Most real food foodies I know practically worship their cast iron pans, and I don't blame you if you fall in that camp. This cookware is cheap, traditional, and (allegedly) healthier.
Cast iron pans have been used for hundreds of years. They tend to retain heat for cooking and can be used over an open flame.
A typical 12 inch cast iron skillet retails for about $24. Not bad compared to stainless that starts at about $40.
I get tons of questions on Facebook asking what kind of cookware I use and recommend. Even though they are less expensive than other types of pans, I personally haven't fallen in love with cast iron pans – here's why:
Cast iron pans are heavy
The same cast iron skillet above can weigh as much as 8 pounds without being laden with food. Transferring food to a plate from a pan of this weight is dangerous to the integrity of your wrists as well as for the risk of dropping burning hot food or the pan itself.
I'm not convinced of their health benefits
The Journal of the American Dietetic Association tested 20 different foods cooked in cast iron and other metal pans. They found that every food cooked in cast iron had a much higher iron content than foods cooked in other types of metal. For example, a scrambled egg raw has about 1.49 mg of iron but after cooking in the cast iron skillet that number jumped to 4.76 mg. (source)
Additional iron can be a health benefit to those with anemia or otherwise low iron levels including pregnant, menstruating and postpartum women; children; athletes; and vegetarians. On the flip side, consuming too much iron causes a build-up in the body that can increase the risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer, cardiac arrhythmias and diabetes – especially in adult men and menopausal women.
For people who already get plenty of iron from a healthy nutrient dense diet, added iron may not be necessary and even toxic. The standard American diet is overly supplemented with iron-enriched cereals and other packaged processed foods.
Unfortunately, it doesn't makes sense to cook mom and junior's food in cast iron and cook dad and grandma's dinner in another pan.
Cast iron pans are high maintenance
There is plenty of information on the internet devoted to how to season a cast iron pan. Even though many skillets come pre-seasoned, the pan will still require being continuously seasoned with good fats that won’t go rancid.
Cleaning a cast iron pan is also a time investment. To remove burned-on food you should scrub with a mild abrasive, like coarse salt, and a nonmetal brush to preserve the nonstick surface. Soap can be used (but rarely) and the pan needs to be dried immediately after washing. If left in the sink holding water, the pan can start to rust quickly (which then calls for re-seasoning from scratch).
I've got a lot going on, and I simply don't have the time to deal with high maintenance pans. Do you?
What I use instead:
My saucepans, wok, and stock pot are all stainless and they work great.
Stainless is durable, scratch resistant, non-reactive and much lighter weight than cast iron.
Enamel coated cast iron
Ok, I do have one cast iron pot. For slow cook dishes (when I'm not using my slow cooker), I love my enamel coated cast iron French Oven. I wouldn't mind having one of these, either.
The enamel coating negates all of the disadvantages with seasoning and cleaning but has amazing heat retention and makes helps the toughest cuts of meat to melt into your mouth.
Scan pan (until…)
A few years ago, I discovered a new non-stick pan: Scanpan. Made of an aluminum core with a titanium coating, is touted to be a safer choice than regular non-stick. Though aluminum use in food has been linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, the Scanpan aluminum was fully coated and sealed; it never comes into contact with the food.
My hubby and I loved the non-stick, un-scratchable performance. I felt good about this pan for a long while. Then I decided to do some more research.
I discovered the coating does contain PTFE, aka Teflon. I found out that, “Teflon, made by Dupont, is one of the best-known nonstick cookware brands using PTFE, but not the only one. Calphalon, Scanpan and All Clad’s nonstick pans all use PTFE coatings.” (source) Since the surface of the ScanPan is quite durable, it's likely that the risk of toxicity is much lower than cheaper Teflon-coated pans, however, overheating the Scanpan can release the PTFE – something I was no longer willing to risk.
So back to the drawing board. I've found two new pans that will meet our daily cooking needs AND would be healthier for my family.
First, this All Clad stainless skillet. I use plenty of fat when I’m cooking so this will be a great solution for everyday use. Plus this pan is great when you're browning meat and then deglazing the pan for the sauce.
Next, I purchased a Cuisinart GreenGourmet hard-anodized nonstick skillet. The coating on this skillet is free from PTFE and PFOA, another synthetic chemical found in most nonstick coatings.
This pan works great with fast clean up for eggs and other sticky foods. It's also perfect for reheating leftovers – in lieu of a microwave. While it's not likely to last much longer than a year (I've had two of these before), the price is right for replacing a high use pan that is also non-toxic…until someone invents the perfect nontoxic, non-stick, pan.
Do you use cast iron in your kitchen? What are your favorite pots and pans?
Wow, I’ve been cleaning my roommate’s pan the wrong way. I’m probably destroying it. Thanks for sharing!!
I use stainless steel saucepans and cast iron fry pans. I love the stainless steel, but I do have chronic low iron and I’m probably not caring for my pans as well as I could be. They came pre seasoned and I’ve never seasoned them again, but they do love it when I fry bacon or something really fatty in them. They get all shiny again so I suppose that’s a way of seasoning. I just rinse/scrub with water to clean, then put on a hot stove burner to dry. They’re pretty much non-stick, I think even more non-stick than the Teflon pans I used to use. They are very heavy.
That’s not a form of seasoning, that IS seasoning.
James. You know that if you season your stainless like you do cast iron it will be non stick as well. But I forget to season my stainless because it will not rust.
