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?
- 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
- 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…
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!
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!)