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Since you’d never be caught dead with melamine in your cabinets (literally; and on style grounds alone, a capital crime), you don’t really need to be told not to use it. You also really don’t need another article telling you to buy organic zucchini (it’s a wonder how we women manage to survive at all). But what you do need to know?
We really do need to use clean cookware. There is a legitimate health factor to the cookware you choose, and it’s not just “Teflon is toxic.” But let’s take it up another notch. A lot of health and sustainability recommendations boil down to safety (which can feel like plain old scaremongering) and call it a day. But, just like the best-appointed apartment, a thoughtful mix and match is critical for both style and functionality.
Our Top Picks for Most Home Chefs
For High Heat
Most Advanced Nonstick
Why this Clean Cookware Guide Matters
Though traditional non-stick pots and pans may *seem* like they’re getting the job done, they can release toxic fumes when overheated. The processing method used during production also pollutes our water supply and has been linked to testicular and kidney cancer, infertility, liver damage, and thyroid disease. No thanks.
Rest assured, we spent hundreds of hours (we really did) poring over documents from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as research papers in PubMed while consulting experts along the way. We also considered cookware material characteristics and took into account the potential for heavy metals to leach due to long exposure to highly acidic foods (more on this down below).
Our research-backed collection of cookware recommendations fits every need and only features cookware that we have personally tested from brands that are transparent about their production practices and the safety of their products.
Not everyone’s a chef (thank the deities). But even the most takeout-loving friend has a special recipe up her sleeve. We’ve thoughtfully researched and tested cookware not only for use, but for frequency. Our recommendation? Start with a base set and fill in from there based on your daily mileage, with pots and pans that will help you get what you need and want on the regular, whether that’s pan-seared veg, meat, or braised and slow-cooked dishes. Remember: We’re here to help you get to where you need to be, so ask us anytime you need help deciding which pan or pot to buy--or what recipe to try.
Making Sense of "Non-Toxic" Cookware Jargon
Before getting to our cookware picks in the next section, let’s review common terms associated with nonstick cookware, as it can be hard to separate the clean from the claims. You may often see claims that indicate "PTFE-free", "PFOA-free", and "made without PFOA” and either feel frustrated or reassured. The reality is that much of the terminology is used to imply that cookware products are clean (even when they are not) and understanding the terminology will help you read between the lines.
PFAS: This is a class of man-made chemicals (numbering in the thousands) that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX,. Both PFOA (phased out) and Gen X (currently in use), have been used to produce PTFE nonstick coatings commonly used in cookware.
PFOA: Also known as C8— this is a type of PFAS chemical produced and used in products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water as well as stain-resistant carpets, fabrics, and PTFE based nonstick cookware. After decades of use in the U.S., chemical producers such as Dupont and 3M phased PFOA out due to public health concerns that were kept hidden from the public until a class action lawsuit brought internal documents to the attention of the EPA and general public.
Gen X: Also part of the PFAS class of synthetic chemicals, Gen X is a trade name used to make PTFE nonstick coatings and is a direct replacement for PFOA. According to a draft toxicity report by the EPA, people can be potentially exposed to GenX via drinking water, inhaling air, and consuming food wrapped in PFAS containing products. Emerging data from animal studies point to health effects in the kidney, blood, immune system, developing fetus, and especially in the liver following oral exposure. The data is also suggestive of cancer.
PTFE: Originally discovered in 1938 by DuPont, “PTFE” is best known as Teflon (Dupont’s brand name). While PTFE coatings in cookware are generally safe if used as intended, overheating a PTFE pan can result in off-gassing that may lead to flu-like symptoms called polymer fume fever. These fumes are potent enough to hospitalize humans and kill pet birds.
If there is one takeaway from the above terms relating to clean cookware, it’s to avoid PTFE and PFAS altogether. In our research, we’ve seen brands rename their PTFE coatings with fancy brand names while using the “PFOA-free” label. We know now that PFOA has been phased out for years, so we consider this label as the bare minimum. Instead look for nonstick coatings (see our ceramic nonstick rec’s) that are made without PFAS, which encompasses all of the bad stuff associated with PTFE.
The Safe Cookware Brands We Trust
Whether you're frying an egg or making crêpes, sometimes you want a surface that doesn't need heaps of fat to release your food. Here are the non-toxic cookware brands and products that we think you should consider.
1. Caraway Cookware
Why Cook With Caraway?
Well-designed, non-toxic, ceramic, non-stick cookware. Simply put, Caraway makes clean cookware that is not only easy on the eyes, but designed for healthy cooking and staying organized.
