Cook old-school: choose cast iron | Queen of Green | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Cook old-school: choose cast iron

Cast iron is naturally non-stick, highly durable and retains heat. (Credit: Island Vittles via Flickr)

People have been cooking with cast iron for hundreds of years. With good reason.

It's naturally non-stick, highly durable, retains heat (always coast on waste heat) and gets better with age. You can use it for high-heat cooking, like searing, or for mid-range heat, like sautéing. It can also be safely used in the oven. And it's free of toxic chemicals like PFOA and PTFE that coat many non-stick frying pans.

Sure, there are other 'green' pans on the market, but for me cast iron wins because I can use it to scramble eggs, fry pancakes, sustainable fish, or beans, sauté Swiss chard, or even bake crème caramel! And it's super low-maintenance.

How to season cast iron

Season your pan with a rich fat like animal grease. Don't eat animals? That's fine—use coconut oil. Coat the inside of your pan with the fat of your choice. Bake it for about 2 hours at 120C (250F), wiping off any excess and cool. See this handy cooking oils comparison chart to learn the difference between every variety of fat, from olive oil to lard.

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How to clean cast iron

Never, ever wash cash iron with soap!

This will remove all your seasoning and food will stick. Instead, simply wipe clean or, scour with hot water and coarse salt for messy jobs. Dry it well to prevent rust.

So dig out Grandma's cast iron, check out a neighbourhood garage sale, or visit your local thrift store! Buying new is okay, too, 'cause you'll pass it onto your grandkids. Check out kitchen, hardware, or camping gear stores. Note: cast iron pans come in a variety of sizes from the smallest—for frying a single, happy chicken egg —to large (and heavy) "feed-a- family-of-10" size.

Which nontoxic cookware options do you prefer?

Sincerely,
Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

September 9, 2012
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/queen-of-green/2012/09/cook-old-school-choose-cast-iron/

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16 Comments

Feb 26, 2013
5:48 AM

There are many cast Iron utensils such as Pittle, Sizzle etc which can be cleaned by appropriate cleaners which are non-toxic and organic and provide you with the best of smell http://www.boodles.ca/Boodles-Cleanc8.html

Jan 01, 2013
12:05 PM

Just recently, I had to help clean out my grand parents house, not becuase they passed away, but had to be moved in with my family in order to take care of them.

Anyhow, while going through the kitchen, I happen to open the lower oven drawer and there was an old #8 griswold in great shape! Unfortunitely, Dad wouldn’t let me take it, but I’ll try and get it put up on my site if anyone is interested in seeing it?

Thanks, James

Oct 16, 2012
7:22 PM

My granma has a whole set of cast iron frying pans. She washes them in the same dishwater, soap, as other pots. They are still smooth and essentially nonstick. I bought one and its hell to use, even after conditioning. Its rough and everything sticks even with oil. I might be exaggerating but its nothing like my grams. Is that just cause hers are old? How can she wash them and they're fine. I can't figure it. So now, we're using the enameled cast iron.

Oct 03, 2012
12:13 PM

Kim, if it were me, I'd wash in super-hot water with an SOS pad. Don't worry about removing previous seasoning. Just start again from scratch. Good luck!

Oct 02, 2012
11:01 AM

At one of my bridal showers, some women of my mother's age thought I was crazy to have registered for cast iron. "Too heavy!", they said. "Too hard to clean!" Well, I've used those two pans regularly for the last fourteen years for everything from seared rib eyes to sauteeing kale and chard (they're not recommended for tomatoes, by the way). Recently bought three "baby" pans (one for paella "for two", one for individual fritatta and a little sauce pot) and two enameled ones (which are delightfully non-stick in a whole different way). So, yes, I may have the heaviest pot drawer in the northern hemisphere, but I wouldn't trade them for the world!

Sep 20, 2012
10:15 AM

I only use glass and cast iron cookware. Non-stick, durable, long-lasting, non-toxic, and they don't absorb odours like some other materials — for what more could you ask?

Sep 19, 2012
7:35 AM

We bought our cast iron at Walmart!

Sep 19, 2012
6:40 AM

While I agree that it is a great choice, having cooked with cast iron for a few decades I have never found it to be even close to non stick, even when properly seasoned. But then again I am not David Suzuki so I've probably been doing something completely wrong and kittens are dying because of it.

Sep 18, 2012
11:28 PM

I found some cast iron cookware that had been years in the basement (left behind by a roommate), but they were soiled with mouse droppings. Do you still recommend no soap? Are they salvageable or just trash at this point? How could they be cleaned and sterilized?

Sep 18, 2012
6:58 PM

Your instructions on seasoning cast iron seem a little short.

In his book about cooking equipment, Gear, Alton Brown gives the following instructions for seasoning cast iron:

1) Heat oven to 350 F.

2) If the piece is new, soak in hot, soapy water for 6 minutes then was and air dry. IF you're re-seasoning an old piece, skip this step.

3) Place a sheet pan with a lip on the bottom rack of the oven.

4) place the casts iron on the middle rack. Place a tablespoon of vegetable shortening in the centre of the piece.

5) When the cast iron is warm enough to melt the shortening, but not too hot to handle, remove from the oven and rub the shortening all over the pan — including the outside, bottom and handles using a paper towel.

6) Put the cast iron back in the oven, upside down. If left right-side up, excess fat could pool in the bottom and polymerize during the long cure time. This would produce a coating reminiscent of plastic lamination, which is one of the toughest substances on earth.

7) Turn the oven off after one hour and allow the cast iron to cure in the oven until cool.

8) When the cast iron is cool to the touch, wipe off any excess fat and store.

To clean cast iron, he recommends adding a little coarse salt and cooking oil into the pan when it is still warm from cooking and scrubbing it. When finished dump the salt, wipe clean, and store the piece.

Sep 18, 2012
6:10 PM

Another reason to cook with cast iron: it's a source of dietary iron.

Sep 18, 2012
5:56 PM

I just picked up some green pans at a huge discount from cookworks to replace the bad Teflon ones we had but I also have two cast iron pans we use for camping but I also use them at home too — great to know they are also "healthy"! :)

Sep 18, 2012
5:41 PM

OMG!!!! I have two cast iron frying pans that I simply love…and treat them with tlc and never use soap on them…my problem is I live with someone who disagrees and constantly….constantly washes them with SOAP (a 4-letter word), making all my efforts to establish a shiny, fabulous coating almost impossible… I am not worried about bacteria because I always remove /scrape off food, wipe the pans with a clean cloth and store… they never smell and my food always tastes fantastic… thank you for this post…I will share it with my significant other…

Sep 18, 2012
4:22 PM

I love my cast iron frying pan. It was my mom's and she received it second hand when she got married in 1946. It makes the best eggs, grilled cheese, baked beans, applesauce gingerbread. It is awesome for cooking bacon over a camp fire. Definitely, my favourite pan!

Sep 18, 2012
4:04 PM

so if it has been washed with water can you just reseason it or is it toast?

Sep 11, 2012
1:27 AM

Thanks for your useful post regarding Cook old-school: choose cast iron! Hope this helps me a lot to do relevant blog comments.

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