Chris Dunford says
Also there is never a time when you should use water on cast iron pans
Lisa Bertolini says
I mainly use my cast iron pan for times when we need extra iron and for cornbread. 🙂
I take *terrible* care of my cast iron pans. The egg pan from breakfast is sitting in the sink right now, full of soapy water, and on top of the pot I used to make chicken soup last night. And I have NEVER done anything to them that frying up a nice batch of bacon couldn’t fix!
I love my cast iron. Cleaning and seasoning is a lot easier than it sounds in your article. I use a piece of chain mail to clean it under hot water and them a simple swipe of palm oil to season it after. Once you get used to doing it, it’s very quick and simple. All-clad stuff is great, but way out of a lot of people’s budgets. I’ll keep my affordable cast iron 🙂
deborah de block says
I was actually surprised to read that you consider cast iron high maintenance. I use fats liberally so I rarely experience baked on crusted foods. All I do is wipe put my an with hot water and a sponge and it comes clean and I cook in it daily along with stainless steel. It is very heavy though so that’s the downside but I love how it is nonstick. I’m breastfeeding and have small children so I think its great for me to use it. My husband doesn’t get to eat enough meals at home for me to worry about him getting too much iron. I would consider using the forms you listed.
I am with you my cast iron pans are so easy to clean I used to have to save my pans for my husband to wash and scrub not any more!Love my cast iron and need the extra iron in my food.
I agree! Food sticks to my stainless steel pans so easily, and I hate using them because it takes forever to clean! My cast iron is EASY because nothing sticks.
Amy F. says
I agree. I think my cast iron pan is the easiest pan to clean. I use a stiff nylon brush and hot water. I personally need all of the iron I can get and pretty sure my kids could use it too. I’m not worried about anyone in my family getting too much iron when maybe 20% of what they eat is cooked in the pan? It’s not like I cook 100% of our meals in cast iron. Yes the pan is heavy but that is the only downside for me.
deborah de block says
I’m thinking that egg in the picture is being dry cooked as well. That would not be fun way to cook eggs.
Anne Klein says
Agreed. Not enough fat to cook that egg in.
I have a 12-inch cast iron pan, and I love it. I cook with coconut oil , butter, or rendered bacon grease at every meal, so it stays seasoned very well. Especially once I broke my husband of the habit of boiling water in it…
My favorite skillet though, is a little Corning Ware brown glass pan! I found it at a thrift store and have cherished it ever since!
The main reason I use cast iron is because it’s basically a non-toxic non-stick pan. I cannot cook over easy eggs without it! Maybe I’m not clean enough but it is probably my lowest maintenance pan because all I do is wipe it out with a damp sponge and call it good. If I cook something, like a steak, that leaves more residue, a little scrub with a brush does the trick pretty easily.
I personally wouldn’t trust any non-stick pan, no matter how ‘green’ it says it is, you never know what they’ll discover about it in ten years. I’ll take a little extra iron over chemicals any day, but I will say I generally don’t cook acidic foods in my uncoated cast iron skillet.
Shelley Hier says
I use cast iron fry pans and love them! They are LOW maintenance-I simply use a VERY small amount of dish soap and a steel wool pad every time and let them dry on the stove. I have also used coarse salt and a paper towel, but find that they need to be oiled more often that way. I use my every day and have for many years-and I have some that were given to me by my Mother-In-Law who used then for years before that. I used to have stainless, but found them too care intensive.
Allison Bruner says
I think I will reserve the cast iron pans for camping. Stainless steel is so nice.
amy keller says
I only use cast iron. I oil them after every use. I have never had anything stick when cooking. Love them, can’t live without them.
Jamie Collingswood says
I love cooking in cast iron.I don’t have any right now,but when I always used them I felt much better.I never seasoned my pans.I’d dry them on a burner when I washed them so they’d not rust.I’d often cook bacon in them and just not clean all the grease out,wipe the excess out before using my pans again.The only reason I don’t have cast iron right now is we sold them all because we were moving.
Everything has a drawback. I don’t think it’s too difficult to take care of my cast iron, and I do avoid cooking acidic things in them. I use stainless as well (and I only cook eggs in stainless since I think the cast iron makes them taste gross). I’ve read that stainless can cause nickel to leach into food. And I can’t afford a $40+ pan that only last a year or two.
I think it comes down to the fact that we do the best we can, nothing is perfect, perfect health is unnatainable, we’re all gonna die, etc. 😀
I was suckered into saladmaster when my first child was an infant. I love the set.
Beverly DiCarlo says
Saladmaster is my #1 choice. As a professional chef who is passionate about health and having closely examined ALL types of cookware I have no regrets owning Saladmaster. Titanium is a huge investment. No more concern for what is so. Email me if you want to learn more. I so much endorse them that I sell them, email@example.com
I just visited the website. “All the cooking without the fat”; “no need to add fat”. I cook with healthy fats, on putpose, for health purposes! How does this set handle that? These ‘no fat’ claims are definitely outdated and not inline with traditional cooking. For reference: I love my cast iron pans for frying, searing, and browning. But I do use stainless or le creuset (enamel coated CI) for boiling or acidic cooking. I am always on the lookout for lightweight yet heavy duty pans for those ocassions that will last years and years.. I refuse to add to our landfills, and frankly, I’m surprised Emily hasn’t considered that. (Bc I can’t imagine she just wouldn’t care).
Cast iron pans are not high maintenance. My husband lovingly tends to ours (no lie) and it takes him about 2 minutes to clean and reseason, if necessary. I think buying a pan that only lasts one year sounds expensive and downright wasteful.
