With so many types of cookware on the market, finding a truly safe pan can feel like a daunting task. Especially in a world where companies will easily put their morals aside to make an extra buck.
We’re here to put the debates to rest. As food scientists, our ultimate goal is to provide you with reliable information about the safety of your food. Unfortunately, there are a lot of areas lacking in research.
To show you what the research has revealed, we've put together a comprehensive guide to the healthiest cookware on the market. Below we've laid out the facts about materials that are safe, materials to avoid, and materials we aren't so sure about!
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1) Ceramic (Safest)
Ceramic is created by exposing nonmetallic material (like clay, tile or glass) to a tremendous amount of heat. Most ceramic cookware is not purely ceramic but rather a ceramic coating over metal.
Aggressive testing shows that ceramic-coated metals are very resistant to abrasion and are unreactive even with highly acidic foods (Addo Ntim et al., 2018). Pure ceramic is an extremely safe cooking material, but it is fragile and susceptible to thermal shock. Only use ceramic over low heat and never wash it while it's still warm.
It's important to distinguish the modern kitchen-bound ceramics from the decorative ceramics sold in Mexico, China, and parts of the Mediterranean. These pieces are beautiful to look at, but they are toxic to cook in. Their composition often contains lead or other heavy metals. Cases of lead poisoning from this cookware style have been reported in the U.S. and Canada (Fralick et al., 2016).
If you're confident the ceramic is lead-free, it's probably the safest cookware money can buy.
Best 100% Ceramic Pan Brand
Brand? Xtrema (Affiliate Link)
Features? This pure ceramic cookware brand is lead-free and scratch-resistant. They are beautifully designed and come with a 10-year warranty against thermal shock.
Why this Brand? Heavy-metal tested and FDA-approved, this brand offers safe cookware in a variety of attractive and useful designs. Xtrema is owned by Ceramcor, which is a family owned and operated business.
Best 100% Ceramic Pans
Xtrema 7-Inch Ceramic Traditions Open Skillet
Xtrema 9-Piece Ceramic Traditions Cookware Set
Xtrema 10-Quart Ceramic
Versa Dutch Oven
Best Ceramic Coated Aluminum Brand
Features? Sleek, retro, and colorful, these aluminum pans with triple-layered ceramic-nonstick coating are durable and functional. Properly taken care of, they last a long time and will retain their nonstick properties.
Why this Brand? The company is committed to its green ideals. Unlike many competitors, they make their base from native aluminum, rather than anodized aluminum, because they do not support the process used to dispose of the sulfuric acid used in the anodization process.
Copper cookware is rarely pure copper. It's usually lined with tin or stainless steel. Copper gains and loses heat quickly, making it ideal for finely-tuned temperature control.
Copper resists corrosion and conducts heat well. However, it can leach ions into the food under heat or acidic conditions. While humans require a small amount of copper as a trace nutrient, too much can be toxic (FAO/WHO 2017).
To mitigate this risk, the copper intended for use as cookware should be coated with tin or stainless steel. While coatings do not entirely prevent the leaching of metals into food material, they reduce it to harmless levels (Benavi et al., 2020)
If it is quick changes in heat you desire, it is perfectly safe to use a copper pan that is lined with undamaged tin or stainless steel. However, never cook with decorative, unlined copper. Pure copper pans can lead to copper toxicities.
Best Copper Pan Brand
Brand? Longastina Martelleta
Features? These sets are tri-ply copper, meaning there is a thin sheet of aluminum sandwiched between two thin sheets of copper, coated with stainless steel. This allows for great heat conduction and even heat distribution.
Why this Brand? This brand is well-reviewed, long-lasting, and popular among professional chefs. In reality, most people would do best not to buy the whole set. Copper is probably not ideal for a stockpot, but a serious cook may find a single copper fry pan an essential tool.
Best Copper Cookware
Lagostina Stainless Steel Copper 8-Inch and 10-Inch Fry Pan Set Cookware, 2-Pack
Lagostina Martellata Hammered
Copper 18/10 Tri-Ply Stainless
Steel Cookware Set
Copper 5-Quart Covered
3) Cast Iron
Heavy, dark cast iron cookware is made from a mixture of iron and steel, usually with added carbon. While they contain no coating directly, one is expected to “season” or seal the metal with a layer of polymerized fats, which then offers some protection.
