I have a confession to make. I am not that into ceramic cookware. I rarely recommend it, and I’d probably never buy it. Having said that, I realize that a lot of folks are very interested in (or really love) ceramic for a number of reasons. So, with that in mind, I decided to dive into some research, learn more about it (with an open mind!) and compare it to my go-to nonstick material: hard anodized aluminum.
There are a few key areas to compare when it comes to these two materials, including construction, cleaning, and of course cooking. But we’ll also talk about one of the biggest concerns shoppers have: how safe are these types of cookware? As you might’ve guessed, the answers to that are pretty complicated, so we’ll spend some time deconstructing the myths and science. Additionally, we’ll recommend a few specific brands to look into so you gain a general idea about how various products stack up.
To get started, let’s look at some of the features of ceramic and hard anodized aluminum.
Ceramic Cookware: Notable Features
There are actually a few possibilities when you’re talking about ceramic cookware. You might mean fully ceramic pots that have been glazed (typically aren’t used for much cooking), 100% ceramic cookware (which is uncommon), or you might mean ceramic coated pots and pans. The latter is most common for “nonstick” cooking. So, if you’re researching ceramic cookware, it is most likely the ceramic coated type.
*Ceramic coated cookware is what we’re covering in this article, but if you’re curious about 100% ceramic, we recommend checking out Xtrema as that’s the best-known brand.
This type of cookware is lightweight and labeled “nonstick” or “stick resistant.” For the most part, ceramic coated cookware works well as a nonstick option.
Ceramic cookware is also purported to be safer than traditional or HAA nonstick because it lacks chemicals such as PFOA and PTFE (more on that in a bit!). In fact, most shoppers looking at ceramic are doing so because of safety concerns, which we will talk about more in-depth further down the page.
So, then, what is ceramic coating? It depends on the manufacturer, but typically it is either a silicone-based coating or natural materials such as sand and stone. There are a few different brand names of ceramic coating, so we recommend researching the coating before you buy to determine its makeup — especially if you’re concerned about particular substances (silicone may not be a coating you’re interested in!)
A few other things to know about ceramic coated cookware generally (may vary depending on the manufacturer):
- Most are relatively inexpensive
- Can usually withstand high heat (though it may break down coating if exposed often)
- Should always be hand washed (even if it’s “dishwasher safe”)
- Not particularly durable (don’t expect a long lifespan)
- Cannot be used with metal utensils
- Some reports of lead in non-USA-made brands
Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookware: Notable Features
Hard anodized aluminum (HAA) is the answer to many of the problems of traditional nonstick. It’s much more durable and it was originally considered “safer” than traditional Teflon coating. Today, cooks tend toward this material over regular nonstick because it’s a better investment — it lasts longer and is generally constructed better than lightweight, inexpensive nonstick.
Though HAA is called “nonstick,” it’s more accurate to say it is stick-resistant. In some cases you might need a little fat to prevent sticking, and it’s not usually as slippery as Teflon pans.
Most HAA is PFOA-free but most still use PTFE. The safety concerns of PTFE is hotly debated (and we’ll cover in the next section), but the short version is PTFE is considered safe when used properly.
Unlike regular aluminum which can react with acidic foods and leach into what you’re cooking, HAA is processed in such a way that it becomes hard and nonreactive. The surface is incredibly durable, so in most cases you can use metal utensils (though we don’t really recommend it). It’s that oxidation process that also creates the nonstick-like surface, which is generally pretty good at staying nonstick.
Some other things to know about HAA:
- Huge range of price depending on quality and brand
- Most brands are oven safe to at least 400 degrees
- Most are dishwasher safe, but hand washing is strongly recommended
- Not recommended to use if you have pet birds
Safety of HAA and Ceramic Cookware
Before we get into this extremely touchy subject, a caveat. A frustrating thing about cookware in general, and especially these two materials, is that it is incredibly difficult to find good information regarding safety. Entire websites are designed around pushing ceramic cookware and touting the toxicity of nonstick. Review sites and blogs are always biased (I am not exempt!) because they rely heavily on personal experience and/or customer reviews. There’s simply no way to easily gather solid, science-backed info on any cookware. I’ve even found a ton of claims about supposed safety hazards of stainless and cast iron cookware.
All that is to say: I am not a scientist or doctor (nor are most of the writers on kitchen websites). I’ve researched as much as possible, read endless regulatory statements, scoured the FDA’s website for their statements, and searched out consumer reports and reviews whenever possible. If you have legitimate health concerns, please consult your doctor. If you do additional research on safety, toxicity, or health (which I strongly encourage you to do!), please be wary of the fear-mongering and misinformation you’ll undoubtedly stumble upon. Okay! Let’s get back into it.
