Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cast Iron and You!

For Christmas/Yule this year my gift to Andrew was a 12 inch cast iron pan. Romantic? Well, I will have you know, Andrew was so excited he jumped up and down and hugged his newfound friend. As I'm way too lazy to be bothered with the concept of cast iron pans, but LOVE the eco-implications, I made him promise to take responsibility for the caring and cleaning of the pan.

We named it Mjollnir, Pan of the Gods (The name of Thor's hammer hah).

Why cast iron?? Well, I am glad you asked!

As we all know, regular non-stick frying pans are coated with PFOA (thanks to companies including Teflon). Perfluorooctanoic acid is considered a likely human carcinogen and has been found to be present in 95% of the human populations bloodstream and 100% of umbilical cords. Although the US Environmental Protection Agency has convinced big companies like DuPont and Teflon to phase out the use of PFOA's by 2010, it would seem that none of the replacement chemicals are any safer!

Health Canada admits that heating pans over 350 degrees carries risk and in fact will release OTHER toxins such as TFE's which are possible carcinogens. And we cook our food on these things??? Ick.

Enter Mjollnir, Pan of the Gods.

Cast iron pans have been used forever and used to be considered family Heirlooms, passed down through generations and lovingly used. Look in your grandparents basement or attic and you might find pans or cookware stored post-nonstick and with a bit of seasoning will work beautifully (and be free!).

Cast iron has excellent heat retention and diffuses heat evenly across surfaces. No more uneven "hot spots" on your pan. Cast iron pans do release minute amounts of iron into foods, which would actually be beneficial if you had low-blood iron levels. Many companies make cast iron pans out of recycled iron content and pans can be made with low technology (read: less petroleum).

This is all wonderful, but my issue was the seasoning required. In order to achieve non-stickness, cast iron pans need to be properly seasoned with oil to coat the pan PRE cooking. Ugh, preparation... I am not a fan.

Thankfully, Andrew was ALL over that. In the words of Andrew, THIS is how you season a cast iron pan (which he said was easy):

"If you buy a new pan, it comes with a food grade wax on it, so you have to scrape that off. Which I did with a dishcloth and Kosher salt.
You have to make sure the pan is clean and thoroughly dry with NO water on it. So you have to put it on a burner with heat to evaporate any water left, cuz we're using oil to season it, oil and water, come on...

Then you wait for the pan to cool again (don't touch the handle!!), and cover entire pan with a thin layer of oil. I chose olive oil because of it's low smoke point. Meaning, it will burn at a lower temperature. We want the oil to form a layer of carbon, cuz that's what gives the pan it's nonstick. So we need to BURN the oil. (he actually said burn that sh*t)...

In order to burn it, you put it in the oven upside down and crank up the heat. I had it at 450 (no preheating), really what's important is that the oven is above the smoke point of your oil... olive oil's smoke point is 375.

Then you open some windows and wait about an hour and fifteen minutes. It smokes (ugh, it stunk), turn off the oven and wait for it to cool. Which might take until the next day. I just left it overnight.

Repeat two more times (some people have done this up to seven times pre-use). Then you end up with a shiny, black pan!"

Andrew's Tips on Care for your Mjollnir:
  • Keep it away from water! If it's wet, dry it immediately and thoroughly, preferably over a heat source.
  • Never, NEVER use soap to "clean" it. Soap will break down the seasoning.
Cleaning Instructions:
  • Using kosher salt to scrub OR
  • Pour some hot (or boiling) water and scrap with a silicone spatula over     heat. Pour out the water, wipe it down with a clean cloth (which you might want to hold with tongs so you don't burn yourself). Dry it over the burner again and put it away (once cooled).
  • If you're cooking something that's not oily or greasy, you may want to rub the pan with some oil and pop it in the oven after use.
  • Season your pan at least once a year.
  • Store it with a cloth to wick away any moisture (humidity).
  • Cast Iron is brittle, and could shatter if dropped or thermally shocked (by pouring cold water).
I believe that starting small, one cast iron cookware item with regular carcinogen coated nonstick pans for backups, will result in a gradual progression to using cookware that we can keep in our family for generations... and improve our comfort level and health at the same time!

Also, Andrew is mumbling that he's probably a little "intense" about Mjollnir, and even if it rusts you can just sand it down... His claim: "They're pretty unstoppable".

