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The Best (And Worst) Cookware Materials


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Image Credit: Penny De Los Santos

With the wide range of cookware available on the market today, it is easy to see why consumers may be confused about which materials to look for. I am frequently asked about my opinion on various cookware materials, particularly regarding their safety and potential toxicity. In addition to the health issues with various cookware, there are also differences in quality, durability, and ease of use that may influence your decision on what type of material to use. With all these different factors in mind, choosing the best cookware can be challenging.

While many popular brands and styles of pots and pans are perfectly safe and versatile in their uses, there are a few types that may pose health risks if used regularly. In this article, I will clear up any confusion about which types of pots and pans are safest and easiest to use for all types of cooking.

The following are my picks for the three best and three worst types of cookware.

Best Materials


Enamel cookware is ideal for dishes where heat retention and balance are required. The best quality can be found in enameled cast iron, but enameled ceramic or steel are other great choices. It is one of the safest types of cookware that comes close to a non-stick surface, making it easy to use and clean up after cooking. The cooking surface is nonreactive, so there is no need to worry about dangerous chemicals or metals leaching into food.

Though it can take a long time to heat up, the heat is distributed evenly and is easily maintained, making it a versatile cookware material for many types of dishes. Enamel cookware can also easily go from stovetop to oven, so these pots and pans are great for slow cooking or braising.

The major downside of enamel cookware is it tends to be very expensive, particularly when made by a reputable brand like Le Creuset. That said, high quality enamel pots and pans can be a worthwhile investment, as they are extremely durable and will last for many years. I personally love my enamel cookware and use it on a regular basis to create many of my meals.

My top picks for enamel cookware are the Le Creuset 5-1/2-Quart Round French Oven and the Le Creuset Stoneware Square Baking Dish.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is another popular and traditional style of cookware that has been used for hundreds of years. Cast iron is durable and provides great conductivity and heat retention. It is perfect for cooking dishes that need to go from stove-top to oven, and is excellent for searing meat. Cast iron tends to be far less expensive than enamel, but lasts just as long and can be used for a variety of recipes.

People with iron overload should probably not use iron skillets, as inorganic iron can leach into the food, particularly when cooking with liquids and acidic ingredients like citrus or tomato. However, the amount of iron that is released into the food is generally safe for those who do not have any issues with excess iron.

Cast iron does require some extra effort in its maintenance. A cast iron pan should be seasoned by coating with an oil like coconut oil, tallow, or lard (do not use butter), and then putting it in a 300° oven for three hours. While it is heating, you should remove it at least three times to wipe it clean and re-grease it. Seasoning your cast iron cookware will help give it a natural nonstick coating and will prevent rusting. Never use soap on a seasoned cast iron pan, simply wipe it out with a nonabrasive sponge or washcloth, or use salt as an abrasive if extra cleaning is needed.

Some popular cast iron cookware items are the Lodge Logic 10-Inch Chef’s Skillet and the Lodge Logic Square Grill Pan.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel can be used for any type of cooking, but is especially useful for quick dishes, browning meat, or for recipes that require gauging the color of a broth or a sauce. If you are just looking to sauté something quickly, stainless steel is your best choice. Stainless steel is great for quickly heating things up, is far less expensive than ceramic, and is easier to clean and maintain than cast iron.

Stainless steel can withstand dishwashers and abrasive cleansers without scratching or denting, so clean up is relatively painless. Stainless steel is quite durable, and even the less expensive brands will last a long time. Also, stainless steel is one of the few metal cookwares that are nonreactive, so the metal doesn’t interact with the food or affect the final flavor of the dish.

One of the major drawbacks of using stainless steel for cooking is that many types can be prone to sticking if the cookware is not used correctly. It is important to add adequate oil to the pan, and allow it to get hot before adding the food, in order to minimize sticking. Unfortunately, compared to enamel and cast iron, stainless steel is not a great conductor of heat and doesn’t distribute heat as evenly.

Be sure to find a stainless steel pan that does not have any non-stick coatings. My favorite stainless steel items are the All-Clad Stainless 10-Inch Fry Pan and the All Clad Stainless Steel 1-1/2-Quart Sauce Pan with Lid.

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Worst Materials


If there is one cookware material I would never use, it’s one with a non-stick plastic coating like Teflon. While non-stick cookware is a tempting purchase due to its inexpensive price point and easy clean up, the health risks from using this type of material for cooking overshadow any time or effort you may save in the kitchen.

