The reasons why we love a classic cast-iron skillet include but are in no way limited to the following: Pizza. Burgers. Peach crisp. Giant biscuits.
But the advantages of cast iron go beyond the culinary. Cooking with it can actually be good for our health, experts say. Here's why.
True, a cast-iron skillet is an excellent vehicle for frying. But its ability to retain heat also lends itself to healthy cooking, says Kerri-Ann Jennings, a Vermont-based registered dietitian and nutrition coach. That includes water-based methods such as braising and poaching as well as quick broiling and grilling, which don't require much oil. (Go on, plop that entire pan on the grill. Just make sure to preheat it well in advance, as it tends to get hot spots if you don't.)
"It's the type of cookware that you can take from the stove to the oven," says Jennings.
A well-seasoned cast-iron pan creates a natural nonstick coating so you end up using less oil than with a standard stainless-steel pan. The bonus? "Cast iron cleans up so easily," Jennings says. (How do you season a pan, you ask? Here's how.)
And the more you use cast iron, the more seasoned it becomes, which is a good excuse for using it often, for almost any food.
Okay, so there are times when only a true nonstick pan will do. However, certain chemicals typically used to make nonstick pans can be toxic and break down at high temperatures, which you don't want.
One in particular, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been deemed "possibly carcinogenic to humans" by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. The good news? PFOA production in the United States has pretty much been phased out, though as the EPA points out, it might still be in imported nonstick cookware.
If you have an older nonstick pan, that might also be cause for concern. DuPont stopped using PFOA in its popular Teflon brand in January 2012. It now uses polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, which the EPA says is safe. Still, at super high-heat, above 500 degrees, that coating "may begin to decompose and give off fumes," according to the chemical company that makes Teflon.
So if we make dessert in a skillet, that means it's healthy, right?
Photo by Christopher Testani
You've probably heard at one point or another that cooking in a cast-iron pan releases iron into your food.