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6 Benefits Of Cooking In Cast Iron

6 Benefits of Cooking in Cast IronSometimes we can get so focused on what food we should or should not be eating that we lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s not just the food that matters, it’s how we prepare it.

And the pots and pans we cook with are just as important as the food that goes in them.

If you’re spending your hard earned cash on quality local and organic foods, I sure hope you’re using cookware that enhances the health benefits.

In today’s post, I explore the benefits of one of my favorite cooking vessels, the classic cast iron pan. In addition to covering the benefits of cooking in cast iron, I delve into some of the issues with other types of cookware.

6 Benefits Of Cooking In Cast Iron

1. Naturally Non-stick

Non-stick pans made with Teflon are everywhere these days, but they aren’t good for our health. When heated to high temperatures, and especially when the pan is dry (like when you’re preheating a pan before searing meat or stir-frying), they release chemicals into the air called perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). Scratched non-stick releases even more PFCs into your food. Studies have linked certain PFCs, namely PFOA and PFOS, to numerous health problems relating to hormones, liver dysfunction, and brain health. PFCs are particularly important for mothers to avoid, as it passes through breastmilk. (Environ Sci Technol, 2006)

PFC bioaccumulation has become an increasing public health concern as emerging evidence suggests reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity and hepatotoxicity, and some PFCs are considered to be likely human carcinogens.  – Public Health, 2010

These chemicals not only make their way into your food, but they end up down the drain and in landfills, polluting waterways and ending up back in the food chain (like fish that live in contaminated water). Even worse, they take many years to biodegrade.

But, back to the bright side… When “seasoned” properly, cast iron pans are naturally non-stick, just without the chemicals. For more on seasoning and caring for cast iron, see #2.

2. Easy To Clean

I grew up cooking in cast iron, mostly because that’s what my mom used, and I got used to how easy it is to clean. I remember the first time I cooked a meal in a stainless steel pan I couldn’t believe how much “elbow grease” I had to use to scour off the brown bits. With cast iron, food releases from the pan easily, making clean up a breeze.

Some people find cast iron difficult to care for, so here’s my simple solution. Once your food is ready, simply serve up, emptying the pan. With the pan still hot (and presumably holding it by the handle with a hot mitt) take the pan to the sink and under hot running water, scrape off any food bits with your metal spatula. Return the pan to the stove to dry, wipe with a paper towel dipped in a little oil, and enjoy your meal. (That last sentence is how you maintain the seasoning on your cast iron pan. If you don’t dry the pan and add a little oil, the pan can rust.)

The above method literally takes 30 seconds and saves me from having to scrub the pan and damage the seasoning. If I happen to be lazy and leave the pan dirty, no big deal. I’ll do the above (wash, dry, wipe with oil) and set the pan on the stove on low for 5 minutes to restore the seasoning. Lodge also has a great tutorial on caring for cast iron.

3. Fortifies Food With Iron

How would it sound to have a pan that actually fortifies your food?

Cast iron is it!

While it’s well accepted that cast iron increases iron content of food, few sources actually quantify the change, which always made me question if that was an old wives’ tale. In a little known study from 1965, researchers measured the iron content of 7 foods cooked in cast iron or glass. Acidic foods and those cooked for longer periods of time accumulated the most iron. Tomato sauce, for example, had 87.5 mg of iron when cooked in a cast iron pan, but a mere 3.0 mg when cooked in a glass pan (per 100g serving, which is less than ½ cup). Even non-acidic and quick cooking foods, like eggs and fried potatoes, averaged a five-fold increase in iron content when cooked in an iron skillet.

This is especially good news for menstruating females or pregnant moms who have increased iron needs or, for whatever reason, don’t eat enough iron-rich foods.

4. Cheap

Cast iron remains some of the most inexpensive cookware on the market. A brand new 10 inch cast iron skillet is a mere $25 (and probably $5 at a thrift store). On the other end of the spectrum, a quality heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan that same size will run you over $100. And, because cast iron lasts forever, it’s a one-time purchase. I’ll explain in #5.

