The variety of cookware available nowadays can be somewhat overwhelming when shopping, with non-stick, cast iron, ceramic and uncoated stainless steel all clamoring for a place in your kitchen.
Your choice of coated cookware or uncoated stainless steel will boil down to the type of cooking you do. Coated cookware uses far less oil and is easier to clean, but the coating has some risks, while stainless steel is highly durable and safe but can be tough to clean.
Before you decide which to take home, let's look at the pros and cons of each in more culinary detail so you can make a properly informed decision as to which will be better suited for you and your kitchen.
What Is Coated Cookware
Coated cookware is mainly made using a steel base such as aluminum and then using a process to apply the non-stick coating to the steel. A few different types of non-stick coating are used, with the most common being Teflon and ceramic.
These coatings make the cookware non-stick, meaning less cleaning and much less oil is required in your food when using non-stick cookware. Because the food doesn't stick and would essentially slide around in the pan, cooking is a breeze, and you won't have any burnt sticky bits left over afterward.
For the most part, non-stick cookware can be placed in the dishwasher and used in the oven with no risk. When cooking, you need to use plastic wooden cooking utensils as metal can chip away the coating and all of this makes coated cookware a popular favorite.
However, unlike stainless steel, coated cookware has some real risks that you need to know before buying. Let's look at the different coatings, their potential risks, and how to avoid them.
The Dangers Of Teflon (PTFE) And PFOA
As one of the first non-stick coatings, Teflon-coated cookware took the world by storm, but concerns were raised about one of the chemicals used in the manufacture of Teflon that had potentially carcinogenic characteristics, and that chemical was PFOA.
In May of 2016, the EPA expressed concerns by issuing a lifetime health warning advisory on PFOA. This was a chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon(PTFE). Multiple studies showed that high levels of this chemical could cause kidney and testicular cancer and affect fetus development, lover damage, thyroid disease, cholesterol changes, and blood pressure changes during pregnancy.
As early as 2006, the EPA requested that the eight major manufacturers that used PFOA in their production of Teflon coated cookware and other products cease using PFOA, and by 2015, the use of PFOA had been phased out.
There is no PFOA in any Teflon cookware, but there are still some inherent risks with this coated cookware.
Precautions When Using Teflon Coated Cookware
One of the biggest concerns with Teflon is that at very high temperatures of 500℉, it can break down, and this can release carcinogenic fumes into the air, which is potentially harmful.
If you buy and use this type of cookware, check the manufacturer's directions and do not exceed the temperature limits.
While you can preheat pans made of cast iron or stainless steel, it is not recommended to preheat coated cookware; only use them on low to medium heat and never leave dry or empty cookware in a hot oven on the stove.
Using metal cooking utensils can chip or scrape away the coating, and aside from the heat risk, the metal base is exposed to your food.
Because the coating is designed to act as a barrier between your food and the metal, many steel bases are made from non-food grade aluminum, and this metal is toxic if it leaches into your food due to a cracked or chipped coating.
While Teflon is being used at average cooking temperatures, it releases fumes. While this is not harmful to people, birds may be severely affected and even die due to their highly sensitive respiratory tracts, and this applies to both non-stick and uncoated cookware.
So, if you have birds, don't keep them in the kitchen, and always make sure you have sufficient ventilation regardless of the cookware you are using.
Tips For Purchasing Coated Cookware
With many of these products available online and at incredible prices, it's easy to grab a bargain without considering a few essential facts.
Remember that you will be using this to make food for yourself and your family, and your cookware mustn't ever pose any health risk to any person you make food for.
Always do some research on the brand before you buy and whether it's Teflon or ceramic, buy cookware from origins with high food safety standards like the USA or Japan.
These countries have stringent safety measures in place. Many will only use food-grade aluminum as the metal base for coated cookware; you can also be confident that there is no risk of PFOA contamination.
Always check reviews on social media and the manufacturer's specifications on whether their product is dishwasher safe and temperature limits for ovens and stovetops.
Ceramic Coated Cookware
Another type of coating used is ceramic, and this should not be confused with clay-baked ceramic cookware as the two are unrelated. Genuine ceramic cookware is made from clay and fired at high temperatures to produce casserole dishes, pots, and pans.
Ceramic coating is created using silica and a gel spinning process to add layers of silica to the metal base, whether aluminum or steel, and then dried under special conditions to make the non-stick coating.
Ceramic-coated cookware uses the same fundamental concept as Teflon-coated cookware in that it uses a metal-based pan or pot with a non-stick coating. Ceramic coated cookware was developed as an alternative to Teflon following the PFOA concerns, but this coating too has its risks.
The significant risk with ceramic coating is the metal leaching into your food should the layer become damaged or chipped. As aluminum is a popular choice with the cookware base, non-food grade aluminum can infuse into your food when cooking through scratches or chips that expose the steel.
