Does it matter what material your pan is made of? Absolutely. When it comes to healthy cooking, your cookware is just as important as your ingredients.
Here's why choosing the right cookware is so vital for any home cook.
5 Reasons Why You Need to Know What Your Pans Are Made Of
What makes cookware so important? Simple. You need it to craft delicious, healthy meals for yourself and your family. Here are some of the top reasons why you should do your homework before settling on a pan.
1. Health and Safety
If you're researching cookware, you probably care quite a lot about the quality of your food. Using safe, high-quality tools is vital for making sure your food is safe to eat.
Some pans can contain toxins like heavy metals, which can leach into your food and cause potential health problems. Others contain synthetic “forever chemicals,” which don't break down like organic substances — instead, they build up in the human body over time and contribute to health conditions like thyroid problems, immune disorders and even some types of cancer.
2. Environmental Impact
It may not be something you think about while you're cooking, but the tools you use can have a big impact on the planet.
Take nonstick pans, for example. The chemicals used to create the slippery coating have been linked to water supply pollution, which can harm animals and plants. That goes on to the end of your pan's life as well — when a nonstick pan ends up in a landfill, the chemicals leach into the earth and travel into the water supply.
You'll also want to consider how your pan's material will affect your energy usage while cooking. For example, typical nonstick pans stay hotter than the food in them, so you'll need to turn up the heat and use more energy to thoroughly cook your food.
3. Cooking Habits
Different materials heat and react to foods in different ways, so it's important to choose a pan that's best suited for the foods you cook most often. If you love trying new recipes and cooking techniques, it might be worth investing in a collection of specialized pans for specific uses. For example, you might want a pure ceramic wok for stir-fries and a stainless steel saute pan for browning taco meat.
However, if you'd prefer a more versatile, do-it-all pan, consider which one matches your needs best. Do you cook with a lot of oil, or do you prefer dry-heat cooking? Do you want a pan you can throw in the oven, or will you limit it to stovetop use?
4. Care and Maintenance
Some types of pans require extensive care to keep them in top condition, while others just need a simple wash after cooking. Cast iron pans, for example, require extensive maintenance and careful cleaning compared to other pans.
Regardless of whether a pan is dishwasher safe, washing it by hand will help prevent surface scratches, which can limit the risk of rust and corrosion.
5. Food Quality
Finally, you need to know what's in your cookware so you can get the best results in the kitchen. Cheap cookware sets often distribute heat unevenly, which can leave you with partially over- or undercooked food. Whatever material you choose, always check the tag to make sure it's nontoxic and safe for use.
Types of Cookware Material
With so many options, it can be tough to choose which cookware material is best for your kitchen. Here's a quick overview of all the most common materials pans are made from.
Nonstick pans are coated with a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) — better known by its brand name, Teflon. PTFE belongs to a group of synthetic chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), which are resistant to oil and water.
PTFE-lined pans are non-reactive, so food literally slides right off them. This property makes them ideal for frying or sauteing food over medium to low heat, especially with stick-prone foods like eggs and fish.
The main drawback to using PTFE-lined cookware is safety. PTFE has been linked to negative environmental and health outcomes at every stage of its life, from manufacturing to cooking.
Bottom line — be careful when selecting nonstick cookware.
Pure ceramic is a safe, healthy alternative to nonstick and metal cookware.
It's important to mention that most ceramic cookware isn't ceramic at all — it's actually a nonstick coating applied on top of metal like aluminum. But Xtrema's pure ceramic pans are made from 100% handcrafted ceramic. There's no metal core, so there's no chance of chemicals leaching into your food. Plus, our ceramic's scratch-resistant surface and durability make it a versatile choice for any kitchen.
The main factor to consider with pure ceramic cookware is its incompatibility with induction ranges. Because it does not contain a metal core, pure ceramic pans alone cannot transfer energy from the induction cooktop to the food. However, you can use Xtrema pans on induction ranges with the help of a magnetic induction interface disk.