5. They Are (nearly) Indestructible

Let me paint you a picture to illustrate my point. A few years ago, I came across a cast iron pan that had been sitting out in the elements for at least a decade. This thing was so corroded, it was almost beyond repair. I’m not really sure what inspired me to attempt to refurbish this thing. A metal scraper was too wimpy to take off the centimeter-thick layer of iron oxide, so I resorted to a thick chunk of scrap steel to scrape off the worst of it (do I sound like a hobo yet?). Then with a little help from a wire brush and a lot of determination, I had that pan looking good as new in an afternoon.

That same pan is part of our outdoor gear and is regularly placed directly over a campfire when we car camp. Like I said, nearly indestructible. And unlike any other cookware, cast iron improves with age. With each use, the cooking surface becomes more smooth, allowing oil to seep into the surface and continually improve the seasoning (or as some like to call it, the patina).

But Teflon coated non-stick pans? If you use a metal spatula by accident once, the thing is trashed. Really though, stop cooking with scratched non-stick (see #1) Even if your non-stick is unscratched, any cookware that requires you use plastic utensils is icky. Cooking with a plastic spatula melts tiny bits of plastic into your food. Ew! Really, there’s no reason to own a non-stick pan (or plastic spatulas) when you have cast iron!

6. Even Cooking Temperature

Cast iron pans are noticeably hefty and their weight is part of their magic, allowing them to hold heat longer than most other pans. This works well, whether you’re searing a steak at a high temp, or simmering a stew on low. If you don’t have the most reliable stove, a cast iron pan can help prevent you from accidentally burning dinner. Non-burnt dinner is always a win!

Now that you understand my fanaticism for cast iron, I’d love to get your opinion.

  • Do you cook in cast iron? If so, how do you care for it?
  • If you have any questions about cooking in or caring for cast iron, ask below!

Until next week,

Lily

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Category: Nutrition Basics, Prenatal, Quick Tips, Uncategorized
{ 43 comments… add one }
  • Erin September 9, 2014, 9:58 am

    I just bought my first cast iron skillet last week! I find food still sticks to it but I read that you have to use more oil in the beginning to keep food from sticking and that it gets better the more you use it. Fingers crossed!

    • Lily September 9, 2014, 10:22 am

      Welcome to the cast iron club, Erin. Have you tried seasoning it in a hot oven? Lightly coat with oil, place in a 400 degree oven for at least one hour. Turn off the oven and let the pan cool before removing from the oven.

      And, yes, when cooking be sure to preheat the pan and use at least 1 Tbsp of oil/fat (if using a large skillet) to prevent food from sticking. You’re right, non-stick surface will continue to improve with each use.

    • Jeremy Ray December 6, 2017, 4:44 am

      Season it with lard at 250 degrees in the oven for 2.5 hours. Dont wash with soapy water after at anytime

  • Mike Meeker September 9, 2014, 10:12 am

    Lily
    I’ve been cooking since 1968,, when I got married, and my grandmother gave me the cast iron skillet she used–which was her mothers! I am still using it and it has a perfect non stick patina on it. And I’ve been taking care of it exactly as you suggest.

    • Lily September 9, 2014, 10:28 am

      I love it, Mike! With cast iron, the older, the better.

  • laura poffenroth September 9, 2014, 10:34 am

    Lily I can’s cook out of cast iron frying pans because I have hemochromotosis. I use the dreaded teflon. What can I use instead for my omletts?

    Laura

    • Lily September 9, 2014, 10:47 am

      You bring up a good point, Laura. Any health conditions that require you limit iron intake means cast iron isn’t appropriate for you. Even stainless steel will leach some iron into food, although less than cast iron.

      What you could try is enameled cast iron (Le Creuset). It’ll still moderate the temperature well for omelets (which require low, steady heat), without the iron leaching into the eggs. You’ll need to use some fat to prevent sticking.

  • Laura Poffenroth September 9, 2014, 10:36 am

    Lily, what can I use instead of my teflon fryiing pan for cooking omletts in it? I can’t use iron frying pans due to health reasons.

    Laura

  • TT September 9, 2014, 10:45 am

    Thank you, Lily. I’m wondering what are your thought about ceramic?

    • Lily September 9, 2014, 10:48 am

      I’m also a fan of ceramic, TT.

  • Sam Morrisey September 9, 2014, 5:33 pm

    Lily, thank you so much for this post. I have been researching pots and pans, because mine are TERRIBLE. You have helped me make the decision to switch to cast iron. THANK YOU!