A true measure of a Deity's cookware. Unstoppable.


article and photo copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. I have a 4 inch, 8 inch, 10 inch, 12 inch, and 2 dutch ovens all cast iron. They're the best thing ever and much easier to care for than I originally thought. What I do to clean is put it in the sink and fill with the hottest tap water I can, I allow it to soak for less than five minutes then use a scrub brush. Then I dry it with a towel that we have designated for the cast iron and use a pump oil sprayer to put oil on it and let it sit until it soaks in. Then it's good to go! totally non-stick.

    All my cast Iron is made by lodge logic which is made in the USA. most other cast iron you find is made in china. (even some le cruset which is coated cast iron is made in China.)

    Food even tastes better and the tranferability from stove top to oven is so handy.

  2. What a timely post! I was the lucky recipient of three! yes three! cast iron pans from a co-worker who picked them up uber cheap at an auction, cleaned them up and gave them to ME!

    So I now have a "new" 4", and 10" and a 12" skillets. My co-worker prefers the older pans as he feels the "smooth" surface bottoms season better with age than the newer "grainy" bottom pans.

    Interestingly, the one I find myself using the most is the littlest one - for heating leftovers! :)

    Out with the teflon and in with the iron!

  3. we have two cast iron them...don't know why they're not more popular. i never did that process you described with coating it in oil and then putting in oven on its own. maybe i should do that since they aren't really nonstick yet. i save the little plastic mesh bags that onions and garlic come in sometimes and cut those up to scrub the plans clean after soaking in water.

  4. My first cast-iron pan was a thrift-store find, and I love it. (I haven't named it, though.) My mom is giving me her old ones today, and I'm thrilled! (She washed them with soap, bah.) I sometimes forget not to grab the handle without a potholder, but overall I really love them. Time to take the toxic nonstick pans to Goodwill....

  5. I got some cast iron for Christmas too! A 13.5" pan and a 7qt dutch oven and I LOVE THEM! Now we can chat about our cast iron cookware over drinks! ;)

  6. Now, that's some cast iron inspiration! Go Pan Go!

  7. The wonderful husband has cast iron. All sorts. He seasons them once a month and I always like to watch the care he uses while doing it. When we were first living together, I used soap on one. Ouch! I know better now :D

  8. hail Mjollnir! cast iron is fantastic... and the only way to cook cornbread ;)

  9. i have been wanting a cast iron pan for ages, but have been intimidated by the maintenance. thanks for detailing the process so clearly! i'm inspired to run out and get a cast iron pan or two!

  10. Have an entire set and a half. My husband would sleep with them all if he could.

  11. I love our cast iron pan. However, hubby was in charge of seasoning and is in charge of all cleaning. I hope to get more. I love presents that are useful and practical.

  12. I have a cast iron skillet, but rarely use it. You're given me inspiration!

  13. Awesome! My last house mate had cast iron pans and I loved them. Of course they were already seasoned when I moved it, but it was an easy transition to get used to them. Unfortunately the husband isn't a fan....grr. So we've been using stainless steel w/ copper bottoms and "eco-friendly" saute pans which I'm sure will be proven to have negative health effects someday too.....sigh....

  14. Oh what a great post! My father found me two cast iron pans at a garage sale and I enjoy using them but didn't know about the care of them. So appreciate this!

    And corn bread in cast iron... I'm going to have to try that!

    - Kif

  15. I bow to mighty Mjollnir! I have been dying to get a cast iron pan. Thank you for breaking down the intimidating seasoning process! I hope to get my hands on a cast iron pan within the next six months.

  16. EY----Wow....this evening my husband was poking around the kitchen and said "man, i'm wishing we had a cast iron skillet." Nice! Maybe more changes are in the air....

  17. Cast iron changed my cooking for ever! Oh, and my biceps. :)

  18. I have to toss in something else - the cast iron is GREAT if you're needing to up your iron intake, particularly if you're cooking tomato-based products. No matter how much spaghetti sauce I'm making, I always do it in my husband's cast-iron skillet (and make him clean it later!)

  19. Can you fry an egg in a cast-iron pan?

    My cooking goal for the New Year is homemade soups, especially those with legumes and beans, and... homemade yogurt. There is good commercial organic yogurt nowadays, but I hate the plastic tubs (even if they are picked up with the rest of the recyclables). We shall see.

    But now you've got me thinking about pots and pans, too.

  20. I keep meaning to buy one!! thanks for the reminder.

  21. Thank you for this! How about safe, portable containers for toting meals and snacks or storing leftovers? My reused plastic containers are starting to creep me out for the chemicals that could be lurking. Om shanti!


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