We do a lot of cooking around here and have lots of pots, pans, skillets, and other cooking supplies. If you take a look at our cookware, you’ll notice we use predominantly stainless steel and cast iron.
Whenever possible, I’ve always tried to avoid Teflon coated or non-stick cookware. Sure, it’s convenient, but how can anything that gets scratched, flakes off, and gets eaten be healthy for us? Since that’s not a very scientific answer, I did a quick google search and turned up this quote from EWG.org in relation to non-stick cookware made with perfluorocarbons (PFCs):
Health dangers: When you breathe kitchen air polluted with fumes from overheated Teflon, you’re at risk for developing flu-like symptoms (yes, “Teflon flu”). The long-term effects of routine exposure to Teflon fumes, and from Teflon flu itself, have not been adequately studied.
PFCs have been found in nearly all Americans tested by federal public health officials. Chemicals from this family are associated with smaller birth weight and size in newborn babies, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation and weakened immune defense against disease.
Environmental hazards: Manufacturing PFCs and the consumer products that contain them poses great risks to the environment and wildlife. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says PFCs present “persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity properties to an extraordinary degree.”
So there you have it. I will stick (pun intended) with my decision to avoid non-stick cookware. I’m going to continue using cast iron as my preferred cookware.
Other than avoiding non-stick, here are some of my reasons:
Naturally non-stick. Once a cast iron pan has been well-seasoned, it behaves in a very non-stick manner (the more you use it, the better it gets). The cast iron pan I use to make fried eggs and omelettes is so non-stick, sometimes I have trouble flipping the eggs because they’re sliding around so much!
Provides trace amounts of iron. When you cook with cast iron, a small amount of iron leaches into your food. This is healthy and can be particularly important for women of child-bearing years or anyone struggling with slight anemia.
Safe on an open fire. One of my favorite reasons to keep a wide range of cast iron cookware is because it can be used over an open fire. We will often take the cast iron out to our firepit and use it to saute onions or bake beans. Plus, it is a comfort to know we can cook over an open fire when we lose electricity. This has happened to us regularly over the years and the children think it’s great fun to start a fire and cook outside (or in the fireplace in the house if it is winter). I wouldn’t want to have to cook over an open fire every day, but it’s nice to know we could if we had an extended power outage.
Retains heat. Cast iron skillets can be heated to high temperatures and they retain that heat for a while. I will often serve whatever I am cooking in the cast iron and it will still be warm at the end of dinner. You do have to be aware of this characteristic if you want to immediately stop the cooking on whatever it is you are making (such as fried eggs).
Long lasting. Cast iron improves as it ages and is regularly used. It can be passed down to younger generations (especially if they appreciate what they are getting!) This is in big contrast to non-stick cookware that should be replaced every year or as soon as it gets a single scratch in it.
Versatile. Cast iron comes in many shapes and sizes and can be used for most cooking. Our Dutch Oven* is great for baking biscuits, cornbread, or baked beans. We use a tortilla griddle* for crêpes, and our reversible griddle* for bacon. Skillets* are the most versatile and can do most everything from stir fry, to casseroles, to fried eggs.
Relatively easy to clean. Cast iron is easy to clean when it is well seasoned. If you have a newer pan, cleaning can sometimes take a little bit of time, but don’t give up – it’s worth it to spend the time seasoning your pan!
Relatively inexpensive. Compared to high quality stainless steel or ceramic cookware, cast iron is fairly inexpensive. Of course, there is a wide price range depending on what you are looking for. We’ve found most of our cast iron from people who just wanted to get rid of it (because they didn’t know how good it was!!) Plus, because they’re nearly indestructible (you can crack it if you expose it to high heat for extended time periods with no food in it), you’re saving on the cost of replacement which is very high when you’re replacing non-stick cookware regularly.
For me, there are only two disadvantages to cast iron. The first is that it is very heavy and the second is that the handle will get hot. I spend a lot of time teaching my younger children to cook. Sometimes I use stainless steel if I suspect this might be a problem. But mostly I simply train them to use an oven mitt* until the point that it becomes second nature. You can also purchase handle covers* if oven mitts aren’t working for you.
As for the weight of the cast iron, if it is too heavy then we either scoop the food out (instead of picking up the pan to pour it out) or we grab somebody stronger than we are.
What about you? Do you use cast iron?