By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Non-stick cookware, once hailed as a space-age wonder, has fallen into disfavor, as those wondrous non-stick coatings have been revealed to be unhealthy for humans and the environment.
Teflon, and similar non-stick coatings that relied on perfluorochemicals (PFCs), were safe when used as instructed, according to their makers. But these slippery products, which provided a marvelous landing pad for fried eggs, turned out to be amazingly sticky in less positive ways in the outside world.
Scientists say that the PFCs used in these coatings persist as pollution in waterways and landfills. The chemicals have been found in human blood samples and implicated as carcinogenic. No one knows when, if ever, they’ll biodegrade.
Fumes from cooking on overheated non-stick surfaces made with synthetic PFCs (the subset compound used in Teflon and similar surfaces is known as PTFE, which produces a related compound, PFOA) can be dangerous and have caused pet birds to collapse and die, a harbinger of ill effects on humans. The pollution these chemicals generate may even be getting into drinking water, a key reason a group of manufacturers has agreed to voluntarily phase out (by 2015) these synthetic compounds.
Now for the good news. These changes are driving a renaissance in cookware as makers create an array of eco-friendly alternatives using stainless steel, iron, enamel-coated aluminum, glass and other natural components. So there are now more ways than ever to replace that crumbling non-stick pan (Lord only knows what's creeping into your food) and get back to safer cooking.
Here's our list of well-reviewed green cookware, suitable for gifts and definitely for yourself.
1 – Man Pans — Grrrrr!
Here's a great little find from Washington state that offers an environmental solution for cooks. You'll probably even forgive these pans their macho name, emphasizing their durability, once you get to know their creator.
Man Pans founder and president John Crow is a longtime advocate for sustainable practices at his factory outside Spokane, where a small crew of 20 has been making pizza pans and baking dishes for 20 years. Crow works constantly to reduce the facility's energy consumption. He's cut water use in half; demands that factory scraps be scrupulously reused and provides employees a 10-hour, 4 day week, curbing their commuting and fuel costs.
Several years ago, Crow decided he wanted to make a set of premium cooking pans that would be free of toxic non-stick coatings (which release harmful gases during manufacture as well as when used at high heat); so in consultation with other experts, he developed an anodized pan made of aluminum, a good conductor of heat. These pans heat quickly and evenly, saving both energy and culinary frustration.
Crow, who also serves as chief tinkerer and test cook for his bakeware company Lloyd Industries, improved the anodizing process with a proprietary quartz-based sealer. That made Man Pans "stick resistant" and easier to clean, but without using the volatile compounds used in Teflon-type coatings. He added a special handle that stays cool. He also used spun aluminum, to strengthen the pans, and added a “hem” at the top that helps retain heat.
After their launch three years ago, Man Pans grew to become the best seller at the local Kitchen Engine store, Crow said. The only downside was that the pans could not be washed in the dishwasher because standard dishwasher detergents etched them. Crow recommends that Man Pans be cleaned by hand with a scrubby. (Sounds like a job for a man to us!)
"I honestly believe my pans are the best in the world, the best balance of cooking prowess and using less energy," says Crow, who's an avid home cook.
You can buy Man Pans online at the factory store; and read reviews here. The Wok and Steamer set above sells for $122.99. (Watch John Crow convince you the pans are worth it in the video “Why Man Pans”.)
2 – Another option for American kitchens, American Kitchen
Another green cookware manufacturer is Regal Ware World Wide, which makes pans with the American Kitchen label. Based in Kewaskum, Wisconsin, they've proudly been making cookware for 100 years and their two factories follow an ever-evolving sustainability plan that's reducing their paper and gasoline use.
The American Kitchen line is made with recyclable stainless steel with aluminum cores. It’s made in plain stainless steel or non-stick versions, which feature the company's PFOA-free "eco-Satin" coating.
You can buy American Kitchen pans at a variety of retail outlets, including Amazon, which features this well-reviewed 10-piece set . This set combines a nice stainless steel sauce pans, with sauté and frying pans that feature the eco-Satin coating. That could be the best of both worlds for a home cook who likes stainless steel, but wants to stay with non-stick for eggs, pancakes and other problematic foods made early in the day. The set is sold for around $200.
3 – Superior stainless steel
Cuisinart's Chef's Classic 10-piece Stainless Steel set lets the home cook mimic his/her favorite chefs at the surprisingly reasonable price of $120.