Made without PFAS (including Gen X), there’s no need to worry that your cookware choice is detrimental to our environment or your health. Since Caraway understands clean-up and storage is a pain, they make their cookware extra easy to clean and store after use. With magnetic pan racks that house each pot for sideways access, and canvas lid holders for kitchen cabinet doors to better organize your shelves, is form and function in perfect harmony.
This ceramic nonstick set has everything you'll need (think: a fry, sauce and saute pan, dutch oven and magnetic pan rack, and canvas lid holder for organization).
Every home chef needs a good nonstick frying pan. If you enjoy frying eggs, pancakes and delicate fish, this ought to be your designated low to medium heat pan.
A good saute pan is a must for bigger batches of pasta sauces, curry, and gravies and much more. The possibilities are endless, which is why this is a must own piece in any kitchen.
A good sauce pan is ideal tool for recipes that require you to boil or steam your veggies, eggs, and grains.
A good dutch oven will serve your baking, oven roasting and boilingneeds. It's a 6.5 quart piece, which is perfect for boiling pasta or baking casseroles and bread in the oven.
2. Made In Cookware
Why Cook With Made In?
A family owned business, 100+ years in the making, we’re blown away by the superior quality of the 5-ply stainless steel and carbon steel pans that Made In produces. Their cookware possesses such high quality that 3-Michelin star chef, Grant Achatz, not only uses Made In at Alinea, and is also an investor and member of Made In’s advisory board.
Boasting the high heat capacity, heat control, and even cooking capabilities Made In' carbon steel is as if cast iron and stainless steel had a baby. Perfect for blistering greens and searing your favorite grass-fed piece of meat to add that extra caramelization of flavor and texture. You’ll also want their 5-ply food-grade stainless steel pieces as a kitchen staple workhorse and safe non-toxic option that most home chefs should have in their pantry. Not only stainless steel safe & extremely durable, but the company also recycles their unused metal: anything that can't be used are up-cycled into tailpipes for cars. Damaged and returned merchandise is sold to restaurants or donated to ensure nothing is wasted. For a more in-depth look at Made In Cookware, you can read our profile on Made In here.
Shop Made In Cookware
A workhorse in professional kitchen’s like Alinea and Le Bernardin, we recommend building around this starter set depending on your cooking style.
Used in professional kitchens in Europe and perfect for blistering greens and searing your favorite grass-fed meats to get that caramelization of flavor and texture. Includes: two frying pans, a wok, a roasting pan, a paella pan and some seasoning wax.
Light enough to pack with you for a camping trip or to grill on your back patio, Made In's Carbon Steel pans are ideal for outdoor cooking.
Why Cook With GreenPan?
The main concern with any nonstick coating is durability and safety. Ever notice a coating on your pots and pans that blisters, flakes or chips? Sometimes it affects the taste of your food as it tends to leach heavy metals, with coating flaking into your meal, making it detrimental to your health.
Each piece features GreenPan’s signature Thermolon ceramic nonstick coating for incredible nonstick performance without PFAS, PFOA, lead, or cadmium. It will never release toxic fumes, even if overheated. The collection’s ergonomic stainless steel handles are contoured for a comfortable grip while the tempered glass lids give you a clear view of what’s cooking.
GreenPan has also taken strides to make its production methods as green as possible, emitting 60 percent less CO2 during the curing phase of the nonstick coating as compared to traditional coating. They also utilize upcycled stainless steel and aluminum whenever possible.
The textured SearSmart surface has excellent food release so that you can brown and sear your food for extra flavor.
This collection features Greenpan's advanced diamond infused non-stick coating. The exterior sports a finish that prevents stains and discoloration common to stainless steel, making it super easy to clean.
Why Cook With Xtrema?
Made of pure ceramic to lock in total heat, Xtrema allows you to cook on lower and slower settings. It’s really the only pure ceramic cookware on the market that can go on the stovetop and in the oven and is perfect for one-pot recipes, as well as braising, boiling, and baking. Unlike PTFE non-stick cookware, it is PFAS and PFOA free, but it doesn’t have the same non-stick qualities. To avoid using more fats than you’d like for good food release, we recommend getting specific pieces from Xtrema that are ideal one-pot-wonders that are ideal for the oven, soups, and slow braising/cooking recipes. These pieces complement the ceramic nonstick, stainless steel, and blue carbon steel options we’ve mentioned in this guide. Xtrema is FDA-approved and meets California Prop 65 standards, meaning its free of more than 800 compounds that may cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. Xtrema products come with a 10-year warranty and are oven, microwave, grill, and dishwasher safe.
