Cook in Cast Iron

Posted on March 24, 2008 by Allie

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.

No Comments +

  1. My family did not use cast iron, but when a new room mate moved into my first Boston apt (my later to be boyfriend) he brought with him his cast iron skillets. I have since given up on any others! Cast irons are healthier (you CAN eat and chips of these pans and have HEALTHY benefits of iron) easier to maintain (don’t even wash them! score!) and make food taste better from all the soaking up of good tastes and seasonings.

    They also make it easier not to burn food as they heat up slowly and more consistently all over than only right in the middle like other pans.

    March 24th, 2008 at 3:05 pm
    Comment by Erikka
  2. I’ve never heard all these benefits of cast iron before. I thought it was just for old southern grandmas to cook cornbread in. Intriguing!

    March 24th, 2008 at 3:30 pm
    Comment by mickey
  3. Seriously, once you make the switch, other pans just don’t measure up. It sounds like Erikka shares my enthusiasm for them too.

    March 24th, 2008 at 3:37 pm
    Comment by Allie
  4. And you can buy some that are already seasoned. I love not having to make quite as hard of an effort to clean them, considering I HATE doing dishes.

    March 24th, 2008 at 5:52 pm
    Comment by The Modern Gal
  5. Yay! Someone else who recognizes the value of seasoned cast iron pans. One of my friends Paul Wheaton put together a great article about cast iron that’s worth mentioning:
    http://www.richsoil.com/cast-iron.jsp

    Excellent tip!

    March 24th, 2008 at 7:13 pm
    Comment by Brave New Leaf
  6. I’ve been wanting to make the switch after everything bad I’ve been reading about those non-stick coated pans. My plan is to buy at least one cast iron pan a year to replace the bad ones I use.

    March 24th, 2008 at 7:40 pm
    Comment by Danielle
  7. [...] morning we talked about cast iron pans. Cast iron pans just so happen to be the perfect cookware for making fajitas. And meat-free fajitas [...]

    March 25th, 2008 at 1:21 am
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  8. [...] 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. [...]

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  9. [...] If your dad knows his way around a pancake, likes to mess around in the kitchen from time to time, or fry up eggs at the camp ground, how about getting him a cast iron pan? [...]

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  10. [...] immediate thought was to switch to grilling on the stove with a cast iron pan, some are even made with ridges that would give you the grill marks you’ve become accustomed [...]

    October 1st, 2008 at 5:00 pm
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  11. Fact: Heavily seasoned cast iron pans have very little health benefit. The iron leaching is blocked by the seasoning. I have been using cast iron pans for over 30 years. Considering that the benefit of iron in the diet is very important for people of all ages, why promote a practice that deminishes the iron leaching capability? That is why I have never seasoned my cast iron pans. I have a vintage chef skillet that took forever to clean the burnt on garbage off before I got down to the beautiful iron. I use steel wool to clean my cast iron after each use and then dry them thoroughly, which prevents rust. Seasoning blocks the leaching of iron into the food.

    Cast iron can be used without seasoning. A little bit of your favorite oil can do wonders to prevent sticking and you can enjoy the benefit of cast iron cooking.

    And, by the way, food cooked in tomato sauce in cast iron absorbs more iron than most foods so this is good advice for anyone dealing with anemia.

    March 26th, 2009 at 3:23 am
    Comment by Susan

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Tip of the Day

If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It

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According to Real Simple, if every American made an effort to launder less — cutting out just one load of laundry a week per household — we’d save enough water to fill seven million swimming pools each year.

So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.


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