It’s one of the classics of the kitchen. Colorful, versatile, and with much more going for it. But there are some downsides. Let’s go through the ceramic cookware pros and cons together and see if it might not be the right choice for you.
T he joys of cooking are made better by using beautiful, useful tools. It isn’t just about recipes and ingredients, vital as it is to get the right type of both.
From stoves and ovens that just work to implements that do what you need them to, cooking is made much more comfortable and more fun with the right tools. That goes for the cookware you use too, the pots and pans that help you grill, roast, bake, stew, fry and more.
It is not always easy, though, to pick the right cookware. There are so many things to worry about. Is it safe? How does it cook delicate foods? Is it handwash only? Will it get damaged easily?
There are hundreds of questions you have to ask and answer before you settle on a choice. Researching them all yourself is often needed, but it takes a long time.
Well, that’s where you’re wrong. We’ve pulled together everything you need to know about ceramic cookware, its pros, and cons, so you can decide if it is the right thing for you.
Ceramic cookware conjures images of French rustic kitchens, onions hanging from the rafters, full of the smells of traditional cooking. Big, bubbling pots with rich, sophisticated flavors. Beef bourguignon, coq au vin, cassoulets all cooking away in large, colorful pots. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
It has been used throughout history as the main material people used to cook with. Before metals, like iron, steel, or aluminum, were widespread or inexpensive, people used ceramic pottery.
Pottery is a technology that has had long been with us. But today’s ceramic cookware is made with modern techniques, taking out the impurities which plagued older pots and pans.
What is ceramic cookware?
But first, what exactly is ceramic cookware? Many people think of it as pottery you use to cook with. An old-fashioned technology for old-fashioned cooking. The truth is much more interesting than that.
There are two different types of ceramic cookware. The first is what you might have thought of. Those are pots and pans baked in a kiln. The other type is more modern. This is cookware made out of different materials, such as aluminum or steel coated with a ceramic glaze inside.
The main feature of this recently, well in cookware terms, developed product is that it offers a non-stick finish which is also non-toxic.
While modern non-stick cookware is non-toxic, many people are still put off by the chemicals used in early iterations which were harmful to humans. There are many other non-stick materials available for health conscience people to choose from.
Cast iron is the right choice, but it does tend to leach iron into your food, especially if you’re cooking liquids for a long time. Acidic foods can also pick up metal for a cast iron pot.
Enamelled cast iron is better still, but it does get expensive. Stainless steel would be great, but it is not non-stick and could still contaminate your food with metal.
The natural glaze of ceramic coated cookware, however, is non-stick. It does not employ industrial chemicals and is marketed as a greener alternative to more traditional non-stick pots. It makes for a healthier you and a healthier planet.
All ceramic cookware uses clay, but pure ceramic cookware is made entirely from this material. It is the pottery you cook with. Ceramic cookware is molded clay, baked in a kiln that makes it a durable and pleasing look. It can be used for long periods.
That makes it perfect for those mouth-watering dishes like beef bourguignon that take hours and hours of low heat to make but is so worth it in the end.
I’ll take you through the pros and cons of both. While ceramic is an excellent material to cook with, there are still a few issues you should be aware of. That makes it not right for everybody, so keep in mind your own requirements when searching for cookware. Things like durability, ease of cleaning, and safety play into this.
Ceramic Cookware Pros
Let’s start with the good stuff. What are traditional kiln-fired and ceramic-coated cookware good at?
First of all, ceramic-coated cookware is naturally non-stick. The coating has a glossy shine to it, and you can cook foods without using as much fat as non-stick pans.
That also means you can cook foods you don’t want to use a fat with. That’s stuff like eggs, tofu, and lean meat. All of these can be easily cooked in a ceramic-coated pan.
Fully ceramic cookware can also non-stick and is a feature of most ceramic cookware. Some cheaper options, though, may lack this claim. Pay attention to the manufacturer’s remarks if you are looking for a fully ceramic, non-stick piece of cookware.
Once you’ve found a piece of ceramic cookware you like, it’s not a bad idea to search out a few reviews to see if people have problems with food sticking to it.
Ceramics are made from clay and water. There are no toxic materials used. Pots and pans from Europe and America, which have strict regulation when it comes to food, will be free of any harmful chemicals.
Some cheaper makers from South America or China will use toxic chemicals in producing this glaze. These are going to be cheaper imports from markets with less regulation. Like the joke about the food being bad and the portions small, this glaze will not last either.
Fewer years being exposed to toxic chemicals is probably a good thing. Not when you’re spending your money on it. The price will be a good indication here, so stay away from offers that are too good to be true. That means they aren’t real.
Well established and reputable manufacturers will not use any toxic chemicals in their process. You can be assured that they will free of such chemicals.