Beth @ Hooked on Health says
Kelli, you are absolutely right! It is the epitome of wastefulness and our landfills cannot handle anymore throwaway attitudes. I cannot count the number of non-stick and ceramic coated pans that I have gone through in ten years of a 40 year cooking career.
I thought I was the only one stalking these old threads. I agree with Kelli and Beth ! I use stainless and CI. I have no problems cleaning either of them. If something is stuck in your pan/skillet/baking dishes just add water to cover and bring to boil just a few minutes and it will wipe off easily. It’s about the same as deglazing a pan your are cooking in. If you learn to properly take care of these they will last generations. I do not own any “nonstick” it’s a waste of my hard earned dollars and not good for the environment.
I love my cast iron pans and use them daily, but I wash mine with soap and re-season them almost every time I use them. After I wash my cast iron, which I would say is usually far easier than any of the rest of my cooking dishes, I put the wet pan right on the stove burner and let it get bone dry. When the pan is dry I use a paper towel to season it with bacon grease while it’s still hot. Then I move it to a cool burner and let it sit. Three of them live stacked on my stove top because it just makes sense as much as I use them.
I’ve used stainless steel and was just not impressed, perhaps I used them incorrectly, but I found them very difficult to wash. I’ll stick to my cast iron babies. 🙂
Carol G. says
I have a set of All Clad pots and pans that I am very happy with. I also have a few glass pans as well as a few clay baking pans and like both. I am teetering back and forth about adding a good heavy iron pots, frying pan and baking pan to my kitchen, but I am concerned about iron overload since I am post-menopausal and have no way to get rid of excessive iron via menstuation. It is a valid concern and I have not seen enough written on it to decide one way or the other as of yet. I thought about going the quality ceramic coated iron route, but have not seen any baking pans in that line.
I do have cast iron skilet wich I use less and less often from aboved mentioned reasons. I was at some hose cookware presentation of “saladmaster” which suppousely is made from titanium and safest choise for cooking but very pricey…what are your thoughts on it ?
Hi Cecylia, thanks for your comment. I am not sure about the brand you’ve mentioned. I may have to look into that at some stage. Thanks for reading!
I wish you would Emily… I have been using it for almost 10 years when I was only first starting to concern myself with eating healthier, and as I said earlier I bought it … but not many say anything about saladmaster unless they are selling it. It is expensive. But they will come to your home and do a demo for you and compare to your own pots and pans … the test they did showing me how all the other metals leached into out food(a taste test) was the real kicker for me.
I love love love cast iron but I fry eggs in my smallest stainless steel skillet. My mom passed her mom’s wisdom on: have a pan dedicated to fry eggs and nothing else. I fry with butter on the lowest setting my gas cook top will go. I rarely ever bust a yolk. l don’t use non stick or aluminium at all. Wasn’t I just reading (on one of yalls blogs) that some stainless cookware is toxic? If a magnet won’t stick or something.
I love cast-iron. The ritual of seasoning a good cast-iron pan make me feel closer to my great-grandmother. I feel like I carry on the tradition of a pioneer woman, which is the way I want to live in this modern world. Cast-iron may have its drawbacks, but it certainly has a well earned place in the kitchen. (IMO)
You rebel! lol
I have one cast iron pan I use quite often. I have not found it to be that much of a high maintenance item. I scrub it well in hot water and a scrubbie, then let it dry on the stove over low heat. I don’t cook “everything” in it, as I’m still a newbie, but I’m getting there!
One of the things that deterred me for so long was the smell. I hate that metal smell. It’s a strange memory from my childhood!
Le Creuset is the best…my first job was working in one of their outlets with my mom when I was 16…let’s just say we nearly spent our entire salaries that summer on employee-discounted pots and pans that I use very frequently now that I have my own kitchen. I have the braiser you speak of, but it probably gets the least usage of any pots I own, I need to pull it out more. Only downside to cast iron enameled cookware is that you can’t expose it to heat higher than 500 degrees, generally not a problem unless you want to cook something in a wood fired oven. Cast iron is basically the only thing that’ll hold up to that kind of intense heat.
I recently bought a Bialetti Aeternum Evolution Sauté Pan this spring. The nonstick coating is PTFE and PFOA free, and I use it constantly. It’s two dollars less on Amazon than the skillet you mentioned…I really like the white enamel coating because you can monitor the food better than on black. Only downside is that you have to handle it very gently when cleaning as the coating nicks pretty easily. http://www.amazon.com/Bialetti-Aeternum-Evolution-07208-12-Inch/dp/B008QNOJWI/ref=sr_1_12?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1384314682&sr=1-12&keywords=aeternum+ceramic+cookware
I LOVE my cast iron pans and I rarely have to maintain them as they seem to maintain themselves. I usually just wipe them out with a paper towel when I’m done unless there is too much stuff in it and if so I just rinse it out with water and dry it immediately with a paper towel because of the grease. I’ve used stainless steel for eggs and I don’t like it at all because it seems like the eggs all stick to it. 🙁 If there’s a trick for that I’d love to hear it.
melissa merida says
clean your stainless pan as usual. then use a sprinkle of bar keepers freind, not ajax or comet or other powder type kitchen cleaners, I tried them side by side. If you look at the inside of the pan before using the powder cleaner you will usually see slight discolorations in the surface. this is residue from the food just cooked. you cant even feel it just see it, Bar keepers freind will remove this easily. Don’t overheat your pan. let preheat. probably 4 min or so should be enough. add butter or other oil, fat, bacon grease. crack eggs into pan, if they sizzle a lot the pan is a little too hot. try a little lower next time. I use an all-clad 8 inch stainless for omelets, fried and scrambled eggs. usually wipe out with paper towel. hope this helps.
