aluminum skillet is not non-stick. The trick to using it correctly is making sure it is hot before adding your meat or veggies and of course, using enough butter or coconut oil, or lard helps too. A large aluminum pot works well for making bone broth and large batches of chili.
- If you're looking for a great all around option, something that's affordable, cooks well, and is almost indestructible, stainless steel is for you. These metal pots and pans are a combination of chromium, nickel, and of course steel. They are non-reactive, which means you can cook anything in them without worry of them leaching into your food or causing off flavors. Often times these products come with a copper bottom or insert to improve their heat conduction. These are the reasons many professional chefs use them. Just like aluminum and copper you need to heat them up before adding your food or you risk it all just sticking to the bottom.
- If you fell in love with Julia Child's kitchen you're probably wondering about copper cookware. Just like aluminum, copper heats up quickly and evenly. Plus, when taken off the heat, it cools down quickly. All good things when it comes to stovetop cooking. However, copper reacts with acids and will leach into food, this is why you will frequently see copper pots that have been "tinned" or lined with a different metal, such as aluminum or stainless steel. Copper pots and pans are expensive and need a lot of polishing to keep them pretty.
When thinking about upgrading your cookware, consider doing it over time. Instead of buying a less expensive 6 piece set of pots and pans, think about buying one very high quality pan or pot every couple of months or once a year. They also make great birthday and holiday gifts. Soon you will have a fantastic and practical set of cookware, without the pieces you never use.
It's pretty amazing how much high quality cookware can make all the difference in the quality and enjoyment of your cooking and food!