The Only Non-Stick Pan I'll Ever Use
Although cast iron was invented centuries ago, their value has outlasted any other form of cookware. Why has cast iron lasted for so long, and why are many chefs and health conscious cooks switching back?
I've researched endlessly on toxin free non-stick pans without compromising on quality results, and nothing has matched cast iron. Of course its not perfect, (unless you have super strong forearms for flipping pancakes), but I still won't be trading in my grandma's hand-me-downs for the foreseeable future. Now let's get to the nitty-gritty of why everyone should invest in some iron and how to keep it in good condition.
Seven Reasons For Cast Iron
- Safest Non-Toxic Non-stick:The history of cast iron goes back more than 2,000 years, with documented use pointing to the development in 3rd century China. Many modern cookware has not lived up to the hype. Aluminum easily reacts with food, is absorbed and can lead to heavy metal toxicity. Aluminum is one of the major toxins that can effect brain and has been linked to increased risk of Alzheimer's Disease. Stainless steel and copper pans contain alloys and are often lined with nickel, chromium, or carbon which can be problematic by causing metal toxicity. Ceramic coated pans can be made with lead, and if scratched or worn down risk contamination. Many non-stick pans emit toxic fumes when heated past a certain temperature. The chemical is called perflouroctanic acid (PFOA), which is a known carcinogen. At high temps non-stick cookware can also emit the chemical PFIB (used in WWII in nerve gas, YIKES!). If you're pan is scratched or worn it increased you're exposure. Cast iron poses none of these risks, and can be heated to the high temperatures without negative effects. Although iron can react with acidic food, the seasoning on the pan acts as a barrier between the food and the metal. Since iron is an essential mineral, some amount of the metal leaching into the food does not pose any health risks.
- Durability and Long Lasting: If you've ever lifted a cast iron you already know that these things are serious business. Remember they are made primarily of iron and so are quite heavy. Not the best for showing off you food tossing, but they can with stand anything from the stove top, oven, or brought on a camping trip placed over an open flame. You can also drop it down the stairs without damaging it (not recommending this FYI).
- Even Heating: Iron is a great conductor of heat. Not only does it heat up quickly but it cooks food evenly. Its also perfect for searing and crisping up anything from root vegetables, to salmon, and zucchini. Another plus, you can start cooking anything on the stove top, and finish is off in the oven. The trick of course is to first heat the pan before adding any ingredients.
- Affordable: Because they've been around forever, you can often find cast iron skillets at thrift-shops, or second hand stores. Two of my pans were hand-me-downs from my grandma. But they are also available online and totally worth the investment from $20-50 typically. I like Lodge (my most recent addition). Because of there durability, with the right care they will most likely outlive you.
- Easy to Clean: Cast iron is "seasoned" using fat such as avocado oil, ghee or coconut oil. This essentially serves to build a protective layer over the metal. Once heated the oil hardens and forms a dense, non-stick coating. Most pans come preseasoned. What's great about a seasoned pan is that it is perfectly slick and just a quick rinse with water or a wipe with a paper towel will clean your pan.
- Require less Oil: I was surprised how little cooking oil I needed to use after switching from using primarily stainless steal pans. Heat your skillet on high, then add oil while spreading it around by moving the pan. All you need is a thin layer to cook food evenly without burning.
- Versatile: Can be used for roasting in the oven, sauteing, grilling, broiling, of stir-frying. They can also be used for water based cooking like boiling, steaming, or poaching. You can even use them for baking things like cornbread, frittatas, cookies, etc.
Now here's the simple details on maintaining your pans to last forever:
- Clean thoroughly after cooking. Iron doesn't particularly like being exposed to water and can rust. Rust is easy to combat by re-seasoning the pan with oil but to avoid simply was by rinsing with water and wiping with a dry cloth right away. Any burnt food can be scrapped off with a spatula
- Re-season: The more frequently you use your pan for searing, baking, or frying the better it will have a seasoned layer. After cleaning I often will wipe the pan with a little oil and then store in the oven.
Last note: Another reason I love cast iron is that it has a very rustic and elemental feel to it. I often picture a cowboy eating straight out of the pan while sitting by a fire in the back country. Make the switch and enjoy non-toxic cooking!