The 200-Year Frying Pan

Sometime in the eighties, the advertisers managed to convince us that durable frying pans are"stick" pans. That is, they aren't "non-stick". It's a lie that has had devastating consequences for our shared environment.

The "non-sticky" chemical used in these new frying pans is PFOA. "The chemical – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – has been used so widely and is so persistent in the environment that it has been found all over the world – even in the Arctic and in remote Pacific atolls – in rain and water supplies, food, wildlife and human blood" (reference).

Furthermore, we now buy pans that last 3-5 years before we throw them out, wasting a scary amount of energy as happy corporations burn coal to melt steel so that we can start all over again. All because we believed that our perfectly good stainless steel and cast iron pans were sticky.

The truth is, stainless steel and cast iron will not stick if you let them heat up enough before putting food in them. Thanks to Chef Tyler for that piece of lost wisdom.


Cast Iron

A while back, my family donated our disposable pans to Goodwill and bought the last pans that we'll ever buy.

Cast iron pans, with a bit of care, last pretty much forever. And, contrary to marketing wisdom, a properly seasoned cast iron pan is as non-stick as any Teflon pan.

In Edmonton, you can buy cast iron pans at Bosch Kitchen Centre, Chef Tyler's Condon Barr and (probably the cheapest and best selection) Camper's Village.

New cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, but the season will wear out once or twice a year depending on usage. To season your pan, follow these instructions:

  1. Heat the oven to 250o - 300o
  2. Coat the pan with lard or bacon grease (being a vegetarian, I use Crisco shortening). Don't use a liquid vegetable oil because it will leave a sticky surface and the pan will not be properly seasoned.
  3. Put the pan in the oven. In 15 minutes, remove the pan & pour out any excess grease. Place the pan back in the oven and bake for 2 hours.

You can season a pan while you're baking something else to save energy - I do it while baking pies and such.

Also, don't wash your cast iron pan with soap - just wrinse with hot water. And, dry it with a cloth immediately after washing.

Cast iron pans are wonderful to cook with, plus they add iron to your food, which is important for people (especially vegetarians and women) who are concerned about getting enough iron in their diets. "In a classic study published in 1986 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers tested 20 foods cooked in new cast-iron skillets. They found most foods increased in iron content by being cooked in the iron cookware, some significantly so" (reference).

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel pans are also extremely durable. They don't need to be seasoned, and as long as you follow the rule about heating it up before adding food, they won't stick much either (honestly, they are somewhat worse than cast iron, but it's really no big deal). You can buy them at any department store.

There's so much talk about green products these days. No matter what you cook in, it will have high embodied energy - poisonous coal will almost certainly be burned to melt steel to make the pan or pot.

A stainless steel or cast iron pan could last hundreds of years if treated properly. That's twenty to forty times longer than a "non-stick" disposable pan. The green choice is to buy durable.

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I also made the switch from non-stick to cast iron frying pans. I was feeling iffy about the perfluorooctanoic acid, but not quite so strongly until it started flaking off into my rice from the rice cooker! I took it straight to the ecostation so no one else ingests the stuff either.

It is made in China, but I did find a super cheap and really good big cast iron pan at Superstore ($9.99)! Check at value village and garage sales too!

Happy cooking,
Andrea

There is nothing that does cook better than cast Iron. I grew up with my mother and older brothers teaching me to cook the likes of beef, pork, chicken and fish in cast iron. I have my fair share of cast iron cook ware from various size fry pans, to griddles and Dutch ovens. My cast iron is at home in the kitchen as well as over a bed of coals or a campfire. They are the pans you will buy once and never have to buy again! What more can I say?

If you take care of your cast iron as you will have to take care of cook ware, you will find it no harder than taking care of a modern "Non-stick" pan. You will find with a few simple rules of thumb you will spend less time seasoning and maintaining the pan than you will shopping for a new "Non-stick" pan after the chemical laden coating fails...

