Updated: Jul 12
There are few things in my kitchen that my eco-friendly and health conscious self loves more than my cast iron pan!
We’re here to share some of our favourite benefits of cast iron and why it’s a great alternative to those convenient but toxic non-stick pans.
Did you know that cast iron pans have been used for over 2,500 years? It's believed they originated in China and were later found to be used in Europe. For them to still be used today proves they're a valuable asset to any kitchen.
Non-stick pans produced today are coated with Teflon or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Prior to 2013 perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was used, until exposure to this chemical was linked to many diseases, medical conditions (eg. liver, endocrine, etc), and cancer. This is because PFOA is unable to ever break down, so it builds up in our bodies and the environment.
Check out the movie “Dark Waters” which is based on the real story about the chemical company, DuPont which manufactured PFOA. The movie is dramatized but much of it accurately portrays the legal battle and health impacts of PFOAs on consumers, employees and the environment.
As this shift away from PFOA is relatively recent, more research needs to be done on PTFE to reach a conclusion on the toxicity of this chemical. However, we do know that typical cooking temperatures result in the release of gases of mild to severe toxicity.
QUALITY ON A BUDGET
Cast iron pans are often less expensive than their non-stick competitors. Additionally, cast iron is a durable and long lasting product that will last not just your lifetime, but can be passed down through generations. With a little care you will never need to replace it.
Cast iron is perfect for searing, sautéing, roasting, stewing, baking, and one pot meals! I love to make frittatas, sear steaks, roast vegetables, make pan pizzas and so many more delicious recipes in my cast iron pans. I think this is one of the greatest benefits of cast iron. It’s my everyday pan that is safe to use in the oven, on a stove top, and even in a campfire.
There are some foods that experts recommend avoiding when using cast iron. Deep frying should be avoided as iron can make oils go rancid after exposure for extended periods of time. Many also advise against cooking acidic foods such as tomato, vinegar, and lemon juice in cast iron. Acid can deteriorate the coating and cause metallic taste to leach into food, however a “well-seasoned pan” should be able to handle limited exposure to acidic ingredients without issue.
THE MORE YOU COOK WITH IT, THE BETTER IT IS
In conversations about cast iron, you’ll hear the term “seasoning” come up again and again. Seasoning refers to the non-stick coating that naturally forms as fat and oil fill the tiny crevices on the surface of your cast iron pan each time you cook with it.
Every time you cook, another layer of “seasoning” is cultivated, and it's non-stick quality improves. Improper care, extreme heat, or cooking with acidic foods has the potential to break down this seasoning; however, the beauty of cast iron is that it can be re-seasoned quite easily!
SEASONING YOUR PAN
First of all, when buying a new cast iron pan, look for a pan that says that it comes “pre-seasoned”. Most cast iron pans do these days. If you find food has started to stick to your existing cast iron pan, it may be time to re-season.
To do so, you simply need oil and heat. Choose an unsaturated oil with a high smoke point. I recommend avocado oil which has a smoke point of 271 degrees Celsius / 520 degrees Fahrenheit. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil becomes carcinogenic - ie. the point at which is burns and smokes.
For a minor touch up, heat your pan on the stovetop and add a layer of oil using a clean cloth or paper-towel. Allow the pan to heat for a few minutes, then cool. Repeat a few times. For a serious repair, preheat your oven to 250 degrees Celsius / 482 degrees Fahrenheit, coat the cast iron in oil and bake for one hour.
Many people argue that cast iron just cannot compete with a non-stick pan. While I have no trouble frying and scrambling eggs in my well-loved cast iron, I do admit before learning to properly care for my pan I had the same issues. It takes a bit of patience to build up a perfect non-stick coating, but once you do you won’t miss that toxic Teflon one bit!
BRING THE HEAT
Yet another reason why cast iron is a cult classic is its ability to hold heat. When searing steak, fish, vegetables, or anything else this is the piece of cookware for the job. Additionally, the ability to hold heat well makes cast iron pans a wonderful serving dish that is both effective and aesthetic.
It’s important to note though that cooking with a cast iron is very different than cooking with a non-stick pan, as far as heat is concerned. With a non-stick, you can cook on high heat, on an 8, 9 or even 10. With cast iron (and stainless-steel pans for that matter), they are heavy-bottomed pans which take longer to heat up but hold the heat so you should never ever use high heat. For delicate foods like eggs, I recommend cooking no higher than a 3 or 4, and for foods like meat I recommend cooking on a 5 or 6.
It is helpful to note that cast iron does not heat evenly. Taking 3-5 minutes to preheat the pan, you can quickly solve this issue and create the optimal conditions for whatever dish you are preparing.
Be sure to always use thermal insulating kitchen gloves when handling cast iron as the handles can get just as hot as the rest of the pan!
DURABLE AND EASY TO CLEAN
If you tried using a metal spatula on a non-stick pan, it would gouge the non-stick coating which would flake into your food. Due to the durability of cast iron you can use metal spatulas without worrying about ruining your pan. This is a major bonus - and one of the greatest benefits to cast iron - because cooking with plastic spatulas and utensils results in tiny endocrine-disrupting plastic particles in your food.
Don’t believe us? Go open that kitchen drawer up, pull out your plastic spatula and look at the tip of it. Does it look scratched and frayed? That means you’ve been eating plastic which has melted and flaked off into the pan. YIKES! But don’t even think about using a metal spatula on a non-stick pan - that would cut and release the Teflon / non-stick coating and expose you even more.
Cleaning is easy too! No need for soap, just give a quick rinse and you can use a natural bristle dish brush to remove any excess food. I have one dedicated to my cast iron that doesn’t carry oils back to my other dishes. Avoid soaking the pan or using soap to maintain a quality seasoning. Be sure to dry it thoroughly after washing it to avoid it rusting. You should also wipe a bit of oil in the bottom of the pan once it's dry.
Cast iron is extremely tough and hard to damage. Dropping this piece of cookware won’t break it; however, your floor or foot may not be so lucky. Handle with care.
ADDED IRON TO DIET
Many studies have found the iron content of food to increase when cooked in a cast iron pan. Higher acidity, increased moisture content, extended cook times, increased stirring, as well a newer cast iron pan have all been shown to positively affect a food’s iron levels.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Do you love cooking with cast iron? If so, what do you think are the biggest benefits to cast iron? We want to hear your recipes, tips, and tricks - leave a comment below!
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