Teflon, made of the chemical known as PFOA, is the most persistent synthetic chemical known to man, and is found in the blood of nearly every person tested. (1) Animal studies have shown that PFOA causes cancer, liver damage, growth defects, immune system damage, and death in lab rats and monkeys. An EPA advisory panel reported that PFOA is a “likely carcinogen” in humans. (2)

Besides just leaching chemicals into the food, Teflon cookware has also been shown to release dangerous chemicals into the air during use. Toxic fumes released from heated non-stick cookware has been shown to be deadly to birds, with many hundreds of birds dying every year from “Teflon toxicosis.” (3) Even more scary is that DuPont’s own scientists have admitted that polymer fume fever in humans is possible at 662°F, a temperature easily exceeded when a pan is preheated on a burner or placed beneath a broiler. (4)

There is no amount of time or stuck-on food that could be saved that would make up for the likely dangers that cooking with Teflon brings, and any cookware made with this toxic material should be thrown out immediately. It amazes me that this product is still allowed on the market, considering the warnings from the EPA about its toxicity.


Aluminum cookware, while not as toxic as Teflon, may pose some health risks as well, and is not recommended for use in cooking. Aluminum cookware has been shown to leach a significant amount of aluminum into food during cooking, which could pose a toxicity threat. This raises some concerns due to the effects of aluminum on the human nervous system and the hypothesized connection between aluminum exposures and Alzheimer’s disease. (5) Studies in animals show that the nervous system is a sensitive target of aluminum toxicity. (6) While there is yet to be a scientific consensus on the dangers of low level aluminum ingestion, avoiding aluminum exposure in cooking is generally a good idea for optimal health.

Depending on the type of food cooked in aluminum cookware, levels of aluminum in the food will be highly varied. Leafy vegetables and acidic foods, such as tomatoes and citrus products, absorb the most aluminum during cooking. (7) If you absolutely must use an aluminum pan, avoid cooking highly acidic or basic foods, and do not scrape the pan with a spatula or metal spoon.


While copper may be a safer choice than Teflon or aluminum, I do not recommend using copper cookware due to leaching concerns. An excess of copper can cause a variety of health problems, many stemming from a copper-zinc imbalance. Some symptoms of this imbalance include behavior disorders, depression, acne, eczema, headaches, and poor immune function to name a few. You can learn more about the symptoms of copper-zinc imbalance by listening to my podcast on the topic.

Most copper cookware these days is coated with stainless steel to improve durability and ease of cleaning. Despite this steel coating, copper should never be used to cook acidic food, since over time the acid can cause copper to leach into the food. Older copper cookware may be coated with tin or nickel, which is unsafe for food use and should not be used for cooking. If you are unsure of the age of your copper pots and pans, it is probably safer to just discard them. Regardless of whether your pot is new or old, the risk of copper leaching into your food is still significant, so replacing your copper cookware with a safer alternative is recommended.

Good cookware is worth the investment!

While enamel, cast iron, and stainless steel tend to be more expensive, they are durable, versatile, and safe. I feel it is worth investing a little extra money into high quality cookware, and I am confident these non-toxic kitchen tools will last you and your family a lifetime.

What kinds of cookware do you use in your kitchen? Do you plan to make any changes having read this article?

Image Credit: Penny De Los Santos

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Chris Kresser in kitchen


Join the conversation

  1. Chris, maybe you could elaborate on these related topics in a followup post:
    cooking with aluminum foil
    cooking in a microwave
    non-stick alternative “green” cookware
    safe cooking temperatures i.e. grilling.
    lead in crock pots

    Many people recommend Le Crueset and cast iron cookware, but it is too heavy for some people (who have health issues) for daily use. All-Clad is too expensive for some, and doesn’t stainless steel leech nickel? And what exactly do you mean by aluminum cookware? Even the cookware that has aluminum on the bottom?

    And please clarify for some folks who might not know: most non-stick cookwar is teflon. But they use different names for the non-stick, like silverstone, etc., so people might not know.


    • The word “Teflon” is trademarked by DuPont, so you could have a material that is chemically the same, e.g. PTFE (polytetraflouraethylene) and have the same negative properties to cook on, and not be called Teflon. I am not well versed in all of the names of non-stick surfaces, and which one contain PTFE and which don’t, just beware that some may not use the word “Teflon” if they don’t buy their PTFE from DuPont.

    • American vintage cast iron is lighter than LeCrueszet and costs less. Instead of all-clad, get a stainless still with copper or aluminum bottom for acidic food preparations.

