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Jan 22, 2011 04:45 PM

Set of undoubtedly safe nonstick cookware? Carbon steel? Ceramic coated light cast iron? What would you get?

We'd like to consider several new pans that have a nonstick quality but for these we would prefer to avoid the popular coatings (no matter how safe they may actually be). So my question is what good alternatives are out there, especially in a set of pans? Any particular brands?

What do you think about carbon steel and who sells a nice line of them? I saw something claiming to be lightweight cast iron with a ceramic coating and it was definitely lightweight but no idea if the ceramic coating is any good or really safe itself on those. Regular cast iron would be too heavy for us for daily use and we have a couple items in cast iron already,

Outside of these options anything to look at and does any particular enamelware offer even slightly better nonstick than stainless steel? Durability is also a factor. We can be careful if we need to but would be great to use high stovetop heat when needed without worrying about the pan.

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  1. Carbon steel is lightweight and fairly non-stick over time, you just have to be sure that you clean it and season it properly just like cast iron.
    The gold standard seems to be De Buyer, they have several lines which differ by thickness and handle type. Their heaviest is Carbone Plus which is ~2.5-3mm if I remember correctly and comes with a plain handle.

    3 Replies
    1. re: rockfish42

      Thanks. Was browsing those. Do those handles get hot or stay cool on stove?

      1. re: Cinnamon

        Hot to very hot, your best bet is to use a side towel to handle them

        1. re: rockfish42

          Carbon steel handles typically are longer than cast iron, and angle up. But they are not hollow or plastic like many stainless steel. Use the cautions with cast iron.

    2. Not sure if there is "undoubtedly safe" cookware, because I can also point to doubtful aspects of both carbon steel and ceramic coated cookware.

      That said, carbon steel cookware are good performance cookware. They are relatively nonstick and isare lighter than typical cast iron cookware. DeBuyer is a very solid brand for carbon steel. However, even for this famous brand, there can be defects. Our friend, iyc_nyc has gotten a cracked DeBuyer pan from Bakedeco. Upon inspection, Bakedeco discovered its entire set of DeBuyer inventory is full with crackied pans.

      I, on the other hand, have an excellent DeBuyer pan.

      As for ceramic coated cookware, many of them do not last very long and have shorter lifespan than typical Teflon cookware. Now, I am not saying that is true for all ceramic coated cookware, but a lot of them do. Just check on Amazon for the negative feedbacks.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Thanks. What doubtful aspects besides the issues you mentioned?

        1. re: Cinnamon

          Well, some people will argue that carbon steel will leak iron and too much iron is not good. I personally do not believe this. Yes, it is true that a very small segment of population has problem with iron, but most people (especially North Americans) benefits from additional dietrary iron.

          Some will also argue that ceramic has contaminates. There is no "pure" ceramic. As such, there could be all kind of toxic materials in it.

        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Hey, just to add two footnotes to Chem's remarks re De Buyer quality control: (1) The cracks on my two De Buyer pans were on the loop handles where they attached to the bodies of the pan, not on the body of the pans themselves; and (2) Bakedeco didn't say all the De Buyer pans in their inventory were cracked at the handles, just the two types of pans I'd purchased from them - a regular fry pan with a helper loop handle, and a paella pan with two loop handles. All the other pans they had in inventory in these two styles had similar handle cracks, according to the Bakedeco (who, btw, has gone above and beyond to resolve the situation).

          They also acknowledged rough edges on these pans.

          But Chem's main point stands - quality control is uneven.

          1. re: iyc_nyc

            I remember those pictures. My guess is that the spot welder was out of adjustment during that run, applying too much pressure during weld. I don't think the cracks compromised the strength of the handles. An professional customer might not have been bothered.

        3. Carbon steel pans are bit lighter than cast iron, because steel is tougher and is made from rolled steel. But they can also warp if you leave them on the stove long enough to burn off the seasoning.

          The seasoning will be similar to cast iron. My dedicated crepe pan handles crepes, pancakes and omelets fine. But my 9.5 Lyonaise style fry pan, while great for frying onions and browning meat, is not my choice for scrambled eggs. Things like deglazing degrade the seasoning.

          Stainless steel is one of the worse materials when it comes to sticking. Enamel is somewhat better. Glazed earthenware better, and well seasoned cast iron and carbon steel best - but still short of the polymers.

          6 Replies
          1. re: paulj

            "Stainless steel is one of the worse materials when it comes to sticking. Enamel is somewhat better. Glazed earthenware better, and well seasoned cast iron and carbon steel best - but still short of the polymers."

            Excellent summary. Nothing is really quiet as nonstick as Teflon, especially when little/no oil is used.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Thank you and everyone who responded. This makes me wonder what foods people are even liking to cook with stainless, besides boiled ... so many pretty pans at Williams-Sonoma, alas! Now about glazed earthenware ... I've only seen that for oven but not high-heat stovetop use. Is that generally the case or is some corner of the world happily frying away with glazed earthhenware pans that my corner of the West have yet to discover?

              1. re: Cinnamon

                Paula Wolfert discusses glazed earthenware in her Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking. Spanish cazuelas come in sizes and shapes that can be used for frying. Flameware is an American style that can work with direct heat, even comes in fry pan shapes

                My experience is with a small cazuela and Chinese sandpots, both on a butane hotplate.

