Cast Iron Pans Cast Iron Black is the New Green
Durable, Ageless Cast Iron Skillets and Cooking Pans
Cast iron skillets will last for generations. Safe, no toxic fumes or particulates emanate from the pan. Non-stick and endlessly reusable, cast iron cookware is genuinely all-purpose and quite possibly the most perfect cookware ever created.
Grandma Used Mostly Cast Iron Pans and Cookware
She had cast iron frying pans and pots of several sizes, a cast iron griddle and a Dutch oven. It is what was available before the era of spun metal, alloys and copper-bottom pots. Fancy alloys and those amazing non-stick coatings have been in recent years been proven to be toxic. Grandma didn’t know what she had.
Cast Iron Cookware for Non-stick Cooking
Gray cast iron is more than 95% iron by weight, with alloys of carbon and silicon. The pebbly or ‘fractured’ surface is caused by graphite flakes which ‘deflect a passing crack and initiate countless new cracks as the material breaks.’ Cast iron is naturally ‘bumpy’ unless polished smooth as per the actual cooking surface, which will need to be 'seasoned' to make it non-stick and non-rusting.
Cast iron cookware when properly seasoned is every bit as non-stick as anything out there. The metal is very slightly porous and requires a process called ‘seasoning’ to fill-in these micro-pores. New cast iron cookware to prevent oxidation prior to use by the owner is often coated with a thin varnish or shellac which needs to be removed prior to seasoning. A good scrub with detergents and mild scouring powder and a scrub pad does the job. When cleaned and completely dry, the cast iron pan is ready to be seasoned.
Animal fat or vegetable oil is what is used. A slice of bacon makes an excellent seasoning wipe. Others swear by Crisco all-vegetable shortening. Even liquid oil such as coconut oil will suffice. Any type of grease or oil that is high in saturated fats (helps to prevent from going rancid) that seals and protects against the formation of rust will work.
New Cast Iron Pan and Seasoned (With Oxidation Present)
(image source via WikiMedia)
The new steel-gray cast iron pan is coated all over with a thin coating of grease and baked at 3500 F for an hour or more and allowed to cool to room temperature while still in the oven. This opens-up the porosity of the metal and the grease gets into the micro-pores where it oxidizes to a dark scorched color, generally of a dark honey-brown color.
Repeated uses of the cookware will change this honey-brown color to carbon-black, increasing the depth of seasoning and the non-stick properties. The blacker it is, the better it is.
Clean-up is easy. Use a stiff brush to scrape away any remaining food particles and allow the pan to sit in the still-hot oven or on the burner (which is off, but still hot.) This will cause the rinse water to evaporate faster and prevent minor rust from forming.
Often, you don’t even need to use any detergent which is itself eco-friendly. The pan is ‘self-sterilizing’ in that any particulates of grease or oils from cooking that remain are imparted into the ‘non-stick’ seasoning layer.
An old second-hand or yard-sale acquisition can be re-used with great efficacy. An old cast iron pan that is rusty can be easily restored to a new and pristine condition. Bake in the oven set to the highest setting for several hours to 'burn’ away the oxidation (rust) and liberate any remaining ‘old seasoning’ and allow to cool. If you have access to an outside grill, allowing the pan to ‘burn’ in the flames will quickly make it prepared for re-seasoning.
When the pan is cool, re-season as explained above with Crisco, lard or using a slice of bacon. You’ve just ‘recycled’ or ‘upcycled’ the old cookware to a new and ready state.
Severely rusted cast iron pans can also be cleaned with naval jelly, a concentrated phosphoric acid product in gel form that is available in most hardware and automotive sections of retail stores.
Advantages of Cast Iron Cookware over Modern Pots and Pans
Apart from the non-stick properties of a properly-season cast iron pan, the absence of potentially toxic non-stick coatings is the first advantage. Modern non-stick coatings such as ‘Teflon’ are delicate; they scratch and flake-off easily. While purporting entirely inert and safe, there are growing concerns that this may not actually be the case. If Teflon-coated cookware is allowed to ‘boil dry’ on the burner, within minutes it begins to release toxic fumes that can be deadly.
Experiments have shown that in a closed kitchen environment a boiled-dry Teflon pan still on the heating coils releases toxic fumes which in the experiment killed the caged canary in the room within 60 seconds. Canaries in a cage were used in underground mines to warm the miners of poor or dangerous air quality. In the Teflon/non-stick coating experiment described at least one was sacrificed to demonstrate the danger.
Cast Iron Cooking and Health Benefits?
Cast iron cookware too imparts metallic ions into food. It releases iron. These iron ions are good for your health. Supplemental iron imparted to your food from your cookware is beneficial.
Cast iron cookware also holds the heat longer; distributes it more evenly to your foods. Once a cast iron pan or pot gets hot, the heat is more even and is retained longer. Searing and braising meats is done easily on a properly heated cast iron surface. Slow-cooked meals such as in a Dutch oven or Savory pot benefit from the properties of cast iron construction.
One can prepare a dish to near-completion and turn the stove off and allow the stored heat of the pan to continue cooking the food. This in itself saves energy. In so many ways the cast iron cooking vessel is really the ‘new green.’