I recently began a simple search for a simple nonstick pan in which to simply make pancakes and eggs.
Is that too much to ask?
Apparently so, as there are myriad choices and a plethora of health concerns associated with nonstick cookware.
Upon reading various descriptions of 'no PFOA', 'no PFAS', etcetera, I realized how little I knew about what these terms meant.
I like to have information as first-hand as I can get it. So, I set out to learn about what makes a pan 'nonstick', and if in fact, it is even healthy to use a nonstick pan.
As an average mother and wife here in Arizona, the only resources I've had access to have been on the web. I haven't performed any testing myself, but I've spent hours poring through information, and the sources I've listed below I feel are trustworthy.
Chemicals used in nonstick pans
Ever ask yourself how those eggs slide right off? Let's take a gander at the chemical magic behind it!
Most nonstick pans are made using per- and polyfluorinated substances, or PFAs (sometimes called PFCs).
PFAs are a group of chemicals that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water.
My husband is a fireman, and his gear is made with PFAs. Side note, his department recently sent out a notice about the carcinogenic effects of his gear!
Most nonstick cooking pans and some baking pans are coated with a polymer form of PFAs, called PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), also known as Teflon (read more about problems with Teflon here).
PFAs have been dubbed 'forever chemicals' because the flourine-carbon bond they possess is virtually indestructible.
In plain talk, once these chemicals are in your tissues, they never fully break down.
I've in fact read that the only way it has been found to reduce the body's load of PFAs is to give blood.
If you're thinking you don't have them in your tissues, think again! Federal testing shows that they are in the blood of more than 98% of Americans and stay in the body years after exposure.
PFAs are both bioaccumulative (they accumulate in the body tissues) and extremely toxic. They've been linked to cancer, as well as thyroid and immune disorders.
GenX is a more recent chemical, released as a PFOA replacement.
The process of making GenX involves taking two molecules of hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) and forming HFPO-DA fluoride. After that, it is converted to ammonium salt, thus creating the GenX compound.
That's jibber jabber, right? It is for me too.
Basically, it involves chemicals I can't pronounce that are most likely bad for me. Period. Remember the adage, 'if you can't pronounce it, don't eat it'? Well, it is safe to say you are eating whatever chemicals are being put on these pans!
Though ceramic is all the rage and appears to be a better choice in comparison to PFAs, it is still sketchy.
Thermolon, used by companies like GreenPan, is touted as being 100% toxin free. A bit more digging, however, reveals a different story. I will direct you to The Healthy Home Economist, as she has a great, in-depth post specifically on GreenPan.
My personal experience with GreenPan was not exceptionally positive.
First, they have many different lines and products, and I found it difficult to determine the differences between each.
I finally settled on the Venice 10-inch fry pan, as it has a stainless steel body (no aluminum). I paid a pretty penny for it, despite purchasing it on sale from Kohl's, and the 'nonstick' feature only lasted about two months.
Despite my personal experience, I've come across other questionable information regarding the Thermolon coating, which is made with nanoparticles (yet another hazard).
GreenPan's site states:
All GreenPan products are coated with Thermolon™. This was the first and best ceramic nonstick coating to be launched on the market in 2007. Since then, we’ve created eight generations of Thermolon™. Each is manufactured without forever chemicals known as PFAS and without any Lead or Cadmium. The raw materials, or precursors, are derived from Silicon Dioxide (not to be confused with silicone, which is a type of semi-conductor), which of course originates from sand. The precursor materials join up to form sprayable solution. The liquid part is mainly water. After spraying onto the pans, the coating is then cured in an oven at a relatively low temperature.
I've bolded the concerning parts above. Using terms like 'precursor materials' and not defining what they are, or 'mainly water' (what's the rest??) are both red flags to me.
This article goes more in depth about their patented 'Sol-Gel' technology, and why it could also be cause for alarm.
Caraway was another brand I investigated, and I thought I had a winner! No PFAs, no PTFE, no lead, no cadmium, under $100...I nearly bought it.
That is, until I read this article on Lead Safe Mama, and then this article on I Read Labels For You. Caraway was also on Mamavation's 'avoid' list of best and worst cookware.
Tamara Rubin from Lead Safe Mama tests various products, including cookware, for heavy metal levels using XRF technology. When she tested a Caraway pan, it was found to have numerous metals, including lead and mercury.
To my knowledge, XRF technology looks at an item in its entirety, as opposed to what's actually leaching into the food. Having had mercury toxicity in my life, however, it's not something I want to revisit, however mild it might be.
Irina from I Read Labels For You has a great write-up of some of the top brands, including the Always Pan and Caraway. If you subscribe to her, she emails the information to you in her newsletter. I don't want to just copy what she wrote, as she did the research! If you're at all into health, she's also worth subscribing to.
What should I buy?
At this point, you're probably feeling the same frustrated, what the H-E-double hockey stick do I buy?!
My main takeaway has been, stay away from nonstick pans!
There doesn't appear to be a reliable choice that isn't compromised in some way, and if you're anything like me and dealing with health issues, you may not want to voluntarily add in more chemicals that may be further disruptive.
My top choices
Let's get to the meat of the post...what you SHOULD buy!
My personal top choices as of this writing are in this order: stainless steel, cast iron, glass, and 100% ceramic. Here is my thinking and reasoning for each.
Some of the things I personally want from a stainless steel pan are:
- A reputable company (no scrap metal melted together, preferably not from China, made in the USA).
