Cooking with Cast Iron Review – Does It Work? Is it Worth It?

5 out of 5 leaves

5 out of 5 leaves

Cast Iron Cookware is an old school version of the pot and pans that are found in every kitchen.  Cast iron is very heavy duty, has excellent heat retention properties, and with a little loving care can be the only cookware you ever buy (and will likely outlast you!).  Made of iron, it can be a good source of dietary iron for anemics, but also is prone to rusting if not handled carefully.  When properly seasoned, cast iron develops a great non-stick finish, eliminating your need for potentially toxic teflon-coated cookware.  But is cast iron cookware easy to use?  Is the extra care required worth it?

The Good

  • Better for you – cast iron can introduce extra iron into your diet, which is beneficial if you are lacking.
  • Better for you 2 – cast iron naturally develops a non-stick coating that reduced your need for extra oils in cooking
  • Better for you 3 – cast iron develops the non stick finish without nasty chemicals coatings like Teflon.
  • Better for the earth – cast iron can get very hot without the worry of releasing toxic chemicals into the air (a la teflon coated cookware)
  • Super Versatile – Cast iron cookware can be used on the stove, in the oven, or over the campfire
  • Saves money – with proper care, cast iron can last for decades, vs teflon coated pans which generally need replacing every 3-5 years when the coating starts flaking off.  And the cost of a basic cast iron pan is very affordable

The Bad

  • Needs to be kept well seasoned as iron is prone to rust (this is most important when you first start using a new pan)
  • Needs a little extra loving care when washing and drying (more about this below)
  • Can be super heavy and difficult to haul in and out of the cabinet
  • There is some internet chatter that the iron released may be the inorganic, not healthy kind, but I have not seen any scientific evidence to back this up…

My Experience

My newest love in the kitchen: A Cast Iron Skillet!

Cast Iron has only vaguely been on my radar screen, even as I’ve been walking my green journey these last few years.  I don’t think I was aware of it as a child, and as an adult only thought of it as something only used by pioneers or hardcore campfire chefs.  I’d never known anyone who used cast iron in their every day kitchen.

Then a friend posted a question to to the Green Idea Reviews facebook page concerning the proper care of cast iron.  It seems she had purchased cast iron a couple of times, but couldn’t keep the rust away.  Frustrated, she commented “I’d rather eat me some teflon!”  I left it to you, dear readers to help her out, as I knew virtually NOTHING about cast iron at the time.

However, as she is a very well informed friend, I figured there must be a good reason that she wanted to use cast iron in her kitchen.  So I started researching to see what all of the fuss was about.  I was quite pleased to learn that the benefits of cast iron are many:

  • Cast Iron is a chemical free alternative to non-stick teflon (source)
  • It can add small amounts of iron to an iron deficient diet (source)
  • It retains and maintains heat very well, making it ideal for any cooking situation (source)
  • It is safe to use at any temperature, even high heat, or in the oven (source)
  • It is an inexpensive alternative to stainless steel (source)
  • It can used for frying, baking, braising, and can add a nice brown or sear to your food, which can be difficult to get with teflon (source)

After discussing with my husband,  I decided I wanted to buy new pans, rather than go through the trouble of finding an old pan and restoring it.   I was pleased to receive both a cast iron 12″ frying pan, and a cast iron dutch oven for Christmas last year!  Let the fun begin!

My first ever Dutch Oven, and a Cast Iron one at that!

I received Lodge brand cast iron, which comes pre-seasoned.  (Seasoning is the process of hardening oils onto the pans surface to prevent rust and create the non-stick coating).  I put it to work right away and easily fried up some veggies with only minimal sticking.  I scrubbed it clean with just water and a kitchen brush, and dried it thoroughly   I thought because it was pre-seasoned, there was no more care that it needed.

I was wrong.  Even the pre-seasoned pan turned a little brownish (the color of iron rust), and developed some obviously rusty spots where it seemed the factory applied seasoning was lacking in some spots.  Grr…  back to Google to see what’s up.  I did a lot of research and learned that even with pre-seasoned pans, it’s best to add your own layers of seasoning to your own pans to ensure you’re starting off with a great base.  Then the season will continue to build over time, so the pans take less and less care the more you use them.

