Picking Better Pots and Pans

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. Nonstick options appear to be a fine solution, but before you buy another Teflon-coated pan, it’s worth looking into the alternatives.

For starters, most nonstick coatings start to peel in two years, leaving you with a useless piece of metal. Over the past few years, it’s also become widely known that when heated above 680 degrees, nonstick pans can release toxic fumes that are fatal to birds and probably not healthy for humans, either. Beyond this, the manufacture of Teflon and other nonstick coatings releases perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is a likely human carcinogen, according to an EPA advisory panel. Although nonstick may seem like the most popular cookware on the market, the truth is that stainless steel, cast iron and enameled alternatives are widely available, more durable and usually preferred by chefs.

Cast Iron and Enameled Cast Iron

When properly seasoned, solid cast-iron cookware will give you a nonstick surface. The process is simple: 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 do not oven-season pans with plastic handles—they might melt.

Enameled cast iron works well for deglazing roasts since it’s easy to transfer from the oven to the stovetop.

Stainless Steel


Single-piece construction provides stability and even distribution of heat, with taste results comparable to those of professional-grade copper cookware.

Woks

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.

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