Is Hard Anodized Aluminum Safe?
Let’s start with this one, because it’s the uncertainty that often causes shoppers to lean toward ceramic as a nonstick material.
There’s a long and involved history of nonstick cookware, and a lot of it is pretty scary. PFOA is the chemical that many associate with risks involving Teflon and nonstick, but PFOA is not considered an issue with cookware any longer (See this article from the American Cancer Society for a good explanation).
Ultimately, the ongoing safety of HAA mostly boils down to proper use and care. As long as you do not overheat the cookware, there is no cause for concern (and even if you do, the amount of concern is still pretty minimal).
Having said that, it is still recommended that you stay away from HAA if you have pet birds in the house, as there is a possibility of fumes that are toxic to them. There are certain temps that are okay for birds, but due to the risk of death in an accidental misuse, we recommend looking elsewhere if you have birds. Of course, that recommendation in and of itself is a bit alarming for some folks, and I can definitely see why.
Bottom line? Yes, HAA is probably safe, but there are still some precautions you can take that not only reduce any potential risks but also help your pan last longer. If you’re still interested in learning more about HAA, Teflon, and PFOA or PTFE, I highly recommend CenturyLife’s in-depth look at nonstick cookware chemicals and materials here.
Is Ceramic Cookware Safe?
If you’re just looking for the answer to this question online, you’ll be inundated by sites proclaiming “YES! IT’S TOTALLY 100% SAFE AND NONTOXIC!” Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no way to back up those claims, and that’s definitely not a blanket statement you can apply to all ceramic cookware.
As we mentioned above, ceramic coated cookware still may contain synthetic materials, still may have chemicals, and, often, isn’t even transparent about what is actually in the coating. Some ceramic coatings are silicone, which doesn’t scream 100% safe to me. And as The Kitchn notes, “While traditional nonstick finishes meet FDA regulations for food contact, this is not necessarily true of ceramic finishes.”
Now, ceramic cookware is free of PFOA and PTFE, so if those are the main concerns for you, you should be able to buy confidently (of course, double check the manufacturer’s info). Many reviewers and sites recommend buying from a reputable company that makes their products in the U.S. to avoid possible lead or cadmium in the cookware.
Bottom line? Yes, most ceramic cookware is probably safe, but there are some things to watch out for. Also, no one can guarantee a ceramic pan is “100% safe” at this point, so don’t fall for the over-hyped scary stories about all other cookware being toxic apart from ceramic. Do a bit of homework before settling on a ceramic brand, if that’s the direction you go. Find out about the actual coating material (KitchenSanity covers some here), where the pan is manufactured, and what the brand’s guidelines are.
Environmental Safety Concerns
In addition to wondering about the safety of cookware for your health, you might be looking for cookware that has a better impact on the environment as well. This issue is another area where we see lots of overblown claims about the safety of ceramic cookware.
While I can’t find solid information that indicates ceramic is way better for the environment, there is evidence that the construction of ceramic cookware is eco-friendlier. (Again, this is a generalization; remember that some “ceramic” cookware might not be as ceramic as you think.) However, as many others have noted, ceramic cookware simply doesn’t last that long and it’s not recyclable. So, if you look at it in terms of waste output, HAA might actually come out a bit ahead as it tends to last longer.
The bottom line in this section is that I don’t have a definitive answer on which is better for the environment in the long term. However, this is something I’ll continue to check into and I’ll update when I have a clearer idea!
Ceramic Vs. HAA: Cooking
Alright, now that we’ve gotten through all the confusing and sometimes scary “safety” stuff, let’s get into the pots and pans themselves — performance, functionality, longevity, and so forth. First up, cooking.
In general, ceramic cookware starts off great. But the majority of brands I’ve researched have a significant portion of reviewers finding the nonstick properties diminished after a period of time. Depending on the brand, some have issues in as little as a few months. But this isn’t always the case, of course. Plenty of products have lots of long-time customers who swear by the cookware.
Ceramic also has some specific requirements when it comes to heat. Most manufacturers recommend staying on low to medium heat — even though it’s technically safe for high temps — in order to maintain the integrity of the coating. This means that it’s difficult to use pans to sear or brown meat, and it can take longer to boil liquids. Other than that, you should find that ceramic performs as expected. (Though, as with any cookware material, the higher quality brands will perform better.)