  • Anne Omland September 10, 2014, 9:58 am

    I was just talking about this and wondering about the benefits- perfect timing! I love using cast iron but now I’ll use your cleaning ideas. I’ll be sharing this 🙂

    • Lily September 10, 2014, 2:14 pm

      Thanks so much, Anne!

  • Stacey September 10, 2014, 11:38 am

    Thank you so much for the tips on how to care for and clean your cast iron skillet…it has prevented me in the past from wanting to use mine as frequently as I know I should…And as far as the weight, yes, most definitely hefty! It could easily serve as a weapon if you should ever need one in an emergency (though I’m crossing my fingers that will never have to happen in anyone’s case!!!).

    • Lily September 10, 2014, 2:14 pm

      Caring for cast iron pans is way easier than you think, Stacey! Mine is almost permanently on my stove, since I use it every day.

  • Robin September 12, 2014, 9:53 am

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Lily – this is great! One time my husband and I were in a second hand store and found this beautifully seasoned cast iron pot for $15! It was like hitting the jackpot!

    • Lily September 12, 2014, 5:05 pm

      What a score, Robin! The older, the better with cast iron.

  • Liane September 12, 2014, 2:34 pm

    I love that the simple, natural, toxic free solution is actually the cheapest solution! So often we associate “natural” with expensive 🙂 Great summary of reasons to go green – and ditch the teflon!

    • Lily September 12, 2014, 5:07 pm

      I love that, too, Liane! Simplicity wins this round.

  • Silvia September 14, 2014, 7:38 pm

    A wonderful list Lily. Had to comment here because these are my favorite skillets, even more than stainless steel! And with all the cooking I do…that’s saying a lot!

    • Lily September 16, 2014, 1:48 pm

      Glad to have Chef Silvia’s approval on this one!

  • April Muraco October 24, 2015, 5:07 pm

    When my grandma died, I found a 1920 cast iron Dutch oven in her cellar. My sis found its matching skillet and learned how to clean cast iron, so we restored the Dutch oven and skillet. Best idea ever!! I’ve never had a Dutch oven, and this one is amazing. You’re right… Cast iron is indestructible!

    • Lily October 24, 2015, 5:12 pm

      That’s so cool, April. With cast iron – the older, the better! The ancient cast iron pans I have are way higher quality than anything you can buy in a store these days.

  • shadow February 8, 2016, 9:05 am

    corroded cast iron can be soaked in part vinegar and part water to avoid real heavy scrubbing…lightly oil and place upside down in 350 degree oven for an hour…turn off oven and let cool…as far as cleaning rinse under hot water either when pan is hot or cool…scrub lightly…my Amish neighbors and some old timers taught me to then put a bit of water in the pan and place it on a burner until all water is evaporated….let cool then lightly oil….

  • ceramic cookware March 6, 2016, 10:38 pm

    I like to try cooking in cast iron.

  • felle kings March 8, 2016, 2:52 pm

    This has been a great information for all housewife. Thank you.

  • Sumedha September 17, 2016, 8:16 am

    Lily,
    What a wonderful article! I have been using cast iron for past 16 yrs, the benefits are immense. I use griddles, pans and woks, try to avoid tomatoes and other sour ingredients. For cleaning, I use soap & water and then dry, season with oil and pack in paper bag for storing till next use. Also I’ve noticed certain oils work better to give a non-stick feel for griddles, my favourite is cold pressed peanut oil. A few drops rubbed to the surface of my griddle makes it as good as nonstick.

  • Madonna April 21, 2017, 8:34 pm

    I’ve been cooking with cast iron for 60 years…I have cast iron pots and pans…I don’t own anything else…

  • Mbukiso Thwala April 23, 2017, 11:08 am

    i want to buy it but I wasnt sure of its safety

    • Marci August 13, 2017, 3:31 pm

      Mbukiso, cast iron is the best and safest cookware. Unless you have a disease that restricts your iron intake, it is especially good for you as well.

      I had a complete set of iron cookware that I had to leave behind when we moved from the east coast to Texas 13 years ago. I recently found out that I am anemic. I’ve never been anemic before in my life! Taking iron supplements causes me gastrointestinal difficulties.