Beth @ Hooked on Health says
Baking soda does the exact same thing as Bar Keeper’s Friend and is much safer and totally non-toxiv
If you think an excess of iron is bad, wait until you see what an excess of chromium and other metals used in stainless can do. It’s scratch-resistant not scratch-proof.
I use cast iron and will never go back and the clean up is super easy and I never have pans sitting on the counter to be washed or in the sink after I am done cooking I and water to the pan and let it set for a min or two while hot, dump it out and wash with a rag or little scrubby never steel wool and everything comes right off!
What are your thoughts on iron supplementation during pregnancy? I know iron is important as blood volume increases, but I’ve also read that too much can cause all kinds of problems.
Riddle me this, the All Clad is fine because the stainless is all that touches the food, and aluminum is only below that and does not touch food? I have read a great deal about the dangers of aluminum cookware, thanks for any help you can give in clearing this up in my little brain! =)
Hi Dani, thanks for the question. And yes, that’s right : )
Beth @ Hooked on Health says
Emm, it is my understanding that even SS is subject to quality differences, in other words how thick and how durable or hard it is. With this being the case, you cannot always trust that SS cookware especially if scratched will not leach the metals (that the clad part of the pan is made of) into your foods. To be honest, I was shocked at how thin the ceramic coating on skillets was and would not be surprised if SS was nearly as thin due to high material costs.
I do own a couple of SS saucepans of good quality but cast iron is my all time favorite.
My stainless steel pans are easier to clean than any other set I have owned, but I only have one cast Iron skillet. With a spray of Pam or coconut oil or Lard (depending how greasy I want them) my eggs come out fine. They have several layers of surgical steele with an aluminum core. They were expensive, true… but they have a lifetime warranty. I felt suckered into them with the pricetag so high, but I couldn’t deny the demo they gave. All my other pans leached out the metals and this one did not…was one of the mist impressive selling points.
What brand are your ss?
Nancy Ryan says
Sorry, didn’t mean to cross the line. Was just trying to help. No worries! :o)
Tasty and healthy hmm! 😀
I used to work in housewares at Macy’s and sat in on lots of training sessions about how they make all of the different pots and pans. After all of that, I only use 2 kinds of pots. The Revere Ware copper bottom, and cast iron. Capholon, and all those coated pans are very expensive and do not hold up over time. They are made with all sorts bad processes. I like the Revere Ware copper bottom for pans. The handles and lids are very nice. They spread the heat very well, and are made to last 100 years. For skillets, only cast iron. I do not find them hard to maintain. I have my great, great grandmother’s skillet that was stamped in 1887. It is awesome. I try not to use any soap with them, heat them on the burner on low to dry them, then wipe a bit of oil in them once they are hot and dry. I use coconut oil. That seals the pores and keeps them very glassy-smooth. They are super easy to live with. If you find them heavy, then you need to buff up. 5 pounds is nothing. It is less than a gallons of milk. My 12″-4″ tall sided cast iron skillet is the heaviest item in my pretty extensive collection, and it only weighs 5 pounds. It seems heavy, but that really isn’t much, in the scheme of things.
Josefa Ciccarelli says
Oh my goodness I couldn’t live without my Le creuset enameled cast iron pans. That’s all I use! The braiser is amazing and I use that daily. My other favorite is one that works double duty. It’s a sauce pan with a smaller pan on top that you can use as a lid and also a separate pan. I don’t know the name of it but it’s amazing!! I use the small one to make eggs for my little guy for breakfast and do smaller jobs and the braiser and the other pan for making quiona, rice etc. The braiser I use for cooking my meats and other dishes and I absolutely love them!! I don’t find them hard to clean up but they can be heavy. I use a slotted spoon to transfer the food and that has helped tremendously!
I have never used cast iron but the sheer weight of it has been a big hinderance to make the switch. When I learned that non-stick was toxic, I switched to stainless steel. I have an all-clad set and hardly ever use those items because the handles are not comfortable to lift. Other companies make handles that are not painful to use.
Eileen McNally says
The trick to making the cast iron skillet be non-sticking is to always preheat it before adding the fat and the food. We all know to preheat an oven, but it becomes second nature to preheat your cast iron pans maybe only after you’ve been using them a long time.
I love my cast iron pans! i have a mini shrine of cast iron in my pantry just off my kitchen. My little shrine consists of a pegboard wall with my 12 varied sized, well seasoned and all well used cast iron pots, skillets and dutch ovens (3), hang in reverence.
I love my cast iron… errr. I think I said that already. 🙂
You should have a complete iron profile done at your doctors office to be sure your not saturating your blood and liver with iron. This is a very real danger. I threw my iron skillet out after finding out what it was doing to me. For a man, donating blood is the only way to get the iron out of your system. Read about iron overload in the body. One of the most undiagnosed causes of disease in the body but simple to treat.
What an interesting array of comments. I’ve been around a lot of years and have a nice collection of cookware. I did, at one time, have a couple ‘non-stick’ teflon and was so glad to get rid of them after finding out how dangerous they are.