Cast iron pans are kitchen workhorses. They're great for sauteing, braising, baking and frying, among other techniques. There are two types you can choose from — natural and enameled.
Natural cast iron is usually more affordable, but it has higher maintenance needs. To protect against rust and scratching, you need to season your cast iron pan every few months. Additionally, washing natural cast iron with soap can remove the seasoning and increase the risk of rusting — instead, you'll need to wash with water, salt and half a lemon or potato.
While enameled cast iron pans typically cost more, they're much easier to care for. They also come in a wide range of colors, so you can match your pan to your kitchen.
Although cast iron is a great cooking material, it has its downsides. Here are the main drawbacks to cast iron cookware:
- Weight: Cast iron pans are heavy — a typical skillet can weigh anywhere from 4 to 12 pounds depending on its size. If you want to easily flip pancakes or toss stir-fried veggies, you'll want to go for a lighter pan.
- Conductivity: While cast iron is great at holding heat, it's not the best conductor. Essentially, this means it can take a while to heat up, and if your burner is smaller than the pan, your food won't heat evenly.
- Technique: The handles on a cast iron pan can get very hot, so you need to be extra careful when cooking. Oven mitts or pan handle covers can help reduce the risk of burns.
Stainless Steel Clad
Stainless steel clad pans combine the anti-corrosive properties of stainless steel with the conductivity of other metals like aluminum or copper. As a result, this type of cookware is highly durable and can last for generations.
It's also one of the most versatile cookware materials available. Most stainless steel clad pans are oven safe, broiler safe and suitable for frying food at high temperatures.
Stainless steel cookware is also incredibly durable and easy to maintain. All you have to do is wash it with a sponge and some warm soapy water — and it's dishwasher safe, so cleaning up on busy nights is a breeze. You also don't need to season a stainless steel pan like you would with carbon steel or cast iron.
The main downside to stainless steel is that low-grade pans can be reactive to acidic foods, which can result in the metals leaching metal into your food. You'll need to invest in a high-quality pan to reduce the risk of reactivity. The best stainless cookware has an 18/10 ratio of chromium to nickel, but 18/8 and 18/0 are also good choices.
There's a reason copper is a popular choice among home cooks. It's highly conductive, so it heats and cools rapidly — you have total control over how your food heats up. It's also aesthetically pleasing, adding a bright, warm pop of color to your kitchen.
Most pans are lined with tin or stainless steel to limit the copper's reactiveness and create a safe barrier between the metal and your food. However, specialized copper pans are often left unlined to provide maximum control for specific techniques, like whipping egg whites or making jam.
While copper is a wonderful material for high-performance cookware, it does have a few drawbacks:
- Cost: Because copper is a precious metal, copper cookware is more expensive than most other types of pans — especially if you're looking for heavy-duty pans.
- Maintenance: Copper has higher maintenance needs than many other cookware materials. To keep it looking pristine, you need to clean your copper pan every few months using a special copper polish. It's also not dishwasher safe, so you can only wash it by hand.
- Compatibility: Copper is incompatible with induction ranges because it's nonmagnetic. You can add an induction disk to solve this issue, but it does add to the pan's cost.
Aluminum is one of the most affordable cookware materials available. It's lightweight and highly responsive, especially when strengthened with other metals like magnesium or copper. Most aluminum cookware requires minimal maintenance, though specific needs vary between brands.
However, aluminum can be reactive when exposed to acidic foods. Sometimes, it can even leave a metallic taste or gray tint behind. To reduce this problem, choose a pan that is either anodized, stainless steel clad or lined with a nonstick coating.
In general, carbon steel makes a good, lightweight alternative to cast iron. It can reach higher temperatures than many other materials and, like cast iron, it retains heat for long periods. As a result, it's excellent for high-heat cooking techniques, like blackening fish or searing steak.
With the proper care, carbon steel is durable and long-lasting, making it an environmentally friendly choice.
