Posted on March 24, 2008 by
I bought a set of three cast iron pans for ten dollars at a discount store in 2000, because I couldn’t afford a decent set of non-stick pans. After all the talk about Teflon killing birds, and non-stick coatings chipping off into food, I’ve realized that being cheap wasn’t the only benefit of my cast iron pans. When chemical coatings leach into food, it’s scary, when cast iron leaches, you get some of the iron your body needs to make red blood cells.
My pans are nine years old now and are even better than they were brand new. With proper care (wash with a scouring pad and water only, put back on the burner until dry), eight years from now, they’ll still be in tip top shape. These same pans could even be the cookware of choice for future generations of our family.
Cookware that will last several life times is a pretty green thing. Go one better and look for a used set at a garage sale, thrift or antique store, or in your grandmother’s attic. What’s Cooking America says that as long as a cast iron pan isn’t cracked or nicked, you can clean up, season it, and use it to cook your next meal.
Seasoning is how a cast iron pan goes from sticky to non-stick. In the picture above, the pan on the right is the one that’s seasoned.
From The New York Times:
“To season a new pan wash it well and dry it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while you warm the pan gently over low heat on top of the stove. Using a brush or a paper towel, spread a tablespoon or so of a fresh neutral oil like corn or grape seed in the pan; the surface should be evenly covered, with no excess. Put the pan in the oven, bake it for about an hour and let it cool in the oven. “
If it sounds like a lot of work, it’s not. I haven’t seasoned my pans in years, and they work just fine. As long as you don’t use soap to clean the pan, or cook acidic food like tomato sauce in it, one hour of seasoning can last a very long time. After cooking in your cast iron pan, if you clean while the pan’s still hot, the food residue comes off easily, and you have the added bonus of not having to deal with a dirty pan after dinner.
There’s also something appealing about cooking with cast iron. I like the feel of the pan, the sound the spatula makes against the metal, and the way the food browns. I love that there’s little I can do to destroy my pans. They aren’t finicky like non-stick. I don’t need to use plastic spoons or spatulas. We take the middle sized pan with us on camping trips to cook over the open fire. For a few days after we come home, eggs cooked in that pan still have a hint of woodsmoke to them.
It’s funny, because I’m usually not one to get attached to things, but I definitely have an emotional attachment to my pans. In a life full of disposable things, it’s nice to own something so solid.