Following the 2017 Teflon debacle and the ensuing class action lawsuit, cookware manufacturers swapped traditional nonstick materials for seemingly safer ceramic coatings. But there are still many questions that need to be answered about the safety and durability of ceramic-coated cookware.
So, when you're trying to find the right cookware set for your kitchen, how do you know you're choosing the best material? We spoke with experienced materials experts to create this comprehensive overview of the pros and cons of this relatively new cookware material.
What Is Ceramic-Coated Cookware?
Cookware coatings have been used for decades. Manufacturers have used fluoropolymer coatings such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) since the 1940s to create nonstick cookware. PTFE — more commonly known as Teflon — is water-resistant with a high melting point. Unfortunately, some of the chemicals used to create fluoropolymer coatings are known to be toxic.
For example, traditional Teflon manufacturing processes used perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which does not break down in the environment like other materials. Cookware manufacturers stopped using PFOA in nonstick pan production after it came under scrutiny in the 1990s, which was around the time that ceramic-coated cookware gained popularity as a safe alternative.
But the PFOA controversy raised bigger questions for health-conscious consumers, who wondered if cookware coatings were really as safe as the industry claimed.
How Is Ceramic-Coated Cookware Made?
A ceramic-coated pan is essentially any metal pan with a thin ceramic layer on top. The substrate, or metal core, of the pan varies from brand to brand. Some companies use anodized aluminum, which is an inexpensive metal known for its conductive properties. Other brands use cast iron or stainless steel.
As for the ceramic coating, most are not truly ceramic. They're actually "Sol-gel" coatings containing silica (sand) and other inorganic chemicals. Sol-gel is the preferred method of applying ceramic coatings to cookware to make it nonstick.
Typically, manufacturers spray Sol-gel onto the metal substrate before firing the pan at high temperatures. Depending on the manufacturer, this curing process can range between 400 and 800 degrees Fahrenheit.
While Sol-gel coatings are technically harder and able to withstand higher temperatures than PTFE coatings, most companies advise their customers against heating ceramic-coated pans above 500 degrees — any hotter, and the ceramic coating could decompose.
When Sol-gel decomposes, ceramic-coated pans can lose their nonstick properties, and the surface can become coarse or gritty. As a result, these pans are not usually recommended for use in the dishwasher or under the broiler.
Is Ceramic-Coated Cookware Nonstick?
The idea of ceramic nonstick cookware is a misnomer. Ceramic is not naturally nonstick, which is why most companies use Sol-gel technology to create a ceramic nonstick coating.
The slick surface on ceramic-coated pans usually degrades over time. Regular exposure to high heat can accelerate this process. Some experts suggest that ceramic coatings have only one-sixth of the life span of their PTFE counterparts.
Another important question is how long the ceramic coating lasts. A well-maintained ceramic-coated pan is expected to hold up for one to two years — considering its high price point, that's not very long.
Is Ceramic Nonstick Cookware Safer Than Other Nonstick Cookware?
Due to the controversy surrounding fluoropolymers and PTFE, it makes sense that there's an abundance of scientific research on these chemicals. Unfortunately, though, there isn't much historical research on the long-term effects of Sol-gel on human health.
That's not to say that one is inherently safer than the other — regardless of the material, purchasing your cookware from a reputable company can help limit your risk of direct food contamination. As the old saying goes, it's always better to be safe than sorry.
How to Use and Care for Your Ceramic-Coated Pots and Pans
If you choose ceramic-coated cookware, you need to know how to maintain it. Taking proper care of your pots and pans can help you extend their life spans, which saves money and reduces waste. More importantly, taking the time to maintain your ceramic-coated cookware can protect you from harmful components in the coating and metal core.
Here are some tips for taking care of ceramic-coated cookware.
Proper Pan Heating and Cooling
Regularly exposing your cookware to extreme temperatures will degrade the coating and lead to excessive sticking. A clear sign of a degraded ceramic coating is a rough or grainy surface.
The best way to take care of ceramic cookware is to heat it up slowly and avoid high heat altogether. Sticking to low to medium heat will prolong the life of your pan — remember, low and slow is the best way to go.
And never put a hot frying pan in water. Even if the water is hot, the pan is hotter. Exposing your cookware to such quick temperature changes can damage the coating even more. Rather than running water over a hot pan, set it aside and let it cool to room temperature before washing.
How to Wash Ceramic Cookware
As we learned above, Sol-gel surfaces do not respond well to extreme temperature changes, and that applies to cleaning as well. While some companies claim that their products are dishwasher safe, it's generally best to hand wash ceramic-coated cookware with warm water, a soft sponge and a mild soap.
Avoid harsh soaps and abrasive cleaners like steel wool or rough nylon pads, as these can ruin the finish of your pans and destroy the nonstick surface. It's also best to allow the pan to cool before cleaning to prevent temperature damage.
Using the Right Utensils
Using metal cooking utensils on ceramic-coated pans can scratch the Sol-gel coating, which increases the risk of unwanted toxins from the metal substrate leaching into your food. Stick to soft utensils made from wood, nylon or silicone to protect your pans.
Stack and Store With Care
Always store your cookware using a soft cookware protector. It’s a small investment to insure your purchase of an expensive cookware set. Especially if you stack your pans, using cookware protectors will prevent chips, cracks and scratches.
