Whether you’re new to Paleo or a seasoned pro, having the right cookware can make or break your food preparation efforts. To simplify your journey, the team here at PaleoPlan has compiled this ultimate Paleo kitchen guide. While everything on this list may not be required, it’s what we’ve determined to be the basic list of cookware and utensils that makes prepping and cooking Paleo an easy task.
Of course, you don’t have to get the highest quality cookware products to cook Paleo. Using what you already have in your kitchen will get the job done just fine, so feel free to follow this list as a general guide.
Unfortunately, the highest quality cooking gear is quadruple the price of what most of us would like to pay. I’ve done my best to link to products below that strike a balance between good quality materials and affordability.
Before we dig into the tools that can make Paleo cooking a breeze, let’s dig into an important topic: chemicals and toxic cookware.
Let’s face it: We’re living in a toxic world covered in plastics and chemicals. Not only are most foods sprayed with pesticides and grown with GMOs and synthetic fertilizers, but even organic foods can be packaged or covered in edible plastics to keep them fresher for longer.
We also inhale chemicals as well as absorb toxins through our skin on a daily basis. All things considered, our bodies do a pretty amazing job of keeping us healthy amidst it all! However, it’s wise to minimize toxin exposure wherever possible to take the unnecessary load off of our liver and other organs of detoxification.
As people transition to the Paleo diet and start prioritizing clean eating, they often become interested in reducing toxin exposure in other areas of their lives, including cookware.
Cookware can be a source of unwanted chemicals in our diets, and many people don’t realize that plastics and non-stick pans can come with a host of unpleasant side effects. When plastic is heated, it releases chemicals, which is why you shouldn’t store hot foods in plastic, or microwave it ever.
The same thing applies to non-stick pans (like Teflon), aluminum, and other metal cookware that get over-heated, scratched, or chipped—they release potentially cancerous chemicals that we then ingest.
Non-stick cookware such as Teflon is coated in chemicals that have been shown to give off gases including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) when heated. Exposure to PFOA and other similar chemicals (i.e. PFOS) may increase our risk for various types of cancer. (1) Some companies are starting to make PFOA-free cookware now, but I think it’s best to just avoid all forms of non-stick just to be safe.
Plastics and non-stick pans are best avoided and should never be used at high temperatures. If you do use plastics or non-stick cookware, wash by hand and don’t put them in the dishwasher. It’s also best to avoid storing and cooking acidic ingredients in plastics and non-stick pans because the acid can leach chemicals from the container into the food. For cooking or storing acidic ingredients, opt for glass or ceramic instead.
Aluminum is a heavy metal that has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, so you might be wondering about aluminum foil on your Paleo diet. (2) A good swap for aluminum foil is parchment paper, which you can also use to line baking sheets. If you’re storing acidic foods in aluminum, you can wrap them in wax or parchment paper first to minimize leaching (or opt to store acidic foods in glass instead).
A Few Notes on Plastic
Many different chemicals found in plastic are known endocrine disruptors that can mimic our sex hormones, such as BPA, BPS, BPF, phthalates, and others. (3) Even plastics marketed as being “BPA-free” can release these hormone-altering chemicals, sometimes even more than other non-BPA free materials. (4) Plastic water bottles can be a big source of these endocrine disruptors and I love my stainless steel Klean Kanteen water bottle, which also helps me to track my water daily intake.
If you have plastic in your kitchen and you can’t afford to replace it all at once, or you don’t want to, here are some tips to ensure that plastic is as safe as possible:
- Wash plastic containers by hand.
- Don’t put plastic in the dishwasher, but if you do, don’t use the “heated dry” setting.
- Don’t store (or cook) acidic food in plastic containers (i.e. vinegar, wine, lemons, tomatoes, etc.). Store these foods in glass instead.
I personally don’t worry as much about plastic cookware and containers that don’t get hot, like my food processor. Cold or room temperature food doesn’t leach chemicals from the plastics as much as hot foods do. If you need to blend something hot (like a soup), opt for a glass blender or a stainless steel immersion blender instead.
The Ultimate Paleo Kitchen Tool Essentials List
Okay, now that we’ve covered the quality of materials that are best, here are the categories and items that we think will make your Paleo food prep as easy as possible.
Being able to efficiently prep your Paleo meals can make a world of difference in making the Paleo diet sustainable for you. The right tools can make meal prep fast and fun.
- Cutting boards
- Vegetable peeler
- Kitchen Shears
- Pro-tip: Using kitchen scissors to cut meat and herbs can save a ton of time!
- Pro-tip: Using kitchen scissors to cut meat and herbs can save a ton of time!
- Mixing Bowls: Glass or Stainless Steel
- Measuring spoons
- Measuring cups: Glass or Stainless Steel
- Salad Spinner (or use a pillowcase that you flip around quickly outdoors)
Once your meals are prepped, you need to cook them! These kitchen items are perfect for meal prep, whether you’re cooking for one or an entire family.
