habit shift: kitchen detox.

October 22, 2018

Bear with me. One more morning habit that needed shifting:

I’m not the baker in our house, generally speaking, but on a weekend morning in the fall and winter, mixing a batch of hearty muffins is one of my favorite rituals. I love the whole process. The two bowls, the easy measurements, the mixing together of the wet and the dry, the spooning of the fluffy batter into tins. I love watching the muffins puff up in the oven and fall again once taken out. Mostly, I like eating them (and watching other people eat them, too). We brought a platter of steaming muffins to a Pre-K playdate this weekend and the kids cleared the plate in a matter of minutes. 

Until recently, we were still using the same muffin tray that James and I have had for the past ten years or so. It was one that we’d bought inexpensively, no doubt on a weekend afternoon when we were young but felt grown-up and realized that we’d need to outfit our first apartment with things like muffin trays if we were going to survive cohabitation. Like most muffin trays on the market, ours was coated with the ubiquitous nonstick coating called Teflon, which made it easy to bake muffins that would pop easily out of the pan—no liners required.

The truth is, I’ve been avoiding nonstick pans for years, but I’ve been a little blurry about why. As a kid, I remember my parents scolding us about scratching the surface of nonstick pans. In my first apartment after college, I accidentally let the water boil out of a Teflon-coated sauce pan and the resulting fumes were so headache-inducing that I’d thrown out the pan altogether. Somewhere along the line I read something about carcinogens and decided to stick to mostly cast iron and stainless steel instead. Still, until recently, the muffin pan remained in pretty regular use in our house. It couldn’t be so bad, I guess I figured. 

This fall, my sister Cait has been working on the screening campaign for a new film about Teflon called The Devil We Know. The film follows the DuPont Corporation’s coverup of the adverse effects of Teflon. For decades, DuPont used a chemical called C-8, part of a class of chemicals called PFOAs, despite knowing that it caused cancer in animals. The chemical has been used in nonstick kitchenware, food packaging, waterproof clothing, stain-resistant carpeting, and dental floss. It was dumped into waterways and sold for decades after first learning that it wasn’t safe for humans. It’s a sobering account of corporate irresponsibility and government complicity. Most guttingly, my own recent switch to cast iron muffin pans notwithstanding, it’s a chemical you can’t really avoid, even if you want to. Today, the known carcinogens are present in the bloodstream of more than 99 percent of Americans and in bodies of water across the globe. 

I won’t pretend it’s an uplifting film. (It’s devastating.) But at the start of muffin season, it was a good reminder to take stock of our apartment and our habits. I took the film’s 7-day Chemical Detox Challenge to refresh our household commitment to a nontoxic environment. (And I said goodbye to the Teflon muffin tray for good.) More than anything, in the lead up to the midterm elections, the film was a reminder that it takes more than individual efforts to make a difference. Let’s get folks in charge who are committed to keeping the most vulnerable among us—and the planet we live on—safe and healthy.

For the curious:

If you’re curious about what else might be lurking in your kitchen, you can sign up for the 7-Day Chemical Detox Challenge.

You can find a local screening of The Devil We Know, or rent and watch from home like we did. (Available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, or Apple Movies.)

We now have two cast-iron muffin pans from Lodge (vintage cast iron muffin pans also abound, but they can be pricey online). After a tiny bit of trial and error, we’ve gotten them to turn out delightful, perfectly sized muffins without any hassle. The trick for us? Make sure you give them enough time to cool before gently loosening them with a knife and popping them out of the tins.

If you’re less of a muffin enthusiast, but still concerned about your cookware, we rely on cast iron skillets for our daily cooking. We love our mini Lodge skillets, our Crane enameled cast iron casserole, and our 10-inch Field Company cast iron skillet. (The Field Company skillet is my new favorite—lighter than other cast iron skillets, easy to hold, and smooth-bottomed.)

The muffins shown here are from a beloved recipe of Jessica’s at Sugarhouse Workshop. They’re banana muffins made in part with oat flour, but most of the time, I just stir in roughly chopped quick oats instead. Light and fluffy but hearty enough that they don’t leave you hungry.

This post includes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links. 

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  • Reply Madeleine October 22, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    I’m so glad you’ve done some research on this! Muffin tins and baking sheets remain my last unconquered non-stick-free baking/cooking implement. Do you have thoughts on baking sheets?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 22, 2018 at 6:00 pm

      We use uncoated stainless steel sheet pans and love them!

    • Reply Katie October 23, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      I love the Nordic Ware Naturals line of uncoated aluminum, and have many baking sheets as well as their muffin tins. They’re super durable and cook well– and they’re made in the US!

