The kitchen is one of my favorite places to be. It is important that we are using not only safe equipment, utensils, dish cloths, etc, but also that we are making choices that are environmentally friendly. To learn more about why I chose the cookware below, read this post about stainless steel, cast iron, carbon steel, and more. I share details, pros and cons of the safest and least toxic cookware materials available.
As Tamara Rubin says, there is no safe level of lead in dishes or cookware. Unfortunately, all of the Le Creuset pieces she has tested have been positive for very high levels of lead or cadmium on the outside, and all but one tested positive for lead on the inside. Due to this, Le Creuset is definitely not recommended.
Cast iron and carbon steel do leach iron into your food.
Glass is a very safe material except it is more fragile and prone to break when stressed due to temperature changes.
Stainless steel is considered safe by many, but I might rather have iron leach into my food than the nickel and other metals used in the stainless steel alloys. But, if you’re at higher risk for excess iron, you might feel differently. For me, the problem with carbon steel is the rust. I find that carbon steel rusts more quickly than cast iron. But if someone really wants to use carbon steel, Blanc Creatives and Blu Skillet Ironware are made in the USA.
The problem with cast iron is that there always seems to be polymerized oil/black crud that never gets washed off. I understand the whole thing about seasoning and maintaining that hard-won protective layer, but either I don’t know how to do it even after using cast iron pans for 10 years, or on top of that seasoning layer there is a layer of crud that I know is probably carcinogenic, and that I’m eating each time I cook in cast iron pans. They are dirtier than stainless steel as well. For both of these reasons, I do like stainless steel better.
I’m still not sure what to think of unglazed clay cookware. Some seem to think its the worst, and some think it’s the best. As I have no way to test or determine if it’s safe or not, I’m not including it in my lists.
If you have ceramic dishes – plates, bowls, or mugs and you want to have them tested for lead, visit Tamara Rubin’s page to find out how to send them to her for testing with an XRF lead-testing instrument, which is built to test ceramic surfaces whereas the commonly available lead swab kits were developed to test lead in paint, not in ceramics.
There is a ceramic cookware line, called Ceramcor, or also known as Xtrema (as marketed by Dr. Mercola), that is advertised is being lead-free, but upon testing with an XRF instrument, this is definitely not true. The following results were taken from Tamara Rubin’s blog post (I’ve paired them down a bit – for full results, visit Tamara’s post. The pan which she tested was purchased from the company in November 2016.
- Lead (Pb): 74 +/- 15 ppm
- Barium (Ba): 597 +/- 55 ppm
- Cobalt (Co): 9,376 +/- 391 ppm
Center of Bottom of Pan (Permanently affixed label in center of bottom). This is the surface that is against a flame or heating element when the pan is in use.
- Lead (Pb): 7,258 +/- 201 ppm
- Cadmium (Cd): 567 +/- 28 ppmf
- Barium (Ba): 688 +/- 67 ppm
- Cobalt (Co): 3,784 +/- 251
Cross Section of Pan (Substrate: beige/pink ceramic base from broken side of pan)
- Lead (Pb): 25 +/- 12 ppm
Interior (food surface) of lid:
- Lead (Pb): 120 +/- 18 ppm
- Barium (Ba): 453 +/- 55 ppm
- Vanadium (V): 1,069 +/- 144 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 2161 +/- 236 ppm
- Cobalt (Co): 9,506 +/- 405 ppm
From what I can tell, all brands of carbon steel baking sheets will warp when they reach hot temps in the oven, as low as 350 degrees F. From reading reviews, it seems like many cheaper stainless steel pans also warp at hot temps. De Buyer baking sheets are thinner than Matfer Bourgeat, thus, Matfer baking sheets may warp about half as much as De Buyer, but Matfer baking sheets have dangerously sharp edges. I cut my finger BADLY on the edge of one of these pans while washing it. So, go stainless steel, even though they warp. You’ll be better off regarding rust, which makes using and cleaning them so much easier.
