Smarter Living: Shopping Wise

Any halfway busy home chef requires a good array of saucepans, soup kettles and other cookware of all sizes. Even if you’re only cooking eggs and beans, you want to be sure they don’t burn or stick to the pan and that they heat evenly.

Typical "non-stick" pans, however, pose problems. When overheated, they release fumes that can be fatal to birds and leave you feeling fluish. Furthermore, the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) used in non-stick cookware can leach out of pans and have been detected in 98 percent of Americans, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some PFCs cause cancer in laboratory animals and have been linked to birth defects, so reducing exposure is wise. Avoid using non-stick pans when pregnant or cooking for children and discard any items that are old, scratched or damaged.

When picking new cookware, consider the following safe, energy-efficient options:

Cast Iron

Cast-iron frying pans are perfect for cooking foods like eggs that need gentle heat and for searing vegetables, fish and meats without sticking. Though slow to heat, the material heats evenly and retains heat well so that foods can be cooked at lower temperatures, saving energy and money. The best bet is to purchase used cast iron; the surface becomes more non-stick as it ages, and rust spots can easily be cleaned and re-seasoned. We recommend purchasing two skillets: a small one, 6 or 8 inches in diameter, and a large pan, 10 or 12 inches in diameter. If you are unable to locate used cast iron, try Lodge Manufacturing’s pre-seasoned 10-inch pan ($27.50) and 8-inch skillet ($16.95).


Photo: Gabriella Stellart/Flickr

It’s also a simple process to season a new solid cast-iron pan: Warm the pan briefly, then coat it in lard or shortening and bake in an oven at 300 degrees for 15 minutes. Pour off excess oil, then return to the oven and continue baking for two hours more at the same temperature. You might be tempted to use olive oil, but don't: it will leave a sticky surface and sometimes smoke during cooking. And remember not to oven-season pans with plastic handles -- they might melt.

Enamel-Coated Cast Iron

Enamel-coated cast iron pots are good for cooking grains, soups, sauces and stews, which require longer cooking times and could potentially burn when cooked in a thin-bottomed pot. Enameled cast iron works particularly well for deglazing roasts, as the pan is easy to transfer from the oven to the stovetop.

We recommend having two sizes (41/2 quart and 9 quart). The cast iron prevents burning and the enamel coating is completely non-reactive with food. When purchasing used enamel-coated cast iron pots, check that the enamel is intact and not chipped, cracked or broken.

Le Creuset and Lodge Manufacturing both make enamel-coated cast-iron pots (Lodge 5-quart round Dutch oven, $55.95; Le Creuset71/4-quart round French oven, $280). Enamel-coated copper pots, new from Chantal, offer the slow cooking and non-stick surface of enamel-coated cast iron but are slightly lighter and have a steel band around the rim that protects the edges of the enamel from chipping (3-quart saucepan with lid, $152).

Stainless Steel

Lighter than cast iron and less reactive than aluminum, stainless steel is best for a sauté pan, allowing you to pick up the pan and toss the food around as it cooks. Good quality stainless steel pans are constructed with an aluminum core so that they heat quickly and evenly, with taste results comparable to those of professional-grade copper cookware. The interior of the pan should be fully lined with stainless steel (not a non-stick coating); the exterior can be aluminum or steel.


Photo: 360 Cookware

360 Cookware’s pans are comprised of 3 types of aluminum between an interior and exterior layer of stainless steel that make them both heat responsive and energy efficient. Made in one of America’s greenest cookware manufacturing facilities, 360 Cookware’s vapor technology will cut your energy bills while making healthier food by eliminating the need to grease the pan. We recommend trying 360 Cookware’s 2-quart sauté pan with cover ($210) and 3-quart saucepan ($240).

The All-Clad MC2 line is also well constructed to last for years (10-inch MC2 fry pan, $129.95; at the Broadway Panhandler).


Electric woks are often coated in Teflon, but cast-iron woks outlast nonstick counterparts and provide a more authentic wok flavor over time, as the iron surface picks up spices and flavors from each use.

last revised 7/21/2011

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