                1. re: Cinnamon

                  Stainless steel surface is not as bad as it sounds. If you add enough oil and heat the pan to the optimal temperature and wait for the foods to cook to the proper temperature before turning them, then the sticking is minimized. In addition, a lot of people like that tiny bits of proteins sticking to the pan, which allows for deglazing. Now, there is limitation of stainless steel. You cannot just turn the temperature way high and throw in a bunch of rice or noodle or whatever and not expect them to stick like crazy, which is why stainless steel is a bad choice for a wok.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    I must take on the fried rice challenge then ;-) I don't recall seeing anyone making fried rice with less than 1/4 cup of oil in a wok.

                  2. re: Cinnamon

                    Emile Henry has developed a ceramic line which goes directly on a gas flame -- they call it the "Flame"

              2. I disagree with most others regarding stainless. The more I use both bare carbon steel and stainless, the more I'm in love with stainless. I stopped using teflon only a few months ago. I've been giving both ss and carbon steel equal opportunities. I have to say I will not hesitate making pancakes in ss at all when I host the next sleep-over.

                I've fried eggs with only a brush of oil. I've saute chicken (skin on) without oil. Pot stickers came out golden and crispy at the bottom (what pot sticker? hah). Stir fry chicken strips came out beautifully in whole pieces. I will be sauteing pieces of cod filets tonight, and I hope they will also come out perfect.

                Food does not stick to ss pans as long as you know what you're doing. That didn't take me too long to get used to. Plus the benefit of no seasoning to worry about. You can cook everything in a ss pan (you risk ruining the seasoning layer if you cook too much liquids in CI). They heat up and cool down fast. You can soak the pan. You can throw them into the dishwasher. You can use BKF on them and they'll always look brand new. And they are lighter compared to a pan of the same size in CI/CS (my 12" ss skillet is 3lb 12oz, my 12" cs skillet is 5lb 13oz).

                I too was skeptical and intimidated by cooking in ss after listening to everybody. The obscene amount of oil they use in cooking shows was also a turn off. Since I learned that it is possible to cook a piece of steak without a drop of oil in Demeyere cookware, I said to myself why can't I? So I started experimenting with frying a single egg, then with other fatty things like chicken wings, skin-on chicken pieces, then with slightly more delicate things like omelets, fish with skin... Yes, whenever I made a mistake, food was stuck, on both ss and cs.

                I think I remember hearing someone saying that you can fry an egg without a drop of oil in CI that's like 50 years old. I don't know if I get to live that long to experience it myself. My layer of seasoning is only less than a year old. My experience tells me that a young cs/ci pan is not any more forgiving than ss.

                I have other toys to play with at the same time (sous vide) so experiment progress will be slow. However, I will not hesitate cooking anything in ss that people normally tell you not to. But like I said, I have not tried making pancakes myself, don't blame me if things don't work out ;-)

                I'm using All-clad if it matters.

                For the record, I don't hate CI. I use enameled CI dutch oven for braises and roasts. I don't plan to get any enameled ci pans though as I don't think I need them.

                5 Replies
                1. re: cutipie721

                  I haven't got the faintest idea what your abbreviations mean.

                  1. re: lagatta

                    CI = Cast Iron
                    CS = Carbon Steel
                    BKF = Bar Keepers Friend
                    ss = stainless steel

                    1. re: paulj

                      Thanks paul! :-) Sorry for being so lazy and created confusions.

                      Well I didn't make any cod filets last night, had mahi mahi instead. They came out golden and in whole pieces. But since it has a firmer texture than cod, it wasn't much of a challenge.

                  2. re: cutipie721

                    I have an All-Clad stainless steel fry pan - so what exactly are your tips for using it so that foods (especially eggs) don't stick?!

                    1. re: dudleyboo

                      I found my answer from this series of videos, thanks to other CHers who posted this:


                      For eggs, take them out at least 10 mins before cooking to let them warm up. Cold eggs tend to stick. Once the egg is in the pan, you may want to lower the heat and cook to your desired doneness. I like runny egg yolks and crispy white edges, so I don't bother with adjusting the heat.

                  3. Berndes Signo Cast cookware.


                    However, I don't think you need a set of non-stick pans. Generally, non stick pans are used for low fat frying, or in the case of the Signo Cast, for browning before braising. At least that is what I use mine for. The Signo Cast does a good job.

                    Honestly for most browning, you can do quite well with a seasoned iron skillet.

                    For saucepan functions, I recommend stainless steel. It is easy to maintain and it can go in the dishwasher. For a frypan, since you are concerned about coatings, the Signo Cast should do the trick. It is pricey. (It is also remarkably lightweight.)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sueatmo

                      I have a 10" Berndes, cast aluminum like this, with an steel base so it works on the induction burner. For even heat it is the best pan I have. It is nonstick, but I haven't had it long enough to judge how durable that coating is. My general experience is that the nonstick coating lasts longest on thicker pans.

                      But if the nonstick quality is not important, I grab another pan, such as carbon steel if frying, stainless if simmering.