There are many health and culinary advantages to cooking with cast iron pans. Here are 8 reasons, as well as tips for seasoning, cleaning, and maintaining cast iron pans.
1. Cast iron pans are chemical-free AND non-stick at the same time
Non-stick cookware are popular because they are easy to clean and don’t require a lot of oil. However, non-stick pans, known as Teflon, are coated with a chemical called polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE), which will release fumes when the pans are heated to more than 500 F. At this temperature and above, the coating starts to break down, and toxic particles and gases that are carcinogenic are released. A lifetime use of non-stick can have detrimental effects.
Despite claims that Teflon pans are safe as long as you keep them under 500 F, they can reach this temperature as fast as 2 minutes. See how fast and easily these pans reached 500 F:
- An empty pan without oil in less than 2 minutes
- A pan with 2 tablespoons oil in 2.5 minutes
- A pan with burgers in 8.5 minutes
- A pan with steak 10 minutes.
Aluminum is another non-stick alternative. However, this toxic metal can leach into your food, specifically acidic dishes like tomato sauce. It has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. It can also hurt the kidneys and weaken the bones because it depletes the body of two important bone minerals; phosphorus and calcium. Hard-anodized aluminum pans are manufactured in a way to lock in the aluminum so it doesn’t leach into the food, but once these pots get chipped, the aluminum will end up in your food.
To avoid these chemicals, you may have also considered stainless steel. However, stainless steel pans usually require more butter or oil to prevent food from sticking or burning. They are also a pain to clean if food sticks to the pan.
Considering all alternatives, cast iron pans combine both qualities. They are non-stick AND chemical-free. Once seasoned (see more on that), your food will smoothly come off from the pan, without having to worry about dangerous chemicals in the air or in your food.
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2. Cast iron pans help you get more iron from food
Iron will leach from the pan into the food, so cooking with cast iron pans will naturally boost your iron intake. This is especially beneficial for people who have iron deficiency anemia, pregnant and menstruating women, vegetarians, and vegans. Since many iron supplements can cause constipation (ask about non-constipating iron supplements if you need it), naturally obtaining iron through your pan is a great option.
Acidic foods are more likely to absorb iron. One study compared making spaghetti sauce and applesauce in cast iron pans to glass dishes. When cooked in glass, the sauces each had less than 1 mg iron per per ½ cup. When cooked in cast iron pans, spaghetti sauce had 2 mg iron and applesauce had 6 mg iron per 1/2 cup. To put this into perspective, the recommended daily intake of iron is 8 mg for men and 18 mg for women, and people with iron deficiency might need even more.
Generally, cooking with cast iron pans poses no iron toxicity concerns. However, if you have hemochromatosis, a condition in which the body absorbs and stores too much iron, you might want to limit the use of cast iron pans. If you have this condition, your doctor should be monitoring your iron levels closely.
3. Cast iron pans sear food and retain heat better than any other pans
Cast iron pans do not conduct heat well and take some time to heat up. However, because they are heavy and thick, and they warm up slowly, they have the capacity to store more heat energy. Once hot, they have a cooking advantage and no other pan can compete with cast iron for searing foods.
The Detox Way cookbook has several recipes that use cast iron pans for searing like the pan-seared scallop and the sirloin steak with beans and basil sauce.
4. Cast iron pans are versatile
There are many dishes that you can cook with cast iron. Searing fish, chicken breasts, or steak is best done with a cast iron pan. Sauces and stews cook evenly in cast iron. You can even make corn bread and other baked goods. You can start a dish on the stove and then transfer it to the oven without having to worry about damaging your pan. This is a great option if you’re making a frittata or chicken with tomato sauce. Both of these recipes are included in my cookbook, The Detox Way.
5. Cast iron pans require little oil
‘Well-seasoned’ cast iron pans don’t need too much oil to prevent sticking. You can buy a pre-seasoned pan, or you can season the pan yourself by doing the following:
- Cover the bottom of the pan with a thick layer of kosher salt and a half-inch of cooking oil.
- Heat until the oil starts to smoke.
- Pour the salt and oil into a bowl.
- Use a ball of paper towels to rub the inside of the pan until it is smooth.
6. Cast iron pans are relatively inexpensive
You can buy a cast iron pan for as little as $30, which is relatively inexpensive compared to other pots and pans on the market.
If you’re in the market for a cast iron pan, take a look at these suggestions. Lodge is a top cast iron brand. Go with a pre-seasoned pan to save yourself a little work.
- 10.25-inch Cast Iron Skillet, Pre-Seasoned
- 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet, Pre-Seasoned
- 5-Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven with Dual Handles, Pre-Seasoned
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7. Cast iron pans last a long time
If taken care of properly, cast iron can last you a lifetime. Many people inherit cast iron cookware from their grandparents or parents.
One of the things you can do to make sure your pan lasts a long time is season it frequently. Follow these steps:
- Preheat oven to 325. Line the bottom rack of the oven with a large piece of foil paper
- Wash your cast iron skillet pot with warm water and a sponge
- Rinse and dry the skillet completely
- Cover the pan with a thin layer oil or butter from the inside and outside. You might see instructions for using shortening or vegetable oil, but since I never have those, I use avocado oil and butter before and they work just as well.
- Place in the oven upside down. The piece of foil should catch any oil drippings
- Bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and let it cool in the oven
8. Cast iron pans are not difficult to clean and maintain
Some people worry about cleaning cast iron pans, but they don’t actually require more maintenance than other pans. To clean, just wipe with a cloth designated for your cast iron pans or with a paper towel. If you must, wash with warm water, scrubbing gently with a soft brush if needed. Do not use soap, harsh detergents or abrasive sponges.
Once all the food has been removed, rinse with warm water and dry completely. This is important to prevent rusting. Dab a light amount of oil on a piece of paper towel and wipe the pan all over, inside and out. This will prevent the pan from rusting.
Ideally, place your cast iron pan on the stove on medium heat for 15 minutes. Let it cool completely and then store. I like it to store it in its box just make sure oil doesn’t get on the cabinet shelf.