Cooking with Cast Iron

Cooking with Cast Iron

In recent years, the boyfriend and I have been taking gradual steps toward reducing our exposure to risky chemicals in household products. I could write a whole post about this, as it’s much trickier than it should be, but today I wanted to share my experience with a certain kitchen-related detail.

I’m not super proud to admit this, but until very recently I had always employed a non-stick skillet as a major part of my cookware arsenal. It’s been my easy solution for cooking eggs, pancakes, quick sautes and stir fries. While the EPA does not currently attribute health risks to nonstick cookware, the potential concerns of the surface materials are enough reason for me to avoid them if possible.

Over time I’ve tried traditional Teflon pans as well as a variety of PTFE/PFOA-free cookware. While these new “greener” alternative surfaces may be promising, they also have limited research regarding their long-term safety. And as you may have guessed from my track record, I’m not only dissatisfied with the potential health implications, but I’ve also become really tired of replacing them practically every year as they wear out and lose their non-stick qualities.

So, when the surface on my last pan had reached its limit, it was time to consider my options:

  • Continue to grudgingly replace non-stick cookware and acknowledge the potential health risks? No… the madness must end!
  • Stainless steel? Maybe, but I feel like certain sticky foods will pose a challenge and I’ll find myself adding much more oil when cooking.
  • Carbon Steel? What am I, a millionaire?
  • Raw cast iron? When well-seasoned, it is a natural non-stick surface. It’s regarded for its even heat retention and unique ability to create a beautiful extra-golden crust. It even has the benefit of providing extra dietary iron with regular use. So many cooks love using cast iron… maybe it’s time for me to be one of them!

Embracing cast iron was something I should have done a long time ago, but there were a few things that made me hesitate before taking the plunge. First, I had some slight bewilderment regarding the cleaning process. I mean, no soap? …ever? This seemed problematic, but I convinced myself that the thousands of cast iron devotees out there must have a workable solution (duh).ย My second point of reluctance was the fact that cast iron pans are quite heavy, and that I am sort of a wimp. Terrible excuse, right?! Once I thought about it, I decided to look at this as an advantage… you know, a chance to incorporate upper-body conditioning into an activity that I actually enjoy!

I ended up buying this classic Lodge 12-inch skillet for a steal on Amazon, and I’m totally happy with the purchase so far. It’s hefty, definitely, but the weight hasn’t been a big issue. I can’t exactly toss sauteed veggies in the air like I might with a lighter weight skillet, but it doesn’t bother me to toss them around with a spatula instead. And the cleaning process? After happening upon a video by RD blogger Wendy Jo – a cast iron veteran – I already feel like a pro! Check out her easy technique for using salt as an abrasive to scrub out the pan after cooking!

All in all, I wish I had made the switch years ago. Tell me, what’s your favorite kind of cookware? If you’re a cast iron fan, do you have any tips to share with a beginner like me?

8 thoughts on “Cooking with Cast Iron”

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this post. I have been feeling the same kind of hesitation to switch to cast iron despite knowing that it’s considered to be better, because it’s new and different to me. I also somehow was thinking that the cleaning process must be harder somehow. But this post is really starting to convince me to just get one!

    1. I’m so glad you liked it! I understand what you’re saying… it really is a mental block more than anything. Once you get one home and start using it, it’s a no-brainer!

  2. I’ve been thinking about making the switch also. We’ve been using non-stick pans. My boyfriend wants to switch as well, but I think we’re going to wait until we get married and put it all on our registry ๐Ÿ˜› I’ve always thought that they’d be super hard to clean, I’ll have to watch the video!

    1. I like your strategy ๐Ÿ˜‰ Now that I’ve gotten myself hooked, I’m hoping to collect some different size options too. And the cleaning is really much less hassle than I anticipated!

  3. The cast iron pans are great, as long as you don’t have repetitive stress injuries which make holding heavy things tough. I gave away my last cast iron, not because of the salt scrubbing, and oiling, but because it was just too darn heavy. So, ok, what is the problem with nonstick anyway?

    1. Safety first!! Injury risk definitely trumps trace exposure potential ๐Ÿ™‚ While exposure data in humans is still not as robust as it should be, the PTFE and PFOA used in production of most nonstick pans has likely carcinogenicity and reproductive/developmental toxicity, as well as significant potential for bioaccumulation (long half lives both in the body and in the environment). Check out the EPA’s dedicated PFOA page: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/pfoa/

      There are the newer nonstick pans – GreenPan and similar brands – that use “Thermalon” and other ceramic technologies that are likely safer. I have bought one in the past, and my main complaint was that (like others) it lost its nonstick abilities within a year, even with careful use (like I mentioned, durability was another factor in my switch away from nonstick). Besides that issue, it was a good pan and I recommend it over other nonstick products. FYI carbon steel is very similar to cast iron, but less brittle, so manufacturers are able to make the pan thinner and lighter; they just tend to be rather pricey.

  4. I cook in cast iron everyday! Sometimes I wish I could throw my pans into the dishwasher, but I love knowing that I’ll be cooking with my cast iron pans for the rest of my life.

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