How to Choose the Safest Cookware and Bakeware

Safest Cookware

The safest cookware may be a matter of opinion, but those opinions always revolve around just a few different types. Find out what’s best for your family.

Every home cook needs a great set of cookware for preparing all those delicious creations. But even more importantly, the DIY chef needs to consider safety, durability, cost, and functionality when choosing which cookware to stock the kitchen with.

It took us years and many trials with different pots, pans, and bakeware to figure out what we liked best. For this reason, we’ve decided to share what we’ve found during our search for the safest cookware that still performs great. While I can’t tell you which type will be absolutely perfect for you, I’ll touch on the pros and cons of all the safest cookware on the market.

(For information on the types of cookware to avoid, due to health risks, read this article.)

Safest Cookware Options

Cast Iron Cookware

We love our sturdy second hand cast iron cookware (and use it daily!), but it’s not for everyone.

Pros: We love the way cast iron leaves some foods nice and crispy, or with a caramelized finish. It offers superior heat distribution and retention when cooking. This material can easily and safely go from stovetop directly into the oven. A nicely seasoned cast iron pan will last forever and food won’t stick to it. Never wash cast iron pans with soap. Simply rinse and scour with these awesome stainless steel scrubbers, then wipe clean after each use. We have purchased all of our cast iron cookware second hand at great prices. If you can find older brands, like Griswold, you’ll get all the benefits of cast iron without all the weight. Cooking on cast iron can even add extra iron to your diet, which is helpful for people deficient in this mineral. Tip: used cast iron pans are usually well seasoned and ready for use!

Check out this article for more of our thoughts and tips on using cast iron in your kitchen.

Cons: Many people don’t need extra iron that cast iron cookware will leave in your food. This includes men, people with a condition called hemochromatosis, and women who are not menstruating and losing blood every month. Our bodies don’t eliminate iron naturally (unless donating blood or menstruating regularly), and it can accumulate to toxic levels in some people. However, the iron leaches more into acidic foods and is also dependent on how well a pan is seasoned. Well seasoned pans have a thin coating that makes them less reactive with foods.

In addition to the iron issue, if cast iron is not seasoned properly it can make foods stick, resulting in more difficult cleanup. It can also be very heavy to work with and will rust if left wet for a period of time.

Enamel Coated Cast Iron Cookware

Pros: Enameled cast iron doesn’t add iron to foods like non-enameled cast iron pans. (This is only a benefit if you belong to one of the groups of people who doesn’t need extra iron.) These pieces are great for using on the stovetop or the oven. They offer better heat distribution and retention than the other safest cookware types, and don’t react with acidic foods like uncoated cast iron. If properly cared for, enamel coated pieces can last for generations. They don’t need to be seasoned like plain cast iron pans and food won’t stick if the interior has a nicely polished finish.

Cons: These are also heavy since they’re made with cast iron. The finicky enamel finish can be hard to care for. Metal utensils will scratch it, and it will discolor and lose its luster if exposed to extreme temperature changes. (Like boiling something and then immediately running cool water over the pan.)

Some enamel coated pans are made with cheap enamel that wears out and stains easily, and can also crack or chip off and end up in food. If enamel chips the pan is unsafe. For this reason we recommend spending the extra money on a piece from a reputable company like our favorite here or this other well known brand, and researching to make sure yours has a warranty before purchasing. That’s the other con – a good quality enamel coated cast iron piece may come with some sticker shock.

Stainless Steel Cookware

Pros: Stainless steel is inert and will not react with food or alter the flavors of your dishes. They’re very durable and any type of cooking utensil can be used on stainless surfaces without worrying about scratching or ruining a finish. They’re lighter than cast iron pieces and easier to stack and store since there’s no risk of scratching/chipping surfaces. Stainless can be heated to high temperatures, placed in an oven, scrubbed/scraped hard to clean, and the inside surface doesn’t contain harmful carcinogens. They can also be washed with soap or run through the dishwasher.

Cons: They’re not completely non-stick, and need a little fat or liquid added when cooking to prevent food from sticking. Cooking results are highly dependent on the thickness of the metal. A thicker or bonded stainless steel pan will cost you more up front, but is more durable and will last longer. (We have a few pieces from this line that we love.)

Glass Cookware

Pros: When you cook/bake in glass, it will never absorb odors or flavors from whatever is being cooked in it. You can also be sure glass won’t react with foods you are cooking. Always be sure you’re using tempered glass, which is strengthened glass made for cooking/baking.  After cooled, food can be stored in the refrigerator in your glass cookware, leaving less cleanup.