  2. What about the Martha Stewart enameled cast iron cookware that Macy’s sells? I also love Le Creuset, but it is very expensive. Do you have any thoughts about the other brands of enameled cast iron cookware?

    • Staub!!!

      Comparable to Le Creuset. Made in France! I prefer the colors, shapes, and configurations of Staub over Le Creuset.


      Pricy, yes, but you sometimes can find deals on discontinued colors on the web.

      I have the Cocottes for soups and braising, and a saute pan, which can also go in the oven. The saute pan has two handles for ease of transfer to the oven. I also cook eggs in the saute pan and they mostly do not stick. Even when they do, it comes right off. There are little hexagons on the surface, which is their version of “non-stick”: http://www.staubusa.com/prod_saute/index.asp

      • Some of Le Creuset are made in China/Thailand. At the time of this posting, it seems mostly their bakers. A lot of complaints about them cracking. Just a heads up for future purchases.

  3. I’m amazed by all the people on here that seem to be unable to think or research for themselves. o.O

    • Good point. I just did some research and apparently we’re supposed to eat 6 servings of whole grains per day, plenty of low fat dairy, and avoid red meat because it causes the plague… Point being, why wade through hundreds of online articles/studies/blogs when we can post questions on here that are often answered by someone who already has?

      • Couldn’t have said it better myself… I’m pretty sure most of us here have done a fair amount of research, but it never hurts to get a second opinion from someone who might know more/have a different insight.

    • Really? There is a reason why we’ve subscribed to scientists blogs… A simple Google search doesn’t always provide you with solid answers. *He* did the research on this topic, *he* is a scientist, why *not* ask him?

  4. I have an Xtrema Ceramic skillet. It’s pretty nonstick, but not as good as they advertise.

  5. There is a type of aluminum cookware that is “hard-anondized”… Does that offer any protection against toxins leaching? Thanks!

  6. I heard a talk from a doctor that stainless steel can leach nickel when cooking with an acidic medium? Is this true?

    Also, obviously the microwave is not a traditional way to cook, but is there research showing it to be dangerous to our health?

    • Most research shows that microwaves are safe. But they still freak me out. Irrational, perhaps. But there it is.

  7. I use Ecolution cookware, which is Hydrolon water based nonstick – PFOA Free. It’s not the best-quality cookware, but it’s easy to maintain and affordable.

  8. How about the possibility of stainless steel leaching nickel in some cases?
    Thank you for the article, I always wondered about the best way to cook.

  9. Chris, when you say that you don’t recommend aluminum, you’re talking about the cooking surface, right? So a “tri-ply” stainless steel pan, which has an aluminum core that’s covered in stainless steel, should be fine, right?

  10. I mainly use basic Farberware, which is stainless steel with an aluminum bottom on the outside. I also have some teflon pans, mostly used for frying eggs, burgers, etc. You’ve made me question whether I should keep using them. I plan to check into the alternatives you suggest.

  11. Thanks for the recommendations. I’m slowly transitioning from teflon to enamel/stainless/cast iron. But I have to say, I cannot get my cast iron skillet (Lodge) to be nonstick. I’ve tried every instruction I can find on the internet, but food still sticks (leaving about half behind when it comes to scrambled eggs). Any special tips?

    Also. . .how about silicon? Any problems there?

    • Eggs will stick to my well-seasoned cast iron pan if the pan is not hot enough. I let it warm for 10-15 minutes before cooking. It’s hot enough if water sprinkled on the pan sizzles away.

    • Lodge is a bad type of cast iron, but your egg will stick much less if your run hot water over your egg to make it room temperate, heat your pan to 350F before cooking, put enough oil on pan right before cooking the egg, sprinkle salt on the pan surface before braking the egg.

  12. Le Creuset 6″ for sauteing shallots and garlic (in grass-fed ghee, coconut and red palm oils, crushed red pepper, crushed mustard seed, and turmeric); keep the temp low, and there will be no problems with sticking.
    An old Wally Nash low-carbon steel wok for stir-frying my (in)famous Sinus Chicken, parboiling potatoes, and poaching eggs. Again, ghee, coconut and red palm oils; no clean-up issues with a stiff nylon brush.
    The other meats (wild boar; grass-fed beef, bison, and lamb) get broiled on a rack five minutes a side at 200 degrees or less to keep them rare.
    Everything else is VitaMixed or eaten raw.