    • Reply Kirsten October 28, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      Can’t vouch for this product, because I just discovered it when searching for a pizza stone, but it appears to be a steel sheet and also appears to be slightly less expensive than All Clad. Might get too hot for cookies and such though, I don’t know. Would be curious to hear if anyone has worked with these baking steels?


  • Reply sarah morabito October 22, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    I just saw your stories and then watched the trailer and then bought the lodge pans! Thank you for calling this out you are truly an amazing resource and I am so grateful for the work you do/research and fountain of knowledge you are….I’m truly inspired!! We’ll be watching the doc tonight.

  • Reply Jeannine October 22, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    Any thoughts or insights into the Green Pans that use a ceramic coating?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 22, 2018 at 7:24 pm

      I don’t know much about them specifically, but I do know that folks like EWG still only recommend cast iron or stainless steel. Unfortunately, a lot of the newly developed chemicals in nonstick pans have also not been rigorously tested or regulated, so it’s hard to know the full ramifications.

  • Reply Kirsten October 22, 2018 at 7:14 pm

    So glad you’re talking about this! My dad is an environmental toxicologist and has been scolding me about Teflon (and other PFOAs, BPA and all its friends, etc etc etc) for the past 20 years. I’m so glad it’s finally breaking in to the mainstream-ish. Excited (and also freaked out and sad) to watch the documentary.

  • Reply Liz October 22, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    Any tricks for frying or scrambling eggs? Which pan is best?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 23, 2018 at 5:54 am

      We use our Field Company skillet. Just made Silas his 6 am special in it: a fried egg!

  • Reply Heidi October 22, 2018 at 11:32 pm

    Curious where you found your uncoated stainless sheet pans? Just looked up my sheet pans, and they do have a nonstick coating.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 23, 2018 at 5:45 am

      We found ours years ago at a local shop. There’s no branding on them so I’m not sure the manufacturer, but I can see if I can find an online equivalent.

    • Reply Alison October 23, 2018 at 2:44 pm

      I *think* Nordic Ware might have some options. I know they’re made in the USA – so at least cut down on your footprint from a travel standpoint. Might be worth looking at their site to find out more!

    • Reply Alix October 23, 2018 at 8:10 pm

      Chicago Metallic Bakeware also makes uncoated stainless steel baking sheets and jelly roll pans. They’re very affordable on Amazon!

      • Reply Emily October 24, 2018 at 9:47 am

        The Nordic pans are aluminum, and Chicago pans are aluminized steel, not stainless. I think they are better choices, but not ideal.

  • Reply Sara October 23, 2018 at 3:54 am

    These guys make the VERY BEST non toxic muffin tins and nothing sticks to them: https://www.facebook.com/Hartstone-Pottery-Flagship-Store-53528196166/ They used to be sold everywhere but they just got acquired and seem to be moving to a new location before they renew production.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 23, 2018 at 5:56 am

      Lovely! We also considered a lovely stoneware muffin tray from Bennington Potters!

  • Reply Kate October 23, 2018 at 7:55 am

    This is a great habit shift and one I am also trying to make too . How did you dispose of your old muffin tins?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 23, 2018 at 8:58 am

      New York City recycling collects household metals: pots and pans, cutlery, and utensils, so I put mine in the recycling bin. In cities that don’t collect pots and pans, you might have luck contacting a scrap metal yard. Sadly, there’s not really a feel-good measure to take. The toxicity remains, even after these things leave our individual homes.

  • Reply Jay October 23, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Is this chemical still used in dental floss? Is there a floss you can recommend? Thank you for this post!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 23, 2018 at 9:22 am

      I’ve been using this floss lately and really like it!

  • Reply S October 23, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Is your Field Co. skillet the #8? Detoxing our kitchen this week, for sure.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 23, 2018 at 9:24 am

      Yes! We have the #8!

      • Reply S October 23, 2018 at 9:32 am

        Thanks so much! And thanks to you and your sister for bringing this pretty scary issue to light!

  • Reply laura October 23, 2018 at 10:27 am

    we are cast iron-aholics (trying to get help) and use for all cooking and baking needs. i find that being generous with butter for anything that would normally “stick” does the trick. and yes, we are also butter-aholics i suppose.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 23, 2018 at 10:28 am

      better butter than Teflon, I say!

  • Reply Sara October 23, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks, Erin! These muffins sound wonderful. Is there a link to the recipe on Jessica’s site?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 23, 2018 at 3:02 pm

      There’s not! It was included in one of her cookbooks which is currently sold out. Not sure if she might be willing to share if you ask though!

