This miraculous gift from the Earth we call “Iron” is deeply intertwined with the human race and our collective memories. Used as a cooking vessel for thousands of years, Cast Iron cookware is still available in kitchen shops and online stores today.
There are many reasons you should be cooking with Cast Iron, but I will give you my top 5.
Cast Iron is inexpensive and Durable
Ask any modern cookware manufacturer if you can get a 100 year warranty with your purchase and they will probably look at you as if you are joking.
I myself have a rather large collection of cast iron cookware, and my “go-to” pot for cooking a roast is an early century Griswold that was once used in a restaurant in California in the 20’s and 30’s. I also have some very nice modern cookware in my kitchen but I have never been able to duplicate the results I get with this particular piece.
For around $39 today, you can buy a new 12 inch Lodge skillet that if properly cared for will probably still be in service when your Grandchildren retire.
Ease of Care
This is probably my least favorite myth about Cast Iron Cookware. It is NOT difficult to preserve or clean, especially if you are using it on a regular basis. Raw iron will start to rust in the first few milliseconds it hits the air, but properly seasoned Cast Iron does not.
There are many ways to clean a cast iron pan including mild dish soap, scrubbing with salt (My mother-in-law’s method), or my personal favorite, just very hot water and a plastic brush.
The oil that protects the surface of your cookware isn’t going to simply wash off with soap because it has bonded with the iron in a process called “Polymerization” (I’ll talk more about this process in an upcoming article).
Cast Iron is Healthier
Conventional wisdom is that Cast Iron cookware is healthier because that all important nutrient “Iron” leaches into your food when you cook. Well, this isn’t really much of a benefit at all. It’s true that some iron will find it’s way into your food, but in a properly seasoned pan the food doesn’t actually touch the iron except where the seasoning might have a deep scratch.
Here are two reasons that Cast Iron is healthier for you, and yes I know one of them was just debunked (sort of) in the previous paragraph so please, no emails people.
1. It’s Iron, an important nutrient for life. So maybe it’s not so much what it is than what it isn’t. Aluminum and Teflon are not nutrients, in fact many believe they are toxic.
As an owner of a vast collection of cookware of all types I can tell you simply by looking at some of my older pans that I and my family have consumed a certain amount of both of these compounds over the years.
2. It holds the heat. Aluminum may distribute heat more evenly, but a good cast iron pot or skillet will hold it. The result of keeping your higher temperatures steady throughout the frying process is less absorption into the food.
While it’s true that most of us have long since traded in our lard or shortening for healthier options, a tablespoon of Canola or peanut oil still contains over 140 calories that you will now have to burn off to make room for my S’Mores.
Better Tasting Food
Cast Iron is much thicker than most cookware. It heats up slowly and it retains that heat much longer than other metals. As a result it does a much nicer job of searing meats like steak, fish, and chicken. I won’t get too technical, but this browning or caramelizing of the food surface is called the Maillard Reaction and has a very enticing affect on our human senses.
This is probably my favorite reason of all to use Cast Iron. There is something about the look and feel of Cast Iron cookware that gives us a connection to our past. It is said That the Lewis and Clark expedition was willing to leave anything behind except for their rifles and Cast Iron Dutch Ovens.
Throughout most of human history the iron “pot” was one of the most treasured possessions in the home. Virtually all legacy recipes from your great grandmother’s stew to a Parisian Coq a Vin were originally made with the help of Cast Iron.