By Jonathan Benson, contributing writer to Natural News
With so many different types of cookware on the market today, making the best and safest choices for our families can be a challenge. But tried-and-true cast iron is still among the most durable and non-toxic types of cookware available — and if you know how to use it properly, it can be just as easy to use and clean as the much more convenient but chemical-laden varieties branded as “non-stick.”
Cast iron is about as classic as it gets when it comes to durable cookware. And if properly cared for, it can last a lifetime and be passed down from generation to generation. But a common complaint is that food tends to stick to pure cast iron since it hasn’t been layered with Teflon or other non-stick surfaces, which often contain perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, that release noxious fumes into the air and leach toxic substances into food.
Stainless steel cookware is one safer option, but if scratched it, too, can leach nickel and other undesired substances into food. For pots and pans, stainless steel is still an excellent choice, as is copper, but when it comes to frying pans and griddles, cast iron is probably your best bet, and here’s why.
Cast Iron Gets Better Over Time
On his blog, permaculture aficionado Paul Wheaton explains how to select quality cast iron cookware, how to properly care for it, and how to make it not only last but thrive. Unlike most other types of cookware, cast iron actually gets better over time when it is regularly scraped and seasoned. Individuals with anemia or iron deficiencies can also benefit from the iron found in cast iron.
According to Wheaton, the best types of cast iron are older pieces found at garage sales and online trading sites like Craigslist and eBay. Many older cast iron pieces were machine surfaced to be smooth, as opposed to the rough surfaces found on newer cast iron cookware. Older skillets have also typically been seasoned over many years of use, meaning they have already been “broken in.”
“Many of the experienced cast iron folk [recommend] buying a heavily used skillet,” he wrote. But if a new skillet is your only option, he recommends using a stainless steel spatula with a flat edge to “take the ‘peaks’ off as the ‘valleys’ fill with ‘seasoning.'”
More on this is available here: RichSoil.com.
Bacon Grease, Palm Oil Excellent for Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware
Properly “seasoning” a cast iron skillet involves allowing natural cooking oils to permeate the cooking surface without washing them off after each use. This process is unique to cast iron, and it allows a smooth polymerized fat surface to form, making the cooking surface slick and easier to clean.
In Wheaton’s experience, saturated fats like bacon grease and “organic shortening” (palm oil) that remain solid at room temperature tend to work best at creating the ideal cast iron cooking surface (though we don’t recommend pal oil for anything). Hydrogenated oils are toxic and should thus be avoided, and mono- and polyunsaturated fats tend to leave the cooking surface sticky.
Seasoning cast iron with saturated fats also helps protect the surface against rust, which can form when pans aren’t properly dried after use. Wheaton recommends heating cast iron pans on the stovetop to remove excess water, as towel drying typically won’t get it dry enough. If rust, pitting, or caked-on gunk is already present, Wheaton advises using the self-cleaning option on your oven to literally bake off the crud.