Stainless Steel – how to wade through the different brands
There are a ton of stainless steel brands out there, which is overwhelming. Which is better and what is the difference between All-Clad Stainless, Tri-ply, Copper Core, etc? Here are a few tips to help you navigate:
- The best skillets are Demeyere’s Proline’s or Silver7, in terms of cladded (conductive metal thickness – these are aluminum clad), which are rivetless for easy cleaning, but they are TOO HEAVY TO BE PRACTICAL!!! The All-Clad d7 skillet costs less, but has rivets (skip the other d7 items). So, maybe a good compromise is the Demeyere 5 Plus? or KitchenAid Tri-Ply Ply?
- For sauce pans the Demeyere Atlantis curved and straight-wall pots have copper and silver that spread heat extremely well and react faster to changes in heat. All-Clad’s MC2 line costs less and performs just as well, but has exposed rims (don’t put in dishwasher), and all of All-Clad’s handles are uncomfortable, so are not recommended. The best value for sauce pots under 3.5 quarts is probably the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro as it has flared rims, and performs just as well as most All-Clad. Many All-Clad sauce pots don’t have flared rims – only the D5 and Copper Core lines have flared rims for the sauce pots. The other pots in the All-Clad lines all have flared rims. Weird that they took out this feature for the sauce pots.
- All-Clad’s Copper Core line “has about the equivalent of 0.91 mm copper, making it slightly more heat conductive than All-Clad Stainless (1 mm of copper is worth about 2 to 2.4 mm of aluminum in terms of heat-spreading power, depending on the exact alloy grades in question). Copper Core is a slightly better performer than All-Clad Stainless. It also heats up and cools down faster than All-Clad Stainless and spreads heat more evenly.” – http://www.Centurylife.org. They still have palm-digger handles, but on the upside, they have helper handles on the opposite side. All-Clad Stainless Steel and Cuisinart Multiclad Pro perform slightly less well than the Copper Core line.
- Demeyere 5-Plus – aka Zwilling Sensation – aka Industry 5 / All-Clad Stainless / and Cuisinart MultiClad Pro lines are about the same value. They don’t perform as well as those listed above (less thick aluminum layers = less responsive). The Demeyere 5-plus is rivetless, which is so great for cleaning, and has comfortable handles, whereas the All-Clad Stainless has rivets and has less comfortable, palm-digger handles.
Waterless Cookware – Stainless Steel
Waterless cooking is called waterless because the lid tends to seal — what they call a ‘vapo seal.’ Meaning — the moisture from your food stays in the pot instead of escaping, so no need to add water. It can be tricky to master. There are many different brands that feature this seal. I’ll list them from cheaper to more expensive
- Kitchen Craft
- Royal Queen
The slow cooker bases from these companies have a temp range of 155 to 255 degrees F. I like the concept of their slow cooker base, which is SEPARATE from the stainless steel pot. More versatility, with less stuff! However, the bases are too small in diameter to accommodate the pots I have (I don’t like the waterless cooking pots).
Stainless Steel and the Environment
360 is the only brand I found making any claims that their manufacturing processes are improved, thus they don’t require any permits for polluting. They say that they don’t use any harsh chemicals in their process, and that they use a dry sanding method to polish/shine their products. They say that they are the only company using this method, and that other companies use harsh chemicals to achieve shine.
They also say that they don’t use any ‘coatings.’ They don’t use degreasers to get the oil off of the pan which is require in finishing the pan in the way most manufacturers do. Their dry sanding process is proprietary and uses more than 50 belt types and grits.
I don’t know what the typical manufacturing of stainless steel includes, so I can’t check these claims or provide any further insight.
Just because, I’ll list a few solar ovens:
- GoSun Fusion: the cooking temperatures are: (Solar) 250 F – 425 F (Electrical) 350 F. This can be used strictly as a solar oven, or can be plugged in to cook at night.
- GoSun Grill – doesn’t have the option to be plugged in – solar only.
