Last Updated Apr 2019 – You’ve probably read that Teflon is toxic. Even though manufacturers have carefully removed a number of toxic chemicals from the manufacturing process, it’s still the source of some pretty serious safety concerns when it’s used in cookware. But why? Are all non-stick coatings toxic? And what are the alternatives?
Rio Cookware Set
If you're after the low price, great non-stick action, and excellent heat distribution, check out this set.
Teflon is a specific type of a more generalized family of chemicals, called PTFE. While most modern PTFE is free of toxic chemicals at room temperature, it starts to become fairly dangerous at higher temperatures.
All PTFE, including the PTFE used in non-stick pots and pans, does something called “offgassing“ when the temperature gets high enough. In this case, some of the gases released are pretty toxic and harmful to your health.
The problem with PTFE is that it starts offgassing at a temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This is pretty low — it’s lower than the oven temperature necessary to preheat a frozen pizza. If you leave a PTFE non-stick pot or pan on high heat for a few minutes, it can quickly pass this 400-degree threshold.
Now, this sounds like a pretty serious safety concern (and it is). Two factors make it a bit less bad, however.
First, cookware manufacturers use coatings that are a bit more temperature resistant than normal Teflon. This doesn’t nullify the problem entirely, but it does mean that some non-stick coatings don’t start to offgas until 500 F.
Second, while it’s definitely possible to heat your pan up to a temperature of more than 400 degrees, it’s not something you’re going to do often or intentionally. High pan temperatures will damage other parts of your pan (like the glass lids) and are actually detrimental to most foods that you cook. You only want really high pan temperatures in a few specific instances, like when you’re searing a steak.
Thermolon is a specific ceramic-based non-stick that was introduced about ten years ago. It’s got some pretty big advantages over Teflon-style non-stick coatings.
The biggest one (and the most relevant to the information above) is that it’s totally PTFE free.
Because it’s totally different on a molecular level, Thermolon is perfectly safe to temperatures of over 600 degrees F.
Thermolon has two other big advantages over Teflon.
First, it’s a fairly good conductor of heat. By contrast, PTFE is actually a reasonably good insulator. This means that a Thermolon pan will heat food more quickly than a pan with a PTFE non-stick. When people switch from PTFE non-stick to Thermolon, they’ll often find that they can use lower heat settings and still get their food just as hot.
Second, Thermolon doesn’t chip or separate from the pan it coats. In fact, it wears down in a totally different way. While it’s still prone to getting scratched by metal utensils, the biggest issue with Thermolon is that it’ll wear down slightly unevenly. Since it gets its nonstick properties by being fairly smooth on a very low level, this will result in your pan getting less non-stick over time.
This isn’t a problem, especially since PTFE non-stick coatings also have a fairly short useable lifespan. The advantage that Thermolon has is that you can use an abrasive cleaner (like baking soda or Bar Keeper’s Friend) to smooth out the surface and restore your pan’s non-stick properties.
What’s In A GreenPan?
GreenPan products are all constructed around the same basic formula. Each pot and pan is made of anodized aluminum and has a Thermolon cooking surface.
Beyond these basics, there are a few differences.
The exterior of the pan, for example, might be coated in stainless steel or Thermolon (or simply left as aluminum oxide. The handles in each GreenPan line also vary, with Rio and Focus using Bakelite handles while Lima and Paris feature stainless steel handles.
GreenPan Product Reviews:
GreenPan makes some of the most popular and cost-effective ceramic non-stick cookware options on the market. Here are four of their best sets. While full sets are reviewed here, you can also get GreenPan pots and pans as individual pieces if you’re not looking for an entire cookware set.
GreenPan’s Rio collection features Bakelite handles and a colored ceramic exterior that protects an aluminum core. This line has a creamy Thermolon interior that helps brighten your kitchen and keep food visible through the included glass lids. The Rio set is oven safe to 350 F and is not compatible with induction ranges.
First, let’s talk about how this set looks. The Rio set is available in three colors, black, burgundy, and turquoise. All three options look rather nice, although you might find the turquoise to be a bit too vibrant for your kitchen. The glass lids fit this cookware set very well and contribute to the overall aesthetic.
The cooking performance of this set is very nice. Not only do the aluminum bodies of the pots and pans distribute heat quickly and evenly, Thermolon itself is a conductor. That means that this set (and all GreenPan sets) can be used with a slightly lower heat setting than you might be used to.
Like other Thermolon sets, the non-stick on this GreenPan line is incredibly effective, even without oil. That said, using a bit of oil or fat will help your food taste better while increasing the lifespan of your GreenPan cookware. When you cook without oil, you wear down the Thermolon a lot faster. You can use an abrasive cleaner to scour off the top layer and perform a sort of reset on your pan, but you definitely don’t want to be doing this every day.
Due to the fairly low oven temperature of 350 F, you can’t really use this set in the oven at a temperature higher than “warm.” This will slightly impede the way you cook some dishes, but for most cooks, this won’t be a big deal. You can simply transfer food to an oven-safe casserole dish or cookie sheet before you throw it in the oven.
The biggest downside to this set is that the glass lids aren’t equipped with vents for steam. This means that they tend to accumulate condensation and that they’ll rattle and make noise when you simmer food for a while. Still, you’ll probably be willing to overlook this flaw due to the low price, great non-stick action, and excellent heat distribution of this set.