- Lower in or without nickel; without nickel, the pans aren’t as durable or long-lasting, so that’s a facet that needs to be weighed in choosing a brand. (Stainless steel comes in 18/10, 18/8, and 18/0; the top number refers to the percentage of chromium, while the bottom number refers to the percentage of nickel).
- No coatings, titanium-infused products, or nanoparticles.
See this absolutely awesome post for more information on stainless steel cookware.
My choices (from cheapest to most expensive) are:
- Homichef Stainless Steel Cookware Set (nickel-free)
- Cuisinart Tri-Ply 10 Piece Set
- 360 Cookware 10-Inch Fry Pan
As I've previously tested high in nickel and have an array of allergies, I opted for the Homichef set (number one).
I received the Homichef set back in September 2022, and it is one of the best purchases I've made. I use at least one of the pans every day, so I feel somewhat qualified to give a review.
They have (so far) been durable, no warping, no staining, and it's SO nice to know I'm not getting anything toxic in my food!
I really can't say enough great things about these pans. The only thing worth a mention on the con side is that they are a bit thinner and lighter than some other brands. I actually don't mind because they're easier to lift and move around.
They also include a 6-piece stainless steel utensil set.
I purchased this Lodge 10.25-Inch Skillet before purchasing the Homichef set.
It has been largely nonstick and works decently for eggs and pancakes. My favorites to make in it are fried rice and chicken.
My biggest complaint is that my eggs taste metallic!
After some reading, it seems this can be an issue for some people who are more sensitive or if the pan isn't properly seasoned.
Given that I bought my pan pre-seasoned and noticed the flavor on the first try, I'd say in my case it's the former, and it's particular to eggs. I haven't noticed it with the other meals. (I've actually taught myself to make eggs in my Homichef pans instead!)
As I have struggled with anemia for the last couple of years, I'm going to keep on with the pan, hoping that it gets better with time. I'll also try to re-season it, using the company's instructions.
(Here is a great tutorial on Youtube about how to season a stainless steel skillet to make it nonstick.)
Glass pots and skillets are another great option! I actually grew up with my mom using the Visions 10-inch skillet.
While it's easy to find glass bakeware these days, cookware is another story!
Amazon has a few options (they even have a couple of pots and lids from the old Visions line!).
For skillets, however, I had to go on Etsy. I ordered a Visions glass skillet, but it arrived in a million pieces, and I never ordered another.
Obviously, breakage is the biggest downside of glass.
100% ceramic from Xtrema
This is my last choice, as it is both expensive and fragile. I have four kids age 13 and under right now, and I don't see something like this as being the best choice for us.
I have been fairly impressed by the reviews and the company's dedication to creating non-toxic cook- and bakeware.
All of their bakeware passes California proposition 65 standards and do not require any warnings. In addition, none of the bakeware at Xtrema has any coatings or PFAs.
The main downside has been from Lead Safe Mama, who uses XRF technology to test items. She found various heavy metals in Xtrema's saucepan, which is concerning from a company who adamantly states that their pans are free of both lead and cadmium. Read through her post here, and also have a gander at the comments.
In contrast, here is the link for Xtrema's testing and how it is performed.
I won't be purchasing anything at this time, but I haven't ruled it out for the future when we are empty nesters!
I hope you enjoyed this article, and don't hesitate to leave a comment about any information you might have to contribute!
The best sources for more information
A great article on nanoparticles
Shared with: Full Plate Thursday
Oh wow, Lauren, thank you so much for sharing this information, your observations and comments. I appreciate the time you took to write it all down here! This is a great summary, and to the point! I will look into the links you've shared too - thank you a lot! We use stainless steel and cast iron only. The issues with nonstick are the reasons why we've never decided to buy any fancy kitchen gadgets (like a waffle maker or panini press). Also, like June mentioned, glass is a way to go too. We use it for oven baking or microwave. But I have to say it is difficult to find glass containers with glass lids these days (still searching). They either come without lid or with a plastic one (not good for oven and not preferred for micrawave). Thank you again, Lauren! Really appreciate your research and your time! (Always! With all the posts you post!:)
Thanks, Alice! Yes, I bought my daughter a mini waffle maker, and the thing stunk to high heaven, so I returned it. I have seen waffle makers that are ceramic, so that might be a bit better. They are pricey though!
Lauren, thank you for the well researched post...great product recommendations and resources! The only thing I would add to your list is a glass pot for acidic/tomato based food.
Thank you for sharing.
Thanks, June! Yes, I should add that in, that's a great suggestion!
Thank you so much for this very interesting and informative article! It takes a very long time to do the research as you have done, with the help of other websites that research cookware and I appreciated your many hours of research to produce this helpful article. We use cookware each and every day throughout our lives and it's very important to know what is harmful to us and our families and what is the best we can cook with that is less harmful. I personally don't believe there is any cookware that would be 100% healthy, but it's nice to know there are some that almost reach the 100% mark. Thank you for sharing your excellent and informative article with us!
Thanks, Brenda! I'm so happy it was helpful for you.
My two favorite non-stick pans are a well seasoned cast iron pan and a Reverware aluminum core tri-ply. I wish I could send you a photo of the cast iron skillet after cooking an omelette this morning. Not one speck of egg stuck when I slid it out of the pan. Making popcorn in it regularly is the trick to keeping it seasoned.
Most people think of Revereware as thin bottomed and copper. The tri-ply is heavy bottomed, no copper. Get it hot, add oil, add the food, and it is as good as any non-stick pan. Once you master the technique, it's as non-stick as any pan can be. Both of my pans were from second-hand stores.