Nothing cooks like it!
Leif

yeeeeeeeahh!! cast iron all the way man, most younger people i know prefer non-stick pans to cast iron or stainless steel , because they're so easy to clean , and hey..if the non-stick coating wears off you can just buy another one right?...
But what if it gives you cancer??.....*bahh , what doesn't give you cancer these days...*
*wonderful!!..with attitudes like that its no wonder the earth is pretty much condemned to die underneath a mountain of disposable razors and profalactic wrappers*. Cast iron pan's are relatively cheap , very easy to season(directions above , thanx to conrad:) they are proven to last much longer than non-stick pans , and instead of releasing cancer causing chemicals into your food they release iron , a mineral most people are deficient in anyways. Basically there are two types of people who buy non-stick pans , the ones who really just don't know how crappy they are because they've never been taught anything about sensible nutrition and cooking , and second: the ones who know but don't care because it saves them precious minutes in their almost pointless lives. *whoopie hooray!..i saved 4 minutes today because i used a non-stick frying pan , it will give me colon cancer in 8 years but as long as my life is a little bit easier right now it doesn't matter , aren't i the pinnacle of human achievement??*

* =satire

JDS 21 yrs old , somewhere on this big ball o dirt n rock.

I the husband and father have been cooking for the whole family for 5 years now every day. I started with non stick but once I got a flair for cooking I quickly realized that the old cast iron pan we had collecting dust was the best piece of cookware in the house. And it could go from stovetop to oven too. I bought a stainless frypan and ponied some $$ for it, liked the cast iron better so bought a few more cast iron pieces. We threw the old teflon pans in the recylcler at the dump. We have one nice teflon pan in the cubbert but its the one collecting dust now. Bought a nice cast iron dutch oven off Amazon too, its ceramic coated inside and out. Great for stews, sauces, swiss steak, roasts, whatever and also can go from stovetop to oven and is a beutiful red and they come in alot of different colors. Its heavy!
So take it from the guy who cooks for 5 everyday, cast iron is really non stick and its cooking with class!

I love my cast-iron pan and couldn't live without it. I notice a lot of people say not to wash it with soap, but I always do. I think it's kind of gross not to. After washing it I just oil it a bit. Anyway, been doing that for years and my pain is still in good shape. The only thing I'd say is not to scrub it too hard...just lightly.

I -while not vegitarian- am not a fan of lard or bacon grease, and have used Corn oil for more than 20 years on my cast iron. Canola and Olive oil do get sticky and brown instead of carbonizing and turning black (from experience, but even then I just used corn the next time and it was fine).

I use soap only accidentally, but have scrubed with everything up to steelwool when necessary - though you have to re-season afterwards.

Lard from pigs raised outside is an excellent source of vitamin D; something most Canadians don't get enough of, especially in the winter.

I'm 58 yrs old and have always known the value of a good cast iron pan, but for some reason, I guess I just got lazy in my working years I switched over to Telefon. About a year ago I purchased a Stainless pan, but never having used Stainless ( forgot to temper) I sorta got discouraged. Well now thanks to you guys I'm back using the Stainless pan and am now considering buying a cast iron pan. Question will cast iron scratch the surface of my ceramic stove top. ?? Any suggestions would be welcome and appreciated.

Doug,

Absolutely not. I've only ever used my cast iron pan on a ceramic stove, with nary a scratch.

Conrad

I've cooked with cast iron for years, finding the best way to clean when camping is with a handful of sand or salt. Problem with continuing to cook with it... I've got older, have health problems and just can't lift the darned things any more.

What about the pre-seasoned cast iron frying pan? Is there any health risk with those?
Love your blog by the way!

Pre-seasoned cast iron frying pans would essentially be oil applied to cast iron. So I don't think there would be any health issues.

Conrad

I have been using the same cast iron frying pan for 10 years but have never seasoned it. I cook roasts in it in the oven and use it for steaks and anything on top of the stove. I cooked a ham at New Years and added some orange juice and brown sugar. The ham looked quie black but tasted fine. Since then I have had an upset stomach and my tongue is black. Could this be caused by the unseasoned pan?

