What Is a Non Reactive Cooking Pan (and why should you care)?

In the cookware world, there are plenty of options to choose from. You can use steel, cast-iron, copper, or aluminum cookware. It really depends on what and how you want to cook.

However, there is a lesser-known distinction that most people don’t know about – nonreactive and reactive pans.

If you know a bit about cooking, you’ve probably heard of the term “nonreactive”.

But what is it really and where does it fit in the cookware world? Read on to find out!

What is a Nonreactive Pan?

Simply put, a nonreactive pan is a cookware that doesn’t react with the food cooked in it. People use many acidic and spicy ingredients in their cooking.

Many of the cooking ingredients often react with cookware metal. The reaction between the metal and the food makes a pan reactive.

Hence, nonreactive pans are made from durable and stable metals. No matter what you cook on them or how hot they get, their chemistry remains intact.

Related read: Best Cooking Pans that are Safe for High-Heat Cooking

The Best Nonreactive Cookware

The most common nonreactive metals include stainless steel, tin, glass, plastic, and nonstick cookware.

Alpholon and Calpholon cookware are also good options. However, they’re rarely used in most households.

It’s possible that you already have some of this nonreactive cookware in your kitchen. The metals here are stable, solid, and non-volatile.

With that said, here are the best types of nonreactive cookware to try.

Stainless Steel Pans

Stainless steel is hands down the best nonreactive cookware option. It’s also the most commonly used in household kitchens. It seems as is stainless steel is everyone’s favorite. It has a strong, durable built and can be used for many cooking purposes.

What truly makes it special is that it doesn’t react with food. This means you can cook all your favorite tangy sauces.

A stainless steel pan does well with any and every ingredient. You can easily cook food with lemons, tomatoes, vinegar, and cream of tartar. You won’t have to worry about the metal releasing harmful chemicals into the food.

Cookware that’s lined with stainless steel is also a good option. It will have a protective layer that prevents it from reacting while cooking.

Related read: How to Season Stainless Steel Frying Pans (so it won't stick while cooking)

Tin Pans

Another great nonreactive cookware is tin. Tin is often used as a coating for copper cookware. Tin-lined pans are nontoxic and nonreactive. They also withstand corrosion quite well. This is one reason why tin is exceedingly used for canned foods.

Despite having acidic preservatives, canned foods don’t react with the tin. The metal offers an impressive lining on just about any type of cookware. It is an excellent heat conductor and a nonstick metal.

Tin-lined pans can be used to cook a variety of foods. None of the fats, oils, or food will ever stick to the surface of the pans.

Tin-lined pans also hold well when cooking acidic foods like tomato sauces. The metal doesn’t discolor or develop a foul smell after cooking.

Nonstick Cookware/Pans

Nonstick cookware is lined with Teflon coating, which makes it nontoxic. The coating prevents the reaction between the food and the metal.

This is often why nonstick pans are used for sticky glazes and cooking delicate foods.

You can even fry eggs, cook pancakes, and simmer custards. Nonstick cookware is easy to clean, versatile, and nonreactive.

Glass Cookware/Pans

Glass cookware or Pyrex glass is nonreactive. However, it’s mostly used for baking purposes. You can bake a good ol’ lasagna dish and casseroles. They can withstand the high temperature without reacting one bit.

However, glass cookware should never be used on the stove. The direct fire is extremely dangerous. It can easily crack or damage the glass surface.

With that explained, let’s delve in and explore reactive pans. You’ll be surprised that most of these are quite common in many households.

What is Reactive Pan?

A reactive pan contains metals that can potentially mix with the food cooked in it. As the temperature rises and the food heats up, the metals also change their chemistry.

As a result, they end up reacting with strong, acidic foods.

Another reason why certain metals are reactive is that they oxidize at a far lower temperature. Copper, for example, can oxidize when exposed temperatures as high as 392 degrees F.

The heat breaks down the metal and causes it to release in the food being cooked.

For this reason, many cooking experts don’t recommend the use of reactive cookware.

Although they are easily available and convenient to use, the reaction can result in an odd, metallic taste to seep into your food. Above all, a reactive pan can easily get discolored.

The Most Common Reactive Cookware

Reactive cookware can be found in almost every kitchen. Even when the metals are excellent heat conductors, they are quite reactive.

Here are a few examples.