- All American Sun Oven. This oven works well, but will not cook in overcast weather as much as the GoSun solar ovens. This is due to the difference in how the reflectors are shaped.
A List of Basic Cookware for 1 Person
- 8″ skillet
- 9.5″ skillet
- 12.6″ skillet
- (2) 2 quart sauce pans
- 2.5 quart sauce pan
- 3 quart sauce pan
- 5-7 quart stock pot or casserole pot
- 8 quart stock pot
- 2-3 Skillets
- 8″ – Demeyere Atlantis Proline $170 2 lbs.
- 9.5″ – Demeyere 5 Plus $80 (or cheaper option: 10″ KitchenAid Tri Ply) 3.4 lbs. (Atlantis Proline is 4.1 lbs)
- 11″ – not sure on what to get for this size. Demeyere 5 Plus doesn’t have a helper handle, and without one, it’s heavy. (Atlantis Proline is 5.29 lbs.)
- 12.6″ Demeyere 5 Plus $190 5.4 lbs. (Atlantis Proline is 7.21 lbs)
- Other choices (these have rivets)
- Universal lid – stainless steel 12″ or 13″, or glass up to 12.5″
- 2-3 Sauce pots: 1.5 quart & 2.5 quart. Ideal diameter for 1.5qt is ~6.5″, for 3qt, ideal is larger than 7.5″.
Get a cladded saucepan where the sidewalls conduct heat, so your sauce is evenly heated. If you chose a disc-base with thin stainless steel sidewalls, you have to stir more often.
- Sauce Pot Handles: All-Clad uses handles that look like “U” shapes if you look at a cross-section. This means that the handle digs upward into your palm if you hold it with just your hand. You can tuck the handle under your forearm to help relieve the stress on your palm, and your thumb has a groove to rest on, which also prevents accidental rotation of the pan. Wrapping a towel around the handle also works.
- Sauce Pot Best Value: Cuisinart Multiclad Pro – the cheapest product that still heats as evenly as All-Clad Stainless (~1.7 mm aluminum) and has flared rims for easier pouring, helper handles on the heavier pieces so you can use both hands when washing or moving the pan to/from the oven, but it is made in China, and has rivets to clean around, like All-Clad. “Demeyere’s Atlantis large conic sauteuses (3.5qt+) are 3.3 mm thick overall (much thicker than All-Clad’s 2.6 mm), and then aluminum layer thickness is 2.2 mm (compared to about 1.7 mm for All-Clad Stainless). That’s 30% more aluminum, for better heat distribution – but be careful, these pieces are HEAVY. The rest of the Atlantis product line has straight sidewalls and is not built like All-Clad; there is no heat-conductive metal running up the side. Instead, Demeyere bonds 2 mm thick copper discs to the bottom and then welds a three-layer magnetic stainless steel wrapper over the copper, for protection and induction-compatibility. The 2 mm of copper performs similarly to 4 mm of aluminum, but is more responsive when you turn your burner up or down.” – Century Life Blog
The only clad saucepans I know of that have flared rims for easier pouring are the All-Clad D5, All-Clad Copper Core, and the Cuisinart Multiclad Pro lines.
My best recommendation is to get vintage farberware sauce pots on eBay. But if you want to buy new….
- 1.5 qt Cuisinart Multiclad Pro $25
- 1.5 qt Original-Profi Fissler 2 lbs. $100 (no rivets)
- 1.5 qt All-Clad D5 $195
- 1.5 qt Demeyere Industry 5 3.51 lbs $170 (no rivets)
- 1.5 qt All-Clad Copper Core 3.3 lbs $240
- – – –
- 2 qt Cuisinart Multiclad Pro $30
- 2 qt Demeyere 5 Plus 4.21 lbs., with lid $90 (no rivets)
- 2 qt All-Clad D5 $190
- 2 qt All-Clad Copper Core $265
- 2.5 qt Original-Profi Fissler 3.5 lbs. $120 (no rivets) (Atlantis 2.3 qt is 5 lbs)
- 2.7 qt Original-Profi Fissler 4 lbs $120 (no rivets)
- Stockpot: 5-7 quart
- 7 quart Original Profi Fissler $170
- Stockpot: 8 quart
- DISC BASED. The ideal 8 quart would have a 10.5″ diameter, and be 7″ tall. Less than 7″ tall and you won’t be able to comfortably fit a beef knuckle in for making gelatinous broth.
