Dispel common myths about cast iron and learn how cast iron pans can help you finally get rid of your toxic non-stick pans.
My trusty non-stick pan was perfect for eggs and grilled cheese – but every time I looked at it, I sorta lost my appetite. You see, I knew full well that non-stick is bad news for human health, not to mention the environment. It’s all over the news – any reasonably intelligent person would be rid of that nasty stuff by now.
Not so fast. As I learned from experience, there are barriers to ditching your favorite cooking pan. You’re sure nothing will work as well. You think the alternatives are expensive and hard to maintain. A voice inside your head says it’s wasteful to throw away a perfectly functional pan. It’s just plain hard to break a habit.
“Stick” around and I’ll show you why I finally threw my old non-stick to the curb and made cast iron my new best cooking friend!
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Why It Matters
I know! I know! You don’t want to read a long, drawn-out blog about chemicals – BORING! So I’ll keep this short and to the point.
Non-stick coatings are made with chemicals, some of which are strongly linked to cancer, elevated cholesterol, abnormal hormone levels and other health issues. High heat is what causes the chemicals to break down and release toxins into the air. Plus these chemicals don’t biodegrade, meaning they will always be around in the environment. Studies have shown that nearly all of us have some of these chemicals in our bodies (we also get them from water and stain repellents found in furniture, carpeting and clothing), but we can reduce the impact by avoiding further exposure.
In terms of safety, both cast iron and stainless steel pans are the best alternative to non-stick. In terms of non-stick benefits, cast iron is where it’s at!
First things first. Let’s dispel a few myths about cast iron.
Myth: Cast iron is not really non-stick.
Truth: A well seasoned cast iron pan has an excellent non-stick surface. Cast iron is fabulous for frying eggs – I do it all the time! A brand new pan may require a bit more oil or fat for frying, but over time, the surface gets better and better.
Myth: You can never use soap on cast iron.
Truth: Soap is not enemy #1. Even Lodge, the top producer of cast iron in the U.S. says a little bit of soap is OK. Start by rinsing and scrubbing off food bits and you’ll probably find you don’t need soap very often.
Myth: Cast iron is really hard to season and maintain.
Truth: Most cast iron pans sold these days come pre-seasoned, meaning there is no laborious seasoning process to contend with. And cleaning is simple – often just a quick scrape and wipe or rinse. Tip: always dry cast iron immediately – either by hand or by heating it up on the stovetop – to avoid rusting. When pan is dry, just wipe a pit of oil in the pan to re-season. This video shows you how in less than a minute.
Myth: You can’t cook tomatoes or other acidic foods in cast iron.
Truth: A well seasoned pan can handle tomatoes or citrus with no problem – just don’t simmer a sauce all day long.
Myth: Cast iron is expensive
Truth: You can get a new cast iron skillet for under $20. You can even find them at garage sales (if you’re lucky)! Sure, larger pieces can get pricey but they last a lifetime, so view it as an investment in healthy cooking.
A few other benefits of cast iron:
Super durable – as in last forever durable (can you say that about a non-stick pan?)
Great for so many types of cooking – from frying to baking to simmering. We use ours for everything from stews to eggs to cornbread. My husband even bakes sourdough in a cast iron pan.
Imparts a small amount of beneficial iron into food.
If you were to buy 1 piece of cast iron, I would recommend a 10″ skillet. There are so many things you can do with this one item – and it costs less than $20!
For a bit more money, I also recommend a 1o”/3 quart deep skillet with a lid. I own something very similar to this (mine came from a garage sale), and it’s great for chili, soups & stews, a big batch of cornbread, as well as everything you would do with a basic skillet. Love this thing!
If you’re a pancake family, you’ll want a griddle for sure. We have a rectangular griddle that fits over 2 burners and doubles as a grill. Believe me – it gets a lot of use on both sides! But if you prefer something smaller, round griddles are available as well, at very affordable prices.
My non-stick habit was seriously hard to break but like many habit changes, once I switched up my routine, it was all good. As for getting rid of your old non-stick pans, check with your local recycling center, scrap yard or event the manufacturer to see if they take old cookware.
Are you ready to make the switch to cast iron? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Micaela Preston is natural living educator and safe and sustainable product activist. She has spoken at conferences and events, has lobbied for safer chemical laws, and has consulted with many brands and businesses. Her book, Practically Green: Your Guide to Eco Friendly Decision Making was published in 2009.
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