Does that white ceramic dish with little blue cornflowers bring back memories of delicious puddings made by your grandparents? It sure does for me. The Corning Ware brand is the original (and, I’d argue, the best) ceramic cookware, but pretenders to the crown of cornflowers have popped up in recent years, and the term ‘ceramic cookware’ is often used to describe both pure ceramic pots and pans or cookware made from a metal such as hard anodized aluminum coated with fire-hardened clay. This can make things a little confusing, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of pure ceramic cookware and ceramic metallic cookware.
Corning Ware – Pros and cons of the original pyroceram
Corning Ware (now CorningWare®) was the original ceramic cookware and was accidentally invented by Donald Stookey in 1953. Stookey worked in the Corning Research and Development Division and one day accidentally heated a piece of photosensitive glass to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, instead of the usual 600 F. The glass turned a milky white and Stookey, who was about to discard the sample, dropped it on the laboratory floor, whereupon it bounced instead of shattering. Thus, Pyroceram was discovered – a white glass-ceramic material capable of withstanding a thermal shock (sudden temperature change) of up to 450 °C (840 °F).
Pyroceram was subsequently marketed as Corning Ware from 1958 onwards, with the most recognizable piece a classic white ceramic casserole dish with the blue cornflower logo. Pyroceram is non-reactive to acidic foods, does not leach metal or any other substance into foods, is non-porous, and is easy to clean by hand or in the dishwasher. It is excellent for cooking tomato sauces and white wine reductions and does not alter the flavor of food, unlike metal pots and pans.
Unlike most other types of ceramic, glass-ceramic based Corning Ware can be taken from the refrigerator or freezer and used directly on the stovetop, in an oven or microwave, or under a broiler, without risk of thermal shock and cracking or explosion. Some newer Emile Henry items can also be moved from the freezer directly to the oven, but check their care and use guide first.
All in all, Corning Ware is one of the most eco-friendly, safe, non-toxic types of cookware around. Or, should I say, it was.
What happened to Corning Ware?
When Corning Ware was bought by World Kitchen in 1998 it became CorningWare®. Their pyroceram line was transitioned in 2000/2001 to stoneware, which is also easy to clean, non-reactive to acidic foods, and can be used for cooking, serving, and storing food. However, this stoneware is not suitable for use on the stovetop, unlike classic Corning Ware.
Responding to consumer demand, a stovetop-safe line of CorningWare® was introduced in December 2008, manufactured in France by Keraglass/Eurokera for Corelle Brands.
So, if you are looking for pure ceramic cookware to use on a stovetop, go for Corning Ware (made prior to 2000), or CorningWare®’s stovetop range made after 2008 or Emile Henry’s new Flame range. You can find traditional Corning Ware items in thrift stores and online, and gently used older Corning Ware is becoming something of a collectors’ item.
It’s also important to note that although Corning Ware casserole dish lids were made with Pyrex or with Pyroceram, most are now made with tempered borosilicate or soda-lime glass, which have a lower tolerance for thermal shock and cannot be used over or under direct heat.
What about Corelle ceramic cookware?
Corning also made the Corelle brand of tempered glass dishware and glassware – introduced in 1970 –made from a material called Vitrelle, which consisted of three layers of laminated glass. Corelle cookware is durable, lightweight, and resistant to breaking, chipping, scratching, and staining.
Corelle cookware has been made in over 2,000 patterns since the 1970s and is microwave, oven, refrigerator, freezer and dishwasher safe, but it isn’t thermal shock proof like the original Corning Ware. Corelle offer a three-year replacement guarantee for any Vitrelle item if it breaks through normal use.
Pros and cons of metal-ceramic cookware
As for metal-ceramic cookware, it is versatile, typically stove-top safe and oven safe, distributes heat well and is non-toxic and eco-friendly. And, for those who don’t like to use oil while cooking, non-stick ceramic cookware is available.
Almost all non-stick ceramic ware uses coatings made with silicon and oxygen, rather than the toxic chemicals used in Teflon. That said, it’s always best to check the label on non-stick ceramic cookware.
One potential downside of metallic-ceramic cookware is that it is quite vulnerable to sudden temperature changes, unlike the classic Corning Ware. So, avoid putting a refrigerated dish of leftovers straight into a hot oven, and don’t rinse a hot dish with cold water without first giving it a chance to cool down.
It’s also best to avoid using chipped metallic-ceramic cookware unless you’re sure it is made with anodized aluminum or other inert metal that is non-porous and non-reactive. Although some high-quality ceramic cookware can last generations, most items tend not to last as long as other types of cookware and even if they do it might still be best to replace older items. That’s because, over time, anodized aluminum can break down, especially if exposed to acidic foods, which might pose a risk of aluminum exposure.
The best metal ceramic cookware
Le Creuset is one of the most popular brands for metal-ceramic cookware. They offer that classic French farmhouse kitchen look in a gorgeous array of colors to suit any kitchen aesthetic, but there may be some downsides to Le Creuset.
Ceramor is another good option for metal-ceramic cookware. They have a diverse product range including the Xtrema line of high quality black coated bakeware, which is my top pick for this category of cookware.
GreenPan are also worthy of consideration as they produce a range of hard-anodized aluminum and/or stainless steel pots and pans coated with Thermolon, a silicon-dioxide coating sprayed on and baked to form a non-stick ceramic coating.
Emile Henry have a fashionable and attractive line of French ceramic cookware and bakeware too, including the Flame Top range of stovetop-suitable ceramics. The range includes the Potato Pot, which can be used to cook potatoes, chestnuts, and various other delights right on the stovetop. It is suitable for induction hobs, if used with an induction disk, and can also be used in the oven. These pots should be heated for five minutes on a low heat and should not be used empty. The glaze is highly resistant to scratching, so it’s fine to use metal utensils with these pots. It is not resistant to thermal shock, though, so take care not to move it from a hot stove or oven to cold kitchen counter/cold water or vice versa. These pots are dishwasher safe.
If you like the look of metal-ceramic or simply ceramic cookware, you might also want to check out porcelain cookware, another eco-friendly non-toxic cookware option that is naturally non-stick!