This set is the lighter weight of Cuisinart's two best-selling stainless sets. The other set, the Cuisinart MCP-12 MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set, hikes the price to around $220. What customers get for their extra $100: A multi-clad construction that features an aluminum core that wraps around the sides of the pan instead of just beefing up the bottom as it does in the Classic set.
The wrapped aluminum core adds energy efficiency because the pans heat more quickly and hold the temperature. The MultiClad Pro set’s 18/10 gauge steel, and added decorator touches, like brushed stainless exteriors, also raise the level. And dozens of citizen reviewers report they (and their pans) are worth it.
But the choice really comes down to price. Those who want to spend less might be well satisfied with the entry level Classic line. Buyers rave about both sets. The new user should simply be aware that cooking in stainless steel frying pans requires a bit of education and a dollop of oil, typically, otherwise pans can become etched or discolor.
4 – A slick eco-alternative
For those who fear going cold turkey on slipperiness, Cuisinart offers a ceramic-based non-stick finish that's free of PFTEs and PFOAs. The company claims its "Ceramica" surface won't peel off and while reviews of these pans are mostly positive, there have been complaints about chipping and a decline in the non-stickiness. So with qualification, these anodized, ceramic coated GreenGourmet pans by Cuisinart are an option for green cooks.
GreenGourmet pans, which are made in China, do promise good heat conduction, thanks to their aluminum interior, and can brag on an eco-profile that includes handles made with 70 percent recycled steel and a water-based production process that's free of PTFE and PFOAs. Cost varies. We found them for just over $200.
5 – The logic of cast iron
Nordic Ware is another maker that's moving away from PFC coatings in its pans and bake ware, and taking other steps toward sustainability.
But while you wait to make sure that bundt pan is made with a new safer coating, you can start shopping for cast iron pans and griddles that already qualify as chemical-free. Nordic Ware’s Lodge Logic cast iron cookware has been enjoying a resurgence as new generations of cooks realize that these old-fashioned stand bys come with some serious cooking chops.
Cast iron cookware doesn't have a zero footprint, no pan does, but it can last and last, if you treat it right. Consumers who learn how to keep their iron frying pans, Dutch ovens and griddles clean and dry, and season them properly will be rewarded with culinary workhorses as loyal as the family hound.
Made in Minnesota (near as we can tell) Lodge Logic offers several useful pans, including the handy two-sided griddle shown above (around $50). You can score grilled veggies and meat on one side, and flip it over for a smooth flapjack surface on the other. (A little known feature, iron pans also impart a small amount of iron to your food, which is a good thing for the majority of Americans. Only the rare individual with hemochromatosis would not benefit.)
As one reviewer said on Amazon, yes, this griddle is heavy: It's a hunk of iron. So don’t drop it on your foot.
But for most reviewers, this cookware’s positives outweigh the weight issue.
6 – Back to the stoneware age.
Here's another way to get away from short-lived pans with non-stick surfaces that take a toxic toll on the environment. It’s called stoneware, and you’ve no doubt heard about it, but you may not have considered it’s eco-friendly features.
Stoneware, like these examples from Pampered Chef, can make a great cookie sheet that doubles as a pizza pan. Roast vegetables on it, bake crostini, make granola. Whatever works works. Stoneware is blessedly simple and can be used for virtually any type of baking. It assists browning, cooks evenly and holds heat to keep things warm. And while you may not be accustomed to paying $34 for a cookie sheet, this one will outlast three of those cheap, non-stick ones. So add green points for durability.
Non-stick coatings are improving, but even though many manufacturers have agreed to phase out PFC-related coatings in the US, products imported from other countries may still be sticking you with unhealthy non-stick goods. Stoneware resolves the concern. It’s non-toxic, and you don’t have to worry about problems after you dispose of it.
Pampered Chef has developed at least a dozen stoneware mutations, many great for gifts, such as this covered baking dish ($85) that’s beautifully glazed on the outside, with an unadorned stoneware surface interior. You can roast a chicken in it or bake ratatouille. It needs a coating of oil, so use safflower, canola, or if you’re cooking at low temperatures, beneficial olive oil.
We wish we knew more about Pampered Chef’s eco-profile, but they do support ongoing anti-hunger and cancer fundraisers.
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