I’ve been reading foodie blogs for close to seven years now. I’ve seen the medium change, grow, entertain certain fads, and inspire.
These blogs have really helped me to analyze what our family eats and learn valuable skills, like making yogurt, making bread, using a whole chicken, and menu planning. I’ve also learned more about the food industry than I ever cared to know.
But as I sat down to write this post, there is one feeling I can’t help shake.
I feel tired.
- Tired of having my emotional chain jerked by news of something wrong in our food system that is going to kill me.
- Tired of people guilting me into eating fad diets (because it’s the best/only way!) – especially when they don’t share the drawbacks or consequences to that particular diet.
- Tired by the constant fear-mongering and uncertainty.
- Tired by all the conflicting information there is – showing that few issues are really black and white.
About two years ago I hit burn-out with foodie blogs. I unplugged from following all but two blogs, only keeping tabs on Kitchen Stewardship® and one other blog because I appreciated the balanced, practical, and non-judgmental flavors these blogs had. Basically, I had to let myself emotionally heal and return to a place where I could simply enjoy food again.
So why share all this?
I want you to know that this was a hard post for me to write.
I want to share and inform, but not contribute to fear or manipulation. I am coming from a position of wanting to be a blessing and to share my story. Above all, I want to whisper to the overwhelmed reader this one truth:
It’s going to be okay. Perfectionism is impossible. Do the best you can. You’re not a failure of a home keeper.
So with this in mind, shall we dive in?
Non-stick Will Kill You! And Other Facts That Are (Maybe?) True
Ahem, I hope you read that heading with a hint of humor. 😉
Back in 2012, Kitchen Stewardship® ran a Monday Mission on being mindful of your cookware, particularly any nonstick pots and pans. It’s a very interesting article. In a follow-up post, Katie talked about cooking with a nonstick pan while running a high-quality air purifier in her home. It turned fiery red, showing high air contamination. Crazy.
I read about the supposed chemicals that were leached from using damaged nonstick cookware and their cancer-causing connections. I was immediately filled with fear and went on a nonstick witch-hunt in our house.
Background: At the time our family was in a season where we were really struggling with our health – we were battling asthma, severe food allergies, gluten-intolerance, digestive difficulties, and horrid bacterial infections. It was a very dark and hard time. For every ounce that our physical lives were spiraling out of control, I felt compelled to try to “fix” it by being better and more perfect in our living. Sigh.
Although I regret the spirit of fear that I made these changes in, the changes themselves really were beneficial – both to our health and our wallet.
As I prepared to write this post, I revisited the topic of nonstick — spending 12+ hours researching nonstick and what we know about it. For every article that affirms nonstick is toxic and dangerous, there is another article saying it’s perfectly fine. GAAAAHHHH! Why is nothing simple in this world?!
The Hard, Cold, Universal Facts About Nonstick
I don’t have it in me to list all the health concerns (and arguments) for/against nonstick. I’d much rather stick to the facts that both sides agree on.
There is 100%, universal consensus on these three facts regarding nonstick:
Nonstick pans should never get above 500°F.
This is actually trickier than it sounds. It’s a lot more complicated than never pre-heating a nonstick pan while empty. Good Housekeeping found that a cheap nonstick pan “zoomed to more than 500 degrees in two and a half minutes” – and it even had oil in it.
You also should never, ever cook above medium-high heat (no matter what type of pan you use).
What happens at >500°F isn’t exactly clear (cancerous fumes? toxic chemicals? something else?)… but even the manufacturers themselves agree it’s not good. Whether its emitting cancer-causing fumes is not for me to say; it’s enough for me to know that using nonstick requires intentional monitoring of pan heat. I just don’t have time for that in my life.
I learned when I researched teflon back in 2012 that a chemical that’s in the Teflon, C-8, is super toxic to birds at temps as low as 464ºF and causes death in seconds. Many sources will say that home cooks never heat their pans that high, but anyone who’s ever accidentally preheated a dry pan too long will tell you differently.
