A cast iron skillet and a cast iron Dutch oven were the mainstays of the early pioneer kitchens. Cast iron skillets even made their way across the country in wagon trains and hung off the side of mules headed to the Gold Rush. That was then; this is now. Should cast iron still be the centerpiece of modern kitchens or should it make way for technological wonders such as Teflon and non-stick promises?
With proper care, your grandmother’s cast iron pan can make the perfect present for your granddaughter’s wedding. Cast iron cookware is durable enough to last generations. As long as it isn’t cracked, that rusty, crusty yard sale find can be cleaned and put back into service. However, once a Teflon-coated pan has been scratched, perhaps by the accidental use of a metal utensil, the aluminum beneath the coating is exposed and the pan is no longer usable.
Maintaining Non-Stick Surfaces
Both cast iron and Teflon-coated pans offer non-stick cooking surfaces, and both types of pans require special techniques to maintain those surfaces. Metal utensils and scouring pads will scratch the coating off of a Teflon pan, so only plastic utensils and gentle scrubbers can be used. Cast iron pans are not easily scratched and metal utensils and scouring pads are not a problem. However, cast iron cookware must be re-seasoned with a light coat of cooking oil regularly, especially after a good scrubbing. Regular seasoning maintains a non-stick surface and prevents the cast iron from rusting.
Both cast iron and Teflon-coated pans leech chemicals into food when heated. Dr. Weil, a noted authority on alternative medicine and nutrition, explains that cast iron does leach iron into food during cooking. “A study published in the July 1986 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that cooking in cast iron skillets added significant amounts of iron to 20 foods tested.” However, this is an advantage, particularly to women who do not get enough iron in their regular diet. A Teflon pan, on the other hand, can leach toxins into the air and food if the pan gets overheated.
Although cast iron cookware takes longer to heat up than other cookware, it distributes heat more evenly across its cooking surface and holds heat longer even after the burner has been turned off. Teflon-coated pans are generally aluminum pans with a non-stick coating, so they have the same properties as an aluminum pan. They heat and cool quickly, but heat is unevenly distributed over the cooking surface.
High Temperature Cooking
Several common cooking techniques such as searing, sauteing, and stir frying are best done in a pan that's been preheated at a high temperature. Teflon pans cannot handle these high temperatures. Owners risk warping the pan and releasing toxins if a Teflon pan gets too hot. Also, Teflon pans cannot convert from stove top to oven. Cast iron cookware is not adversely affected by high temperatures and can easily move from stove top to oven.
- Photo Credit fire on pan image by erwinova from Fotolia.com
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