Glenn, a weightlifter who makes “real food” and pastured proteins an important part of his fitness regimen, had questions about any benefits or disadvantages cast iron cookware has over non-stick. I’ve done quite a bit of research on the subject and have developed some strong personal opinions. Over the past 38 years I think I’ve tried about every type of cookware out there at my Original Pancake House. We’ve used bare aluminum that we put a liquid silicone on, teflon coated pans which flaked horribly, and currently testing a newer teflon coated pan which seem to holding up better under extreme use and heat.
By using Cast Iron I avoid any leaching of chemicals used in the coatings of non-stick pots and pans. A Cast Iron skillet might leach a little iron into your food over time, which is a good thing (iron being an essential nutrient). And remember, you don’t use soap to wash your Cast Iron skillet. Just scrub it under hot water.
We’re currently looking into a practical way of converting all of our cookware over to just cast iron skillets. Unless you’re a weight lifter like Glenn, the heft of cast iron can be a real consideration. I’ve found a lighter cast iron skillet made by Lodge and one from Japan which is lighter yet. Unfortunately the pan from Japan, while relatively light, is pretty expensive. That said, I personally prefer the tried and true Cast Iron cookware.
Want to read more? TRD has gathered the following information for you to evaluate and make your own informed decision as to which type of pan is best for you.
From Eating Well Magazine
Learn how cooking with cast-iron skillets can be good for your health.
Cast-iron skillets may seem like an old-fashioned choice in the kitchen. But this dependable cookware is a must in the modern kitchen. Cast-iron skillets conduct heat beautifully, go from stovetop to oven with no problem and last for decades. (In fact, my most highly prized piece of cookware is a canary-yellow, enamel-coated cast-iron panella pan from the 1960s that I scored at a stoop sale for $5.) As a registered dietitian and associate nutrition editor of EatingWell Magazine, I also know that there are some great health reasons to cook with cast iron.
Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D., Associate Nutrition Editor
You Can Cook With Less Oil When You Use a Cast-Iron Skillet
That lovely sheen on cast-iron cookware is the sign of a well-seasoned pan, which renders it virtually nonstick. The health bonus, of course, is that you won’t need to use gads of oil to brown crispy potatoes or sear chicken when cooking in cast-iron. To season your cast-iron skillet, cover the bottom of the pan with a thick layer of kosher salt and a half inch of cooking oil, then heat until the oil starts to smoke. Carefully pour the salt and oil into a bowl, then use a ball of paper towels to rub the inside of the pan until it is smooth. To clean cast iron, never use soap. Simply scrub your skillet with a stiff brush and hot water and dry it completely.
Cast Iron is a Chemical-Free Alternative to Nonstick Pans
Another benefit to using cast-iron pans in place of nonstick pans is that you avoid the harmful chemicals that are found in nonstick pans. The repellent coating that keeps food from sticking to nonstick pots and pans contains PFCs (perfluorocarbons), a chemical that’s linked to liver damage, cancer, developmental problems and, according to one 2011 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, early menopause. PFCs get released—and inhaled—from nonstick pans in the form of fumes when pans are heated on high heat. Likewise, we can ingest them when the surface of the pan gets scratched. Both regular and ceramic-coated cast-iron pans are great alternatives to nonstick pans for this reason.
Cooking with Cast Iron Fortifies Your Food with Iron
While cast iron doesn’t leach chemicals, it can leach some iron into your food…and that’s a good thing. Iron deficiency is fairly common worldwide, especially among women. In fact, 10% of American women are iron-deficient. Cooking food, especially something acidic like tomato sauce in a cast-iron skillet can increase iron content, by as much as 20 times.
A trusted source of information for TRD is Mercola.com.
Dr. Mercola had this to say about Non-Stick Cookware:
The Most Popular Bakeware Should Be Avoided Like the Plague
Non-stick bakeware is one of the most popular bakeware materials in America and comprises up to 77% of the entire bakeware market.
So what’s wrong with it?
Well, for starters, non-stick bakeware is made from perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a synthetic chemical used in production that creates the soap-like slipperiness and non-stick finish.
Once heated, non-stick bakeware will quickly reach temperatures at which toxic fumes release into the air. And it doesn’t take much heat to do this – the coating begins to break down and release toxins at a temperature of only 446° F.
PFOA has become very controversial because of potential health dangers…
In animal studies, PFOA posed health hazards like:
- Serious changes in organs including the brain, prostate, liver, thymus, and kidneys, showing toxicity.
- Death of several rat pups due to PFOA exposure.
- Changes in the pituitary in female rats, at all doses. Changes in the size of the pituitary indicate toxicity.
- PFOA contributed to tumor growth in at least four different organs in animal tests, and indicated in an increase in prostate cancer in PFOA plant workers.
And there’s more evidence:
- In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 98% of the population returned detected PFOA levels. While PFOA can come from sources other than non-stick cookware, that’s startling information.
- A study reported in 2007, conducted by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, showed alarming evidence indicating newborn infants face exposure to PFOA while in the womb.
- Though not necessarily related to non-stick cookware, PFOA has already been implicated in increased instances of cancer in the pancreas, liver, testicles, and mammary glands, as well as miscarriages, thyroid problems, weakened immune systems, and low organ weights.
So, from a health and safety standpoint, non-stick bakeware is not a good choice.
Non-stick brand names that contain this toxic PFOA coating include Silverstone, Fluron, Supra, Excalibur, Greblon, Xylon, Duracote, Resistal, and T-Fal, to name just a few. Avoid these products.
In fact, if you have any bakeware made from this non-stick material, I would recommend you throw it out and replace it immediately.
Bare cast iron
Cast iron’s ability to withstand and maintain very high cooking temperatures makes it a common choice for searing or frying, and its excellent heat retention makes it a good option for long-cooking stews or braised dishes. Because cast iron skillets can develop a “non-stick” surface, they are also a good choice for egg dishes. Other uses of cast iron pans include baking, for instance for making cornbread, cobblers and cakes.
Most bare cast iron pots and pans are cast from a single piece of metal in order to provide even distribution of heat. This quality allows most bare cast iron pans to serve as dual-purpose stovetop fryers and oven baking dishes. Many recipes call for the use of a cast iron skillet or pot, especially so that the dish can be initially seared or fried on the stovetop then transferred into the oven, pan and all, to finish baking. Likewise, cast iron skillets can double as baking dishes. Cornbread in particular is seen as a food item that is best prepared in a cast iron skillet: the iron pan is heated beforehand in the oven, the ingredients are combined in the heated pan, and the dish is then placed directly into the oven for fast baking. This differs from many other cooking pots, which have varying components that may be damaged by the excessive temperatures of 400 °F (204 °C) or more.
Cast iron is a very slow conductor of heat and forms hot spots if heated too quickly, or on an undersized burner; however, it has excellent heat retention properties, and the entire pan will eventually become extremely hot, including the iron handle or handles.
An American Dietetic Association study found that cast iron cookware can leach significant amounts of dietary iron into food. The amounts of iron absorbed varied greatly depending on the food, its acidity, its water content, how long it was cooked, and how old the cookware was. The iron in spaghetti sauce increased 2,109 percent (from .35 mg/100g to 7.38 mg/100g), while other foods increased less dramatically, for example the iron in cornbread increased 28 percent, from 0.67 to 0.86 mg/100g. Anemics, and those with iron deficiencies, may benefit from this effect.