- 9.6 qt Original Profi Fissler $280 – rivetless, 8.5″ high, 9.5″ diameter, 9 lbs.
- DISC BASED. The ideal 8 quart would have a 10.5″ diameter, and be 7″ tall. Less than 7″ tall and you won’t be able to comfortably fit a beef knuckle in for making gelatinous broth.
- Paella pan – Demeyere Resto 14.8 qt $183
- Saucier – risotto, hot cereals, etc
- Dutch Oven/Roaster: 5 – 7 quart
- 5 qt Fissler domed roaster $250
- 5.5 qt All-Clad Stainless CONICAL domed $220
- 5.5 qt All-Clad Copper Core CONICAL domed $415
- 6 qt All-Clad Copper Core domed 7.1 lbs $300
- 6 qt 360 Made In Wisconsin stockpot $250
- cast iron: if buying cast iron, which is heavy, go no larger than 6 – 7 quart. Both cast iron and carbon steel pots will leach iron into your food, particularly acidic foods or stews which require long cooking times.
Cookware, for 3 – 4 people – add a stockpot
- Stockpot – large: 10 – 16 quart, for large families.
Cast Iron Skillets
For those that want cast iron, here is a list of the best modern smooth-surface cast iron, listed in order of ranking best to worst, taking all features into account. If you want to know about all of the modern smooth-surfaced cast iron brands, read this post.
- Field Company 10.25″ pan 4.5 lbs., or 11.5″ pan 6 lbs., good cooking surface as well and comfortable handle. No pour spout and may not pour well.
- Butter Pat 10″ 4.8 lbs, or 12″ 6.9 lbs, best cooking surface (surface finishing), the bottom of the handle might get uncomfortable for your hand. Has pour spout.
- Marquette Castings 10” 3.7 lbs (they also have a smaller 8” pan at 2.5 lbs). These lighter weight pans are made in China. They have slightly larger versions of these that are slightly smoother that are made in the USA, but they are significantly heavier.
- Cookie/Baking Sheet
- 17″x12″ stainless steel cookie sheet from Lehman’s $25
- Casserole dish
- Pie or cornbread pans
- Bread Pan
- glass: Anchor Hocking or Pyrex 1.5 quart
- stainless steel – buy from Lehman’s
- Syrup Dispenser – Crate and Barrel
- Grate Plate – grate ginger, garlic, and lots of other stuff without cutting your fingers. This is a ceramic plate made by a mother-daughter team in Portland, OR. It has been tested to be lead safe, by Tamra Rubin. Testing results can be found here.
- Cutting Board – it’s nice to have two end-grain cutting boards, which will help keep your knives sharper, longer. I highly recommend ordering from Jay Kang, of Rescued Woodworks on Etsy. He sources his wood locally – no lumber shipped over country lines and fumigated! He is located in Madison, Wisconsin, but will ship to you. I don’t recommend an end grain cutting board thinner than 1 3/8″. You can oil it with animal fat (I oiled mine with lamb fat, or you can make your own mixture of animal fat and beeswax. I tried that too and it gave the board a great finish!
- a smaller one that you can keep out 18.5″ x 13.5″ should be the right size to fit in most sinks.
