Cast Iron: The Perfect Pan for Healthy Cooking
By Patti Cook, BA, MS, Ed.D., Culinary Grad and B & P Student
When people find out that I’m a food blogger and health-conscious chef, they often ask me for advice on how they can eat healthier. My response is usually the same: to eat healthier, cook food in your own kitchen. I also sometimes add that you need a good pan to cook the food in. Key to healthy cooking is a nonstick surface. And although it isn’t what first comes to mind, cast iron is totally the way to go. It takes a little attention and love, but the results are well worth it.
I love my cast-iron skillet; it’s a hand-me-down from my grandmother, who used it almost every day of her adult life. I’ve used it for decades to make everything from cornbread to pork chops. A cast-iron grill that I bought 25 years ago has moved with me and sat on all my stoves since; I’ve cooked just about everything on it including my favorite shrimp skewer recipe from the culinary program. Cast-iron cookware has lots of positives. It conducts heat well; it can be used on the stove, oven, grill or open fire (but not in the microwave); it comes in lots of different shapes and sizes; and, with seasoning, the surface becomes what some call “easy release” or nonstick.
Although some people see cast iron’s heaviness as a negative, I see it as a positive. It is all one piece so it’s durable and will last for decades if maintained. The big negative is that cast iron rusts quickly if not taken care of; however, it’s very simple to take care of, especially if you use it regularly. The process is called “seasoning.” To create the nonstick surface, hand wash (never put in the dishwasher) and dry right away. Rub with a light coat of vegetable oil. My grandmother taught me to use Crisco, so I warm up the pan after I’ve dried it and rub the Crisco in with a paper towel. More common is to just use canola oil after the pan has been dried. The trick is to use enough oil to get a black sheen but not too much that it gets sticky. You must do this process of wash-dry-oil every time you use it. Over time, the oil bakes into the iron and creates a seasoned pan that will naturally release food. In the beginning, it helps to use a little extra oil or butter when cooking until you build up a surface that is less likely to stick.
Current culinary trends to buy local include cookware. Lodge has been making cast-iron cookware for over 100 years and is the only domestic cast-iron cookware manufacturer in the United States. The company is a wealth of knowledge on cast-iron cookware, cooking and care, as well as the process of seasoning. It also has great information on how to bring a rusted cast-iron pan back to life.
From my kitchen seat, getting a good pan is essential if you want to cook and eat healthy. There are many benefits of adding a cast-iron pan to your collection. For me, the big plus is that it’s like cooking love. I know that future generations will be cooking food in my pan and they will reap the rewards of my love, attention and care and, hopefully, remember all of the delicious food that was cooked in it too.