by Yohanan Burket
Nobody wants to hassle with cleaning pots and pans that require arms with the strength of a gorilla. The absolute worst pots and pans are those made out of aluminum, as they are both difficult to clean and are toxic. Aluminum has been implicated in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Almost nobody makes aluminum pots and pans anymore, but they were quite popular in the ’50s, along with the aluminum percolator stems in coffee percolators.
Stainless steel cookware is safe but very difficult to clean, especially after cooking eggs. Before stainless steel cookware, cast iron cookware was popular. Although food does not stick as readily to cast iron, the cast iron cookware requires maintenance – namely greasing after washing, and you must use a lot of grease (animal fats work fine). When you first purchase cast iron cookware, it must also be preconditioned. I use the non-toxic coconut oil (containing saturated fats) for this purpose. Ordinary cooking oil is too toxic, and butter burns. Olive oil also burns too easily.
DuPont introduced Teflon non-stick pans decades ago and was a major breakthrough in cookware. Although considered toxic by many today, I believe that is largely an exaggeration. Firstly, the coating is not toxic unless an empty pot or pan is left on a hot burner. If it is allowed to get too hot, then it will give off a toxic gas. Below that critical temperature, it is relatively harmless. Teflon is the DuPont trade name for a PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) coating. In the process of making PTFE cookware, another long-named chemical called PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) is used as a catalyst in the production of PTFE. The finished product has undetectable or nearly undetectable levels of PFOA. The major advantage of traditional, PTFE cookware is that it typically lasts seven times longer than typical ceramic cookware, according to DuPont. However, I’ve discovered that there are some premium types of ceramic cookware that outlast the DuPont PTFE.
Cookware Metals Beneath the Non-stick Coatings
Virtually all non-stick cookware has a non-stick coating on aluminum. Since aluminum is a very good conductor and low cost, it is an excellent choice. However, if the non-stick coating gets scratched, the cookware must be thrown out since aluminum is toxic.
If a glass or ceramic induction type stove top is used, aluminum is worthless because induction heating requires ferromagnetic materials (cast iron or stainless steel). To circumvent this problem, some manufacturers attach a steel plate to the aluminum cookware, such as Eco Symmetry (see first illustration). Other manufacturers use stainless steel for a base, a more expensive and unnecessary solution.
The Next Generation Ceramic Cookware
In recent years, a coating has been introduced that exhibits ceramic-like qualities. These qualities include extra hardness and heat resistance. The additional hardness over PTFE makes the cookware surface less susceptible to scratching, but more vulnerable to chipping as the coating is more brittle. Like PTFE cookware, wooden or other non-metal utensils are recommended when using it.
The disadvantage of ceramic cookware is that the food is more prone to stick to the pan than conventional PTFE coatings. Some inferior ceramic coatings are said to be without non-stick properties altogether after using for a short time.
Like PTFE cookware, there is also an upper temperature limit for its use, meaning you can destroy an empty pan left on a burner. The upper limit for PTFE is 400 °F (204 °C). In fact, only a cast iron pan can be left on a burner set to maximum without it being destroyed.
The Best Ceramic Cookware
Arguably, the best ceramic coating is the German Weilburger Greblon non-stick coating, and it has been approved by regulating authorities. Said to be the best of the best, this coating is 10 times more durable than PTFE cookware, even exceeding the durable ceramic-titanium coatings. When this coating is applied to a thick, pressure-cast aluminum base, you have nearly perfect cookware at a reasonable price. The aluminum is cast at a pressure of 250 tons of pressure! A thick and flat cast aluminum bottom on a fry pan or pot provides maximum heat distribution and warp resistance. The handle is designed to be oven-proof, along with the tempered glass lid.
The ceramic-like surface minimizes food blackening, which is unhealthy because it produces AGEs (Advanced Glycation End products) – the cause of cataracts and other health problems.
The Weilburger Greblon non-stick coating is made in a gray-blue color to distinguish it from traditional coatings, and can handle temperatures up to an oven-safe 450 °F (232 °C), which is 50 °F more than PTFE coatings.
Healthy Legend is one cookware manufacturer that uses the Weilburger Greblon coating. Some of their frying pans do not have the necessary steel plates needed for induction cooking, however.
Typical Ceramic Frying Pan Prices
I purchased a 20 cm (7.8 inch) Eco Asymmetry Ceramic frying pan that works with induction. The main material is aluminum with a steel or iron plate attached to the bottom that allows for induction heating. It is not oven safe due to the handle, and does not come with a lid. Great for cooking eggs. Price on eBay: $24.89 with free shipping.
I purchased an 8 inch (20.3 cm) Healthy Legend Ceramic frying pan with the certified Weilburger Greblon coating. This pan does not work with induction (they have other models that handle induction). The main material is aluminum. It is oven-safe because of a special handle, and comes with a temperature-tempered lid. Great for re-heating leftovers on the range or in the oven. Price on eBay: $33.95 plus $24.95 shipping.
In my opinion both products are excellent, at least for the brief time that I’ve owned them.
Update on Tested Pans
I am now writing about the two main ceramic frying pans that I purchased nearly a year ago. The pans are the Healthy Legend ceramic frying pan with the Greblon coating and the Eco Symmetry ceramic frying pan. I have used both pans equally, and have discovered that the surface of the Greblon coating frying pan is not as slippery as it was when new — eggs stick to the pan! Although the Greblon coating is durable, it looses its non-stick capability over time. This was not true for the Eco Symmetry ceramic frying pan, which still has a non-stick surface. The only advantage of the Greblon pan over the Eco Symmetry pan is that it cooks food faster. The Greblon pan is aluminum, whereas the Eco Symmetry pan is aluminum with a steel plate under it for induction heating. My vote is for the Eco Symmetry pan for durability and retention of the non-stick feature.
As of October, 2014, I am forced to rescind my previous recommendation for the Eco Symmetry pan, that for some inexplicable reason had its finish flake off. The material that flaked off was very thin, leaving the bare metal exposed. The material did look like teflon, not ceramic, as it was not brittle. The Eco Symmetry pan only lasted one year and had to be thrown away. I therefore recommend the Greblon ceramic pan instead.