A lot of cooks and kitchen enthusiasts swear by cast iron frying pans – and now I understand why.
From the hand-me-downs I got when moving out to the replacement pans I eventually picked up, everything I could find seemed to be that typical “non-stick” alloy that is actually pretty bad about sticking. What’s even worse is that you have to baby them or else they’ll scratch and start leeching some stuff that is not so good. You also can’t heat them up too high or they’ll start to break down in to toxic gasses right under your food.
So by some luck, I found some actual cast iron pans for sale at a convenient location – Wal Mart. They’re big and black and heavy, but its just iron and it cooks like a dream!
Advantages of a cast iron frying pan:
- Things really don’t stick – The whole marketing paradigm behind “non-stick” coatings is that they’re supposed to be better than cast iron. In my experience, it just isn’t true. Not only can you use metal spatulas, I haven’t seen anything even try to stick to the pan. Eggs, cheese, even the little burnt drippings of meat that used to be such a pain comes up easily.
- Its easy to clean up – Since nothing is sticking, clean-up usually involves wiping the surface down with a dry paper towel. Really, that’s all there is to it.
- Use it in the oven – Most cast iron pans don’t have a plastic handle or the plastic part is removable so you can use the pan in the oven as well as on the stove top. You might actually have to make use of your pot holders, but this cast iron pan is very convenient for me when I want to make a pizza!
- Fry on high – And the other reason you can use cast-iron in the oven is because it can actually tolerate high temperatures better than the non-stick brands can. I mentioned earlier that the non-stick coatings can break down into toxic gasses at high temperature, but cast iron only breaks down in to … iron! By the way, iron is one of the essential elements in a human diet, and its responsible for transporting oxygen through the blood stream. Too much can be a bad thing, but toxic overload is still rare at about 1% of the U.S. population. Just don’t scrub it down and intentionally pull up flakes, right?
- Better taste and browning – It just tastes better, really. Not only does the sausage and steak brown just right, but everything has a much fresher taste without those bitter hints I used to encounter every once in a while on the non-stick brands.
- Comparable price – while there are plenty of premium brands for any type of product, there are also cheap ones available. The cast iron pan I got is great (I think its a Loge or something)
Downsides of cast iron pans:
- They’re heavy – The first thing you’ll probably notice when you pick up a cast iron pan is how incredibly heavy they are. Suddenly, all those comedic sketches of someone getting smacked upside the head don’t seem so funny – someone could really get hurt with this thing. As an optimist, I just convince myself that this is really an advantage: the pan doubles as a home defense tool.
- Seasoning concept can be daunting – I’m still not sure I really understand this “seasoning” concept, but I think the idea is to avoid using hot water and soap when you’re cleaning the thing. The iron surface kind of like bonds with a layer of cooking oils and food-based fats, so once you’ve used it a few times there is a very nice, slick top for you to do your cooking on. Most pans are pre-seasoned so all you have to do is maintain it with the proper maintenance.
- Harder to find – While they seem to be regaining some popularity, it is still much more common to see non stick pans in the kitchen section of most retailers. I don’t personally like to buy stuff online that I can’t check out in person first, so I didn’t actually get one for myself until it happened to be at a place I was already at.
Now that I’ve been using it for a few weeks, I’m not sure why it took so long for me to get a cast iron pan. I’ve heard the recommendations before and now I’m starting to see why so many people are singing its praises.