On the other hand, hard anodized aluminum tends to have a longer life. For many cooks (including me!), HAA cookware lasts for many years. The coating is extremely strong, so it takes a long time (or some abuse) before it starts to lose its nonstick properties.
HAA requires less babying overall, so stronger utensils — like metal — are less likely to impact the surface. Even so, we — and most manufacturers — recommend sticking to materials like silicone or wood for best results and longevity.
Like ceramic, HAA performs best at lower heat. This is especially important if you’re worried at all about potential toxins, but it’s also good practice to keep the cookware in good shape. You’ll probably get a slightly better sear with HAA and you’re much more likely to find HAA cookware that’s induction-compatible.
Ceramic Vs. HAA: Cleaning
Both of these types of cookware tend to be very easy to clean. Once either begins to stick, though, cleaning naturally becomes a bit more difficult.
Hand washing is always best — regardless of the type of cookware — so you’re likely to have better luck if you stick to washing by hand.
One potential issue with both (that seems to be slightly more prominent in ceramic) is that it can sometimes be difficult to clean the outside. If food overflows or spills onto the sides and then gets cooked on, you might find it difficult to restore to its original state. Ceramic cookware that is colorful is the biggest offender, especially when it is a light color.
Ceramic Vs. HAA: Price & Availability
Generally speaking, ceramic is less expensive. You will find higher-end sets and pieces that are more expensive, but those typically are something like a ceramic/titanium blend.
HAA can be found for pretty cheap, but you’ll have better cookware if you spend more. Higher-end HAA is thicker, more durable, and lasts longer.
Both materials are easy to find and are available from many different brands and at every price point.
One key thing to note in this section is that you’ll find ceramic cookware is often offered from brands you haven’t heard of. Many ceramic brands only offer ceramic cookware, so you may want to do a bit of research before you buy from an unknown brand.
Brands to Watch For
By now you know there are plenty of options to choose from in either material, so we’ll offer up a few brands to investigate further in case you’ve made a decision — or want to compare further.
GreenPan: Consistently highly rated across Amazon, Williams Sonoma, and more, GreenPan is the ceramic brand we suggest you start with first. Even Epicurious likes the Paris Pro line, so there are plenty of reputable outlets giving it the thumbs up.
T-fal: If it’s low price you’re after, T-fal is your best bet. This brand is well liked by many folks for all types of cookware, and the ceramic options boast impressive reviews. Do read through product reviews from the manufacturer (and not just on Amazon) as a few of the ceramic lines have PTFE.
Vremi: This colorful and inexpensive brand has a set and a few single pieces of ceramic cookware. Reviews are overwhelmingly positive, with most negative reviews stemming from use in the oven (Vremi updated their product details last year to say the cookware is NOT oven safe).
A note on ScanPan: This brand is very popular and it does have a ceramic coating (ceramic/titanium to be exact). However, ScanPan products have PTFE, so we’re not recommending it here as most folks doing this research and deciding on ceramic are trying to stay away from PTFE.
Hard Anodized Aluminum
Kitchara: Though currently only offering a 12″ pan (with a full line coming this fall), we really, really like it and recommend checking out this skillet if that’s what you’re looking for.
All-Clad: All-Clad is an all-around excellent brand, with a range of HAA products. Their frying pans are super popular, though the key drawback of any of their cookware is the u-shaped handle, which some cooks hate.
Calphalon: For a more wallet-friendly option, check out Calphalon’s pieces and sets. These are durable and work great, but may not last quite as long as the premium options.
Choose Ceramic If…
Okay, so you’ve made it this far and you’re still not sure which one to choose. Here are the key reasons ceramic might be for you:
- You want to stay away from PTFE
- You’re willing to baby your cookware a bit
- You want to spend less
- You’re not looking for something that will last for many years
- You have pet birds
Choose HAA If…
We’ve established that the material PTFE is the primary reason shoppers stay away from HAA. But if you’re satisfied with the available info about it and aren’t worried about the naysayers, here are some compelling points for HAA:
- You want nonstick cookware that’s durable
- You like the heft of HAA cookware
- You want to have lots of good options
- You want better heat retention and control
Other Options You Might Consider
While these are the main nonstick materials, there are some other alternatives out there. If ceramic doesn’t sound like a good fit and hard anodized is not appealing, we recommend trying out stainless steel — it takes a bit of time to get used to cooking with, but it’s an excellent material that can last a lifetime.
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This is a well-detailed article on ceramic and aluminum cookware. Thanks for showing us the similarities and differences. Now, we can make informed decisions and get the best out of our cooking.
Keep up the good work!