Cast-Iron Cookware

A cast-iron pan is commonly used in many households. It’s used for cooking, frying, sautéing, and even baking. However, it’s a reactive metal. If you were to cook a vinegar-based sauce, the metal will react with the food.

However, cast-iron pans are the least reactive in this list. This is because cast-iron skillets are always seasoned with cooking oil.

Much like nonstick cookware, this oily coating prevents the metal from reacting. It can also withstand high temperatures. Therefore, cast-iron cookware – as long as it’s well-seasoned – is still safe to use.

Unlined Copper Cookware

Unlined copper is a dangerous metal for cookware.

Copper can react with acids as well as oxygen when heated. You should not cook acidic foods otherwise they might just catch the awful metallic taste.

The only way to make copper safe for cooking is when it’s lined with another metal.

Related read: Copper Pans vs. Stainless Steel Pans - Which Cookware to Choose?

Aluminum Cookware

Aluminum pots and pans are generally considered to be safe. However, you can’t use untreated aluminum. It tends to react with acidic foods.

As a result, this will ruin both your cookware and the food. Aluminum does conduct heat very well.

You should also avoid fruit juices, ingredients with citrus, and vinegar. Aluminum pans are highly reactive. They can alter both the color and the flavor of the food.

Above all, the cooking will leave your pan with a pitted surface.

What Foods to Avoid When Using Reactive Cookware

With nonreactive pans, we’ve established one important fact. They are totally safe and convenient to cook just about any food. You don’t have to worry about acidic or pungent ingredients. The metals won’t react at all.

However, when it comes to reactive cookware, you have to practice some precautions. Here’s a list of some foods you need to avoid cooking in a reactive pan.

1. Fruits and Citrus Juices

All fruits, especially citrus fruits, like oranges, are extremely acidic. They usually contain citric acid and malic acid. Some fruits you should avoid are apples, pears, tomatoes, berries, and pineapples.

You should also steer clear of red and yellow peppers.

Their highly acidic nature can cause them to react with metals like copper and aluminum. This results in the dangerous metals leeching in the food.

2. Extremely Salty Foods

You’ll be surprised that even salty foods can react with aluminum and copper. Foods with high concentrations of salt can cause pitting of the pan.

It’s best to add salt once you’ve finished cooking. Once the cookware is off the stove, you can add the salt to prevent it from reacting.

You should also avoid storing salty foods like salsa or pasta sauces in aluminum pans. Despite there being no heat, they can still react with the metal.

3. Pickled Foods

We all know pickled foods contain heaps of vinegar. Many fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are also extremely acidic.

The fermentation process releases naturally occurring acids. All of these foods shouldn’t be cooked or stored in reactive cookware.

It doesn’t matter whether the aluminum or copper receives the heat or not. The mere contact of pickled foods can trigger a reaction with the metals. As a result, your pan can develop pits and even visible discolorations.

The salt, acid, and sugar in the pickled foods pull the aluminum from the pan. If you don’t avoid them, your food will end up tasting and smelling like metal.

4. Rhubarb

We discussed earlier that fruit juices are highly acidic. Well, here’s a vegetable that should be avoided too.

Rhubarb may be treated as a fruit but it’s technically a vegetable. It’s often used in desserts alongside berries and sugars.

However, these bright red stalks can react with aluminum and copper pans. They are highly acidic and tend to pull the metal from the pan. According to Clemson University, rhubarb has the potential to cause pitting of the pan.

Foods That Can Be Safely Cooked in Reactive Cookware

Despite being reactive, there are some foods that you can cook in a reactive pan.

Copper and aluminum conduct and retain heat very well. Therefore, they can be used for cooking foods that are ready in a short time.

1. Boiling Rice

Rice is a staple food that hardly takes 15-20 minutes to boil.

You can boil some water in an aluminum or copper cookware and leave the rice to boil.

2. Pan-Browning Meat

You can also use copper or cast-iron pans for pan-browning meat.

It only takes a few minutes before the meat begins to sizzle. Therefore, even an aluminum pan is a good choice.

3. Cooking Sugar Syrups

Melting sugar in a saucepan is itself a very delicate process. If the temperature is too high, the sugar can easily burn. One has to maintain low and consistent heat.

For this reason, using a copper pan is totally safe. It provides consistent heat without reacting with the sugar.


Nonreactive pans are safe, durable, and one of the best options for cooking and baking. They can be used to cook just about any food.

The metals won’t break down regardless of the heat and acidity of the food. Use the guide above to choose the right cookware for all your needs!

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