The EWG states that a non-stick pan can hit temps as high as 700ºF in as short as 3-5 minutes. There are 15 chemicals released, including two carcinogenic ones, way back at 500ºF. What happens at 600º-700ºF??? (source)
The fumes that kill birds can cause flu-like symptoms in humans… but no long-term effects are known, say the companies that make Teflon. Aren’t you reassured? *eye roll*
Nonstick pans are NOT meant to last a long time.
This one was actually very hard for me to swallow. I am a big fan of curbing waste, both in the trash can and in the wallet. When I buy something, I expect to use it for years.
Back in 2010, I read a quote by the President of a Cookware Association (who knew those exist?) who was giving his thoughts on nonstick. I wish I could find the original article, but the gist of his quote stuck with me: “Nonstick cookware is not made to last. You’re lucky if you can get it to last 1-3 years with light use. In a kitchen with serious cooking, cookware may need to be replaced as much as every 6 months.” I cringe when I think of how many nonstick pans I have “donated” to local landfills.
Now you may believe in the (true?) conspiracies that Big Companies are out to get your money, so they are intentionally making cheap items that break so you constantly have to rebuy them. Well, okay. Maybe. But I find it extremely hard to put my faith in a cookware product that I will have to replace every few months, especially because…
Nonstick should NEVER be used once it has a scratch.
Here’s my story: I used an extremely high-quality 13” nonstick skillet for almost 100% of our daily cooking – everything from sautéing to cooking pancakes to braising meats… it was my kitchen workhorse.
- I lovingly hand washed it with a cotton cloth — didn’t even use a sponge!
- I only used wooden, non-scratching utensils.
- I never stacked pans on top of it (biiiiiiiiiiig no-no with nonstick).
And yet after 3 months – 3 months! – of use, the pan began showing scratches. Plural. So I took it back to Bed Bath and Beyond and they replaced it for free (bless them) because they agreed that 3 months was far too soon for a nonstick pan to bite the dust.
Which was great! Until it happened again… 3 months later.
Which is honestly unacceptable for a top-of-the-line, $$$ pan. Especially since I was following all the “rules” in how I cared for it.
Why I Don’t Like Plain Ol’ Cast Iron
At that point, I knew we needed to make a change. Between the scratching, the niggling concern about nonstick safety, and the constant turnover in pan usage, I knew something had to give.
I still wanted something with a stick-resistant factor, so while a stainless steel skillet was an option, it wasn’t a perfect solution.
I’m also not a huge fan of cast iron pans. I know, some of you just gasped in horror. Hear me out on my reasoning:
- At the time, learning how to season a pan seemed too daunting for me. Keep in mind that cutting apart a whole chicken also seemed too daunting, but I also learned to conquer that fear. KS partner GNOWFLIGNS has awesome tutorials on seasoning cast iron to get you started.
- As a mom of little ones, I needed the flexibility of letting a dirty pan sit for awhile on the counter. Gross, but true. I didn’t feel comfortable letting food debris sit encrusted on a cast iron pan for days hours.
- I really like to be able to wash a pan with soap. I know, it sounds silly. But it’s still hard for my mind to wrap around the reality of simply wiping down a pan with a paper towel and calling it “clean.” I probably need to educate myself better and just put on my big girl britches. 😉 But it was enough to keep me from not automatically reaching for a plain cast iron skillet.
So, what do we use? I’m so glad you asked. 🙂
My Nonstick Solution
America’s Test Kitchen is a wonderful resource that does exactly what their name states: they run hardy tests on kitchen pieces and give amazing recommendations so you get the best bang for your buck.
It’s thanks to them that I discovered Le Creuset – a very high quality line that specializes in cast iron cookware with an enamel covering. Le Creuset (pronounced “Lay Cruise-SAY”) is a reputable French company that has been making cookware for almost 100 years – and they are known for their durability and quality. In fact, Le Creuset pans are known for being passed down as inheritances from one generation to another!
Additionally, the enamel covering allows for (1) fun pan colors, (2) a stick-resistant surface, and (3) the ability to submerge the pan in water and use soap.
Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!
But there’s something you need to know first. Le Creuset is also extremely expensive (found on Amazon). The first time I saw the price of their cookware, I sucked in my breath so hard, my teeth almost fell out.
RELATED: Recipes in a Cast Iron Skillet
2021 Update: My favorite healthy non-stick pan review!
You Expect Me To Pay How Much??
So before you lose your teeth due to sticker shock, consider these options:
- I was spending $65+ every three months replacing my “high quality” nonstick pan. Within 2-3 nonstick pan life cycles, I could afford to get a Le Creuset skillet. This gave room for good discussion in our house: my husband and I both share the same philosophy about buying fewer things, but that are of better quality. Especially given that we would break even so quickly this was worth the trade up.
- Le Creuset has outlet stores located in 33 states (and growing) across the US. These stores sell the excellent high-quality line at a significant discount. Although this cookware is considered to be “seconds” (meaning, the glaze color is slightly off or there’s a slight imperfection), this in NO WAY impairs the function of the cookware – and it still carries a lifetime guarantee.
Additionally, the outlet store we visited frequently ran 20-30% off coupons. Bottom line? I got a beautiful $350 Dutch Oven for $160 and a $270 braiser/skillet for $135.
Believe me, it was a massive budget pinch to splurge on these items … but we took the long view and saw how this was to our benefit. I have used my Le Creuset braiser almost every day for 5 years – and it hasn’t shown an ounce of wear. There is NO WAY a nonstick pan would have lasted that long.
- I could always swallow my silly preferences and just use regular cast iron. A good 12” skillet costs the same as a nonstick pan. The only difference is the lack of enamel coating (which changes how you care for your pan). But it still cooks very well.
- America’s Test Kitchen also recommends the Tramontina brand of enameled-cast-iron cookware. It performed marvelously in their tests. While Le Creuset gets first pick, Tramontina wins their award for “Best Value.” And at 1/3 the cost, it’s certainly worth a consideration. You can find Tramontina on sale around Thanksgiving/Christmas or pick it up year round on Amazon.
So Now What?
Phew. I feel like this was a whole lot of information to digest.
If you find yourself standing in a completely nonstick kitchen, please take a deep breath. It might be easy for you to feel like you have failed your family – both health-wise and financially for using nonstick. That is not true. Please don’t feel that way.
The heart beat of Kitchen Stewardship® is to help provide baby steps – small, tangible steps that (hopefully) don’t throw your life into a tailspin to put into practice.
So here are some practical steps you can do:
Inspect your cookware.
How do your pots and pans look? Do you see any scratches? Make a list so you know what is in good condition and what you may need to replace. Remember: once a nonstick pan has just one scratch, you should stop using it (sniff sniff).
Make a list of the pots and pans you reach for the most.
I’m a firm believer in having a minimalist kitchen: keep only what you use; use only what you keep.
In an upcoming post, I will show you what pots and pans have earned the right to stay in my kitchen – but that may look different for you and your family, based on your cooking habits. Stay tuned!
Consider replacing one cookware item.
Refer to the list you made in babystep #2. In my mind, it makes sense to invest the most money on the items used most frequently. So if you make eggs every day on a 9” skillet, consider investing in a good small skillet. If you never use a 9” skillet, consider investing your money on something else. Speaking of eggs, since many are asking…the “part two” to this post is about figuring out eggs in enameled cast iron!
Reframe your thinking.
Try to view your spending as investing – especially if you are getting something that will last a long time. I have a hard time investing my money in something with a short lifespan.
Quick note from Katie: Le Creuset is a great brand of enameled cast iron, but there are others as well where the price tag may differ. Just be sure to check the warranty guarantee so you really can buy cookware to last a lifetime. Personally, I use an Xtrema skillet (ceramic) and like having a skillet that people can use without having to know special care rules like my beloved cast iron. 🙂
This post contains affiliate links to Amazon from which KS will earn a commission if you make a purchase. Your price doesn’t change.