- a larger one for breaking down chickens, etc: 24″ x 16″
- Mixing Bowls
- Measuring Bowls
- Fermentation Vessel – half gallon mason jars work great, but if you want something else, Here are some examples of glass and ceramic disc weights, but you might find it easy to order the Stone Creek Trading glass Luna weights from Amazon here (I recommend the 6.5″ for the 1 gallon anchor hocking jar linked above, or these Pickle Pebble mason jar glass weights. but I like the idea of using wood as discs to hold down vegetables, and then placing a rock on top! If you want a crock:
- Salt bowl – I like to keep my salt handy in a little ceramic dish, so I can grab pinches and larger amounts, but it’s good to have something with a cover, especially if you have forced heat in your house, which kicks up the dust even more. Goodwill can be a good place to find this.
- Immersion Blender – Bamix (tested lead-free by Tamara Rubin)
- Food Processor – for vegetables, try a manual food chopper, like the Saladmaster food chopper. Find one on ebay for a lot cheaper than buying new. If you’re not buying the newest model, the cones that come with it won’t be stainless steel, but you can buy stainless steel replacement cones at https://saladmaster.com/en-us/OurProducts/OrderParts.
- Electric food processor – Another good thing to have is the Bamix Slicesy, which is a food processor attachment that works with the Bamix immersion hand blender. If you want a typical large food processor, consider the 12-cup Magimix food processor. Magimix is made in France. There’s also the Breville food processor.
- Food Processor – for dry ingredients & spices: Bamix dry grinder.
- Pressure Cooker – Fissler 4.8qt Vitaquick
- Juicer – Omega VSJ843 or with less plastic parts — the Greenstar Pro GS-P502-B
- Glass water bottle – Life Factory bottle
- Glass Pitchers – half gallon
- Funnels – Bellemain Small Funnel Set, and Bellemain 5″ Stainless Steel Kitchen Funnel Removable Strainer Liquid, or Zoie + Chloe 3-in-1 Stainless Steel Funnel Set – Wide Mouth with Mesh Basket – Narrow Mouth with Strainer and mason jar canning funnel – Norpro or other.
- Strainers – U.S. Kitchen Supply 3″, 4″, 5.5″ and 8″
Scale – Mira with glass platform glass top – $20, or EatSmart EES1011, stainless steel top – $40
- Toothpick Holder
- Crate and Barrel may be a safe options for dishes 8″ Bistro bowl, or Essentials 7″ bowl
- HF Coors bowls (8.25″ x 2.25″), 15oz mugs, 12oz mugs, 11oz mugs (tested lead-free by Tamara Rubin)
- Emma glasses
- Crate and Barrel – Miguel drinking glasses (tested lead-free by Tamara Rubin)
- Handmade wooden bowls might be fun to try — not sure how they will weather over time. You could try to a local wood turner by contacting a local wood turning association. Or, find your local Rockler or Woodcraft store and see if there are any wood turners there who are interested. If nothing else, try Holland Bowl Mill or Don of Dead Tree Woodworks from Freeland, Michigan. As for sizing, I love my wood bowl, which just barely holds 5 cups. It is the one in the picture below. It is 8.25″ form outside to outside, and it is 2 7/8′ high. It is absolutely wonderful. It never gets hot to hold, and it’s beautiful. Make sure you get it finished in something non toxic. I like to finish mine with animal fat and beeswax, but some people say that using that fat is bad and acquires a weird smell over time. Some use RAW linseed oil (the boiled kind has heavy metals added to speed up drying time), but I don’t like the taste of that and feel that it might get rancid. If one bleaches the raw linseed oil, as shown in the video below, one can separate the fats from the oil (don’t ask me about the chemistry or logic behind this!) and it will speed up the drying time of the raw linseed oil.
Note that wooden pieces like this can crack over time – you just don’t know what can happen with wood, as it can expand and contract. The ones below are made from alder.
- Handmade wooden plates – you might be able to find some from Jarrod Dahl of Wood Spirit Handcraft from Marais, MN. If he is not available, try to find a wood turning association in your area and find someone. Or, find your local Rockler or Woodcraft store and see if there are any wood turners there who are interested. I like plates at least 10″ in diameter, like these:
Mac knives are very thin, very hard, and wonderful to use. If you’re going to have mac knives, you need to learn how to use a rod, such as this Messermeister Ceramic Rod Knife Sharpener, 12-Inch.