That makes ceramic an attractive material for anyone concerned about cooking their food in potentially dangerous cookware. I hope that is everybody.
3. Safe for High Temperatures
As you know, ceramic is made in a kiln. Kilns get hot. Like really hot. Ceramics are fired at temperatures of up to 2400F. That is hotter than lava. So your new ceramic pot has been through a lot before it’s even seen in a kitchen. That means that there isn’t a lot you can do to it that it won’t be able to shrug off.
You can cook at a high temperature in the oven or the stove. You will not have to fear the heat damaging your pot. For those dishes that require super high temperatures, ceramic is the way to go.
It is tough as a brick. Literally. The same method that is used to make bricks is used to create pure ceramic cookware. It isn’t the delicate pottery of a flowerpot or teacup, but solid and thick. Clay mixed with water is molded into the shape of a pot and then baked at temperatures up to 2400F.
It can still chip though, but it can shrug off most damage and still be used. The war scars it accrues can tell their own story. Tough, durable, able to take the heat of the kitchen, but that’s not all to make ceramic once of the best materials for cookware out there.
4. Even-Heat Distribution
What’s more, ceramic takes all the heat you are pumping into it and spreads it about evenly. No hot spots are sitting right beside cool areas. Food cooked on one side won’t be burnt while ingredients in a different part of the pan risk giving you and your guests food poisoning.
It has the same heat distribution qualities as cast iron, but unlike cast iron, it doesn’t need to be seasoned after each and every use. It is more convenient, which brings me on to the next plus point for ceramic cookware.
5. Easy Cleaning
It is easy to clean. Cleaning up is the worst part of cooking, well at least for me. I hate even more than the constant chopping you have to do before you can get to the fun bits of cooking. It’s a drag, and I don’t believe anyone who says that they like cleaning up.
Actually, I’ve never heard anyone say that. Cleaning is no fun. Ceramic cookware won’t make cleaning up fun, but it will make it a lot easier. Its enameled finish means that food won’t easily stick to it.
Because of some properties of ceramics, which we will cover in a moment, you can use bristly pads for tough stains. You can also use scouring powder with your ceramics. This is an advantage over other types of cookware, especially cast iron because they tend to get damaged if you use powder. You can also get a dishwasher, safe ceramic.
This saves you all the hassle of cleaning up. Stubborn stains may remain after a rinse through the dishwasher though and will need special attention.
6. Attractive Appearance
There are also a variety of colors and finishes you can buy. Ceramic cookware can fit into your own style, with bright colors or designs that just aren’t possible on your metal cooking pots. Think of the designs you get on vases – it’s the same with ceramic cookware.
They will hang nicely from a rack, adding more color to your kitchen. I leave my bright orange (think Le Creuset without the rent-busting price) out on the stove, cleaned and ready to use. It adds something to the kitchen, I guess.
Like I could start cooking at any moment, and my casserole dish is just waiting for its starring role. There will definitely be a set in your favorite color. Hot pink? No worries. Blood red? Reminds me of well-aged meat and ceramic cookware makers have you covered.
7. Won’t scratch
The fact that ceramic cookware is made from a solid piece of, well, ceramic means that it is very resistant to being scratched. While it still can happen, it will not affect the ability of the pot to cook your food in the same brilliant manner as unscratched cookware.
It is part of the overall durability of ceramic cookware. It won’t corrode as well and doesn’t need to be seasoned often, unlike with some other materials.
People often talk about cookware being reactive or non-reactive. Sometimes the material you use to cook something can change the taste of certain ingredients. The classic example is acidic foods such as tomato sauce. The acid in these foods reacts with metal in your pot.
While the trace molecules that get absorbed into the food aren’t harmful to people, they can change the taste of food. People describe this taste as tinny. Ceramic cookware, of course, is not made out of metal. There is no need to worry about if it will alter how your next triumph in the kitchen tastes. It’s all on you.
Finally, the ceramics are quite affordable. Even a high-quality one won’t break the bank, though of course there are options that go quite high. There is an option for every budget. You can get large sets of ceramic cookware if you need to quickly and radically overhaul your kitchen. These sets allow you to switch the material you cook without being stuck for a specific size or shape pan. You can pick up a quality set for less than $100, with someones coming it in closer to the fifty dollar mark.
That’s quite a list. There are obviously very many positive things to say about ceramic cookware. But there are also somethings you should be aware of before you go rushing out and buy a whole brand new set.
Ceramic Cookware Cons
1. Less Efficient Heat Distribution
Ceramic cookware is less efficient. It takes a lot of heat from your stove or oven to get through the ceramic. Getting a pan up to the proper temperature will take longer. If you are an inexperienced chef when it comes to ceramics, this means you can often put ingredients in too early, ruining a recipe. On the flip side, though, this does mean that it holds the heat longer.
