The Safest Cookware Material: 2023
We’d really love to say that the safest cookware material is copper or ceramic cookware and be done with it.
But unfortunately, it really isn’t that easy! Cookware materials have changed so much over recent years that it’s impossible to crown an outright winner. There are pros and cons to each material.
Plus, there are so many factors to consider and take into account. Budget, health history, and circumstances, to name a few.
So instead, this article will focus on pointing out what makes each material safe or harmful.
Things To Consider
You’ve probably heard the phrase “Like getting blood from a stone.” This is how it often feels when choosing cookware.
So before we get started, we thought we’d discuss some of the things you should consider and look for before making a firm decision.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Cookware has to be cleaned thoroughly to prevent bacteria buildup and food-related illnesses. Even the safest cookware can still make you sick if it isn’t cleaned properly.
Each cookware material has different requirements for care and cleaning. For example, cast iron needs to be seasoned after every use and hand washed. Whereas traditional nonstick pans are easier to clean, but they can’t be used for every cooking technique.
Always ensure you know what’s required and whether it’s worth it to you before making a firm decision.
Is It Durable?
Prices are rising globally for all types of products. So, we cannot always purchase durable, high-quality cookware for our kitchens.
And that’s fine!
Sometimes, we need some affordable pots and pans to get us through until our finances are better off. But, cheaper isn’t always a good thing.
Just take a look at our red copper pan review. This pan was incredibly affordable, but it wasn’t durable or easy to use. It wasn’t worth our money at all!
You might also want to try pairing your cookware with the right utensils. For example, wooden spoons or plastic spatulas can help prevent scratches and damage to nonstick coatings.
Evidence-Based Health Risks
This largely depends on you and your health history.
Cast iron isn’t suitable for people with health conditions such as hemochromatosis due to the extra iron it releases into food. Whereas, if you have a nickel sensitivity, you may want to avoid materials such as copper or stainless steel.
The manufacturing process for cookware products comes at a massive cost to our environment. Some products simply aren’t made well and, as a result, end up in a landfill.
Buying products from companies that are honest and transparent about their processes might carry an extra cost, but you’ll know you have a product that’ll go the distance.
The Safest Cookware Materials
Every material has its own pros and cons. It entirely depends on your circumstances, lifestyle, budget, and preference.
Some might feel the amount of maintenance tied with cast iron isn’t for them. While others might find the risks linked to PTFE and non-stick coatings too much for a gamble.
Let’s look at the materials found in cookware products and their risks.
Most cookware products contain aluminum in some way or another. It’s a lightweight material that is excellent for heating quickly. Plus, it’s affordable and easy it is to clean.
But despite this, small aluminum deposits leach into your food when you cook with it – although you’re not likely to taste it. Most of us consume roughly 7 to 9 milligrams of aluminum a day.
Recently, concerns over the material have centered around how exposure has been linked with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
No tangible link has ever officially been established. Even the Alzheimer’s Association has confirmed that there’s little chance that cooking with aluminum increases the risk of developing the disease.
If you’re considering this cookware material, we’d recommend anodized aluminum.
- Best For: Sautéing vegetables
- Recommended Brands: All-Clad
Anodized aluminum is much heavier because of how it’s treated.
It’s made with an acidic solution that alters how the metal reacts, making it highly durable. In fact, the material is twice as hard as other materials, such as stainless steel.
Most anodized aluminum cookware is PFOA-free and has a non-stick coating that is easy to clean.
But before giving a firm yes, be sure to do additional research. In some cases, cookware products can be manufactured using PTFE chemicals, a harmful substance shown to cause toxicity in humans.
Cast Iron Cookware
- Best For: Meats, Roasting, Deep Frying, Baking
- Recommended Brand: Le Creuset, Lodge
Cast iron is the gold standard of cookware. It’s a staple in most household kitchens – and with good reason.
As its name suggests, it’s made using molten iron, which is then seasoned through a process of oiling and heating to give it a non-stick coating.
But similar to aluminum, cast iron releases small amounts of iron into your food.
Some studies have shown cast iron to help with anemia because it helps improve iron levels. But this can also be detrimental for conditions like hemochromatosis, a disorder where your blood has too much iron.
To help prevent iron molecules from releasing, you must properly maintain cast iron. While this hasn’t been proven to stop it completely, it’s shown it helps lower it. In fact, a recent study found that well-seasoned cast-iron releases as little as five milligrams of iron for every cup of food.
Try our guide on caring for cast iron if you’d love to learn more.
- Best For: Delicate Foods
- Recommended Brand: Greenpan
Ceramic cookware is often recommended as a safer alternative to traditional non-stick pans. Most ceramic products are made with a unique combination of metal that is coated with a non-stick coating (usually silicone) and a ceramic base.
One of the standout characteristics of ceramic is that it’s non-reactive. This means it doesn’t naturally release chemicals or substances into your food.
Ceramic can also withstand higher temperatures (up to 650°F) compared to other materials like Teflon (up to 500°F). This makes it suitable for most cooking techniques, including broiling and simmering.
However, the ceramic coating will eventually wear if its subject to high heat over a long time.