I do have several stainless steel stockpots 1 Cuisinart, (different sizes) as well as a couple other type pans and the wok you have. I like Cuisinart’s Everyday Pan, but I do not like the glass lids of today, as they are like window glass, and not easy to clean or get smudge-free. My favorite cookware pieces are the old original CorningWare – safe, glass, and some RevereWare frying pans.
I do have a fairly heavy Calphalon 12″ stainless frying pan but compared to my cast iron, it’s much harder for me to handle, as the weight isn’t distributed properly with the handle, and I have a struggle picking it up and cleaning it. The other items you’ve mentioned above I couldn’t afford.
I like your post!
I have a Le Creuset pan but I cannot make up my mind about it. Do I like it or not (?) Making eggs, like omelett or any type really, it sticks to the pan. It is heavy. But I like how it heats up more evenly and for longer time, like if I put the pan on the table.
But Le Creuset is heavy, like all cast iron pans are. My husband and my big kid keep using the teflon one…
I’m wondering about getting some pans from Silit. Check it out! Upon reading your post, I did a new google search and found this interesting blog post
In our house, we use clay skillets. We got them from Clay Coyote Pottery (http://www.claycoyote.com/). Eggs cook up wonderfully in the skillet, as does my butternut squash mix. We’re very big on clay cooking in our house, it’s natural and works beautifully. Honestly, I don’t think I’d survive Thanksgiving without our Romertopf.
cast iron skillets are very dangerous to use. My doctor said I was anemic so I thought what better way to get iron then to use my iron skillet. Used it only a few times then went back to doctor to be retested. This time the iron test was a more in depth iron profile test. My iron levels were off the charts. The only way to get iron out of your body is by blood letting. Thank god I still menstruate. Was retested again after four months and my iron levels returned to normal. Read about iron overload in the body and you may never want to touch an iron skillet again. My skillet was well seasoned, or so I thought. Anyhow, I got rid of it. Especially dangerous to men.
John Bowman MD says
I love- and I do mean LOVE- your blog, but I must disagree with you strongly on this post. Most homes would benefit greatly from doing most of their stovetop cooking in a traditional cast iron skillet. Here are some thoughts on your objections:
1. Too Heavy: Most women and older men NEED to get more upper extremity exercise. Lifting an 8 lb weight regularly is GOOD for you- helps prevent osteoporosis of the distal radius and the dreaded Colles Fracture of old age. Are you seriously saying that lifting 8 lbs is a problem for women Dr. Squid? Heaven help us ; – )
2. No one should be buying or using ANY pans that have ANY nonstick surface. Most have PFCs which are some of the worst POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) in the home. I have not yet seen any “green” nonstick surface that I would trust- especially compared to the natural “nonstick” surface created by The Creator- healthy saturated (or mono saturated) fat.
3. Cleaning a cast iron skillet is EASY with a steel wool pad and 20 seconds of elbow grease (oh- sorry- more exercise). Since there is no nonstick surface you can scrub with with real muscle. No soap is needed and most cast iron advocates say NOT to use soap. Drying takes seconds with towel and 30-60 seconds on a stovetop fire. As others have mentioned, often you don’t even have to clean it- simply wipe food bits clean with a paper towel.
4. The question of getting too much iron in your food is more complex. I don’t think it’s a problem for several reasons:
A. The iron from the skillet is inorganic iron, very difficult to absorb. Most think that only 10% of inorganic iron is absorbed, and people with iron overload have a feed back mechanism making iron absorption even more difficult.
B. Iron is a “Goldilocks” metal- you can suffer from both too little and too much. Every adult male and nonmenstruating female are at risk for BOTH iron overload and iron deficiency, and should have their total iron status measured periodically. Perhaps cooking with iron will help you get off your butt and get your iron levels measured!
C. “Seasoning” your skillet is simply a matter of putting a small- and it takes a very small amount- of HEALTHY preferably saturated fat into your skillet and coating the surface with it. Organic butter, ghee, coconut oil- all are great. If you eat organic pork (is that an oxymoron?) save the lard from making bacon and take a small amount to coat the surface. Olive oil is fine as long as you remember you used olive oil and don’t cook the next time with high heat.
Cooking in cast iron is great. Stop looking for a “green” nonstick surface and use saturated fat instead!
Thanks for your great blog! It is a such a blessing for me and so many!
Hi John, thanks for your comment! I’m happy your enjoying the blog. 🙂
Bonnie davis says
Very good come back I was cringing as I read that take. And the new nonstick will eventually prove also to be toxic.. No thanks. Non of it is “safe” well put.
John Bowman MD says
PS Many people who site the leaching of iron into food as a problem quote this study posted on mercola.com: http://cookware.mercola.com/ceramic-cookware.aspx
The devil here is in the details. These values were computed by taking the cookware and soaking it for 24 HOURS in acetic ACID- and of course any metal exposed to acid solution for 24 hours is going to “leach” a lot of metal into the acid solution. This proves nothing other then you should not “season” your metal with acid for 24 hours and then cook in that acid. This is a great example of “research” being designed to give a result to promote a commercial product.
I’m using enamelled cast iron; forged plate (steel) with blackened surface as non-stick; stainless steel; glass for boiling water; cast iron grilling pan (rarely used); and soon copper with a stainless steel inside.
I do not trust the ‘ceramic non-stick’ as I have no information on what it is.
I mostly use stainless, but I’ll make eggs in the cast iron skillet once a week for the whole family. I learned the hard way that I don’t detox the excess iron out of my body very quickly. I had a blood test with high iron levels after a month of daily cooking with cast iron. Everyone on here who uses their cast iron frequently REALLY should get their iron levels checked! Thanks for a great article.
