Choosing the freshest, unprocessed, organic (or closest to it) food you can find is one of the best things you can do for your health and longevity. And if you go to great lengths to procure the healthiest food possible, then chances are you want to retain as much of that goodness as possible when preparing your food. That’s why it’s so important to protect your nutritional investment (and your health) by using the safest, non-toxic cookware you can find. Fortunately, knowing how to find truly safe cookware need not require hundreds of hours of research, or thousands of dollars invested. Just follow these quick tips, and you’ll have no trouble sourcing the right, non-toxic cookware for your kitchen and lifestyle.
Why “Green” Doesn't Always Mean “Safe”
Even if you’ve heard about the health hazards of non-stick pans, it can be so tempting to buy one that’s labeled “green” (after-all, they make cooking eggs and omelettes such a breeze!).
However, what consumers often don’t realize is that “green” cookware doesn’t necessarily mean “safe” cookware…especially when it comes to non-stick pans. The biggest concern here is that any non-stick cousin of teflon will likely contain Perfluorinated Substances (PFASs). This class of fluorinated organic chemicals is one of the most hazardous, legal chemical groups ever created—both with regard to its toxicity and pervasiveness in our modern food packaging, clothing, personal care products, and cookware. Per the Environmental Protection Agency, PFASs have been linked to a variety of disturbing health effects including: cancer, kidney damage, developmental brain damage in children, thyroid disease, hormonal disruption, immunological effects, and heart disease1.
PFASs in cookware create double-trouble when they’re heated by leaching poisons directly into our food and into the air we breathe. Now, you may have heard that a type of PFAS, known as PFOAs (perfluorooctanoic acid) used in “old fashioned” Teflon, were banned from manufacturing by 2015. And that’s correct. However, their PFAS cousin known as PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene), is still alive and well in new non-stick and “green” cookware. Sure, you’ll hear it’s “safe”…but that’s what they said when they replaced BPA with BPS in plastics, which new research has proven is as hazardous, or “potentially worse” than BPA2. Thus, if you must use a non-stick pan, we recommend contacting the manufacturer to inquire how their product is made and ask for toxicity reports. Fortunately, you have much safer options than non-stick.
Our Favorite Non-Toxic Cookware and Materials
To keep things simple, look for cookware made of these non-toxic materials.
- Cast iron—a well-seasoned cast iron pan is great for meats and veggies (burgers, potatoes, etc.)…pretty much anything you need to sear, sauté, or fry (and will rival non-stick for eggs when cared for properly) Note: unless well seasoned, acidic foods such as tomato sauces will cause more leaching of iron into the food.
- Stainless steel—great for pan-roasting, stir frying, and sautéing. Look for nickel-free stainless steel if you plan on using it for acidic foods, like tomatoes, as nickel will leach into the food. Heavy duty, nickel-free stainless steel will have the number 18/0 printed on it. “18” meaning chromium and the second number meaning nickel.
- Enameled Cast Iron or Steel—awesome for roasting, braising, stewing, and sauces. Note: there is a new class of enameled cast iron known as “non-stick” enameled cast iron. Of this writing, we’d recommend avoiding this due to the concerns about non-stick coatings listed above.
- Glass—while not a great conductor of heat, glass cookware (verify it is lead free with manufacturer) is great for baked foods and water-based cooking.
Our favorite brands of cookware for safety, performance, and durability include:
- Lodge offers a variety of 100% cast iron skillets, griddles, grills, dutch ovens, etc. They’re affordable, easy to use, great for indoor or outdoor cooking, available everywhere and we love them. Made in the U.S.
- HOMICHEF for a great nickel-free stainless steel cookware option
- Proclamation – stainless steel – multipurpose duo pan and matching lid – sear, sauté, stir-fry, boil, braise, bake, and more.
- MadeIn Cookware* – heavy duty stainless steel and carbon steel cookware. Most products are made in the U.S. but a few pieces are made in France or Italy. *Note - we do not recommend their line of non-stick cookware.
- Xtrema – beautiful ceramic cookware – verified by third party testing to be inert (use the link for 10% off your purchase). Made in China.
- Le Creuset is an enameled cast iron brand (verify that the color you choose has been third-party tested for lead and cadmium as the brightly colored ceramics may have issues).
- CorningWare lead-free glass baking dishes, casserole dishes, pots and pans, Pyrex storage containers, etc. Note – some vintage Corningware and Pyrex have lead.
- Visions Glass Cookware – current version is inert – lead and cadmium free glass cookware – also great for cooking tomato sauces, pasta sauces and other acidic foods that tend to leach nickel from stainless cookware. Note – some vintage Visions cookware contain lead.
- For better non-stick options, we like the brands Always Pan by Our Place and Great Jones Large Fry. We need to be aware that any non-stick coatings will slowly wear off given frequent use. Care should be used when using and cleaning these types of pots and pans. Only use low to medium heat and wooden utensils when cooking with them.
- For baking sheets, it is important to look for stainless steel to avoid the aluminum in many baking sheets. When looking at stainless steel, you will see numbers "18/0", "18/8", "18/10", etc. The first number, "18", means chromium and the second number means the level of nickel. "0" being the best/ nickel-free. Nickel only leeches out when in contact with acidic foods, such as tomatoes, lemon, lime juice, etc. Linked here are a couple baking sheet options.
How To Tell If Your Own Cookware Is Safe
This part is also very simple.
- If you have any non-stick pots, pans, or baking sheets it’s best to replace when you can with safer options!
- Stainless steel should be fine unless you use it for acidic foods, in which case you’d want to verify whether it’s nickel-free. Otherwise, for acidic foods choose a ceramic such as Xtrema, well seasoned cast iron, or lead free glass cookware.
- Silicone baking pans or mats are considered “inert”, however they aren’t ideal as they can become damaged or break down very easily. Plus, there are many inferior brands which use fillers that release potentially toxic fumes. To be on the safe side, we’d recommend switching to unbleached parchment paper for baking.
- We recommend getting rid of aluminum pans. Some people have a set for camping which can be replaced with stainless steel. We do want to note that aluminum in pans is not a problem if it does not come into direct contact with food. Aluminum can assist even heat distribution.
- Enameled cast iron pans should be fine (verify lead free with manufacturer)
- Glass cookware, including bakeware and casserole dishes, may or may not contain lead. Some vintage Corningware and Visions cookware contain lead, so check out the brand or piece you are interested in by making an inquiry with the company. Rusty cast iron pans can often be restored with a little elbow grease and plenty of re-seasoning. However, we don’t recommend using them until you’re certain all the rust has been removed.
- Clay and earthen cookware may be safe depending on the brand. What you need to inquire about is if it contains lead or cadmium. If you’re unsure, best to replace it with a verified lead and cadmium-free brand.
Keep things simple and affordable by following the tips above. And if you discover less-than-safe pots and pans in your kitchen, don’t fret! Just replace them as you’re able, ideally starting with the non-stick pans.
Can’t replace your non-stick pans just yet? Check out: Have Non-stick Cookware? What To Do Until Your Can Replace It