Cast Iron Cookware | The Family Homestead Archives #12
This article is from my previous website, The Family Homestead. I wrote it several years ago but I think the information is useful. I still have the same cast iron frying pans I mention and I still love them! :)
Cast Iron Cookware
Last year I purchased my very first cast iron pan. I had some great concerns with my current pans and was looking to make some changes. I have been quite happy with my decision and have since purchased a 2nd pan and have a list of pans to continue to add to my collection.
I have been a Teflon user for many years. In recent years there have been many negative things written about Teflon and from a health standpoint that was beginning to bother me. I found it interesting to note that the government has not assessed the safety of non-stick cooking surfaces. Yet I now know from reading on this subject that Teflon heated up on a burner will omit a toxic gas that is bad enough to kill birds. I am sure if there are any bird owners reading this you are already aware of this fact. I am also not sure that I want to live with those toxic gases either!
Stainless steel cookware is another possible choice. I began a little research on cooking with stainless steel and learned that stainless steel is made mostly of iron, chromium and nickel. The chromium and nickel could be a problem as both are known carcinogens. Nickel is poisonous in large quantities and can be the cause of allergies such as asthma. These gases can be emitted and the metals leached into our food, especially if any abrasive methods are used to clean the pans and this scratches the surface of them.
Then of course there are aluminum pans. I would recommend staying far away from those as well. There is much information available as to the connections between aluminum and Alzheimer’s.
So due to my concerns I was faced with making a new choice in pans. I looked at what was available on the market and did not see a lot that I felt would work for me. In the end I chose cast iron. There are no dangers associated with cooking on cast iron; it has been around for years and was the pan of choice in my grandmother’s kitchen. I decided to go ahead and listen to the wisdom of those years and apply that to my little farm kitchen.
Aside from these safety concerns, what are some other good reasons to choose cast iron?
1. Cast iron is the perfect conductor of heat! It heats evenly, leaving no hot spots and it heats consistently. Meaning that once your pan reaches its’ proper temperature the whole pan, including the handle, will stay at that temperature.
2. The pans are inexpensive. Once you buy one you will never need another one, unlike Teflon that has to be replaced periodically.
3. You can buy them one pan at a time. You don’t need to invest in a big expensive set of pans or go to any home parties for the perfect pan!
4. They will last a lifetime! I have read of people using their mothers and grandmothers cast iron pans. Some are over 50 and 60 years old! As I have been buying my pans I figure I am making an investment not just for me and my children but my grandchildren too!
5. They are multi-purpose you can use them to cook on the stove top or bake in the oven.
Once you buy your new cast iron pan you will need to ‘season’ it. A properly seasoned pan will be just as good a non-stick surface as any commercial Teflon coated pan. Ironically that is one of the complaints that some people have about cast iron. They say their food sticks to it. If your food is sticking to your cast iron pan you have not seasoned it properly.
How do you season a cast iron pan?
1. Coat the pan with either shortening, lard or bacon grease. I have even used coconut oil as I don’t have any shortening in my house!
2. Then, set the pan on the stove top so the grease can melt. Spread the grease around coating the pan well. Use a napkin or paper towel to wipe out any excess oil.
3. Place the pan in a 300 degree oven and let bake for 2 hours.
4. Let the pan cool completely and put it away!
There are few things that you should be aware of that you do not ever want to do with a cast iron pan.
1. Never soak your pan! That is bad news. Cast iron will rust
2. Never wash your pan with detergents or soap. Detergents are surfactants. Surfactants break the tension on the surface of whatever item they come in contact with, be it laundry or dishes, to remove grease and dirt. This property will break and remove the seasoning.
3. Do not cook acidic foods such as tomatoes in cast iron. The acidic foods will remove the seasoning and leave a metallic taste to the food. However if you do use your pan for these types of food, remember to re-season it after use.
4. Do not boil food in your cast iron pans. Boiling can cause the seasoning to break down and once again cast iron rusts!!
How to daily care for your cast iron pans:
1. As stated above, after you use your pan the most important thing to remember is not wash it with soap! Soap will break the seasoning bond.
2. To clean your pan it is best to do it when it is still hot and you can scrape any food particles off easier.
3. If food has stuck to it you put a little water in the pan and boil it to loosen the foods up, dump the water out and wipe clean with a cloth or napkin.
4. Set it back on a warm burner to heat up and dry well. You don’t want any moisture left on the pan, which will cause rust.
5. Wipe a small amount of grease around on the hot pan and then wipe off the excess before cooling it and putting it away.
6. You can re-season it as stated above if food is sticking to it. Which brings me to another point.. if food is sticking to your cast iron pan, it is not seasoned properly. Just season it again. And remember, cast iron pans get better and better with use.
If you decide to purchase cast iron pans in the future I am certain you will not be sorry! They are wonderful pans. The more I use mine the more I love them. I have heard this same sentiment countless times from women who have been using them for years. Cast iron cookware will be a healthy and wise investment for you and your family.