Ok so I agree with everything on here and have recently bought a stainless steel frying pan. It is SO hard to clean! If we make grilled cheese or pancakes there is a sticky brown residue (I'm assuming from the oil) in the bottom. I have been soaking and scrubbing and boiling and I can't get it off. As we speak it has coca cola soaking in it and is doing the best job (scary eh?). Any other tips and advice?

Thanks!

Hi Lori,

I've never had the same problem, but I agree that stainless is a bit hard to clean. I'd get a seasoned cast iron pan. Lodge is a great brand (they come pre-seasoned) that you can get at Zeller's and other stores.

Conrad

Lori,
Have you tried vinegar to remove crusted material? - Jim

You just need a timer and a good sauce pan (i.e., quality pot with lid, a little larger to allow for expanding rice and bubbling) to cook rice. I prefer a stainless pan, though enamel or aluminum also works. The rice will leave a starch residue that stains the pan a bit, but does not harm the pan or affect the future use. Put your desired amount of rice and water (and opt. salt if desired) on high to boil, usually about 3 minutes, then lower to simmer for 15 minutes. I add a small amount of butter or oil at the beginning to cut down on the foaming. I use a little less water than they call for. Turn off the burner but leave the pan on for another 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Leave it in the pan until you are ready to serve. I seldom have a problem with sticking because the set time allows the rice next to the pan to soften and release. If it does stick, just serve the available rice and let the pot soak in water to soften what is cooked on, then scrub with one of those plastic circly-type scrubbers. No teflon needed, no harsh chemicals; environmentally friendly sustainable cooking practices I learned from my mom, a mountain woman.

When my husband and I got married in 1995, one of the first purchases I made was to buy 2 cast iron skillets (small and large) from Superstore. I paid $15 total for both pans and we still use them to this day. We had been gifted a non-stick set and we got a stainless steel skillet with a set of pots; both the non-stick and the SS are long gone. The cast iron still remains, though!

Any tips on where to dispose of a teflon pan so it will be recycled optimally? I have several which are worn-out, and which I am planning to replace with stainless.

Conan,

A scrap metal yard?

Conrad

Thank you for this post. I was almost tempted to go for the PerfectGreen until I took the time to read what you had to say. I already have some cast iron, and I'm going to get them out and get them seasoned again and put them back into action.

Bought my first 8" cast iron fry pan in 1965. Bought a 10" CI pan in 1967. I am still using them. They have seem many sets of stainless pans, aluminium pans and one wife come and go.
Just bought a gas stove and the stainless pan with the aluminium plate on the bottom worked great on the electric stove but are horrible on gas as the food boils and burns on the sides and does not cook in the center. I'm now looking for CI pans.
Got lucky last month found a 1 qt glazed CI pan at Can tire for 7.95 That was a super deal. Thier regular price was 49.95.

Vern, having used propane & gas stoves for 38 years, I would say your flame is too high when it is boiling on the sides but not the center. Those stainless and aluminum pots are designed for electric but if you cut back the flame a bit they work ok. My latest stove has very poor flame adjustment so that could be part of your problem too. One setting is too hot and the one below that is too cool. I need to watch the flame and catch it half way between settings.

Lorne

I too have used cast iron for decades and try to get my wife to use them WITHOUT washing them with soap and water after. UGH...

I found this post while trying to find info on using a SS frypan. I caught my wife trying to throw out a good 8" Logostina because the sides were all black and she couldn't get it clean. I have managed to clean it up to its former glory and plan to use it.
Now that I know to preheat and not too much heat, is the trick to using it.

I love my cast iron pans, maybe a little too much. I actually find myself attached to them and their seasoning as it builds up over time. I always heat them to dry them off and then put a touch of oil on them to keep them seasoned and conditioned. I am lucky to have inherited a couple of pans from my grandmother. One little one would give any non-stick pan a run for it's money.

As for cleaning stainless steel, deglazing goes a long way. So if you are cooking something savory, turn up the heat, then add a bit of wine, and scrape away.

If you've cooked something that isn't suited to deglazing, you can use the same principle. After you're done, just put it on the stove with some water and some baking soda and let it boil for a bit. This should help loosen things up a bit. Then you can drain it and make a paste with baking soda and a bit of water and scrub with a scouring pad.

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