  13. By some coincidence my favorite cookware is from Lodge Logic, Le Creuset, and All-Clad (LTD2). My experience is that sticking is not an issue with stainless steel (All-Clad) if it is well seasoned and as long as proper (low!) cooking temperatures are maintained.

    I clean my cast iron and stainless steel pans while still warm using warm water and a soft wire-and-natural-fiber brush (no plastic). The residual from the saturated fat I cook with does the rest.

  14. Good article! I wanted to share some tidbits since kitchen tools are a hobby of mine:

    – Just to clarify, All-clad and similar high quality stainless cookware is actually and aluminum core sandwiched in 2 layers of stainless steel. Clad-aluminum stainless actually heats up very fast and evenly, while protecting from the possible dangers of aluminum and overcoming the low conductivity of steel. I don’t know if this makes a difference to anyone, but in case there were some out there who wanted to eschew aluminum even if it weren’t in contact with the food I thought I’d chime in. Otherwise, steel-clad aluminum is awesome.

    – The best oil I’ve used to season my cast iron is Flaxseed oil, which is close in composition to linseed oil, which is used to season fine hardwood. Only drawback is that I think the flaxseed needs about 500f to season properly, and that can fill your house with smoke, so I used my charcoal weber grill, and did a couple of coats. You could almost put your cast iron in the dishwasher with the coat that flaxseed makes, though it isn’t a very ‘paleo’ oil, so I don’t know if some would be reticent to use it.

    – As a bird owners, we’ve known for years about the dangers of teflon at even ‘safe’ temperatures. (Canary in coal mine? I think so.) For those who are worried about their food sticking in the absence of teflon, I have two points: 1) A well-season cast iron pan is just as nonstick as teflon. Really, it is. And 2) in a lot of cooking, the browned bits that stick to the bottom of the stainless pan make the dish tastier when scraped off with a bit of liquid and incorporated into a sauce. Yum! (Bonus: if scrubbing is your issue, soak your pan as soon as you’re done cooking in water and soap. The crud will come right off!)


    • I would never use a vegetable oil of any sort in cooking, especially one that turns into a sticky rancid mess. I still remember how that old Wesson oil bottle felt on the outside, LOL. My best choice of fat for seasoning a pan and one I have used for decades is good old fashioned lard. I also put my cheapo Calphalon brand cast iron grill pan (Target) in my Weber. We also have a Lodge griddle for camping that gets tossed onto the fire, and it does a bang up job of grilling bacon with zero cleanup. Just wipe it off when warm, wrap in newspaper to tote home and never let it near soap and water.

      My favorite scouring substance for the cast iron that I do have is kosher salt and a natural bristle brush. Hard to find those these days. I got a bunch from the Vermont Country Store. They also have a ton of old fashioned cookware.

      Like you, I am a long time gadget collector, foodie, and food writer. Learning to cook Paleo-ish is my latest adventure. But being a from scratch cook for decades makes it easy.

  15. What would you recommend for ultra-light backpackers? My husband and I just lugged an aluminum pan down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back out. We basically boiled water in it and added our dehydrated food (some of which contained tomato). I just thought that it wouldn’t kill us to use a few times a year?? We have stainless steel pots for regular camping.

    • Michelle, we have for years and years used stainless nesting cookware. I honestly think it came from REI in Berkeley. Bought in the 80s.

  16. All-Clad Copper Core cookware is marketed as 5-Ply bonded layers of stainless-steel, aluminum and copper with stainless-steel interior that will not react with foods. Is it as harmful as stainless steel coated copper cookware Chris does not recommend? Or is it a safe option?

  17. Lodge also makes ceramic coated cast iron cookware. It’s every bit as good (and attractive) as Le Creuset, but at a much lower price.

  18. I’m using this non stick pan from Korean market that’s made from marble stone..It’s pretty light actually despite made from marble stone..it’s very good and very easy to clean as well. Have you heard about it, Chris?

    • That sounds like soapstone. Very few stones can take repeated heating and cooling. Soapstone is probably the best at tolerating repeated heating and cooling and has been used for cookware since pre-historic times. It is also used for woodstove and furnace linings. Marble is not resistant to heat as far as I know and I’ve seen it go to pieces when heated in a fire. They can look somewhat similar though.

      • Interesting..I just mentioned marble just because that what ppl been telling me. Thx for the info 🙂

  19. I second Doug’s question. I’ve been using one of those “orgreenic” or whatever pans for two months and I love it. Nonstick, easy to clean, no teflon etc. But is this stuff safe?