Pros and Cons of Coated Cookware
While adding a ceramic coating to pots and pans can make cooking at home a little easier by reducing cleanup, it also comes with some downsides. Here are some of the biggest pros and cons of using ceramic-coated cookware.
Nonstick Ceramic Coating
With proper use and maintenance, ceramic coatings for cookware make a good alternative to traditional nonstick pans. They do require a little more love and patience, but that’s what good, healthy home cooking is all about.
Essentially, if you take care of your cookware, it will take care of you.
Easy to Clean
Unlike stainless steel and cast iron, ceramic cookware is relatively easy to clean. All you need to clean the ceramic-coated surface is a soft sponge and warm water. Use a delicate cleanser like Branch Basics to remove most cooking residue. And for hard-to-remove bits of food that are stuck to the pan, you can always use baking soda.
While we’re inclined to say that ceramic-coated cookware is safe, the verdict is still out on the long-term use of Sol-gel. Also, ceramic surfaces with deep scratches can leach toxins from the base metal beneath the ceramic coating.
Essentially, coated pans are relatively safe — but there are definitely safer options. And when it comes to family, why compromise? Opting for a different cookware material can help you feel confident that your cooking is truly healthy.
On its own, ceramic is an excellent conductor of heat. However, because ceramic-coated pans often contain inexpensive metal substrates, the heat distribution and retention is less than optimal.
It is a common complaint that ceramic-coated pans do not heat evenly. Metal heats up fast and transfers heat well, but it does not retain heat as well as pure ceramic does.
When we think of a durable pan, we think of cast iron. It’s nearly impossible to destroy, and it can last a lifetime.
Ceramic-coated cookware is not nearly as durable. For one thing, the coatings can chip, scratch and even detach from the base of the pan. It's a rare occurrence, but it's certainly possible.
There's also the issue of the coating degrading over time. All coatings degrade, period. While you can find cast iron frying pans from the early 1900s, this kind of longevity is not possible with coated pans. Ceramic-coated pans typically last a few months to a few years, while newer nonstick pans can last eight to 10 years with careful maintenance.
Xtrema 100% Ceramic Cookware Is Different
While ceramics have been used in cooking for thousands of years, Xtrema found a way to innovate this time-tested cooking material to make it safer, more durable and completely versatile for modern cooking. There are many things that distinguish our cookware from the abundance of ceramic-coated options out there. Here are just a few.
Pure Ceramic Means No Metal Core
When we say that our cookware is 100% ceramic, we mean it. There is no ambiguity — Xtrema is constructed with all-natural, all-ceramic materials. Instead of a metal substrate, our products have a solid ceramic core, which makes them safer than ceramic-coated cookware.
Year in and year out, Gold Standard product testing has shown that Xtrema does not leach toxic materials — no lead, no cadmium, no glues, no polymers, no dyes and no PFAs. Instead, we use all-natural inorganic materials that are inherently safer and healthier than other synthetic cookware brands. That's why our products are always California Prop 65 compliant.
Additionally, using 100% pure ceramic helps you ensure your food tastes the way it should. When heated, ceramic cookware reflects heat back into the pan. It also retains heat better than metal cookware that rapidly loses heat.
Xtrema cookware is also completely inert, which means it doesn't chemically react with food like other materials. What you put in is what you get out — even when cooking with acidic ingredients, the flavor won't change.
Glazed, Not Coated
The second most important distinction between Xtrema and ceramic-coated cookware is the proprietary glazing we use. Instead of a Sol-gel coating, we apply a food-grade ceramic glaze to seal and protect Xtrema’s ceramic inner core.
The ceramic glazed cookware is then kiln-fired at over 2,000 degrees — considerably hotter than 400 to 800 degrees, the temperature range used to cure ceramic-coated cookware. Why is this significant? Because the heat at which a pan is cured will dictate the heat that the pan can withstand.
For example, most ceramic-coated pans use aluminum to distribute heat. The melting point of aluminum is roughly 1,220 degrees. So a standard ceramic-coated pan would completely melt if exposed to the curing process that we use for Xtrema cookware.
It's also worth noting that the cooking surface on Xtrema cookware will not degrade when exposed to high heat. We cure it at over 2,000 degrees, so it can withstand much higher temperatures than ceramic-coated products. While most nonstick brands recommend not to heat their pans above 500 degrees to prevent toxic fumes and coating degradation, Xtrema has no such limitations because we don’t use toxic chemicals or Sol-gel coatings.
In all fairness, there are plenty of good reasons not to cook food above 500 degrees. But the point is, if your cookware releases toxic fumes or degrades at high temperatures, it might be worth considering whether your cookware is really as safe as it could be.
Scratch- and Stain-Resistant
One of the best features of Xtrema is that the cooking surface is scratch resistant. While we don't recommend using metal utensils, you won't need to throw away your pan if you make a mistake.
Xtrema is also stain resistant. Use whatever foods you want in Xtrema cookware, and it will never stain. While these may seem like minor benefits, it really speaks to the quality of our cookware. And when you make that investment in the best cookware set, you want it to last.
Choose Xtrema Ceramic Cookware
Xtrema can be used practically anywhere — on the stovetop, in the refrigerator or on the barbecue. And because Xtrema retains heat better than stainless steel or ceramic-coated metal pans, you can be sure that your food will stay warm well after cooking.