Like other metals in direct contact with food, cast iron may release metals. However, several factors make it likely to be safe.
First, repeated use forms an oxide layer, protecting the food. Also, oil inhibits release of metal ions. Secondly, cast iron pans are tempered with a layer of oil that permanently coats the metal surface (Koo et al., 2020). Finally, cast iron simply does not contain metals that are dangerous. All of this makes them very dependable cooking tools.
Cast iron has been a dependable pan material for centuries. It's an incredible storer of heat and has a smaller likelihood of leaching metals (usually nontoxic) when seasoned sufficiently.
*** A nearly ideal option is to use enamel-coated cast iron. You will still incur all the advantages of the cast iron, but the enamel keeps it from leaching metals while also making it nonstick.
Best Cast Iron Brand
Features? Cleared for oven use up to 500°F and with long and even heat retention, these tools have been kitchen essentials for millennia.
Why this Brand? Lodge does one thing, and they do it really, really well at a very reasonable price.
Best Cast Iron Cookware
Lodge 12" Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet with Assist Handle
Cast Iron 5 Piece Set,
Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Combo Cooker, 2-Piece Set, 10.25"
Best Enamel-Coated Cast Iron Brand
Brand? Le Creuset
Features? While these pieces are pricey, they are worth the investment and will last a lifetime. They boast spectacular performance and are genuinely nonstick with flawless cleanup. They come in a range of colors and can even be matched to stoneware in the same style.
Why this Brand? These pieces are safe, trustworthy, and functional. You will pass these down to your grandchildren in near perfect condition.
Best Enamel-Coated Cast Iron Cookware
Le Creuset LS2024-2667 Signature Iron Handle Skillet
Le Creuset 16-piece
Cookware Set (Caribbean)
Le Creuset Enameled
Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
4) Stainless Steel
Stainless steel consists of an alloy of iron, carbon, chromium, and nickel. The nickel and chromium gives stainless steel its corrosion resistance and heat conduction properties. Choose stainless steel stamped 18/10 or 18/8 on the bottom (this refers to the percent chromium and nickel in the mixture).
Stainless steel cookware is long-lasting, non-reactive, and very durable. Unfortunately, it also is expensive and very adhesive to food. Cheaper versions, often stamped 18/0 and not containing nickel, have poor heat conduction capabilities.
Stainless steel is very safe even when soaked in acid (Mazinanian et al., 2016). It also resists corrosion, conducts heat well, and is lightweight. Unfortunately, it has a tendency to bind food unless well-oiled or covered in a nonstick coating.
Best Stainless Steel Pan Brand
Brand? Sardel (Affiliate link)
Features? These lovely tools are five-ply--five!--stainless steel compatible with both ovens and induction ranges. Handles are hollow and heat-resistant.
Why this Brand? The craftsmanship and high-quality materials guarantee these pans’ longevity and functionality. They are well worth the wait.
Best Stainless Steel Cookware
Sardel 12" Stainless
Sardel 6 Piece Stainless
Steel Cookware Set
Sardel 6 Piece Stainless
Steel Cookware Set
While native aluminum is safe with most foods, it can be problematic when it comes into contact with acids, like tomatoes or coffee. If you want to avoid this risk, anodized aluminum is available. Aluminum oxide, the resulting product of anodized aluminum, is a non-reactive surface and much harder than native aluminum.
On native aluminum, acids can cause a small amount of the metal to leach into the food, but it does not occur in quantities that put human health at risk--there’s probably a lot more aluminum in your chocolate bar (Thorsten et al., 2017a, b).
What about Anodized Aluminum?
Anodized aluminum is inert, meaning that it won’t react with acidic food products (Gupta et al., 2019). While pure anodized aluminum was more common in the past, modern anodized aluminum cookware is nearly always coated with a nonstick surface (usually PTFE) to improve its functionality.
In developing countries, it is best to avoid aluminum altogether. It may be made from recycled alloy mixtures containing lead or cadmium in worrisome quantities. If you cannot be sure that the aluminum is either pure or anodized, absolutely stay away. (Weidenhamer et al., 2017). Otherwise, aluminum is cheap, lightweight, and quite safe.
The cooking material known as “granite” is actually stainless steel covered in a layer of nonstick porcelain enamel.
These lightweight pans are easy to clean but susceptible to chipping. Stop using the pan if the coating begins to chip; the enamel is a thin layer of glass which could be harmful if small pieces made their way into food. Some graniteware may include PTFE because, without it, the pans are not entirely nonstick.