Cons: Glass can be a tad heavy, and can break if dropped. Food can stick to glass if it’s not greased well, and thermal shock is always a possibility – it can break if exposed to temperature extremes too quickly. There is a risk of shattering if liquid is added to hot glass cookware or it’s set on a cold surface (like granite).

Beware: Some foreign manufacturers may use lead in the production of their cheap glass cookware. Generally, the glass brands made in the U.S. and Europe are the safest cookware options, but do your homework!

Stoneware

Pros: High-quality stoneware is completely non-toxic, safe, and can last forever if cared for. It heats very evenly and becomes nicely seasoned after several uses, creating a non-stick finish. (For the first 5-10 uses you need to grease stoneware well with a fat, but never again after that.) Like cast iron, stoneware doesn’t need to be washed with soap, but can be scraped, wiped, or rinsed well with water to clean. Although, I’ve washed mine with soap several times and it has not eliminated the non-stick seasoning. A good quality stoneware piece doesn’t absorb odors from things like fish. You can get my favorite brand here for a reasonable price.

Cons: Stoneware pieces are a little heavy and can break or crack if not cared for. It can also be one of the pricier types of bakeware. Your stoneware pieces might look a little ugly when seasoned – they will turn a dark brown, sometimes splotchy. (This is actually a positive aspect though, as this indicates your pan is well-seasoned!) Again, some low-quality stoneware pieces can contain lead (mostly from China), so be sure you purchase from a reputable company. Stoneware made in the USA and Canada is lead-free.

Ceramic Cookware

Pros: High-quality 100% ceramic cookware is non-reactive and non-toxic. Ceramics wear well over time, offer consistent heat, and can be put in a dishwasher. Surfaces don’t corrode, and don’t require special seasoning like cast iron or stoneware. Any utensil can be used on ceramic cookware, and they can be used to store food in the refrigerator or even the freezer! This is a great brand of ceramic cookware that many health experts rave about.

Cons: Ceramic cookware will be a more expensive than most types of cookware. When purchasing, watch for low-quality glazes that contain lead. The lead will leach into food when the cookware is worn or scratched. You’ll find this with many foreign-made pieces, which aren’t required to adhere to safety standards in manufacturing. Most U.S. made ceramic cookware should be safe, but do your research and only purchase 100% ceramic with lead-free glaze.

Last Notes About the Safest Cookware

If you’re wondering which cookware is considered unsafe (or controversial enough to avoid), read more here. When choosing the safest cookware, be sure to buy quality pieces from reputable companies. This way you can find answers to your questions and take advantage of warranties if replacements are needed. Also, many foreign-made cookware options have been found to contain high levels of dangerous things like lead.

As the consumer, always do your own research when choosing the safest cookware for your family!

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image credit to Steve Snodgrass

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this! A very informative, useful summary.
    I am a little confused about something, though. You list stoneware separately from ceramic, but the only stoneware I am familiar with is pottery fired at a higher temperature than earthenware and lower than porcelain. Is this what you’re referring to, or is there something else called stoneware?
    Thanks for your time.

    • You’re right, it is a little confusing. Stoneware is one type of ceramic. The stoneware I refer to is fired at higher temperatures, is uncoated, and has a rougher, stone-like texture compared to ceramic cookware. The type of ceramic cookware I’m referring to is glazed, giving it a glossy look, and it behaves a little differently than stoneware.

  2. We looked into cast iron & read that it can scratch a smooth stove top. Do you know any brands that don’t scratch, or do any of you readers use cast iron successfully on a smooth-top stove?

    • I do know people who use cast iron on smooth cooktops without problems. One thing to keep in mind is that cast iron pieces need to be picked up instead of sliding them across smooth cooktop surfaces.

  3. I AM LOOKING FOR A BREAD MACHINE THAT DOES NOT HAVE A TEFLON PAN. I CAN NOT FIND ONE MADE IN UNITED STATES! DO YOU KNOW WHERE I CAN FIND A BREAD MACHINE THAT HAS A STAINLESS OR CERAMIC PAN?

    • We have also been looking for one for a few years now! Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find one yet. 🙁 Anyone else have information on this???

  4. I use calphalon pans. Is that okay or should I thing about getting something else???? Thank you..

    • Calphalon is usually non-stick (Teflon coated). We had a huge set of these and got rid of them because we no longer consider non-stick cookware safe. 🙁 We slowly built up our collection again after getting rid of the Calphalon…and were surprised to find out that we really only needed a few pieces. So it doesn’t have to break the bank!

