When you think of cast iron, do you think of a huge black cauldron weighing a hundred pounds? Or a 10-pound frying pan? Yes, it’s heavy, but it’s also a superb piece of cookware, once properly “seasoned”.
Cast iron becomes non-stick after it’s been seasoned, which is a process that basically converts oil into a polymerized coating through heating.
For an initial seasoning of a cast iron pan, it’s coated in oil and baked in the oven; thereafter, cooking in oil in the pan continues to maintain the seasoning. With cast iron, too, there are no health concerns related to toxic chemicals potentially leaching from the cookware into your food, like there is with some non-stick pans*; while iron could leach from the cookware into food, it may actually be beneficial for some people who may not be consuming enough dietary iron**.
Why cook in cast iron? Some other benefits are that it heats evenly and maintains heat very well; it is extremely durable and can be used on electric or gas stoves, or over a campfire; and clean-up is quick and easy (just a quick scrub out with a brush and water).
We’ve made home fries in both a nonstick skillet and a cast iron skillet and there’s just no comparison: the cast iron was superior in heating evenly and maintaining the heat, which resulted in perfectly-cooked potatoes.
Downsides? The weight of the pieces, for one. One of our 10″ skillets weighs 7.5 pounds. It’s like hefting a small dumbbell, but the pan’s shape makes it more awkward to handle. That leads into downside #2, which is that it’s unwieldy enough to slip out of your hand when washing and potentially could chip a porcelain sink (fortunately, we just have a stainless steel sink that’s seen better days…maybe we should start dropping the pans in there on purpose to more quickly justify replacing it). If you’re not reasonably strong, cast iron might not be a good choice for you; on the other hand, it may help you build arm strength.
Interested in learning how to season a cast iron pan? See our post here: Winter’s Day Project: Seasoning Cast Iron
*See the Environmental Working Group’s article on the dangers of non-stick: https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/healthy-home-tip-6-still-skipping-non-stick