A ceramic pot will stay hotter, longer once it’s not on a flame than ones made out of metals. You will have to be careful when cleaning up so as not to burn yourself. Take a break, you’ve earned it after an evening slaving away in the kitchen, and come back to do the (very easy) washing up.
2. Low-Quality Construction
You can get some low-quality sets though. This will be obvious by the fact that your pots don’t do as well as others. They might chip more quickly, retain less heat, or distribute it poorly.
It is a sad fact that some manufacturers will try and pass off their shoddy goods as a better-quality product. Keep an eye out for outrageous claims – at low prices.
3. Short Lifespan
It is a fact that ceramic won’t last your entire life. While it can stand up to taking some damage in the kitchen, ceramics just aren’t designed to be passed on to your grandchildren.
They will lose their coating and become a little worn around the edges. When it is time to retire a pot that has served you well over the years, it must be done, no matter how sad it makes you. Let it enjoy its retirement. Or you can dispose of it in a dignified way.
Ceramics are made out of natural materials, and though they won’t break down like wood, they can still be thrown away without the fear of strange chemicals leaching into the groundwater.
4. Questionable Safety
Some people are concerned about the safety of ceramic cookware. It doesn’t contain the mouthful of science syllables that make non-stick metal pans non-stick. There is no polytetrafluoroethylene or perfluorooctanoic acid (thank you copy and paste).
But the porcelain glaze it has does raise some eyebrows. Some cheap manufacturers from countries with less oversight on such things will use dangerous elements in their enamel, like lead.
Lead poisoning is very dangerous, and if you even have the slightest suspicion your cookware has lead in it, just throw it out. Luckily, the ceramic cookware made in the US is free of such elements.
5. Can Not Use Metal Utensils
You shouldn’t use metal utensils with your ceramic cookware. Metal, being harder than ceramic, will scratch and chip the base. It would be unfortunate if one of your dinner party guests, in their vigor enjoying your latest triumph, chipped a tooth on some floating piece of ceramic.
While you might tell yourself that you can hold yourself back from over-enthusiasm, we’ve all hacked away at the bottom of the pans trying to get that brown goodness when braising something. Just use wood or silicon instead.
6. Not High-Heat Safe
Lastly, while ceramics can stand quite high temperatures, they won’t do that if they’re empty. Always ensure that you’re not leaving a pot boiling away on its own. Luckily for ceramics, you’ll often get the best-tasting food using low to medium heats. There is no need to blast stuff. It’ll cook fine on more moderate temperatures.
Is the Ceramic Nonstick Coating Safe?
While I addressed it a little earlier on as well, it is a good idea to be clear about these things. Some glazes may contain lead or cadmium that may leach into your food. In the US, cookware is strictly regulated by the FDA. A Made in America pot will be safe.
You cannot be so sure of cheaper alternatives, like those from South America or China, to be safe. European standards also ensure that ceramic cookware is food safe, so German products are good to go too.
What are the Alternatives to Ceramic Cookware?
Still not convinced about ceramic cookware? There are alternatives out there. They will come with their own list of pros and cons, though. Make sure you know what you need your cookware to do. Find the materials that best suit your style and you will be happy.
The most obvious alternatives are cast-iron and stainless steel.
The best things about cast-iron are quite similar to ceramic. It is easy to clean, though only when properly seasoned and maintained and it remains hotter for longer compared to other material.
It is versatile, meaning you can get many different shapes and sizes of it, as well as do quite a lot of things with one good pot or pan. It is quite cheap too, especially compared to enameled cast iron or high-quality stainless steel, but being metal, you can use any implement you want with it. It’ll last as well.
Its drawbacks include being very heavy. You’ll get your workout done as well as your dinner if you are swinging a cast iron pan about the kitchen. Make sure you don’t drop it, or you might fill your evening with a visit to the emergency room instead of tucking into a delicious dinner.
Like ceramics, it takes a long time to heat up. The main drawback of cast iron is the seasoning needed. This isn’t a one and done type of thing either. You’ll have to keep seasoning it as its coating is lost. And beware the handles – they can get extremely hot.
Stainless steel has excellent heat conductivity, is non-reactive, non-toxic, and you can find sets at any budget. They will not conduct heat as well as more superior versions. The high-quality ones get quite expensive. And of course, it is not non-stick.
Conclusion: Should You Use Ceramic Cookware?
The worlds of science and art clash in the kitchen. There are in-depth explanations for all the processes of food undergoes as it heats up. But at the end of the day, good food if good food. You don’t need an explanation. The same can be said for cookware.
You can talk about the material science of ceramic, why it does certain things and not others. But as long as you know what it is good at and what it is terrible at, you’ll know if its good for you. As for me, I love cooking with ceramics. Give it a shot if you haven’t tried before. I’ll bet you’ll love it.