  • Reply Rachel October 23, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    Hey Erin,

    I have some (cheap) stainless steel cookware that was gifted to me that I’ve had for years and I love it. I also have a pizza stone and a stone baking sheet that I absolutely adore. The thing I love about stoneware is it gets a nice patina over time with use.

    I may have mentioned this before on your site, but when I was in Tennessee this past July, I made a stop at the Lodge factory store and went HAM in there. They have a bunch of second-quality pans for nearly half the price that I snapped up. The pans have barely noticeable cosmetic “flaws” but the performance quality is still the same. Lodge is excellent quality and cast iron will literally outlive us. They’re great heirloom pieces for Faye and Silas when they are adults, too.

    Also, I do have one Le Creuset enameled stock pot that was gifted to me by a friend. That pot gets the most use. Great article, kinda scared to watch that documentary though. Might be a good watch for Halloween, haha.

  • Reply Heidi October 23, 2018 at 11:18 pm

    Hi Erin! Now I’m wondering what you’ve chosen for baking sheets, loaf pan, cooling rack, other cooking/baking pans? I’ve known I’ve needed to replace some old coated bakeware and you and getting me to start to plan and budget to do so! Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 24, 2018 at 7:36 am

      Ah, I know! We gave away cake pans and a bundt pan a few years ago and haven’t replaced them! Our loaf pans and sheet trays are uncoated, but I bought them locally and they don’t have branding so I’m not sure the make! A quick search online is making me think they’re aluminized steel and not stainless, as I’d thought. I have to do some more digging to try to figure it out!

      • Reply Emily October 24, 2018 at 9:41 am

        Thank you Erin for this post. I think I have been shutting my eyes to this. I’m having the same problem. I bake a lot. I bake two loaves of sandwich bread a week. Most of the options I have found for baking sheets and loaf pans are aluminized steel, which I think is problematic too. I’d like to get good stainless steel pans, but they are so expensive. The cast iron loaf pans I have found are too big. It’s looking like I will need to make an investment to make this habit shift!

        • Reply Kirsten October 24, 2018 at 1:44 pm

          I bake lots of bread as well – a pizza stone for shaped loaves and glass Pyrex loaf pans works super well!

        • Reply Rachel October 24, 2018 at 4:39 pm

          Emily, I bought a cast iron loaf pan from lodge this summer. I actually just used it two weeks ago. It’s great and reasonably priced about $20-$25.

  • Reply Danielle October 24, 2018 at 12:28 am

    These muffin tins are still not as toxin free as cast iron, but they seem better than your average Teflon non-stick and they are made in the USA. They work so well!! The muffins basically jump out of the pan. I’ve never seen anything like it; I was used to my mom’s/roommate’s crusty old ones!


  • Reply Jessica October 24, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Thank you for this awesome post! I appreciate your sharing all of your research and knowledge!

  • Reply Samantha October 24, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    I also have been trying to use our cast iron and getting rid of our old non-stick and otherwise pans. My dad has been collecting and restoring vintage cast iron for a while now, so I’ve got a couple of lovely ones. But I’m so excited to see you mention Field Company! Not only do I have one of their pans and love the light weight and smoothness of their metal, but Stephen is an old college friend. So fun to see his company showing up on one of my favorite blogs! (and so many other places)

  • Reply Nicole October 28, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Can you share the recipe for these muffins? They look delicious!

  • Reply Heidi October 29, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Did anyone end up finding true uncoated stainless steel sheet pans and loaf pans? Having the hardest time finding a source! Thanks 🙂 Committed to finding a replacement for mine!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 29, 2018 at 11:17 am

      Hi Heidi: I went into our local cooking shop this weekend to ask around. Lots of opinions! Everyone said that a true stainless steel sheet pan will be expensive and likely only available through a restaurant supply store. (They also didn’t think it would be great for things like cookies, etc.) At this store, and most of what I’ve found online, they sell two uncoated versions of both: either aluminum or aluminized steel. There’s not a whole of research that I’ve been able to find about the particular health risks of either, though some folks are allergic. To stay on the safe side, as mentioned above, a Pyrex loaf pan might be a great option for that (and honestly so much easier to clean than the creases in my metal pans). Otherwise, one woman at the store mentioned baking cookies on her ceramic pizza stone!

  • Reply Mackenzie October 30, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing this Erin. I definitely am going to go through my pans/muffin tins to see if I have any Teflon ones. I also will be watching the documentary.

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