Also, keep in mind that not all ceramic products are the same and are not necessarily better.
Some brands will use different glazes to seal the ceramic, which can cause unwanted substances to release into your food. And, labels stating “ceramic coated” or “100% ceramic” are not regulated by the FDA.
So, it’s essential to do thorough research into the manufacturing process of ceramic cookware before deciding to purchase.
- Best For: Cooking sauces
- Recommended Brand: Mauviel
Copper cookware has been around for just as long as cast iron cookware. The material is one of the most conductive metals, and it’s renowned for its beauty and durability.
Copper cookware isn’t usually pure copper. You’ll often find it has a stainless steel base, which is then coated in copper.
While this type of cookware is free of any harmful chemicals, studies have shown that it can release small traces of copper into food.
This is harmless to humans (in moderation) and helps us form red blood cells, enzymes, bone, and connective tissue. In fact, it’s recommended adults consume 900 μg of copper per day.
But copper cookware should be avoided if you suffer from conditions like Wilson’s disease, a genetic disorder when the body has too much copper.
Too much copper can cause life-threatening damage to organs.
Avoid unlined copper cookware if you’re using it frequently. They can leach too much copper, causing toxicity. We recommend avoiding cookware coated in tin or nickel as they cause similar problems.
- Best For: Delicate dishes, Messy foods
- Recommended Brand: All-Clad, Calphalon, Ozeri Stone Earth
There’s no arguing how convenient nonstick pans are. They’re easy to clean, and food simply slides out, making them a huge asset for busy households.
“Nonstick” typically refers to cookware made with PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene), often called Teflon.
Dangers of Teflon
The chemicals used to manufacture Teflon products have recently faced massive controversy.
Concerns centered around the use of PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) to make Teflon. PFOA is part of a vast family of man-made “forever chemicals.”
In 2012, a study by the C8 Science Panel found PFOA caused kidney disease, testicular cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and high cholesterol.
The chemicals used to make Teflon eventually changed in 2013. PFOA was no longer used to make Teflon. And by 2014, the chemical was banned entirely in the United States.
Keep in mind that Teflon isn’t able to withstand temperatures above 500°F. The nonstick coating begins to degrade and leach into food. It’s also possible that it releases fumes that cause “Teflon flu” in humans.
Today, some still have concerns about the new chemicals used to make Teflon. GenX was introduced as a “safer alternative” to PFOA. But, GenX is thought to be just as toxic as PFOA in humans.
If you’ve decided on non-stick cookware, we’d recommend using wooden or plastic utensils to prevent damage to the coating. And, avoid using your nonstick pan for broiling or searing.
Stainless Steel Cookware
- Best For: Most foods and recipes
- Recommended Brand: All-Clad, Le Creuset, Cuisinart
Stainless steel is a metal alloy typically made using chrome, iron, or aluminum. It’s called “stainless” because of its durability and resistance to corrosion and rust.
Stainless steel isn’t nonstick, so you’ll have to add a decent amount of fat or oil when you use it.
Some brands use metal mixtures containing nickel to give their cookware a higher sheen. If you have a nickel allergy or sensitivity, this could aggravate your condition, so it’s best to find an alternative.
Research has also shown that stainless steel leaches small chromium concentrations into food.
One study discovered that 86 mcg of chromium was found, on average, per 126 grams of food. Although, the research found chromium concentrations decreased after every use.
It’s recommended adult males consume roughly 30-35 mcg of chromium per day. Adult females need about 20-25 mcg a day. Consuming excessive chromium can cause severe symptoms, including kidney or liver damage.
Quick Safety Tips
Here are some quick and easy safety types you can follow with any kind of cookware. These tips will help prevent your exposure to unwanted or harmful substances or materials.
- Avoid using metal utensils, especially if your cookware material is delicate. Metal utensils will scratch and compromise the cooking surface of your cookware.
- Clean your pots and pans thoroughly whenever you use them.
- Don’t store food in the cookware you’ve used unless it’s glass or stoneware.
- Use a small amount of oil with any type of cookware. We’d recommend olive oil or coconut oil. This helps limit the amount of substances that can leach into your food.
- Replace your cookware regularly, and look for warping or the nonstick coating flaking.
Whenever using cookware, always ensure you read the manufacturer’s instructions for safety. Some brands will give you clear guidance on how best to use their products.
As you can see, there isn’t a “one size fits all” when it comes to cookware materials.
For example, cast iron is great if you want durability and aren’t worried about a little extra iron in your food.
But if you are worried, you might prefer the non-reactive nature of ceramic cookware.
In our opinion, stainless steel is the safest cookware material. When you consider its convenience and resistance to corrosion and rust, it’s the best option out there.
But, it’s not the only cookware material you should consider. Other materials like cast iron give you real value for money because of durability. While anodized aluminum is perfect if you want something lightweight while knowing it’s completely PFOA-free.
We’ve given you the pros and cons of each material.
Now it’s your choice to make.
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Hey I'm James, the one who started Purely Cookware. All my life, I've been lucky enough to bond with family around the dinner table. And I will be using this website to teach you how you can do the same.