I have replaced the nonstick Teflon pots and pans in my kitchen with stainless steel and cast iron, and I couldn't be happier. Moving away from nonstick was an easy decision for me. Now, we eat more iron in our diet and have the heavenly bonus of being able to put some pots IN THE DISHWASHER. Hallelujah.
I'm amazed at how often people rave about nonstick cookware, because I'm really not impressed. Let me tell you why.
1. There are continuing concerns about health and safety, especially at the molecular level.
Nonstick cookware is safe and approved for use by the FDA with one big qualification: do not cook over low temperatures. Funny rule to have for pots and pans, actually.
Teflon, the plastic-like coating on the pan that makes it nonstick, becomes unsafe when used at too high of temperatures of 500 degrees or higher. At these high temperatures, the coating begins to break down at the molecular level (meaning you can't necessarily see it happening). If the pans overheat, they emit fumes which will cause you to have temporary flu-like symptoms or even kill a pet bird.
Now 500 degrees may sound high, but this is actually fairly easy to do on accident. Good Housekeeping ran an experiment with several brands of nonstick cookware on different types of common household stove tops and found that empty pans over a high heat can easily be over 500 degrees. This included pans filled with food, especially meats, it seems. These easily reached temperatures over 600 degrees.
A lesser concern but still worth mentioning is that surface of nonstick cookware is easily damaged by cooking utensils or by banging against other pans in storage. This means that little pieces of the Teflon coating are mixed into your food. It's potentially no big deal, and probably just passes through your system without lingering effects. But, I'm not comfortable with the idea of my family consuming that.
Nonstick products have improved in quality over the last decade as the process of making Teflon improves, but there are still a lot of unknown outcomes to exposing our bodies to the chemicals associated with the Teflon manufacturing process. There is an ongoing conversation in the news questioning their safety with new reports every day.
What's scary is that there's actually traces of these chemicals--PFOA, PTFE, PFAS--are probably already in our bloodstream right now! However, Nonstick surfaces are not the only place where these chemicals are found (it's found in microwave popcorn, takeout containers, even in tap water). So, without really knowing where else we are exposed to these chemicals or what the long term effects are, it's hard to say anything definitive. Do nonstick pans cause testicular cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pre-eclampsia, ulcerative colitis, weakened immunity, liver inflammation, or obesity? It's hard to say, but enough evidence exists to state that it's certainly linked. (Remember though, correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation. My college stats professor would be proud that I remember that!)
I am not a professional pots and pans toxin tester; I can't test these theories myself. Although there is enough chatter to raise red flags for me, I am not entirely 100% convinced by safety reasons alone. This brings me to my next point.
2. These pans wear out too quickly.
I remember opening my monthly subscription to Cooking Light magazine one morning in our first little apartment, not even a year after I got married. A blurb by one of their chefs recommended that even high end nonstick pans need to be replaced after two years. Two years? I couldn't believe it! So I pulled out that pot set we had been gifted at our wedding shower, which was not even a year old, and looked at it closely. Despite using the appropriate utensils, it was already damaged!
While non-stick pans may begin showing signs of significant wear as early as just a couple of years after purchase, but I REALLY was not impressed when another Cooking Light Chef, Robin Bashinsky, boasted that his high end and well cared for nonstick set lasted 10 years. Only 10 years?! Consider the fact that my cast iron skillet (which cost less than a high end nonstick skillet), if well cared for, could still be used by my grandchildren 100 years from now, 10 years for a top of the line nonstick set is really not impressive.
So what do I use instead?
Let's talk about cast iron!
I was gifted a 12.5 inch cast iron skillet for my birthday, and I am in love! (Affiliate link: FS Kitchen Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware Pan, 12.5-Inch) It is easy to care for, and this pan naturally adds iron to our diet. I have been borderline anemic several times, especially when I was pregnant, and my son has been threatened with iron supplements too. Neither of us have needed to suffer from the discomfort of taking iron supplements after our cast iron purchase.
Cast iron can be a little intimidating if you aren't familiar with it. I had imagined owning cast iron pans to mean spending a weekend coating a whole bunch of pots with lard and then roasting them over a hearth fire like a scene from the beginning half of Cinderella. Where do you even get lard?! I wouldn't know.
Cast iron does needs to be seasoned occasionally, but that just means that it needs to be brushed with a thin layer of oil (I've had good results with olive oil) and baked at 350 for about an hour (45 minutes upside down, 15 right side up). But if you care for it by avoiding dish soap whenever possible and dry it completely after every use, you don't have to reseason very often.
This seasoning is what makes the pan nonstick. A very thin layer of baked on oil separates the food from the iron. It's a breeze to clean, and I store it in the oven to keep moisture out.
Also, my stainless steel pans are great!
I've owned a Cuisinart stainless steel set for a couple of years (Affiliate link: Cuisinart 77-10 Chef's Classic Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set), and I've been very happy with it. Stainless steel is heavier with a thicker base than nonstick pans, which are often made with aluminum instead. On my first use, I noticed that stainless steel cooked more evenly. It also took a little more time to preheat, but once it was preheated, the pan contents cooked very quickly.
Tips for You
If you, at this point, are seriously considering moving away from your non-stick pans, there may be a way to use your existing warranty to get an upgrade. Check out this site for tips!
I didn't immediately make any change. I replaced my pans over the course of a couple of years. And, confession, I still have a few nonstick pieces in my kitchen: a muffin pan, a griddle, a George Foremen grill. But, these pieces I only use occasionally in moderation, and I think that's ok with me. For now.
Why not just start with investing in a better skillet today? A quality cast iron skillet is affordable on any budget. Years from now, your body (and wallet) will thank you for investing in better and better-for-you kitchen tools!