Cast iron skillets and other cookware used to be the only choice. When lighter, Teflon-coated pots and pans became affordable, many people switched from their old iron skillet to the newer, fancier non-stick pans.
Safety questions about Teflon have arisen lately, giving rise to discussion of the health benefits of cooking with cast iron.
Cooking in a cast iron Dutch oven or skillet provides health benefits in two ways. The first benefit lies in avoiding dangerous additives. The other benefit is the positive received from the cast iron.
Coatings such as Teflon and other non-stick substances on pots and pans can contaminate food with dangerous chemicals.
At very high temperatures, non-stick pans release at least two carcinogenic gases and at least four other toxic gases. These gases have been shown to cause death in birds. Humans suffer a flu-like syndrome called polymer fume fever from inhaling the toxic gases created when non-stick coatings are heated to extreme temperatures.
Another risk comes from the chemical perfluoroalkyl acid (PFOA), which can increase cholesterol, both bad and total. One fear with this chemical is that people with normal cholesterol but PFOA contamination may be given unnecessary drugs to lower cholesterol.
Scratching non-stick coatings releases the toxins into food, as well.
The best solution for avoiding the toxins in non-stick cookware is quite simply to avoid these coatings all together. While non-stick cookware seems more convenient, the health risks make it simply not a good option.
Cast iron cookware does not release toxic chemicals or particles into the air or food. In fact, cooking with cast iron cookware may cause a small amount of iron to leach into food. This is not harmful to most people, and can in fact be beneficial. Most people do not get enough iron in their diet, and the small amount of iron consumed through food cooked in cast iron can help raise iron levels.
Many people resist cooking in cast iron because they already have non-stick pans, because cast iron is too heavy, or because they think that food sticks to cast-iron pans.
Replacing non-stick pans with cast iron pans turns out to be cost-effective for most people. When replacing pans, many of the Teflon brands cost about the same as good cast iron. Even where cast iron costs a little more, the health benefits and the near-indestructibility of cast iron make it a better deal over the long run.
While cast iron is heavier than most non-stick pans, this really becomes a non-issue fairly quickly. The heavier pans take only a short time to get used to, and most people love their cast iron pans so much that they don’t mind the extra weight.
The idea that food sticks to cast iron pans is a mistaken one. A properly seasoned cast iron skillet or Dutch oven develops a non-stick surface naturally through seasoning and use. If the pan is properly cared for, food will not stick to it.
Some people also feel that food simply tastes better when cooked on old-fashioned cast iron. Whether this is true or not, the health benefits of iron cookware make it a much better choice for both indoor and outdoor cooking.
Most people who’ve used cast iron for even a few cookouts don’t want to go back to the more modern non-stick cookware. When asked, many cooks will say there is just something about cast iron cookware that makes it more pleasurable to cook with and makes the food seem more flavorful.