  5. The calphalon that I have is over 7 years. Is it possible that it does have teflon in it????? Scary!!
    It never said anything about it.

    • Calphalon sells some stainless steel pieces, but most is non-stick (Teflon coated). You’ll know if it has Teflon if the inside coating is dark and non-stick. It won’t necessarily say anything about containing Teflon, but will be called “non-stick” cookware. Stainless pieces will be exposed silver metal inside and out.

  6. I LOVE Cast Iron! I have probably over 40 pieces, and three, which are classic antiques and considered to be THE best: two Wagner Ware and 1 Griswold. I like that Lodge is USA made, but if you look at Lodge beside one of the antiques, you’ll see that the antiques are SMOOTH whereas Lodge is pretty pitted, meaning that your food will stick, even when seasoned.
    I also have one ceramic coated 5 Qt. Cast Iron Dutch Oven I use frequently.
    As for the ceramic, I have a few SMALL baking dishes from LeCreuset, (VERY spendy!) but beware; some of THOSE are now being made in China.
    And I have many glass dishes that I use quite a bit.
    I did recently find a ceramic mini muffin pan, which I plan to use soon! It is SO difficult to find good, healthy BAKING pans that aren’t Teflon coated anymore. Just TRY!!!
    Thank you for this great article.

  7. I also love my cast iron! I am the proud inheritor of my great-grandmother’s cast iron Dutch oven, plus 3 “black skillets” (my grandmother’s term). I did buy the 9″ skillet for myself, over 40 years ago; the others (both 12″) were gifts or other free acquisitions. There used to be one more, but I dropped it while trying to add it to the stack on top of the fridge, and it broke at the pouring spout. So, beware, because they are not quite indestructible. The Dutch oven, thankfully, survived my three sons “soaking” it in the kitchen sink, leaving me to reconstruct the seasoning every single time I asked for help with the dishes (I’m convinced they did it on purpose, hoping I’d quit asking). Oh! I recently bought a cast iron griddle (with ridges on the reverse side) that I can’t believe I didn’t buy decades ago. It’s great for all sorts of stuff, and I happily tossed the last of the non-stick crap in the trash, since I wouldn’t donate it for someone else to poison themselves with. As for other cookware, I refuse to use anything except naked stainless steel, with bakeware mostly limited to borosilicate glass, ceramics, stoneware, etc. I scored a clay baker at a thrift store about 15 years ago, and it’s a wonderful item; everything looks great and tastes better. What IS it with manufacturers refusing to make bakeware that’s safe to eat what’s baked in it?!? Incidentally, I’ve found over the years that sets usually aren’t worth the price, since what’s included is what the manufacturer wants to include, not what the user finds that she really needs – or wants. For example, I certainly don’t need any lightweight stainless steel frying pans (since I’ve got all those cast iron ones), but I could surely use an extra 1-1/2 quart saucepan instead of the really big 4-quart one, now that I’m cooking for one for the first time in my life.

    I think someone mentioned it elsewhere, but if you acquire a rusty or gunked-up cast iron skillet or pot, you can clean it up by putting it in the oven and running the self-cleaning cycle. You do have to brush the rust powder off the bottom of the oven after, but the skillet will look brand new; you just season it. It was customer service at Lodge that shared that one with me. Took care of 20 years worth of campfire cooking mess. Nope, you can’t call that one a patina; it’s just too ugly.

    Thanks for the list, and the reasons.

  8. Actually, my experience is that cast iron is not the best. I was at a cooking demonstration where we “tasted” different kinds of cookware. It is true that non-stick cookware, especially the Teflon coated, is poisonous. It puts gases into the environment and also into the food. But when we boiled baking soda in various cookware, stainless steel, enamel, cast iron and whatever else we could get our hands on, we tasted the residue of metals and materials from the pans. We found that the cleanest tasting was pans made with a titanium stainless blend. The surface is so hard and dense that they are virtually non-stick. Most times there is not any fat needed. And they are not as heavy as the enamel pans. They have a “click” in the cover and a construction that allows cooking at a lower temperature. The manufacturer (US) warns that they are prone to warping if you overheat and then cool them fast in water. They are expensive, but people who have bought them over the last 30 years rave about them. It is a long term investment. Food tastes better in them! The enamel taste was also clean.

  9. Nice article.
    In India at villag side or rural areas use cookware .from black mud or red mud. They even make houses complete from mud.

    I was wondering is it safe? But looks like natural soil made cookware is better than any.

    If you want to see these cookware let me know if can send pics.