Do you ever really consider how important your cookware is? I am sure you have heard all about the nightmares of cooking with Teflon and have since been swayed to the Stainless Steel or Copper options, but is it any surprise for you to learn that what our grand-parents used is better than anything produced since? It may seem difficult to believe, but then again, we know that, more often than not, the old fashioned way is much better when it comes to diet and lifestyle. The diet of only a few generations ago, before the industrial revolution, was much better than today’s even if not perfect, so it’s no wonder that the kind of cookware used is also better for us. The secret was plain and simple: cast iron.
It’s how it’s stated: a piece of iron is heated and cast into a piece of cookware. So what makes it so good? First and foremost, the metal retains heat and evenly distributes it in a way that modern cookware cannot. This is a chef’s dream! You may not realize how important this is, but let me ask you this: Are you still trying to master cooking the perfect steak? You can’t seem to get an even consistency throughout, as some parts are far more chewy than others? This is because portions of the pan are hotter than others. Stainless steel is probably the closest thing to cast iron, as it does distribute the heat very well, but it does not retain it for a long time. What this means is that any sudden changes in temperature will be felt immediately when cooking with steel. This is not the case with cast iron, as it takes much longer for the metal to heat up or cool down.
The benefits of cooking with cast iron
Perhaps the greatest benefit to cooking with cast iron could be the health impacts. I have to admit that this is really what initially intrigued me. A friend of mine is pregnant with her second child. She ran into some problems with her first pregnancy, as her iron levels were drastically low. Nowadays there is always some form of “help,” but for any of you who have low iron stores, you may already know how horrible the supplements can be. Aside from her needing more iron, everything else went well. She is due in the coming months with baby number two and her iron levels have never been better! So what changed between the first pregnancy and the second? She was given a set of cast iron pots and pans and has solely cooked with them since. What happens is, when you cook with this metal, the food in the pan absorbs iron directly from the metal. Therefore, the iron levels in the food are higher after it has been cooked than before. To put it plain and simple, your food actually becomes richer in iron for you after it has been cooked!
Of course, this is by no means a reason not to focus on healthy foods that are good sources of iron like red meat and liver. These foods are not only good sources of easily absorbable iron, they are also loaded with much needed nutrients for optimal health. All of this doesn’t apply if you have to actually consume less iron, as excess iron can be problematic as well. A lot of women though are in a situation where they need more iron from their diet, especially since they lose a lot of iron once a month with their periods.
There is yet another healthy benefit to cooking with cast iron. Unlike stainless steel, iron is naturally non-stick. This is important, because there is no other healthy alternatives out there for the dreaded, yet extremely practical Teflon treated pans. I would never cook with such pans, but I will be the first to admit that cooking eggs and crepes in stainless steel is no easy task. In case you are not so familiar, cooking with Teflon and aluminum pans can be quite toxic to your health. When heated, toxic fumes are produced as a result of what this cookware is built with.
The health benefits to cooking with cast iron were enough to have me hooked, but the list does go on. Cast iron is actually much less expensive than most modern day cookware. I just picked myself up a medium sized skillet and it only cost me around $20. The added bonus to this is that it also lasts much longer than anything else. In fact, I continue to enjoy cooking with several of my grandmother’s cast iron pieces, all of which are in the same shape as the skillet I just purchased.
Using and taking care of cast iron cookware
One of the downsides to using cast iron though is that it requires a little maintenance. There is a process that you should follow that will prevent the iron from developing any rust and will also help to maintain its non-stick surface. You essentially have to “season” the iron, which means you have to lather the metal in animal fat and cook it at very high temperatures so that the fat gets absorbed by the material. The whole seasoning process should be repeated at least once a year, if not more depending on how often the cookware is being used. If any rust forms on the surface of a cast iron pan, it needs to be re-seasoned. It’s because of this process that most would advise you against washing any cast iron pan with soap. Give it a good rinse with hot water and all should be good for its next use. Try to clean it this way when it’s still warm and pat it dry right away. Also, store it without a lid as moisture could form and create rust on the surface of the pan. A lot of people enjoy the fact that they can oftentimes still taste some of the food that was previously cooked with their pan because it’s never really cleaned entirely.
Another point to keep in mind is not to store any food in the pan after it has been cooked, especially if the food is acidic because the acidity can damage the protecting surface produced by the seasoning.
Seasoning a cast iron pan
Here’s a simple recipe to season a cast iron pan. Don’t forget that the handle on a cast iron is also made of pure iron so never touch that handle with your bare hand when taking the pan out of a hot oven.
- Rub a good amount of healthy cooking fat like coconut oil, lard, tallow or clarified butter all over the surface of the pan.
- Preheat your oven to a very high temperature. Between 400 F and 500 F is a good temperature.
- Place the pan inside the oven for a first 15 minutes before taking it out and pouring off any extra cooking fat. Be careful, this fat will be extremely hot.
- Place the pan back in the oven for about another 2 hours.
- This whole process can be repeated another time for even better results.
It’s rare that we ever hear of the cheaper option being the best, but in this case, it certainly is. This article has provided you with a handful of solid points that should in no way leave you questioning the benefits to cooking with cast iron. To recap, it’s what was used a few generations ago, before the industrial revolution, and there are a number of health benefits, such as increased iron intake and avoiding the consumption of harmful toxins produced during the cooking process. Other than that, it’s usually very cheap and very durable. So durable in fact that your kids will later probably be able to get a good use out of the ones you currently own if you take care of them. You have done no wrong in not cooking with cast iron, but you could certainly do a lot better if you do cook with it, unless you’ve already been cooking with stainless steel of course, which is the other healthy alternative.