If you are health conscious and deal with chemical sensitivities, or just hyper-vigilant about what you eat and what you cook with, pure ceramic belongs in your kitchen. Read our xtrema profile to learn more about the brand.
All set with high heat pans (think: stainless steel, cast iron, and blue carbon steel)? This set covers large batch and one-pot meals. Perfect for meal preppers that love cooking in large quantities for the week ahead. All 12 pieces can be used and served directly to the table - less dishes to wash? Yes please!
Perfect for slow cooking and long braising recipes (you can even use it on the grill), the Versa skillets are one-pot-wonders that are easily moved from stovetop and oven directly to your tabletop for serving.
Perfect for slow cooking or braising, one-pot-pasta recipes, soups and stews, casseroles, risottos, no-knead bread, and more! If you like to cook in large batches for the week ahead, and can appreciate cookware that doubles as tableware (fewer dishes to clean).
Clean Cookware Considerations
We get it. Choosing the right, non-toxic cookware set for your home can be overwhelming. As our clean cookware picks suggest, cookware brands offer a wide range of pots and pans with materials varying from stainless steel, cast iron, aluminum, and copper. Below you'll find a chart that illustrates strengths and weaknesses of each type of cooking medium. Use it to decide which trade offs you're willing to make and which factors are non negotiable.
When buying new pans we also recommend making a conscious purchase for both the environment and your health, always. Consider socially conscious companies that follow high safety standards and adopt environmentally friendly production methods. Also look for companies that comply with California Prop 65 Guidelines to ensure that your pans are lead and cadmium free.
The Bottom Line Regarding Nonstick Cookware
In our research regarding non-stick cookware, as it pertains to human health and environmental contamination, the main area of concern lies with PFAS, a synthetic chemical used during the production process of PTFE coatings (aka Teflon).
- When heated to high temperatures, PTFE can start to break down and release toxic gas fumes that cause flu-like symptoms. Breathing these fumes can be hazardous to both humans and pets (especially birds).
- When cheap nonstick coatings wear out, the exposed core is typically made from a reactive metal (e.g. aluminum or copper) and may leach heavy metals (e.g. aluminum, copper, lead, cadmium). Not to mention that nonstick coating can flake into your food.
- The manufacturing process for today’s PTFE based nonstick cookware involves another type of PFAS chemical called GenX, which has an unproven safety profile.
Even if most of the industry properly handles and disposes of PFAS, all it takes is a few bad apples to contaminate the environment (see EWG report on PFAS in our water supply).
This clean cookware guide is all about helping you get your kitchen stocked with the right tools while avoiding cookware that is bad for your health and the environment.
Of course, depending on your style of cooking, you’ll want a customized collection of cookware that will execute your favorite cooking techniques, like searing, braising, or prepping delicate foods on clean, non-stick surfaces, and allow you to get creative in the kitchen.
If you’re a supremely experienced home chef and love to cook for friends and family on the weekends and squeeze in a few sessions during the week, our recommendation, start with a foundational set of cookware like Made In’s Stainless Steel, or a Caraway set and fill in from there. Then, if you like to use high heat cooking techniques to add extra texture and flavor, we recommend one, two, or even a set of Made In’s Blue Carbon Steel. If you’re quicker in and out of the kitchen with minimal prep, cook, and clean time we definitely recommend Caraway.
So: We know. This is...a lot. (You can probably tell we’re passionate about clean cooking around here.) For the fast track to cleaner cooking pastures, just take our personalized cookware quiz to learn which clean cooking items will set you up for cheffing success. (It’s quick and easy.)
Editor's Note: Previously we recommended, Ecolution's Bliss Line, Ozeri Green Earth, GreenLife Soft Grip, and Cuisinart's Green Gourmet 12-piece set. In the case of Ecoution and Greenlife, while very affordable, we didn't like that they aren't oven safe and can't handle high heat cooking (something that our top brands are able to handle). As for Ozeri Green Earth (also a low price point), we liked that it touted much of the same specifications of our top brands. However, user reviews indicate that the nonstick GREBLON® ceramic coating wears out after about a year of use. Meanwhile, the Cuisinart Green Gourmet set is priced closer to our top picks (if not slightly cheaper). However, its nonstick coating seems to be less advanced as we saw the same sentiment echoed on multiple review sites that the nonstick coating tends to erode quickly as well.
We frequently add or remove products based on our research and testing, please let us know in the comments below of any brands you'd like us to look into or if you'd like to share your own experiences with the brands you've tried.
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