The reason that cooking pans in the last 50 years have been a dismal failure for consumers is mostly due to planned obsolescence. Injecting the marketplace with cookware containing artificial and toxic coatings has only led to a breakdown of those constituents and a health hazard for millions of people. However, there is one pan that has stood the test of time, in fact thousands of years, and it’s the only pan you ever really need.
Non-Stick Cookware contains dangerous chemicals, some of which are generic versions of Teflon. There are so many non-stick systems that I’ve lost count over the last few decades. Many are marketed as internally reinforced with ceramic or titanium and are stronger and more durable than earlier versions.
Synthetic fluoropolymers emit a series of toxic substances that morph as they reach higher and higher temperatures. In other words, as the pan heats, depending on the quality of the non-stick substance, it gives off fumes and these fumes change or go through stages of toxicity as the heat rises. After continual use, and regardless of quality, these chemicals will eventually be released from the pan while cooking.
PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) is used as a necessary processing aid in the manufacture of all fluoropolymers. PFOA is a well known carcinogen that has been linked to cancer, birth defects and liver damage. Almost every manufacturer of non-stick surfaces in the world will now tell you that they are filtering PFOA during the manufacturing process. The truth is that 100% of PFOA will never be completely captured by any filter. Moreover, any manufacturer or representative that tells you that PFOA is not present once the manufacturing process is complete is heavily misinformed. PFOA is found in the blood of over 95% of humans in the Western world and scientific studies have validated with certainty that PFOA is released from the fluoropolymer-based end products.
The Best Pan Is Still Cast Iron
When it comes to choosing a skillet, the pros have a hands-down preference: heavy-duty, hard-to-burn-in, last-a-lifetime cast iron. It requires extra care, but trust us, it’s worth it.
Says Michael Ferraro, chef and partner at upscale NYC eatery Delicatessen, “The cast-iron pan is designed for multiple cooking techniques. It can be used as a slow cooker, frying pan, high-heat searer, roaster, and braiser.” Not to mention baking dish, pizza stone, wok, paella pan, and oven-to-table serving platter.
The most dependable cookware is still cast iron and it is a must any modern kitchen for many reasons:
1) Conducts heat beautifully
2) Goes from stovetop to oven with no problem
3) They have no chemicals
4) Can only leach iron which is good thing, especially for women
5) They’re as tough as a pan gets and last forever
6) As non-stick as any chemical non-stick pan
7) You don’t make tradeoffs between price and performance
Our ancestors would pass down cast iron pans from one generation to the next and they became the best cooking tools in any kitchen, that is until people thought teflon could replace them. Replacing a pan that has stood the test of time with an artificial chemically coated inferior surface…makes perfect sense doesn’t it?
Things To Know About Cast Iron Pans
Because ordinary cookware cleaning techniques like scouring or washing in a dishwasher can remove or damage the seasoning on a bare cast iron pan, these pans should not be cleaned like most other cookware. Some cast iron aficionados advocate never cleaning cast iron pans at all, simply wiping them out after use, or washing them with hot water and a stiff brush. In actuality, Seasoning is actually not a thin layer of oil, it’s a thin layer of polymerized oil, a key distinction. In a properly seasoned cast iron pan, one that has been rubbed with oil and heated repeatedly, the oil has already broken down into a plastic-like substance that has bonded to the surface of the metal. This is what gives well-seasoned cast iron its non-stick properties, and as the material is no longer actually an oil, the surfactants in dish soap should not affect it. Go ahead and soap it up and scrub it out. The one thing you shouldn’t do? Let it soak in the sink. Make sure you dry it off right away and season thereafter.
A seasoned pan has a stick-resistant coating created by polymerized oils and fats. Seasoning is a process by which a layer of oil (I usually use coconut oil) is applied. Depending on the manufacturer, sometimes new cookware must be washed in hot water with a strong soap to remove any casting oils from the cookware’s surface. Some cookware comes pre-seasoned from the factory. The seasoning layer protects the cookware from rusting, provides a non-stick surface for cooking, and prevents food from interacting with the iron of the pan. However, frequent use of acidic foods such as tomato sauce will remove the seasoning and the cookware will need to be re-seasoned frequently. Enamel-coated cast iron pans do not need seasoning, as the enamel coating prevents rust in most instances. The better you season your cast iron, the more non-stick it becomes. Perfectly well-seasoned cast iron should be perfectly non-stick, enough that you can make an omelet in it or fry an egg with no problem.
3) AVOID COOKING ACIDIC FOODS
In a well-seasoned cast iron pan, the food in the pan should only be coming in contact with the layer of polymerized oil in the pan, not the metal itself. So in a perfect world, this should not be a problem. But none of us are perfect and neither are our pans. No matter how well you season, there’s still a good chance that there are spots of bare metal and these can indeed interact with acidic ingredients in your food. For this reason, it’s a good idea to avoid long-simmered acidic things, particularly tomato sauce. On the other hand, a little acid is not going to hurt it. Always remember to re-season the pan after cooking any acidic foods.
4) EXCELLENT AT RETAINING HEAT, BUT CAREFUL WITH HOTSPOTS
Although cast iron has excellent heat conduction, depending on what you cook, you need to keep the heat as low as possible to avoid hot spots. The thermal conductivity–the measure of a material’s ability to transfer heat from one part to another–is around a third to a quarter that of a material like aluminum. What does this mean? Throw a cast iron skillet on a burner and you sometimes end up forming hot spots right on top of where the flames are. For this reason electric ranges can often work better with cast iron skillets than gas as they help reduce hot spots. The main advantage of cast iron is that it has very high volumetric heat capacity, which means that once it’s hot, it stays hot…really hot. The other advantage is its high emissivity–that is, its tendency to expel a lot of heat energy from its surface in the form of radiation. Stainless steel has an emissivity of around .07. Even when it’s extremely hot, you can put your hand close to it and not feel a thing. Only the food directly in contact with it is heating up in any way. Cast iron, on the other hand, has a whopping .64 emissivity rating, which means that when you’re cooking in it, you’re not just cooking the surface in contact with the metal, but you’re cooking a good deal of food above it as well.
These are the only rules you need to know to have a successful lifelong relationship with your cast iron.
- Season it when you get it. Even pre-seasoned cast iron can do with some extra protection. To season your pan, heat it up on the stovetop until its smoking hot, then rub a little oil into it and let it cool. Repeat this process a few times and you’re good to go.
- Clean it after each use. Clean your pan thoroughly after each use by washing it with soap and water and scrubbing out any gunk or debris from the bottom. I use the scrubby side of a sponge for this.
- Re-season it. Rinse out any excess soap with water, then place the skillet over a burner set to high heat. When most of the water inside the skillet has dried out, add a half teaspoon of a neutral oil like vegetable, canola, flaxseed, or shortening. Rub it around with a paper towel. Continue heating the pan until it just starts to smoke then give it one more good rub. Let it cool and you’re done.
- Fry and Sear in it. The best way to keep your seasoning maintained? Just use your pan a lot! The more you fry, sear, or bake in it, the better that seasoning will become.
- Don’t let it stay wet. Water is the natural enemy of iron and letting even a drop of water sit in your pan when you put it away can lead to a rust spot. Not the end of the world, but rust will require a little scrubbing and reseasoning. I always dry out my pan with a paper towel and coat it with a tiny amount of oil before storage.
If you have any questions comment below as I have many tips and tricks to get the most out of your cast iron pans.
Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.
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Category: Food & Diet