The Cast Iron Skillet: The Truth vs the Hype

A lot of people are talking about the amazing benefits of cast iron skillets. All sorts of claims are being made, and sadly many are simply untrue hype. Hype does not convince people of the benefits. It actually works against it since people soon discover the falsity.

Some of the claims made in this photo are false:

1. Non-Stick — The most misleading claim, and often the most disappointing to new buyers, is that cast iron is “non-stick”. This claim is only true relative to other metals WITHOUT non-stick coating. So a cast iron skillet is more non-stick than steel, aluminum, copper, etc. It is not more non-stick than pans with Teflon and other chemical coatings.

That said, a well seasoned cast iron skillet is easier to clean and cook with than a non-chemically coated pan made from another metal. Seasoning is the issue. Even when you buy a “pre-seasoned” cast iron skillet, it will still take a long time to get it to where you want it. I have been cooking with cast iron most of my life; exclusively for the last 15 years. For the last 10 years I have been using a particularly well seasoned cast iron skillet. It took 4 years to finally get close to non-stick. I recently bought a new cast iron skillet and I have been using it for a little over a month. It needs a bit more time.

So why should you consider putting up with the bother of seasoning a cast iron skillet and not just use a chemically coated pan? Because some of the claims are true. Cast iron skillets do not produce any dangerous fumes. When you eat food cooked in a cast iron skillet it contains extra iron because the food was in contact with the iron. What are you eating when you cook your food in a pan that is chemically treated with potentially dangerous chemical coatings? I cannot imagine that being good for you.

2. High Heat — Yes, a cast iron skillet can take high heat on the stove top or in an oven. But… it can also crack the skillet if it changes temperature too quickly. Putting a hot cast iron skillet on a cold surface can result in disaster, and the opposite as well. So be careful.

3. Better Heat Distribution — I am not sure what this is referring to. “Better heat distribution” sounds like better heat conductivity. This is not true. Iron is less heat conductive than any of the other major metals used in pans. Copper is the most heat conductive. So a cast iron skillet tends to have “hot spots” where it contacts the heat, and lower temperatures elsewhere.

However, this can be a good thing. Iron skillets are not very conductive so the heat tends to stay where it is applied. It also stays hotter longer. The cast iron skillet can be manipulated over the heat so that some portions are cooler than others making it possible to keep some foods warm in the pan while other foods are cooking on the hot spots. Since the cast iron skillet tends to retain heat longer than the more conductive metal pans lower heat can be applied to obtain similar effects, and the heat can be turned off wile the food continues to cook. Beware though. This takes a little getting used to. You can do different things with a cast iron skillet, but you can also destroy what you are cooking if you are not careful. Just taking the skillet off the stove top is not going to stop the cooking process, and you cannot safely cool the cast iron skillet by placing it into a cold water bath.

Conclusion

So there you have it. A caste iron skillet is not the most non-stick surface available, but it is pretty good for a non-chemically treated pan. A cast iron skillet can take greater heat, but it can also crack if the temperature changes quickly. Finally, a caste iron skillet is less heat conductive than other metal pans. The other claims about the cast iron skillet are all true… particularly its usefulness as a weapon.

If you decide to try cooking with a caste iron skillet keep these things in mind. Be patient. Learn the differences, and enjoy the comfort of knowing you are cooking your food on a natural safe surface.

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What to cook and what not to cook: https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/article/how-to-use-a-cast-iron-skillet

Maintaining your cast iron skillet: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jodyduits/how-to-care-for-cast-iron?utm_term=.phl8JZAL1#.kj5pakK6A

Some recipes: http://www.countryliving.com/food-drinks/g936/skillet-recipes-0310/

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