Based on the science presented in this awesome article, I chose to season my pans with flax seed oil (which I just happened to have half a bottle of from when I gave it up for FCLO!).  Here’s the process I used for cleaning and seasoning:

  • Clean up the pan after dinner: scrub any extras off the surface with a scrubby brush and hot water
  • Dry with a towel
  • Place pan on burner turned on medium for a couple minutes to ensure pan is totally dry – watch out, pan is hot!
  • Rub flax seed oil all over the entire surface of the pan – use bare hands to ensure it gets into every little nook and cranny of the pan (be careful that you don’t drop the HEAVY greasy pan)
  • Remove excess oil with a paper napkin or paper towel so only a thin layer remains
  • Pre-heat oven to highest setting (mine is 550 F)
  • Place pan in oven and set timer for an hour
  • Turn on kitchen vent,  open kitchen window, and close kitchen door so you don’t set off the smoke alarms and then have to comfort terrified children who have been awakened in the night
  • After an hour turn off the oven and go to bed.
  • In the morning pull out your beautifully seasoned and dark black pan out of the oven: it is ready to go!

I did this full seasoning process five or six times in the first weeks that I had the frying pan.  Since then, I have just cleaned as usual, and applied a thin coating of flax seed or olive oil to the pan after drying.  I only do the full season once a month or so now.

I’ve been using, and therefore seasoning, the frying pan much, much more than the dutch oven, and I can tell you there is a HUGE difference in the smoothness and non-stick nature of the cooking surface.  The frying pan is smooth and needs very little butter to fry eggs without sticking.  I’m pretty sure I would still have sticky eggs in the dutch oven at this point.  (Note that for some reason the internet gold standard of a well seasoned pan is that your eggs don’t stick.  Not sure why…)

Overall, I love cooking with cast iron.  I love it so much, that I’ve pretty much stopped using my non-stick teflon cookware set completely.  The care and cleaning of cast iron is pretty easy after you get a good seasoned base down.  The versatility of the cookware can’t be beat – I use my frying pan almost every single day.  I feel good that I’ve removed another source of chemicals (teflon) from my family’s diet.  I highly recommend that you consider getting your own cast iron frying pan – I can’t imagine being without mine!

Here’s an affiliate link to the two pans I have if you are interested (GREAT prices, especially if you have AMAZON prime!):

Have you ever tried cooking with Cast Iron?  What’s your favorite dish to make?  (Mine is scrambled eggs, or pan fried potatoes, but I can’t wait to try out pan fried chicken!)

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33 Responses to Cooking with Cast Iron Review – Does It Work? Is it Worth It?

  1. Labbie1 says:

    You can get the Lodge cast iron at Wal-Mart as well and save the shipping by choosing the site to store option if they don’t have the piece you want in stock at the store. Just an FYI. I LOVE my cast iron cookware! And my new Lodge Dutch Oven with the RED exterior! Pretty! 🙂

  2. I LOVE my cast iron, and while it has a nice seasoning on it, it’s not super slick like it could be. Mostly because I haven’t taken the time to really give it a good one! I think the reason eggs are the standard is because eggs stick to anything but the slickest surface, so it’s a good indication of a great non-stick surface. Eggs don’t always come off my cast iron easily. 🙁

    • Victoria says:

      Hi Anne! My understanding on the eggs is that even with a well seasoned pan, you need a bit of oil or butter to keep the eggs from sticking.

  3. CelloMom says:

    Funny, I have exactly the two pieces you show here! Pancakes taste better from that skillet, and I do a mean Boston baked beans in the Dutch oven. I just LOVE scraping those pans with a metal spatula – kicking back from all those years of being sooo careful with the icky teflon pans, I guess. As for eggs: a good dollop of butter will keep them from sticking.

    • Victoria says:

      Ooooo – I haven’t tried pancakes yet! I’ll bet they make some nice cast iron griddles too!

  4. Linda says:

    I love using cast iron as well. I recently read that if you are a man or no longer menstruating all that extra iron can be bad for you. Something about unless you bleed you can build up too much iron. Have no idea if that is true.

    • Victoria says:

      From what I’ve read, the jury is still out on whether or not the iron is easily absorbed by our systems. I’d be interested to ready any scientific evidence anyone has.

  5. 'Becca says:

    We love our cast iron, too! We have two skillets, large and small.

    We routinely scrub ours with coffee grounds because they do a great job of getting stuff off quickly and removing lingering flavors, and as coffee drinkers we always have some handy. (Also, we don’t have a dish brush that we like–they all seem to be angled wrong for efficient use and to grow yuck between the bristles.) Just scrub with your hand and a little water, wearing a rubber glove if you have sensitive skin.

    After cleaning, we dry the pan thoroughly with a black cloth towel (no worries about stains, and it doesn’t shred as paper towels sometimes did), add a few drops of oil, and rub in with fingers. This is a great use for those last drops of olive oil that drizzle so slowly out of the bottle–set the old bottle aside for pan seasoning, and open a new bottle for cooking.