The drawbacks to carbon steel pans include:
- Reactivity: Like cast iron, carbon steel is reactive to highly acidic ingredients, like wine, tomatoes and citrus fruits. Properly seasoning your pan can help reduce its reactivity.
- Weight: Although carbon steel is lighter than cast iron, it's still heavier than other materials like ceramic and aluminum.
- Maintenance: You have to season your carbon steel pans frequently to prevent rusting and keep reactivity low. While you can purchase pre-seasoned pans, you'll have to re-season them later on.
Most stoneware is intended for baking only — think casserole dishes and pizza stones. So if you're specifically looking for something you can throw in the oven, this material may be an option for you.
Stoneware distributes heat evenly and holds it well, like cast iron. Unlike cast iron, though, it's less likely to burn your meals.
Another benefit of stoneware is that it makes a beautiful addition to your kitchen. It comes in many colors, so you can choose one that matches your kitchen.
That said, stoneware is fairly high-maintenance. You need to avoid exposing it to severe temperature differences, which can cause cracking. Similarly, while most stoneware is dishwasher-safe, hand washing it with warm soapy water and a scrub brush is best.
Inexpensive stoneware can also contain small amounts of lead, depending on where and how it was manufactured. Investing in high-quality stoneware is essential for safer cooking.
Dangers of Different Cookware Materials
Although each material has its pros and cons, some come with a higher degree of risk than others. Here are some of the dangers of the most common cookware materials:
- Nonstick: Nonstick pans containing PTFE can release harmful toxins into the air if exposed to high temperatures, which can negatively impact your household's health. Materials used in the production of nonstick cookware can also cause serious environmental damage.
- Cast iron: Damaged cast iron pans can rust and leach iron into your food, which can lead to iron toxicity in people with conditions such as hemochromatosis. Proper maintenance is critical for avoiding this problem.
- Aluminum: High levels of aluminum exposure have been linked to neurological and kidney conditions. To minimize exposure, avoid cooking acidic foods in aluminum pans, as this can cause small amounts of metal to leach into your food.
- Stainless steel: Cheaply made stainless steel can contain heavy metals that can leach into your food. Investing in a high-quality pan is vital.
- Copper: Unlined copper pans can leach copper into your food, which can be toxic at high quantities. A stainless steel-lined copper pan is the safer choice for most home cooks.
- Ceramic: If you're interested in purchasing a ceramic-lined pan, make sure it's been tested for heavy metals. Opt for pure ceramic cookware instead, which is nontoxic and safe for use with all foods.
Benefits of Using Pure Ceramic Cookware
At Xtrema, we use 100% ceramic in all of our products. Our cookware is:
- Nontoxic: Unlike most nonstick pans, Xtrema cookware is nontoxic, leach-free, PTFE-free and PTOA-free. There's no risk of harmful chemicals making their way into your food, even when cooking at high temperatures.
- Lightweight: Our pans have all the benefits of cast iron with only 40% of the weight, so you can cook your favorite foods without the extra hassle.
- Versatile: Pure ceramic cookware is safe for use in the oven and the microwave, making it ideal for a wide range of dishes. It's also dishwasher safe, so cleanup is a breeze.
- Long-lasting: Our ceramic pans last for generations, creating wonderful family heirlooms and keeping waste out of landfills.
- Sustainable: We strive to minimize waste in every aspect of the production process, from manufacturing, to shipping, to the longevity of our products. When you choose our products, you help the planet.
Compare those benefits to what you'll find with most other materials, and you'll see that ceramic is the clear choice for your kitchen.
Choose Pure Ceramic Cookware From Xtrema
If you're looking for high-quality, safe cookware, Xtrema has what you need. Unlike standard ceramic-coated pans, Xtrema cookware is made from 100% handcrafted ceramic. Our pans are completely nontoxic, PTOA-free and PTFE-free, so you can count on them to help cook nutritious meals for years to come.