      I just purchased a set of iron skillets with a griddle and footed dutch oven. Next visit to the doctor, I’ll bet I’m no longer anemic!

  • Martha Cox July 9, 2017, 3:07 am

    Thanks for all the positive information that I have believed in for years. My reason for looking for information was because a friend questioned my use of cast iron which I use daily cooking for a family of eight.
    I also just was given several cast iron products that need much attention so was happy to learn how to do that. I don’t mind staying with a problem until it is completed.
    Enjoyed your article.
    Martha

  • Barbera Peters July 20, 2017, 10:34 am

    I think it is great how you talked about the even cooking cast iron pans can do. My sister just got a new home and is trying to fill the kitchen with new supplies and cookware. This article was really helpful since it mentioned getting a cast iron pan to cook dinner with and have an easy clean up since it is naturally non-stick. I wonder if you can use it for baking too. Thanks for the great information about cast iron pans.

    • Marci August 13, 2017, 3:33 pm

      Barbera,
      Cast iron pans make the BEST cornbread in the oven! Please give it a try.

  • Anik November 12, 2017, 5:30 am

    I love love love my cast iron pan and cast iron Dutch oven! When properly seasoned the food slides right off! And of course it gets better with age.

    I wouldn’t say a new cast iron pan is cheaper to purchase than a stainless steel pan, but you will never ever have to replace it.

    A good trick if your to restore a cast iron pan that has rusted is to scrub it with a potato. I found my mother inlaw’s old Dutch oven in the basement one day. Our basement had flooded and the poor Dutch oven was in such a sad state. My husband was about to throw it out, but is saved it!

    I gave it some good TLC and in an afternoon she was as good as new!

    My favorite cooking to do is with my camping Dutch oven over an open fire! You can cook anything in it!

  • Pritima November 29, 2017, 11:28 pm

    Wen i cook dal in my iron kadai, after sometime i could see a rim of rust on the neck of kadai. Kindly suggest wat to do.

    • Lily November 30, 2017, 3:53 pm

      When you’re done cooking the dal and clean the kadai, use a scrub brush to get the rust off, then “season” it with oil as I describe in the article. It’s still perfectly good to continue to cook with.

  • Beth December 27, 2017, 6:21 pm

    My husband bought me a big cast iron skillet 2 years ago. I have only seasoned it in the oven twice. After cooking I let it cool then wipe it out after it is wiped enough to my satisfaction I pour hot tap water in with 1 drop of soap give it a scrub rinse it out then wipe it again to dry it then put some grease in it. I save all my bacon fat for my cast iron. I let it air dry after seasoning it then put it away. This year for Christmas hubby bought me a smaller one since my bigger one was too big for eggs and smaller meals. I seasoned it in my oven twice and it is now ready to go. I do have 1 t-fal pan but trying to talk my hubby into throwing it away. I never use it for myself and refuse to use it I hate it but he thinks it is easier. I read him the health reasons to biff it out from your site and I may have him convinced yet. I grew up on cast iron pan my mom and dad never used anything other than cast iron for cooking. The fact my first pan is 2 years old and still looks brand new says a lot 🙂

  • Katherine January 5, 2018, 9:50 am

    Right here is the perfect webpage for anybody who hopes to understand this topic.

    You realize a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I
    personally will need to?HaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin on a topic that’s been written about for a long time.

    Wonderful stuff, just excellent!

  • Atma Love February 26, 2018, 4:56 am

    I bought a 12″ wok shaped cast iron pan today (in India) for a bargain price of 550 Rs / £6 / $8.50 . Just cooked.my first curry with it ☺

  • Maria April 3, 2018, 10:21 pm

    what is the difference between carbon steel or cast iron?

  • Pat Rhodes April 8, 2018, 8:05 am

    I love cooking with cast iron. I have a cast iron skillet that belonged to my grandmother. Recently as I was preparing a meal I thought about the age of this pan. I think it is about 100 years old. I never have to season it and very easy to clean. It is so easy to use.

    • Lily April 9, 2018, 12:57 pm

      The older, the better with cast iron!

  • jagadhatri June 17, 2018, 3:50 am

    I cooked eggs curry in an iron kadai n the eggs turned black doubtfully i threw away the eggs is it good or bad i done it pl clarify

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