Graniteware is not unsafe if it is used as directed. These pans don’t offer the utility or durability that other cookware offers. Invest in nonstick anodized aluminum for better functionality at the same price.
Nonstick is closely associated with Teflon, the brand name of PTFE, a waxy substance that glazes the microscopic pores in a metal pan, preventing food from getting caught to its surface.
Teflon experienced controversy in the 2010s because of concerns over PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), a harmful chemical used in the manufacturing of PTFE. PFOA has been outlawed since 2015 (EPA, 2018), and consumer fears have moved on to PTFE itself.
Because it volatilizes into harmful fumes at around 450°F, manufacturers recommend that it should not be used above low heat. While research indicates that it is inert and non-toxic to humans below this temperature, it is easy to exceed 450°F while cooking (Purser, 1992).
It’s also worrisome that no experimental studies have been done that describe the toxicity of ingesting PTFE solids (Muhammad and Ilyas, 2017).
Although PTFE coatings still exist (although they are now labeled as PFOA-free), many PTFE competitors are currently on the market. Their compositions and manufacturing practices are unknown and may be just as questionable as PTFE.
Nonstick coatings are high-performing but with an ambiguous safety reputation. If you want guaranteed harmless nonstick cookware, choose ceramic (silicone or sol-gel) or enamel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Ceramic Cookware Safe?
Yes. Lead-free ceramic or ceramic coating is probably the safest and most inert substance you can cook with.
Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe?
Stainless steel cookware is entirely safe.
Is Copper Cookware Safe?
As long as it is coated with tin or stainless steel, it is perfectly safe to cook with copper.
Is Aluminum Cookware Safe?
Aluminum that has been anodized or coated in ceramic is safe to cook with; avoid cooking on non-anodized or uncoated aluminum surfaces, antique aluminum, or decorative aluminum.
Is Titanium Cookware Safe?
Pure titanium is inert and therefore safe, much like stainless steel or tin. However, if the metal is a titanium mixture, be certain that the mixture doesn’t contain heavy metals (like lead) that could act as food contaminants.
Is Hard Anodized Cookware Safe?
Hard anodized cookware is an inert surface. It will not react even with acidic foods, making it perfectly safe to cook with.
Is Granite Cookware Safe?
Some granite cookware coating is reinforced with PTFE (Teflon) to improve its nonstick properties. Read your manufacturer’s information carefully; if your graniteware coating contains PTFE, never allow it to heat above 350F.
Is Magnalite Cookware Safe to Use?
Yes. Magnalite cookware is an anodized blend of magnesium and aluminum. The anodized layer (see above) renders it inert and perfectly safe for cooking.
What is Bird-Safe Cookware?
Bird-safe cookware is made without PTFE ( the chemical used to make Teflon). The Environmental Working Group has documented a number of anecdotal claims that the fumes resulting from heated PTFE can kill pet birds even at very low temperatures. Cookware marketed as “bird-safe” is usually ceramic or a ceramic blend.
Is Enamel Cookware Safe?
Enamel cookware is perfectly safe as long as it does not get chipped. Chips are dangerous because enamel chips are small glass shards that could be damaging if ingested.
Is Analon cookware safe?
Analon’s nonstick lines of cookware use a triple-layer PTFE coating. There are still some concerns about PTFE at very high temperatures, but it is considered safe if you follow manufacturer’s instructions. Those made since 2015 are PFOA-free.
Is Red Copper Cookware Safe?
Red Copper cookware is perfectly safe as long as the ceramic nonstick coating remains intact. If it begins to chip or wear thin, exposing the copper, the pan should no longer be used.
Yes, a certified mouthful about cookware material.
Our ultimate goal is to provide reliable information so people can make educated choices. No easter egg hunts to find the answer. If we have forgot to mention something, please don't hesitate to leave a comment below. We will be expanding on this article as more information is revealed.
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9) Stahl, Thorsten, et al. “Migration of Aluminum from Food Contact Materials to Food—a Health Risk for Consumers? Part I of III: Exposure to Aluminum, Release of Aluminum, Tolerable Weekly Intake (TWI), Toxicological Effects of Aluminum, Study Design, and Methods.” Environmental Sciences Europe, vol. 29, no. 1, 2017, doi:10.1186/s12302-017-0116-y.
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