I know this post is several months old but I’m hoping you might be willing to response to a question on it anyway. I stopped using my anodized pans because I was concerned about the aluminum leached. What are your thoughts on excess iron vs aluminum in cooking? I go back and forth constantly about what’s best to use and can’t seem to get good information.
Hi Kate – Thanks for your question. I would be more concerned with aluminum, since excess aluminum is linked to all sorts of health problems. Much more of a risk than having iron leach into food. Hope that helps!
Amanda E says
I really like my enamel coated Chantal cookware.
No aluminum for me. IMO cast iron is the only non-stick cookware. Love it. However I fry my eggs over easy in a heavy stainless steel skillet that I only use for frying eggs. I have a gas stove and I find the cast iron gets too hot. I uses a lot if butter and low heat and its seasoned like cast iron. My grandmother s secret was to designate a pan for frying eggs only. I would like to see other options to aluminum foil. The less aluminum the better.
I use a combination of cast iron for frying & campfire, and pyrex visions for steaming, boiling, or for tomato sauce. I was told to never put tomato products in the cast iron pan, as the acid in the tomatoes leaches a lot more iron. Not sure if that is a fact – just play it safe anyway.
I came in here to mention enamel-coated cast iron, but you mentioned it in the article. Glad to see you found the best of both worlds. 🙂
Cast iron is the original non-stick pan; it’s what “non-stick” pans were created to imitate!
I’m 57 years old and all my adult life I’ve been cooking in the cast iron skillet my grandmother gave me when I moved out on my own as a teenager (Wagner Ware, Sidney, Oh). Her mother received it as a wedding present in the late 1800s and then left it to her. That’s right, it’s over 100 years old! It will go to my granddaughter when I pass on, and I hope to hers.
This is easily the most low-maintenance piece of cookware I own. A rinse in hot water and a wipe out with a clean sponge—no detergent—is all it ever needs. Non-stick? I can fry an egg with no oil. Cornbread baked in it falls right out. In the event something goopy does stick a little bit, or if I burn the risotto, a copper scrunchy wipes it right out. A batch of bacon, and all’s well again.
Too much iron? I don’t know what kind of ironware the American Dietetic Association tested, but I’ll bet it wasn’t properly seasoned. A few strips of bacon or sausage patties and a couple eggs a day are not going to contribute too much iron to your diet.
Also, after over 90 years of concern and scientific inquiry over aluminum cookware, there is STILL nothing supporting a connection to Alzheimer’s Disease. Even the Alzheimer’s Association dismisses it as a myth.
I’m all for eating healthy and making prudent choices, but I’ll not embrace hear-say and unsupported health-scares. I prefer common sense and looking around you at what really happens.
If you’re eating bacon and eggs and worry about too much iron then your priorities are out of whacK.
Why? There’s nothing wrong with bacon and eggs, it’s healthy. Both foods are promoted on this site.
I think anemia is a lot more common than iron toxicity.
It’s not that easy to get that much iron. From what i see, a lot of people don’t get enough.
I agree about the heavy part though but i consider it exercise 😉
Well I’m a newbie to CI and I will tell you this. I LOVE IT! I got into CI in the spring with 1 pan I’ve had for yrs, but didn’t use it because I didn’t really know the proper way, so I only used Teflon pans. Something on fb triggered me to dig it out clean it up and season it. (Learning process itself!) I went from 1 CI pan to about 20 in a matter of about 5 months! I don’t like the weight but other than that I love them! I’m now collecting vintage pans, learned how to strip them and season them like a pro! AND I’ve found pans for mere small change that turn out to be worth big $$$! Your description of care of them is not even close to accurate, they are easy care, and fun to use! If you’ve never used them, learning how is a short process, if you are truly passionate getting into CI. I still have all my Teflon pans, but now all they do is collect dust! I love my Cast Iron!
As far as I’m concerned the only way to fry chicken is with a cast iron pan. When I was a kid my mom would make fried chicken then afterwards make the best gravy from the fried bits in the bottom of the pan. Milk, flour, salt and pepper. Back then I never gave it much thought about a frying pan not cooking food as good as another one. When I got older and on my own is when I realized how good a cook mom really was. I could not fry chicken to save my butt. Turned out I was using cookware other than cast iron. I bought a couple of cast iron pans and tried to fry up some chicken. Still not the same. Well then I did something I should have done along time ago, I called mom and asked her how she made her fried chicken. First words out of her mouth were don’t even think about using any thing else except cast iron. After you coat the chicken with flour, let it sit about 15 min. before you fry it. Melt a cube of butter in the pan, toss in the chicken and let it SLOW fry on med. to med. low. Anything hotter will burn the butter. You can’t be in a hurry when making cast iron fried chicken but boy is it worth it. Clean up could not be any easier. If you take care of your cast iron cookware, cleaning them after cooking I feel is easier then the coated non stick pans I used to buy. Never again. Cast iron only in my kitchen.
I am wondering if you checked out Le Creuset knockoff enameled cast iron dutch/french ovens such as Lodge? Seems they have the same product for a lot cheaper price tag, but I want to make sure I’m not paying less for a product that’s leeching chemicals into our food. Thx!! 🙂
Lodge isn’t a knock-off. They are American made and have been since the 1800’s. Le Creuset has only been around since the 1920’s.