A full 12-piece Rio set is covered by a limited lifetime warranty and includes the following items:
GreenPan’s Lima line features a gray hard-anodized exterior, a matching gray Thermolon interior, and stainless steel handles. While it’s not as colorful as the Rio line, the subdued aesthetic matches virtually any theme you’ve got going on in your kitchen decor and existing cookware. The stainless steel handles also mean that this set is oven safe to a much higher temperature of 420 F.
Otherwise, the Lima line is pretty comparable to Rio. It’s got the same characteristics, with an identical Thermolon interior (it’s a different color, but it handles the same), similar heat distribution, and similar glass lids. Like Rio, Lima’s lids lack any sort of steam vent, so they’ll rattle and fog. Again, this is kind of annoying. Curiously, GreenLife, a GreenPan rival, makes visually similar cookware with similarly flawed lids.
The Thermolon that’s used in GreenPan’s Lima set is totally free of toxic chemicals, even at high temperatures. This makes it a lot safer than PTFE-based non-stick coatings, which can release toxic fumes at temperatures as low as 400 F. It’s still fantastically effective at keeping food from sticking, even without oil or fat. Using a small amount of oil or liquid fat is very much recommended, however, since it’ll improve the flavor of your food and significantly increase the lifespan of your Thermolon.
I’m a sucker for cookware sets that include properly sized steamer inserts. Since the Lima line comes with one, I’d absolutely recommend this set over some of the other GreenPan lines. The steamer insert makes it easier to cook a variety of dishes, including eggs, corn, and some types of shellfish. You can certainly buy a steamer separately, but I very much like the convenience of having one in the box. On the other hand, however, the Lima 12-piece set includes three bamboo utensils, which makes it harder to compare with other cookware sets that only include pots, pans, lids, and steamers.
The Lima line offers a more subdued aesthetic and better oven safety for cooks who want to be a bit more serious in the kitchen. It’s still not induction compatible, however.
A standard 12-piece set is covered by GreenPan’s standard limited lifetime warranty and includes the following:
GreenPan’s Paris line is a slightly more serious and upscale version of the Lima line. Not only does it have a few extra tangible features (like induction compatibility and dishwasher safety), it’s also made with a higher grade Thermolon. This means that you’ll get better non-stick performance for a bit longer when compared to the Lima line and the ability to use metal utensils safely.
Visually, the Paris Pro set is fairly similar to the Lima line. It’s got grey anodized exteriors and a grey Thermolon cooking surface. There’s a pretty big visual difference when it comes to lids, however. While the Lima set has glass lids (with no vent), the Paris Pro line uses stainless steel lids (also with no vent).
Due to the all-metal construction, this set is oven safe to a pretty high temperature. GreenPan simply says that it’s “oven safe” without a temperature range at all, which is a pretty good sign. You can sear steaks and then throw them in the oven to come to temperature (or perform the process in reverse) without having to dirty another dish.
The stainless steel handles on this set do tend to get a bit hot if you leave a pot or pan on the burner for a while. You’ll definitely want to have a potholder handy after you boil a big pot of water or let a sauce simmer for an hour. Still, this is a small price to pay for the improved Thermolon and oven safety that this set offers.
Each 11-piece set is covered by a limited lifetime warranty and includes the following:
GreenPan’s Focus line seems to be an older version of the Rio line. It’s got a similar set of characteristics and colors. Each piece in this line has a white Thermolon interior, a colorful ceramic exterior (burgundy, turquoise, or black), and is made from aluminum for its strength, low weight, and superior heat conduction.
Like the Rio line, the Focus set is an excellent collection of pots and pans. The aluminum serves to conduct heat quickly and smoothly, while the Thermolon keeps food from sticking. Unlike PTFE,
Thermolon won’t release toxic gases at temperatures lower than 500 degrees. In fact, Thermolon won’t blister, bubble, melt, or release gas until it reaches over 600 F.
Also like the Rio line (and every other GreenPan line), the glass lids that this set comes with don’t have vents. This means that they’ll quickly fog over and rattle about when you boil water or simmer food for a while. This isn’t a colossal concern, but it will limit your ability to cook while your family is sleeping.
This set is an excellent choice if you want a colorful set with handles that will stay cool and you’re not terribly concerned with using your pots and pans in the oven. It’s not compatible with induction ranges.
The biggest difference between this line and the Rio set is the items that are included in the box. This set comes with a steamer insert and an extra lid for a frying pan, while the Rio line has a 3-quart saucepan with a lid.
A standard 10 piece set is covered by GreenPan’s lifetime limited warranty and includes the following items:
8″ frying pan
10″ frying pan with lid
1-quart conical frying pan with lid
2-quart saucepan with lid
5-quart casserole with lid
stainless steel steamer insert
GreenPan Pan For Your Kitchen
GreenPan makes a wide variety of high-quality, low cost ceramic non-stick pans. If you’re a serious home chef, the Paris Pro line is absolutely the best choice for your kitchen. While you’ll have to use potholders with the metal handles, it’s induction compatible and has a more advanced Thermolon non-stick interior. Even for the less serious chef, it’s metal utensil and dishwasher safe, so it’s easier to use and clean.
Of course, if you have to have insulated handles or you simply want a more colorful option, there’s nothing wrong with the Rio or Focus lines. If you’re on a budget (or it’s on sale), you could even choose the Lima line over the Paris Pro set. No matter which option you choose, you’ll get an eco-friendly cookware set that’s free of the safety concerns associated with PTFE.
Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.