As with Teflon coatings, the non-stick layer is designed to protect your food against steel exposure, and any failure of the coating may result in toxic materials being ingested.
Another risk with ceramic coated and other coated cookware is lead poisoning. This is as a result of the use of aluminum alloys rather than pure aluminum in manufacturing the steel base.
These allow often contain lead, and should the coating fail, the possibility of lead poisoning is a distinct reality, which can lead to severe health problems if consumed.
The coating itself may also have heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, and these may often be present when the standards of manufacture are not as strict as they are in the USA and Japan.
Under high heat, these chemicals can leach into your food, and over time, this gradual exposure can create mild to severe health issues.
As with Teflon-coated cookware, the same precautions should be taken: not preheat ceramic cookware before using, checking and not exceeding the manufacturer's temperature limits, buying ceramic coated products from reputable brands, and discarding any damaged or cracked cookware immediately.
Storing Coated Cookware Safely
Aside from the cooking, there are some easy ways to store and preserve your coated cookware safely and preserve the non-stick coating.
Never stack your cookware, and if you have to, place paper towels or cloths between them to ensure the coating does not get damaged by impact.
Don't expose them to rapid changes in temperatures as this can cause severe thermal stress. Allow them to cool down before refrigerating, and never leave food in the pan once cooked.
Instead, transfer it to a storage container and clean and wipe the pan or pot down before washing and storing.
For pancakes, eggs, and other foods that are known to stick, you can get a couple of non-stick skillets, but you don't need them for any dishes where there is a lot of water or where foods won't stick- for high heat cooking and other words, instead opt for uncoated stainless steel.
Uncoated Stainless Steel Cookware – Pros And Cons
As a cooking material, few are safer than stainless steel. It is inert, meaning that it does not react chemically with any food you may cook in it.
Because it is made at very, very high temperatures, your domestic stove or cooker could never get close to the forging temperatures making it ideal for high-heat dishes.
Let's look at the pros of using stainless steel cookware:
Stainless Steel Cookware – The Pros
- Good quality stainless steel usually has high heat handles, so these can be used in ovens without risk of damage. While coated cookware should not be preheated and is not great for browning or searing, stainless steel has no such issues.
- Because of their durability, many professional chefs use this type of cookware to make delicate sauces and glazes for seared meat dishes and everything in between.
- While cast iron is optimum for searing, it is not usually advisable to use cast iron for very acidic foods like tomato-based dishes as the acidity reacts with the iron, especially if left in the pot or pan for some time.
- Another great property that stainless steel has is tough as ..well..steel! Coated cookware is lighter and less durable and can crack, chip, or dent under the impact; stainless steel is more likely to damage you or the floor than the damage itself.
- Storing stainless steel doesn't require any protection between the pieces as coated cookware does, and this is again due to the material itself, so you can simply pack it away after you've washed and dried it.
- Stainless steel is also very versatile as you can cook anything from meats to bread and most things in between. But, while it sounds like the perfect cookware, stainless steel does have a downside.
- Most good-quality stainless steel cookware has an aluminum or copper core that delivers superior heat distribution and a stainless core covering to prevent a non-reactive finish.
- When cooking, you can use sharp metal utensils without the risk of damage.
- And the best part, stainless steel cookware is dishwasher safe, so once you're finished cooking, allow it to cool, then wipe the dish clean and load it into the dishwasher.
Stainless Steel Cookware – The Cons
- Firstly, high-quality stainless steel cookware is expensive, and while there is no doubt that it is a worthwhile investment, the price tag for a decent set may be too high for some. Bear in mind that stainless will outlast coated cookware by some margin when looked after.
- Stainless steel is not impervious to thermal stress, and placing hot cookware into cold water could cause the steel to warp, but this is true for most kinds of steel.
- Stainless steel cookware is more prone to sticking than coated cookware, and when left untreated, it may take a bit of serious elbow grease to remove. To prevent this, always preheat to the right temperature before cooking and have your ingredients are room temperature before adding them.
- Stainless steel is not ideal for foods that stick like eggs, tofu, and delicate fish dishes.
- When cooking with stainless steel cookware, you will to need to pay more attention to your dish to prevent it from sticking or burning.
- It should be oiled and heated correctly before cooking.
- And lastly, stainless steel usually requires more effort and energy to clean, and removing stuck bits of food residue before placing it in the dishwasher is recommended.
Each of these types of cookware has its unique properties, and while coated cookware poses more significant health risks if not used properly, it has great benefits too. However, knowing what you like to cook and what you want to cook will give you a great idea of which to use.
If you have to choose between coated cookware and uncoated stainless steel, stainless will win hands down, but the great news is that you don't have to choose! You can use both in your kitchen to produce incredible meals for you and your family for years to come.