Oh I wouldn’t trade my cast iron for another skillet ever and not because I have any belief they offer health benefits. I don’t find them to be high maintenance, in fact just the opposite. We used 2 skillets to make dinner this evening, a roasted chicken and sauteed veg. I turned on the hot water, took my plastic scrubby I keep so I don’t over scrub and do a few swirls on the pan and wipe dry. You can’t beat that with stainless, heck I’ve had to work harder to clean teflon. If its too heavy? Look for old iron, ask your family if they have old skillets hiding in attics they’d consider parting with. Skillets made from the 1960s and before is lighter but just as durable. I have a vintage 14″ that weighs less than my recently made 8″
I love love LOVE my cast iron. My mom has always used cast iron. My grandma, etc. cast iron is NOT hard to work with, it just requires a periodic maintenance if you don’t try to sanitize it to where it gleams. It’s supposed to get black. It’s supposed to have a heavy “what the heck is that coating the surface” feel to it. I season my pans here and there but it’s no more work than cleaning any other pan. I have fewer problems when I make eggs in a skillet than if I use my old farberware or revereware. And I like that I can use a cast iron pan to press down a chicken on the grill to weigh it down. And it makes a great weapon and bulletproof vest. I think there’s way too much snobbery against this long standing tool. Treat it right and it will treat you right.
girl, you ig’nit. that pan is abused and those eggs had no oil going in.
I truly and deeply LOVE my cast iron pans and pots, as they never stick and cause me absolutely no problem with maintenance. I cook almost everything in them and would not replace them with anything else. There are both enameled and bare versions in my kitchen, and both do very well. Stainless steel is fine for boiling pasta, for soups or porridge, but nothing compares with cast iron when it comes to frying, roasting, braising, and stewing!
My favorite pots and pans are (a) Saladmaster 316Ti, and (b) Corningware (either pre-1997 or the pyroceram made available again in 2008 by Corning). Pyroceram is safe in freezer, oven (to 450 degrees) and microwave-safe as long as it is NOT a “Rangetopper” (i.e., bonded with aluminum on the bottom) or otherwise has metal on it, and as long as it is not the “Centura” brand which labeled itself as pyroceram but was really stoneware. Corning Ware is lead-free and toxin-free and should last a lifetime barring getting roughed up by dropping in hard floors and being banged around and chipped. (Still usable if chipped however.)
When Corning Ware was purchased by World Kitchen circa 1997-98 the dishes were suddenly stoneware, etc. but NOT the super-duper pyroceram. (Along about 2008 World Kitchen did start a new line for Corning that is pyroceram made in France. It is noticeably more expensive than other modern Corning Ware — and some claim that this newer version is not as high of quality as the vintage Corning Ware as it chips more readily and sometimes comes with rough edges). If you are going to get into purchasing vintage Corning Ware you WILL pay a higher price for the good stuff, but compared to Saladmaster 316Ti (below) it is cheap, cheap, cheap!
Saladmaster 316Ti (where the Ti stands for titanium) is amazing and leaches zero toxins into food or liquids but is EXPENSIVE as all get-out. If you have the money, get it — and pass it down in the family! I was fortunate to get one 5-quart pot about 7 years ago and love it, but just can’t afford to get any other pieces at those prices (where you are talking $450 or more for the one I have at the time I bought it).
I used to use VISIONS cookware, but after reading a couple dozen stories from different people about how easily and unexpectedly they can EXPLODE (for instance by taking out of hot oven and accidentally dropping a bit of cold water onto them) — or by accidentally setting it on a damp surface — I decided to stop playing Russian Roulette with my cookware. GREAT that no toxins are entering my food, but I don’t want to end up with one exploding on me! (I threw mine in the garbage because I did not want to contribute to another person being hurt or even blinded by such an explosion, which HAS happened to people…!!!)
Cast iron is great — if you are young or anemic — but not so healthful for older people because it can easily cause you to have too much iron in your system, which is toxic in itself to have too much iron in your blood. You could just give blood more often, but I don’t want to use cast iron on any regular basis unless I am cooking for someone who actually needs more iron.
One last note: If buying a vintage Corning Ware skillet, I highly recommend getting the kind with the bonded aluminum on the bottom as it makes the heat spread evenly. Anyone who has cooked with a Visions frying pan knows that there is no heat distribution at all at least in the “glass” part of the cookware…!
P.S. I failed to ERASE the parenthetical note “(either pre-1997 or the pyroceram made available again in 2008 by Corning)” above. Now that I have checked some reviews on the post-2007 Corning pyroceram I am not at all convinced it is up to par so if I had an “edit” feature I would change that parenthetical note simply to: pre-1997 Corning Ware.
If you are going to buy older Corning Ware it will be worth your while to read up on it a bit. If you are like me, the more you learn the more you will LOVE it…!
Laurie Struble says
WOW…the price of Saladmaster cookware now!…..Just before I was married, back in 1980, I bought a WHOLE set for around $500.!! A friend of mine had just started selling Saladmaster, & I thought, then, that was a lot to spend on pots & pans! They still are in GREAT shape, (even the frying pan I was cooking in, when my, now ex, husband told me he was having an affair! I first thought of hitting him with it, but it’s SO heavy I KNEW that would probably kill him, so instead, I opened the kitchen door, & threw the pan outside, just because I felt like I needed to throw something, I guess! There’s a small dent in the bottom to remind me…haha!!) I see now that the handles come off of the new cookware. Something I’ve always wished mine did, so they could go into the oven.
Bryce Steiner says
I don’t understand the comments on cleaning iron.
