Cast Iron Cookware Is Back!
When nonstick cookware was first introduced in the 1960s, the tried-and-true cast iron cookware that had served generations fell out of favor.
The secret to nonstick cookware is a chemical called polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE), also known as Teflon, and as with many too good to be true ideas, nonstick pans have created serious concerns. PTFE belongs to a large carcinogenic family of chemicals called PFAS (that stands for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances), and it puts the “non” in nonstick pans. Although these chemicals are still on the market and used not only in cookware but also to repel water on fabric and to prevent grease from seeping through the paper wrapping your fast-food burger, the wise consumer would benefit from avoiding PFAS. (Check out our recent blog on PFAS to find out how.)
Happily, cast iron cookware has once again become popular. Cast iron cookware has no toxic chemical coatings. Instead of having to discard nonstick cookware once the surface becomes scratched, cast iron cookware lasts forever and you can plan to hand it down to your grandchildren.
Cast iron cookware is amazingly versatile. It can go from the stovetop to the oven and maintains its heat evenly for quite some time. That quality also includes the handle(s), so oven mitts or a hot pad are a must!
Using cast iron cookware all starts with “seasoning” your pan. If you were lucky enough to inherit Grandma’s cast iron pan or can find one at a flea market, you are steps ahead because that pan has been seasoned and used for cooking for years if not decades. It most likely will have a thick smooth black patina. Even if you run across a rusty pan, it can be fixed up good as new by scrubbing the rust and re-seasoning the pan.
Seasoning is just the name for the oil baked onto the cast iron to create a natural, non-stick cooking surface. It is easy to season or re-season a cast iron pan. Simply scrub it clean. It is okay to use a small amount of soap if desired although most purists avoid it. Dry the pan thoroughly with a lint free cloth or paper towel. You may want to place it on a burner on the stovetop over a low flame to make sure it is completely dry. Add a few drops of oil to the pan and rub a very thin layer evenly on the inside and outside of the pan. Place it in a 350-degree oven for one hour and allow it to cool in the oven. Voilà, it is ready to go!
Microscopically, cast iron cookware has an uneven surface. The seasoning helps fill in the dips to create a smooth cooking surface. The more you use the pan, the thicker and more even the surface becomes.
Cooking with cast iron is as simple as pre-heating the pan, adding a little oil and then adding your food.
Cleaning cast iron is easy, too. Simply wash the pan by hand with water and a small (optional) amount of soap. Use a non-metal pan scraper for any cooked-on food pieces. Dry thoroughly and add a small amount of oil to the pan. Use a paper towel to wipe the surface until no oil residue remains and store the pan in the cabinet until you need it next.
Cast iron cookware aficionados cook everything from eggs to meat to brownies in their favorite pans. Give it a try! Cast iron is easier to use than you may have been led to believe, and is non-toxic, inexpensive, lasts forever and makes your food taste great!