- Pots and Pans
- Cooking utensil set
- Steamer basket
- Meat thermometer
Oven & Baking Supplies
Eating a Paleo diet doesn’t mean that you have to give up baked goods. Paleo baking is much easier when you’ve got your kitchen stocked with the best tools.
- Rimmed baking sheets
- Stainless steel wire racks for cooling baked goods & cooking meats, veggie chips, and more
- Baking pan for casseroles, frittatas, cakes, and more!
- Muffin pan
- Unbleached baking cups or reusable silicone muffin cups
- Unbleached parchment paper (used for baking Paleo treats)
- Pot holders or oven mitts to handle hot dishes and cast iron pans
Storage and On-the-Go
Once your Paleo food is prepped and cooked, you’ll want to be able to store it in such a way to make it easy to eat, reheat, or take with you on the go.
Time-Saving Paleo Kitchen Tools
There’s plenty of time-saving kitchen tools available, but when push comes to shove, most people only need a few items to cook up nourishing and tasty Paleo meals! Having said that, here’s a list of tools that we know from experience can help to save tons of time in the Paleo kitchen:
- Food Processor: Blends, grates, slices.
- Instant Pot: Pressure cooker that substantially decreases cooking times for meats and more.
- Crock Pot: Slow cooker for hands off cooking.
- Mandoline slicer: Slices food thinly and quickly.
- Ninja, Vitamix, Magic bullet, and/or a glass blender: Use for blending smoothies, dressings, soups, marinades, and more.
- Spiralizer (spiral slicer): Paleo ‘pasta’ maker! Used to make zoodles (zucchini noodles) and other long strands of veggies.
- Julienne peeler: Another tool for making zoodles and long strands of veggies for salad toppings.
- Serrated peeler: The serrated teeth make it easier to peel smooth-skinned ripe fruits and vegetables.
- Immersion blender: Blend hot soups while they stay in the pot. Use it to make Bulletproof Coffee!
- Silicone whisk: Won’t damage pans while you’re whisking Paleo sauces.
- Mason jars: Storage for leftovers, used to freeze extra bone broth for later quick use.
- Splatter guard: Save time cleaning up after you’ve cooked bacon on the stovetop (or other splattery foods).
- Citrus juicer: Juice citrus quickly while getting the most juice out of your lemons, limes, and other citrus fruits.
- Rasp grater (AKA citrus zester): Great for zesting citrus, grating ginger, garlic, and more.
- Countertop Toaster Oven: Heats up quicker than your large oven, makes for quick reheating and cooking of foods.
- Vacuum sealer/packer (Food Saver): Bulk cook, vacuum pack, and then freeze all sorts of foods or leftovers. Removing the air keeps food fresh for a lot longer when stored in the freezer or pantry.
Cooking Tool Swaps
When it comes to cookware, you get what you pay for. Of course, it can be expensive to just up and replace all of your cookware. It’s much easier to replace one piece at a time, as you can. I’ve been asking for a new piece of cookware every birthday and holiday for seven years, and now I have a pretty awesome collection! Here’s some recommendations for how to swap out toxic cookware items for healthier alternatives:
- Replace plastic items (like tupperware and cups) with glass, stainless steel, or ceramic.
- Use glass tupperware to store your food, instead of plastic tupperware.
- Try using Stasher food bags, which are made out of food-grade silicone and a great alternative to plastic ziplock baggies.
- Replace non-stick pans and aluminum with stainless steel or cast iron.
- Replace non-stick muffin pans with a silicone muffin pan instead.
- Avoid coffee brewers and other cookware items where hot water comes into contact with plastic. Opt for a glass coffee maker or a french press instead.
It’s important to realize that even “healthier” cookware, when scratched or chipped, can be a source of unwanted chemicals in your diet. If you need to avoid iron in your diet, you should avoid cooking with cast iron cookware.
It’s best to not use stainless steel for long-cooked dishes or highly acidic dishes, opt for ceramic instead. Silicone should not be used at temperatures that exceed 450°F or below freezing.
The Truth About Cast Iron
Cast iron cookware is the only cookware that can provide you with nutritional benefits! When you cook with cast iron, a small amount of iron is released into the food which can help to boost iron levels. If you have hemochromatosis or another form of iron overload, then you’ll want to avoid cooking with cast iron, and especially avoid cooking acidic foods in it (i.e. tomatoes, vinegars, etc.).
To maintain your cast iron cookware (and keep it from rusting), be sure to clean after each use, wipe dry, then place on a hot burner to dry off ALL the water. Then rub some melted fat or oil onto all of the surfaces. If left wet, cast iron will rust. You don’t even need to use soap when you clean cast iron, just rinse it clean with water and gently scrape or wipe it clean. Don’t use abrasive cleaning tools on cast iron, as these will remove the layer of “seasoning.”