You don’t need to ever clean iron once you have it good and seasoned. All you do is go over to your trash/compost pan, take a paper towel and do a quick wipe around the edge and middle and then put skillet away. I don’t even need to put oil in it much of the time unless I need the certain flavor or if it’s not hot enough.
BTW the best way to season an iron skillet is to just use it and cook with your favorite oil (probably not 5w-30). Make it hot before you ever put food in it and it will take care of itself. No washing ever again.
You don’t even need to be afraid to use soap on it. The seasoning will NEVER come undone unless you soak it in acid for long periods. If any bits of black stuff come off, thats burnt food you never cleaned away. It doesn’t hurt to use some soft dish soap on it. You’ll notice that the water droplets still roll over the iron as if it was slicked with oil constantly. If it doesnt have this quality, you have to turn up your barbeque til it’s very hot, oil up the inside of your pain nicely (around 2-3 mm of oil in the bottom) let it smoke up for an hour . Clean after it cools down itll be very very hot. But the oil burning into the pan is what causes the chemical reaction which polymerizes it. that is what the seasoning really is.
If a cast iron pan is properly seasoned, the food isn’t in contact with the iron due to the thin film so how is it that people would then be getting iron in their food?
Thanks for the recommendation. I just bought and seasoned a cast iron pan, and I’m excited to use it. However, I would like to have a variety of skillets and pots in my kitchen. Unfortunately every time I use my stainless steel pans at a high heat, it seems the oil or food burns onto them and cannot get it off entirely. I try to use high smoke point oil when cooking at high heat, but I still end up with burnt pans. If anybody as a suggestion or tips, please share!
Justin Goldberg says
Just clean them with baking soda and vinegar. Soak for 20 minutes and then screen them.
I wonder if steel is safe to cook with since its has aluminum, or is the steel chemically bonded with the steel and will not leech out?
Cast iron? High maintenance? You can literally start cooking with a Lodge cast iron pan right after purchasing, and if you’re finicky about having something a little more nonstick, you can rub it with a thin layer of crisco, then just stick it in the oven for an hour. Then you’re set. Cooking in it will only improve its nonstick properties. And wiping it down with salt and water takes no more time than cleaning something with soap and water (if you’re handwashing, which is probably better for cooking items of all materials than simply sticking them in the dishwasher, due to rust and the likes). I’ve had two cast iron skillets for over ten years and will never go back to stainless steel.
Phillip Montemayor says
I love the points you brought up with regards to the cast iron alternatives. I do have one concern about the last option that you suggested and stated it would only last about a year; what do you do with the “dead” pan after that year? Landfill? That doesn’t sound like a good long term option.
J.D. Jolie says
I love cast iron hollow ware. I’ve collected and restored hundreds of skillets, dutch ovens and assorted cast iron speciality pans. The vintage skillets from the turn of the century are a lot lighter and made of quality iron. Look for names like “ERIE”, Griswold, Victor, Wager Ware. There are also a lot of regional foundries that made excellent cookware. I also own some really nice cast iron chef’s skillets that are incredible to cook in. Unfortunately, many of these fine American companies have gone out of business and their products are becoming covetted collectors pieces. Proper seasoning is essential but once accomplished, you can just wipe them out with a paper towel then oil for storage. Wth so many millenials chosing alternative eatting styles that eliminate or reduce meat intake, the extra iron in the food in much more a positive than some unfounded fear of iron overdosing. Cast Iron is my choice of cookware for a good percentage of the meals I create.
I use cast iron skillets & stainless steel saucepans. I threw out all of my non stick when I found out if you burn non stick pans the fumes will kill your pet birds. If it’ll kill my bird what’s it doing to us when we eat the food cooked in it?
I frequently use Teflon coated cookware and I’m very careful about using excessive heat and I dry them quickly after washing. I have pots that are 6 years old and scratch free inside. I tried switching to cast iron but I found that it takes too long to cook a quick breakfast (frying eggs). I also find that cast iron is wasteful on energy. So much energy required to bring to temperature and stays hot when it no longer needs to be. I suppose there is not one pan to rule them all. I also find the non-acidic rule to be so limiting, I gave all my cast irons away except for one I use for steak (which I can’t even deglaze!). On another note, aluminium (bare) bashing appears to be popular across the pond. If you look in the kitchen of most restaurants, aluminium stocpots are everywhere. And no one mentions antacids, aluminium from fruit and vegetables, and aluminium drink cans! Maybe when I retire and have a lot of time on my hands I’ll give cast iron another go, if I can still lift it.
Until they find that your scanpan is a health hazard. People have been using iron pans for years. We’re talking 1 milligram or two, not 10 or 20.
So, cookware has become my life. Long story.. But it’s what touches your food every single day! You are similarly conscious about this and I love you for that!
I have read articles, I can find them for you if you like – that say DuPont changed the name of their chemical that they use, so some of the pans say they are ‘PFOA free,’ when in reality it’s the same chemical under a new name.
I stumbled upon KitchenCraft at a home show here where I live. They don’t sell in stores, but are made out of seven layers of metal, the outer layers are all surgical stainless steel. So they are non-toxic and non porous. So nothing sticks to them and there is no chemical coating. It’s not a cheap pan, I purchased one – which was painful for my wallet, but so far I am happy with it. It’s easy to clean and it can go in the oven as well, I can even cook eggs!. I have an Al Clad pan, but i know the rivets hold onto bacteria and the handle is slippery for me. The other pans i have been looking into are the natural clay. But, I don’t have any experience with them yet – have you looked into those at all?