  6. Kay Hamilton says:

    I had heard that some cast iron pots may contain lead. Does anyone know anything about this?

    • Victoria says:

      Hi Kay – Cast Iron pans do not contain lead. The only exception might be an old school enameled cast iron that could have lead in the paint. Check out this article for more info:

      • Kay Hamilton says:

        Thanks for your reply. I have a prize to collect and it is a cast iron frypan. I used to use one all the time years ago but heard that there can be lead in them. I will collect my prize and am keen to use it now!
        On another note I would recommend that you research a company called Young Living which has therapeutic grade essential oils. They are fantastic for health and cleaning options for all the family. I purchase my supplies wholesale which is an option for anyone. If interested contact me and I can share more with you. I use the oils in my cooking and dressings etc. these provide wonderful nutritional supplements. My member number is 1129287 they ship all over the world.

        Cheers Kay

  7. Rhonda Treadway says:

    As any good southern lady will tell you, nothing and I do mean nothing is better for cooking cornbread in than a good cast iron skillet. To keep mine seasoned I normally rub a liitle oil on and then place it into the oven while still warm from use.

    • Victoria says:

      I haven’t tried out cornbread yet, but the next time I make it, I will be sure to bake it in cast iron!

  8. I cannot live without my cast iron skillets 😉 We fry bacon about once a week to keep well seasoned. Don’t let it set in water – wash and dry immediately and I have no problem with that. I hang mine on the outside of my Punched Tin Country Cabinet – keeps them handy, too!

  9. Olivia Lane says:

    I use and love cast iron pans. I have two skillets and a grill pan. I dream of getting a pancake pan. I’m happy to use those instead non-stick chemical pans. They’re so scary!

  10. Becki says:

    My mom has a huge cast iron skillet that was in mountain cabin when my parents bought it. It is surely decades old, and bacon and eggs in that skillet are amazing. (Maybe not super good for you though!)

    I would love if you would share with us on the Eco Kids Link Up. This post would fit our theme perfectly! Here’s the link:

  11. Pingback: Set 2 Cast Iron

  12. I found this post so interesting! I’ve never cooked with cast iron, and have always wondered about it. You’ve provided a great un-biased review here. Thank you for sharing it with The Hearth and Soul blog hop.

  13. Hannah says:

    Thank you for sharing with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday! I featured your post today!

  14. Sabrina says:

    Cast iron is great for baking corn bread and frying fried chicken, and everything under the I live in AL and my mother in law always told me to not wash my skillet. I just couldnt do it after I cooked chicken or beef. So, when I first got mine 13 years ago I bought new, seasoned it like the directions told me and all food stuck…gerrrr! so I decided to season it with cooking bacon and after I cooked it instead of dumping out the grease I left it in for a couple of days then I washed it with dawn dish soap dried with a towel and left to air dry, before i put it up I would use a little bit of crisco shortening with my fingers to season it all over inside and out. It took me at least 2 years for it to stop sticking. I love my skillet but if you have a glass top stove you cant use it on top of stove only in the oven because it will scratch the surface.

    • Victoria says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Sabrina. It’s important to remember that getting a really good non-stick season takes time and work. We’ve been using our skillet once or twice every single day for two months, and also have done a separate oven seasoning half a dozen times. It does pretty well with the non-stickiness now, and has a nice smooth surface. My dutch oven, which I’ve only used a handful of times is another story right now. It still needs a lot of work.

  15. kitblu says:

    Iron leaches into food only if you cook an acid in it – like tomatoes.

  16. Pingback: DIY Stovetop Popcorn Review – Does it Work? | Green Idea Reviews

  17. carole says:

    Hi..I cooked tomatoes and onions in an iron pan not properly seasoned,and my tongue went black! when I started seasoning the iron pan what I rubbed off was also black.Is fine now afetr quite a few seasoning sessions with Coconut oil,or Fllaxseed oil.
    Would be interested in comments.

  18. NJ Hemphill says:

    i have been using cast iron most of my cooking life…the frying pan i use was a wedding gift to my parents in 1952…it is a thing of beauty…well, not aesthetically but as a useful, can’t-live-without-it tool in my kitchen…
    i have had to season my pan a few times (yes, just a few times) over the years since my mother gifted the pan to me…i abhor teflon & have always opted for naturally surfaced things…nothing in this world is better than a cast iron pan!!! my dutch oven is HEAVY & i don’t use it much but it has a stone surface & it is not as reliable as the cast iron…
    my 2 cents worth…thanks for posting your original article!