If cast iron is not seasoned properly, it can make your foods stick and result in a more difficult cleanup. On that note, you’ll want to “season” your cast iron when it’s new, and you can find easy instructions for how to do this here.
Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled cast iron doesn’t add iron to foods like the non-enameled variety. Like cast iron, they can be used in the oven or the stovetop and offer better heat distribution and heat retention than any other types of cookware. They also don’t react with acidic foods like uncoated cast iron does.
When properly cared for, enamel coated pieces can last for years and generations to come! Beware that cheaply made enameled cookware can crack and chip off into food, making it unsafe. It’s worth it to spend the extra money for a product that comes with a lifetime warranty instead. Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron and Stoneware is the gold standard of enameled bakeware and cookware, but the prices are super steep! The downside of enameled cast iron (other than its cost), is that it’s more fragile than regular cast iron.
Glass doesn’t absorb odors or flavors. You can cook in it and use the same container to store the food, which is another nice quality. I personally only use glass tupperware to store all of my food in.Be careful though: when glass is hot, it will break if it’s cooled too quickly. Be sure you’re using tempered glass which is a type of glass that has been strengthened for cooking and baking. Cheaply-produced glass containers as well as crystalware can contain lead, so watch out for that.
Stainless steel is made from metals like nickel, chromium, titanium, iron, copper, and others, which can leach into food, especially when they become scratched or scored. And as it turns out, not all stainless steel is created equal! If you look on the bottom of a stainless steel pot, you should see a grade stamped on it which indicates its durability and resistance to rust and corrosion.
The best quality stainless steel is the 300 series which will be designated either 304 or 316, and you may see it written as T-304. If you see a ratio like 18/10 or 18/8 stamped or engraved on the pot, it’s referring to the percent of chromium and nickel that the alloy contains. Most stainless cookware is an 18/10 grade (18% chromium and 10% nickel). The common 316 grade also contains a small amount of molybdenum and/or titanium which makes it even more corrosion resistant, and is what my husband (a commercial sockeye fisherman) uses when he’s on the boat fishing and getting pummelled with salt water.
The 400 series of stainless steel is more corrosive than the 300 series and rusts more readily with age. It’s primarily used to make mixing bowls, utensils, and cheaper cookware.
Quick tips for using stainless steel:
- Choose 300 series over 400 series for your stainless steel cookware. T-304 stainless steel cookware may be a healthier type of stainless steel to choose. This non-leaching type of stainless steel evenly distributes heat, but requires a large amount of cooking fat/oil to create a non-stick surface.
- It’s best to NOT use stainless steel for long-cooked dishes (like bone broth), opt for ceramic instead.
- Acids and salt corrode stainless steel. It is best to cook acidic foods (vinegar, wine, lemons, tomatoes) and salt brines in ceramic pots instead.
- Do not scour a stainless pot! If food has burned to the bottom of your stainless pot, then cover the burn with baking soda, allow it to soak for a day, then remove the mess using a non-scratch scouring pad.
Ceramic cookware may be one of the best options for healthy cooking, but it’s important to make sure you’re using high quality ceramic. Some ceramics can contain metals like lead and cadmium in the glaze, particularly the cheaper varieties. As with other types of cookware, when the surface of ceramic is damaged, the heavy metals contained within can leach into our food.
On the other hand, high-quality 100 percent ceramic cookware is totally non-reactive and non-toxic. They wear well over time, are dishwasher safe, and offer consistent heat distribution. The surfaces don’t corrode like cast iron or stoneware. Xtrema ceramic cookware is a good brand that’s made from non-toxic, 100 percent inorganic minerals and oxides.
Like ceramic, high-quality stoneware is safe and non-toxic, non-odor-absorbing, offers even heat distribution, and will last forever if cared for properly. Like cast iron, stoneware must be seasoned to create the non-stick finish and cared for in a similar fashion.The Rada Cutlery brand of stoneware is made in the USA. The downside of stoneware is that it’s a bit heavy and fragile. Also, low quality stoneware pieces (often those made in China) can contain lead.
Silicone bakeware has been approved as a “food-safe substance” by the FDA, however there really hasn’t been much research done on silicone at high temperatures (or super low temperatures). There is a chance that it may leach chemicals.
Lower quality silicone products contain fillers which can also leach chemicals into food if scratched, damaged, or used at extreme temperatures. (5) When choosing silicone, be sure to choose a filler-free product and ideally one that is marketed by the manufacturer to be EA-free (estrogenic activity free). Also, it may be best to stick with using silicone for moderate temperature applications. Stasher food bags are made out of food-grade silicone and are a great alternative and replacement for plastic ziplock baggies.
Healthy Cookware Bottom Line
As you can see, there are healthier cookware and bakeware alternatives available on the market, and many of them were the types used by our grandparents! Start replacing pieces where you can, and soon enough your kitchen will be a toxin-free haven.