If you’re interested in greening your mealtimes, you may have already looked into Earth-friendly eating and cutting down on food waste. You might be avoiding single-use plastics or learning how to can your own foods. With all these appealing opportunities for eating sustainably and organically, you may be overlooking a major kitchen tool that could be better for both you and the planet: your cookware.
Many traditional pots and pans can be problematic when not used with proper care. Whether they produce potentially harmful fumes or need to be replaced frequently (adding more to the landfill), they aren’t particularly friendly to the environment. We’ve listed two types of cookware below that should either be avoided or used very carefully; however, we’ve included greener — and the greenest — alternatives, and some tips for use and care!
Avoid these (or use with extra caution):
When heated improperly — namely, when empty or at temperatures above 500° — these pans release fumes that can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and can even be fatal to pet birds. If you do own a Teflon pan, avoid those improper-heating mistakes, and never use metal utensils as they can cause the surface to scratch and flake off.
Aluminum pans often contain metals like lead that can make their way into your meal in small amounts, mainly if you’re cooking acidic dishes like tomato sauces.
Because some of these pots and pans get too scratched to use safely, they don’t last as long, so they end up in the landfill. Earth-friendly cookware, on the other hand, can last for generations! Read on to learn about greener (and the greenest) alternatives to the cookware shown above.
These are safer when used properly:
However, uncoated stainless steel is far safer than aluminum and Teflon, and it can be seasoned to create a protective coating and prevent sticking. Simply wash and dry your pan, add a little bit of oil with a high smoke point — one that doesn’t smoke until it is at a very high temperature, such as vegetable, sesame or peanut oil — wipe the oil around the pan to coat it, and heat on medium heat until it starts to smoke. Remove it from the stove and let it cool before wiping off the excess oil. Repeat whenever your food begins to stick.
These pans are often handed down through generations, by which point they have already become seasoned from years of use to be naturally nonstick. For new cookware, the process is similar to seasoning an uncoated aluminum pan. Simply rub it with vegetable oil, buff off the excess oil, and place it in a preheated 450° oven for 30 minutes. Repeat at least three times, and it’s ready to use. If you’d rather save yourself the effort, companies like Lodge Cast Iron also sell pre-seasoned cast iron cookware! When cleaning the pan, avoid using soap; oils from cooking harden into a protective surface over time, preventing the release of excess iron from the pan. (If you have high iron levels in your bloodstream, you may want to avoid cast-iron cookware or look into enameled cast iron as a safer alternative.)
Choose these for the ultimate in green and easy cooking:
Ceramic coatings are made from minerals and contain no heavy metals or chemicals that could harm you or the environment. They also distribute heat more evenly and keep food from sticking more effectively than traditional nonstick pans, so you won’t have to drown your food in oil or grease while cooking. That quality also makes cleanup easier — no more scrubbing stuck-on food, and you’ll use less water while washing it! GreenPan pioneered the use of ceramic coatings in cookware, and the company offers a recycling program for your old pots and pans.
Unlike uncoated stainless steel, it doesn’t need to be seasoned to keep your food from sticking. Gentle washing by hand will keep your coated stainless steel performing (and looking) great for many years, so it won’t end up in the landfill. Ozeri makes a variety of nonstick stainless-steel pots and pans with a coating that is free of harmful chemicals; plus, you can find these at many well-known stores.
Earth-friendly cookware has become more popular in recent years, so with a little smart shopping, you’ll be sure to find the type that works best for your needs. Plus, you won’t have to worry about harmful chemicals or fumes, and they may last a lifetime in your kitchen instead of in the waste stream. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s care instructions, and your pots and pans will be making delicious, easy meals for years to come!
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