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  • Writer's pictureSteph

What kind of Cookware should I use?

Cookware is one of those things we don’t really think about on a regular basis. We buy a set we like and then keep it for years until it wears out. But have you ever wondered if the pots and pans you cook your food in could be making you sick?

There are a lot of options when it comes to the type of cookware we can choose. Teflon or nonstick, stainless steel, ceramic, cast iron, aluminum, and copper are some of the most popular right now. Many people choose nonstick options for the convenience of cleanup and ease of cooking. But did you know that non stick could be one of the worst choices for your health?

Teflon and other nonstick coatings are coated with a material called polytetrafluoroethelyne (PTFE). It was first made in the 1930’s and provides a nonreactive, nonstick and almost frictionless surface. People were enamored with it at its introduction because it offered them an easy way to cook and brown foods without having to use butter or lard, or the food sticking to the pan leading to scrubbing at cleanup. It seemed like the perfect cooking surface!

What we’ve since found out is that nonstick surfaces are not as safe as we originally thought. There have been numerous studies showing the negative health effects of cooking with Teflon. At temperatures above 570 degrees, the nonstick coating starts to break down, releasing toxic chemicals into the air. These fumes could cause temporary flu like symptoms, known as polymer fume fever. When a Teflon surface becomes compromised, such as when the pan is scratched or nicked, Teflon particles can get into your food without you knowledge because they are so small. Because Teflon particles never break down in the environment, once they are in your body it is almost impossible to get rid of them. Repeated exposure by cooking in the same pans and ingesting small amounts over and over can lead to a buildup in your system, causing increasing health issues.

So now that we know we definitely DON’T want nonstick pans, which pans should we choose instead? Let’s look at the options.

Stainless Steel- non-reactive, durable, dishwasher-safe, and resistant to rust, corrosion, scratching, and denting. It’s also pretty easy on the eyes. However, on its own, stainless steel is a terrible heat conductor. The key to finding good stainless steel cookware is to pick a model that has a core of another type of metal that conducts heat more effectively – like copper. To ensure your foods don’t stick, use a coating of grass fed butter or ghee.

How to clean it: Gently scrub with soap and water. When faced with tough burnt-on stains or debris, try this method: Fill the burned pot with water and boil for 15-20 minutes. Once loosened, scrape up stuck-on spots with a wooden spoon. Pour out the water, and wash the pot as normal.

Cast Iron- Cast iron is one of the most versatile cooking materials. It’s durable, conducts heat very well, and can cook almost anywhere – from stove to oven and grill. Cast iron gets a bad rap because it is notoriously hard to take care of. Let us dispel the rumors: seasoning the cast iron by adding a layer of polymerized oil is pretty easy and protects the surface. The process consists of repeatedly rubbing the cast iron with oil, heating it up, and cooling it down. This process breaks down the oil into a plastic-like substance that bonds to the metal, creating a slick surface that’s perfect for cooking. A well-seasoned cast iron pan will be nearly non-stick.

While iron is a reactive metal, it’s nothing to worry about. Reactive metals can cause off flavors and discoloring when mixed with certain foods, including anything very acidic or alkaline. However, if a cast iron pan is seasoned properly, the occasional run-in with a few tomatoes or a splash of lemon juice shouldn’t hurt, so long as they’re not simmering for hours on end.

How to clean it: After cooling, clean cast iron gently with a bit of soap and water. Gently remove any stuck-on food with a plastic scrub sponge. Do not use steel wool, as this will ruin the seasoning. Immediately dry the pan. After each use, re-season: Place the clean pan over a burner on high. Heat until residual water dries up. Add a teaspoon or two of olive oil or flaxseed oil and rub it around the cooking surface using a paper towel. Heat until the oil starts to smoke. Once smoking, take the pan off the burner and rub the oil around once more. Let the pan cool, and store.

Ceramic coated- This is one of the newest options in the market and seems to cut out the negatives of Teflon while still being semi-nonstick. Most of these pans are a base of cast iron, stainless steel or aluminum with a coating of ceramic on the cooking surface. The coating most have is Thermalon, which is a sand derivative containing silicone dioxide. Manufacturers coat the pan in the material and then bake it to set it. From most of the research I can find, ceramic coatings seem to be fairly nonstick and safe. Because this is a newer material, there is less research and information on the breakdown from normal use. It definitely does not contain the PFOAs that Teflon does, so that is not a worry.

How to clean it: After cooking, clean with soap and water or place in dishwasher (most are dishwasher safe but check with your specific pan manufacturer.) If any food is stuck on, only use a plastic scrub sponge as the steel wool options will ruin the ceramic coating.

Copper- Copper is a fantastic heat conductor, which is one of the reasons that copper cookware is much more expensive than its competitors. Copper heats and reacts to temperature changes quickly, giving the cook more control and making it easy to cook food evenly. Because copper is a reactive metal, it must be lined with another material, such as stainless steel or tin. There are some non-lined copper cookware pieces on the market, but these are specifically meant for sugar cookery, in which reactiveness is not an issue. While copper is not ideal for high-heat cooking, this is not a huge downfall. Because it’s so good at retaining and distributing heat, there is generally no need for a high flame. Copper pans would be low on my list to buy though because of the tendency of most people to cook at higher temperatures, thus ruining the pans quickly. Cast iron and Stainless steel, in my opinion, are better choices (and more affordable).

My top choices for cookware are definitely Cast iron and stainless steel. They both are pretty affordable, easy to maintain (cast iron is easy once you know how), and don’t give off toxic fumes or harmful particles as they break down (since they don’t break down easily). Choosing a great set of either or mixing and matching pieces of both will give you many cooking options.

As always, choose healthy fats and oils to cook with (like olive oil, lard, butter and ghee) and STAY AWAY from vegetable oils like canola and soybean!

Cooking homemade meals shouldn’t come with the stress of possible toxins, so toss those unhealthy pans today and pick up some safer alternatives that will last you years to come!

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