"CorningWare" ain't Corning Ware no more: The Life, Death and Resurrection of a Cookware Icon.

Mar 29, 2006 (Updated Dec 28, 2010)

The Bottom Line While today's "CorningWare" stoneware is no substitute for the real thing, the return of Pyroceram cookware is reason to rejoice.

Mother is lucky.

Her Corning Ware is the real thing made in the USA from a space-age scientific miracle: Corning Pyroceram. Today's "CorningWare" is a stoneware imposter imported from overseas by World Kitchen who licenses the registered trademark "CorningWare" from Corning Incorporated.

At www.corningware.com, World Kitchen attempts to explain away the change:

The original CorningWare® bakeware which was first introduced in 1958, was made of a glass-ceramic material that could be used on the stove, in the oven and under the broiler. After World Kitchen acquired the brand in the late 1990’s, CorningWare products were switched to ceramic stoneware production. Introduced later that year was the French White collection, which has been an all-time best seller among brides-to-be.

The stoneware transition was made, in part, to ensure that the brand adapted to the evolving tastes of consumers who today put a premium on color and design. In addition, with the advent of the microwave, the thermal benefits of the original material diminished in importance for home cooks.

They conveniently overlook the differences, which are like the Jetsons and the Flintstones. Pyroceram is a pure white vitreous material with a glass-smooth finish. It is 100% impervious to food acids and staining, and can withstand a sudden temperature change of 840 degrees F.  You can melt butter in a Corning Ware Pyroceram casserole on the stove, stir in the ingredients for a cheese sauce, fold in cooked elbow macaroni and then freeze the whole thing until you're ready to bake it, straight from the freezer. If the top isn't as brown as you like, you can put it under the broiler until it's just right.  If you should accidentally place the hot casserole on a cold surface, it won't crack or shatter.

"CorningWare" stoneware is no better than the cookware Target, Kmart and WalMart sell under their own labels. It has an off-white finish and a dull pebbled surface that can hold onto stains. It's also thicker, heavier and, according to many who've bought it, far more prone to failure over time, especially if you use it as freezer-to-oven-to-tableware. World Kitchen knows this, and that's why the warranty against thermal failure on "CorningWare" stoneware is a measly ONE YEAR, compared to the whopping TEN YEAR warranty on Pyroceram. If you use it on the stove or under the broiler, you will void the warranty and the dish may crack or shatter from thermal shock.

Stoneware absorbs water when you wash it, and the clay beneath the glaze contains trace metals including lead.  That's why an empty stoneware dish will heat up if you put it in the microwave oven for 15 seconds (go ahead and try it; it won't harm modern microwave ovens).  It's hardly the ideal material for microwave cookware.  Pyroceram is radio-transparent.  Yes, an empty Pyroceram dish will warm up just a tad, but that's due to condensed moisture on the surface.  It won't get as hot as stoneware.

Ironic, isn't it? Mom's Corning Ware propelled her 1960s kitchen into the Space Age while today's "CorningWare" stoneware sends your 21st Century kitchen back to the Stone Age.

The Resurrection:

In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the CorningWare brand in 2008, World Kitchen brought back French-made Pyroceram cookware under the name CorningWare StoveTop.  Go to http://www.shopworldkitchen.com, click on CorningWare then StoveTop.  Check the site regularly for sales.  I bought the 4.5L Enhancements Swirl casserole for $14.92 during their Columbus Day sale in 2010.

Visions cookware is clear amber Pyroceram.  The color and transparency are the result of different tempering times and temperatures.

SimplyLite, also introduced in 2008, is made in the USA of Vitrelle, the same material as Corelle Livingware dishes and is for use in conventional and microwave ovens only (no stovetop, toaster oven or broiler use).

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