Know Your Cookware
Clean Eating|May - June 2019

Up your game by choosing the right type of cookware for the job.

The selection of cookware at a kitchen store can feel dizzying — and the questions pile up quickly when browsing. Why are some pots and pans so much more expensive than others? What is the deal with cast iron? Are nonstick pans toxic? Luckily, the answers are close at hand. These are the most common varieties of cookware and why you’d choose one over another.

NONSTICK

Lightweight, multipurpose and inexpensive, nonstick pans are popular for a reason. They’re made from aluminum or stainless steel and covered in one of two types of nonstick coating, known as traditional (or Teflon) or ceramic. On a traditional nonstick pan, the coating is often made from a compound called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). While most of the data suggests it’s safe, it’s unwise to heat a nonstick pan above 500°F, as it can emit gases that are toxic to birds (and unhealthy for humans). Don’t leave your pan empty over a flame, as this can cause the temperature to go too high. Another chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is also used in the process of making Teflon. While PFOA is a carcinogen, virtually none of the chemical is left in the final product as it’s burned off during manufacturing. In fact, the American Cancer Society does not consider it to be present in high enough quantities in pans to be harmful. However, PFOA and its salts do have damaging ecological effects, particularly on wildlife, so it’s worth looking for pans made without it.

A “ceramic” nonstick pan is actually a misnomer — it’s coated with silicon, not ceramic. (It got its name because silicon is made with sand, like ceramics, and the smooth surface resembles porcelain.) Unlike traditional nonstick pans, they are safe up to 800°F.

If you’ve started to notice your nonstick pan sticking, there might be a surprise culprit: Cooking spray.

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