- Chef knives
- bread knife: MIYABI ARTISAN9-INCH BREAD KNIFE, or MIYABI BLACK, or MIYABI BIRCHWOOD SG2
- paring knife: Henckels 4-inch
Cleavers: look at Mooremaker
If you need butchering materials…
- Kam-Lok 17.5″ – 25” Hand Saw Frame, from http://store.kascosharptech.com/prod-160-3-414-244/kam-lok-17-5-hand-saw-frame.htm
- Hog scraper
To keep all of your cookware and bakeware in its safe condition, use only wooden utensils. Wether you are using ceramic, enameled cast iron, seasoned cast iron or carbon steel, stainless steel or non-stick pots and pans (I never recommend non-stick, no matter the safety claims), wood utensils will not damage the protective surface nearly as much as metal utensils will. Once you damage the protective layer of any cookware, you are exposing yourself to whatever lies within or underneath. Wooden utensils provide us with an easy way to protect ourselves, and increase the longevity of cookware or seasoning on our cookware. These handmade wooden utensils may seem expensive, but they will last a very long time if you don’t put them in the dishwasher. They are also beautiful to behold, and make the kitchen more peaceful. I also like supporting crafters who are keeping skills alive for the next generation.
- Saurkraut pounder / saag masher – 16″ from Humble House
- Egg beater or whisk, but it’s hard to beat a simple metal fork.
- Mixing spoon with depth
- Mixing spoon – flat. This is really the perfect size spoon.
- Frying spatula in wood, or in metal from Dexter Russell
- Scraping spatula – 12″, 10″, 9.25″, or 7.5″
- Saute utensil
- Measuring cup – 1 cup
- Measuring cup – 1/2 cup
- set of measuring spoons, you also might find them here
- Tongs – metal – Open Kitchen William Sonoma
- Rubber spatula with wood handle – one of the few exceptions to the all-wood rule.
- Heirloom Living brand, from Amazon, or their website. Their silicone is rated safe at much higher temperatures than cheaper brands, which mean it should last longer in the kitchen, sometimes being exposed to heat. Beware the large size is super huge – the silicone par tis 4.5″ x 2.75! The med or small are betters sizes, medium: 3.25″ x 2″, and the small: 2.75″ x 1.25″.
- Fletcher’s Mill: 2 ” x 0.75″ x 12″, 10″, or 8″
- Potato masher – find a stainless steel vintage masher from a local store or eBay or Etsy
- Meat tenderizer – not sure where to find a good one. I wouldn’t want an aluminum tenderizer, which is what is typically offered
- Slotted spoon in wood or metal slotted ladle from Tenta
- Risotto spoon
- Pastry brush – flat horsehair 15 x 4 cm – Redecker brand, available at Springfield Mercantile, or pig bristles, 7-1/4 inches, Redecker brand, available on Amazon
- Toaster tongs – Oxford Brush Company
- Beeswax food wraps as an alternative to plastic wrap.
- To hold rice or other dry goods…
- Mason jars – quart, half-gallon, and gallon.
- Pickle jars – gallon – these can be found sometimes at restaurants or garage sales and can be repurposed.
- Spice jars – Hayley Cherie 6oz glass jars with stainless steel lids that screw on well
- Leftover containers
- Pyrex Ultimate containers are pretty and nice: https://www.pyrexhome.com/product/ultimate-10-pc-bridal-storage-set-white
- a couple pyrex 6 cup containers, and/or 3, 6, and 11-cup
- small Anchor Hocking custard dishes with lids
- a couple of the Anchor Hocking candy gallon containers.
Washing Helpers & Supplies
Read this post for my favorite tools. The critical items needed to transition to ecologically friendly and non-toxic products will be $38, and you can build from there if you want.
Odds and Ends
World’s best clothespins found at www.ladyandthecarpenter.com. Lehman’s also carries them and potentially Amazon.