Safe Cookware 101

February 15, 2013

SupermarketGuru is always talking about healthy eating and shopping tips - choosing safe cookware is a fundamental you don't want to miss.

We are always emphasizing the best foods for our health and budget as well as the many benefits of cooking at home, so SupermarketGuru thought it was time to talk about cookware; specifically pots and pans with nonstick surfaces.

Nonstick cookware is almost a must for any chef or home cook who wants to make healthy food. The surface does not necessitate as much oil or other fat to be used in the cooking process, and when you’re finished cooking, clean up is a cinch.

The safety of nonstick cookware has been the subject of debate due to concerns that the surfaces might emit toxic fumes, harmful to our health, and our pets, specifically birds. One thing we do know is that if a nonstick pan is heated too quickly or too hot, there is a risk of chemicals being emitted. In terms of the chemicals getting into our foods, the FDA suggests it’s very unlikely that a significant amount of chemicals migrate from pans into food.

Here are recommendations for using nonstick cookware safely:

Do not heat over 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Nonstick pans should not be used for cooking techniques such as broiling or searing, as these usually require heating the pan to high temperatures.

Never preheat an empty nonstick pan. Empty pans can reach high temperatures very quickly, which could pose a risk. Never leave nonstick pans (or any pan for that matter) unattended while on a heat source.

Keep your kitchen ventilated while cooking with nonstick cookware - turning on the fan or open a window.

Do not use aerosol spray oils on your nonstick cookware. The tiny droplets hide in the surface and create a build up.

Be careful not to damage the surface of the cookware: do not use metal utensils, nor wash with steel wool or abrasive cleaners, also don't stack nonstick pans on top of each other.

Do not put your nonstick cookware in the dishwasher because high heat and harsh detergents will corrode and dry out the surface. If you see any noticeable chips in the surface, its time to toss the pans!

Don’t want to use nonstick? Try using other materials:

Cast Iron: yes, those heavy cast iron pans are beautifully non-stick when properly seasoned (lightly oiled and baked). They hold heat evenly and are great to cook with. Cast iron does require some extra maintenance but is inexpensive; do keep in mind that cooking liquids or acidic foods in cast iron may leach iron from the pot, which may not be beneficial for everyone.

Clad Cookware: is layered cookware, think: All-Clad pots and pans. Typically, stainless steel surrounds a sandwich of other metals, such as aluminum or copper. The inert stainless steel provides the cooking surface, while the aluminum or copper improves the heat conductivity.

Enameled Cast Iron: yes we’re talking Le Crueset and the like (you can find inexpensive versions). Because it’s enameled it’s more non-stick than plain cast iron and doesn’t require seasoning. With proper care, good ceramic or enamel-coated cookware will last a lifetime. It is entirely non-leaching if cared for properly.

Glass is the most inert of all cookware.  Drawbacks? It’s highly breakable and doesn’t conduct heat evenly. If you don’t find glass successful for cooking, it’s great for storing food.

Silicone: is a synthetic rubber that you’ve seen in bakeware, spatulas, molds and more. It is considered safe up to 428 degrees F, but when heated above its safe range, it melts, but doesn’t outgas toxic vapors.  It's actually one of the only non-reactive, synthetic non-stick materials available.

As you can see, there are many choices (even more not mentioned above) - so use this list as a guide to determine what's right for you and your family.