Cast Iron: Not Just Your Grandma's Cookware

Having burned and scraped my way through various pots and pans and spent a pretty penny for new issues every five years or so, I have a few reasons for reverting to old ways and adopting cast iron into my cookware family.

Formed by a pouring molten pig iron into casts, the technology behind the creation of this age-tested cookware is very simple. The earliest references to civilization’s use of cast iron can be traced back to fourth century BC and it’s debut into the kitchen scene was around the 17th century. Though the cast iron skillet was chucked aside by most and Teflon coated pans became commonplace, there are many worthy qualities to be examined and preserved.


Cooking healthy doesn't always just mean the ingredients

Unlike cooking with vessels lined with Teflon or other chemically derived non-stick substances, there is no danger of chemicals leaching into your food and body or the environment for that matter. As a matter of fact, one gains the benefit of added iron into their diet, which is an essential mineral that is credited with helping to carry oxygen in the body as part of hemoglobin found in blood and myoglobin found in muscles. These functions boost immune systems, hep us regulate body temperatures and are credited with aiding cognitive development. In response to low iron levels, many foods are now fortified with iron and doctors prescribe iron supplements for anemic patients and growing infants. Health organizations such as The Ohio State University Extension School are now recommending the use of cast iron skillets as a means of boosting iron consumption. This study conducted by the Journal of Food Science showed significant increases from 1.7 mg. iron (Fe) to 26.8 mg. Fe per 100 grams of food cooked using a cast iron skillet.


An American-made product that is affordable and long-lasting

Purchasing cast iron can be seen as a investment in which one ends up with long-lasting cookware which pays for itself. Lodge Cast Iron, Co. which has provided American-made cookware since 1896, sells it’s 10 ¼ inch skillet for $33.95 which is the same price range as other popular non-stick, 10 inch aluminum or copper-bottom pans. The notable difference is that a well-taken care-of cast iron skillet should last the rest of your cooking days and then be passed on to whomever inherits your kitchen goods once you pass on. Perusing the net, I was amused by the numerous accounts of people using their grandmother’s skillets or 100 year-old dutch ovens purchased from antique stores.


It’s chef and foodie approved

New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman enthusiastically embraces cast iron, “I began to heed the warnings against preheating chemically treated pans and putting them in hot ovens, which could create potentially harmful fumes.” He then went on to write, “As most experienced cooks know, you can't brown food unless you preheat your skillet, and I frequently transfer food from stove top to oven.” Other notables such as Alton Brown, Tyler Florence and the many chef and foodie contributors and recite the virtues of the reliability and versatility of cast iron. Most noted is the iron’s ability to retain a consistent high heat and also the ability to easily transfer stove top cooked food into the oven.


A little elbow grease is good for you- Grandma says so!

Iron cast into skillets, loaf pans and dutch ovens are considerably more heavy than their non-iron counterparts. I do recognize that the heavy cookware can be a bit cumbersome, but it's a small price to pay and a few more calories burned before sinking your teeth into that fried chicken or peach cobbler you just made. Besides, I have heard that the skillet makes gives quite a good bonk over the head- have solace in knowing your armed and dangerous!

Cast iron is famous for it’s “natural” non-stick coating. To maintain this non-stick or oiled pan, you do need to keep the pan seasoned with a few tried and true tricks. First, it’s suggested that you don’t ever wash your pan with soap and water. “Well how do you clean the food off?”, you ask? I rinse the surface of the pan with hot water and use a sturdy, but non abrasive, scrub brush to remove food debris. I then place the pan on the burner to burn off any excess water left from the rinse and scrub. I keep a rag lightly soaked with oil in my pots and pan cabinet and give the pan a quick rub down with the oiled rag. Also check to make sure that the bottom of the pan is not wet to prevent rust from forming.

I have grown to love the hardiness and dependability of my cast iron set. Food preparation may evolve, but the means in which we cook stays the same. I feel good knowing that one less carcinogen and chemical touches the food that is the sustenance of my family’s well being.

My collection includes various skillets and griddles. Recently I added a loaf pan to my set with my heart set on a loaf of banana nut bread. The result was a delicious balance between external crispness and internal moistness.

Banana Nut Bread
3-4 Overripe bananas
1 Cup sugar
1 Stick unsalted butter, melted and then brought to room temperature
2 Large eggs
1 Teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1 ⅔  Cups all-purpose flour, sifted
⅓ Cup oats, ground into flour consistency
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Teaspoon salt
1 Cup nuts (walnuts or pecans), crushed
½ Cup dates, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Place bananas and sugar in bowl and mash until blended and smooth
In separate bowl, combine butter, eggs, and extract
Mix butter, eggs and extract mixture into bananas and sugar mixture
Add flour, oat flour, baking soda, and salt. Do not over-mix
Lightly fold in nuts and dates
Pour mixture into cast iron loaf pan
Bake for around 1 hour or until temperature reaches 200 degrees
Check with toothpick- a little bread batter on toothpick is fine as banana bread should be a bit moist
Cool on rack (I was surprised how easily the bread slid out of my seasoned loaf pan!)


Leigh Ann Ahmad was dragged kicking and screaming to the Cities by her husband; having been born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio, she just could not fathom how colder could be better. Now, five years and two kids later, she cannot imagine a better place to play and thrive. She’s a reformed carb-aholic, wannabe writer, social justice advocate, book-club geek, veggie grower and local foods connoisseur. Her last article for SGT was, The Tao of Pizza.