Picture if you will, a time of yore. A time of horses and knights, a time of maidens and castles; the time of the blacksmith. Not much has changed in the way a good quality piece of cast iron cook wear is made over the years. “Pig iron” is melted down along with other scrap iron, impurities removed, and poured into a mold made of sand and clay. Once it cools, the mold is cleaned off and ta da, you have your skillet. The good people at Lodge have been making cast iron cookwear this very way since 1896 in South Pittsburg, Tennessee . Here’s a quick little video of their factory:
Now you may say, but there are all these fancy (and expensive!) Stainless steel and anodized pans on the market, surely these new fangled pots and pans are better than Meemaw’s ol’ thing? Let me tell you, Meemaw was on to something…
The Benefits of Cast Iron:
1. Economic…heavy in your hand, not on your pocket book
That same cast iron skillet or dutch oven Meemaw had on her stove all those years, well chances are, it’s going to be around for another 60 years if cared for properly.
Most pieces can be picked up for between $10-$30 depending on size. Some of your larger skillets or grill pans top out at the $50 mark. However, compared to the moderately priced ($200-$400) 10 or 12 piece conventional cookwear set, the initial cost is on par. Your more elaborate modern sets are going to cost you more in the beginning (some ranging up to$800! Eek!), and chances are they will last a little longer than the lower end, but still hit the dust well before Meemaw’s.
2. Environmentally Friendly
- Did I mention, built to last?
Cast iron is built to last more than a life time. Meemaw’s skillet is going to be with you longer than Meemaw herself (Sorry Meemaw, we love you!). Since you won’t be replacing your cookwear every 10 years, that means there are just that many fewer pots and pans cluttering up the landfills. Plus, because cast iron improves with age (much like women….) that skillet is only going to get better the more it is use; a claim your non-stick super-duper anodized pans cannot make.
- No Toxic Chemical Processes; Just Iron, Rocks, and Sand
Lodge has been making cookwear the eco-friendly way for years. Just a little iron, a few rocks and a lot of sand. (Check out their info page for more details) They have taken steps to make sure their cast iron has as little impact on the planet as possible. This includes what goes on the skillet, as well as, what goes into it. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid is the key ingredient to DuPont’s slippery Tephlon®. Studies show that this chemical, along with a few others, never break down in the environment. Lodge uses a kosher vegetable oil to give their cook wear its “seasoning”. (Perhaps someday they will switch to coconut oil :) )
3. Good for your Health
- Cast Iron gives you iron!
Eating food prepared in cast iron provides you with trace amounts of iron. This can be particularly helpful for those suffering from anemia (10% of American women are iron deficient). Better yet, cooking acidic foods (like tomato based sauces) increases the amount of iron leached from your pan by up to 20 times, a great technique for all those vegetarian/vegan folks out there.
Now, I am a strong believer that fat gets a bad wrap in is country. Personally, I consume foods rich in healthy fats as part of my balanced diet. However, I do think this deserves a mention. A well seasoned pan takes less fat to cook food. You can skip the tons of oil if you like, and let the pan do the work. Once you have a pan that has been seasoned to a shinny gloss, you’ll find it works better (and tastes way better!) than most conventional non-stick ones.
- No Perfluorooctanoic or Perfluorocarbons (I can’t even pronounce that…lets just go with PFOA’s and PFC’s), only Fe
Did you know, in 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency launched a program aimed at reducing the use of PFOA by 95 percent in 2010 and eliminating it altogether by 2015. Why you may ask?
- Is very persistent in the environment
- Is found at very low levels both in the environment and in the blood of the general U.S. population
- Remains in people for a very long time
- Causes developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals.
Yummy…studies have also shown a correlation between liver damage, cancer, developmental problems and, according to one 2011 study in the Journal of ClinicalEndocrinology & Metabolism, early menopause. Even more frightening, the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that children and teenagers with PFOA in their blood serum had higher total cholesterol levels and higher levels of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, than children who were not exposed. (Keep in mind this is not a “causation” further study is required.)
4. It’s all about the little things
- Your CIS Can go from the stove top to the oven (Something your non-stick pans or plastic handle pots cannot.)
- Skip the soap! Use a stiff brush and little hot water to clean up. No harsh/environmentally harmful solvents needed.
- It keeps the heat. Even after the oven or stove has been turned off, the dutch oven will keep that chili warm. (That means less energy used, it all adds up.)
- It’s not going to warp. You can drop it, ding it, bang it and that skillet is going to keep its shape.
- You could use it as self-defense (Note, I am not advocating hitting someone with one. But if the need arose, I believe Fried Green Tomatoes has a bit of truth.)
A Quick how to on the care of those cast iron beauties. *Note- I recommend the use of coconut oil.
And one more from Scotty on the everyday maintenance of your pan
Phew! Now with that said, just a couple final thoughts. Even if you aren’t sold on the idea of cast iron for all of your culinary adventures, please take one thing to heart: Throw out those chipped and cracked non-stick pans! And never ever put one in the oven. For the sake of your health and the health of those you love, the ill effects may not be 100% proven, but is it really worth the risk? Try out a CIS Meemaw will be so proud.