Cast iron cookware has been used since the 5th century B.C. The oldest known pots were found in the Jiangsu province, which makes sense considering the Chinese invented cast iron smelting in the 8th century B.C. Considering the material has been a favorite among homecooks and professionals for centuries now, it’s obvious that it provides some superior qualities compared to its counterparts, so let’s find out what makes cooking with cast iron so much better.
Here are 12 reasons why cooking with cast iron is better:
- It’s a multipurpose cookware.
- It’s non-stick after seasoning.
- You’ll need to use less oil and butter.
- Can serve as a natural iron supplement.
- It has a high emissivity value.
- It provides excellent heat retention.
- It’s easy to maintain.
- The material is healthy and safe to cook on.
- The material is reliable and strong.
- It’s long-lasting.
- It’s relatively affordable.
- It gets more efficient with use.
Cast iron is obviously not the only material used to make modern cookware, but its resurgent popularity merits a comprehensive investigation. In this article, I explain the distinct technical and practical reasons why cooking with cast iron is, indeed, better.
1. It’s a Multipurpose Cookware
Today, we have a wider range of choices when it comes to cookware than ever before. However, many cookware essentials are confined to a particular cooking method and specific types of food.
Cast iron cookware, such as pots and pans, are materially and practically multipurpose. You can put a cast iron skillet on a stovetop, oven, or atop an open fire. The only equipment you can’t use with your cast iron cookware is a microwave oven.
Moreover, any premium-quality cast iron cookware with a flat base is fitting for induction cooktops. However, you should use an insulated handle cover, like those made of silicone. Do not use plastic, rubber, and other similar handle covers for cast iron cookware on an induction cooktop.
Furthermore, cast iron is suitable for a wide range of cooking techniques. You can sear, fry, saute, poach, and broil. Not to mention, you can bake. If you plan to slow cook and don’t have a crockpot, look no further than a cast iron pot or dutch oven.
Acidic Foods in Cast Iron Cookware
For all its strengths, cast iron does have a chink in its armor. You should avoid cooking highly acidic foods in unseasoned cast iron cookware, except for the enameled ones. Therefore, your tomato sauce recipe or dishes with lots of lemon, lime, or vinegar can be a risky undertaking.
You can cook tomatoes and acidic foods in any enameled cast iron cookware. If you have to use these ingredients in a recipe cooked on a normal cast iron cookware, ensure they don’t spend a lot of time in contact with the seasoned alloy. Alternatively, you can always heavy-season your regular cast iron.
Momentary exposure or interaction is fine, and the organic acids, such as citric and malic, will probably not damage the seasoning. However, prolonged exposure or interaction can adversely affect the seasoning and cast iron, thereby facilitating oxidization, rusting, corrosion, or chipping.
2. It’s Non-Stick After Seasoning
As many enthusiasts know, cast iron cookware needs to be seasoned before you start cooking in them. Many companies sell seasoned cast iron cookware these days, allowing you to start using them immediately. Otherwise, you should season cast iron at least two to three times a year for a fantastic initial layer of polymerized oil.
Once you season cast iron, it is essentially non-stick cookware. Neither meats nor eggs or other foods will stick to a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, pan, or pot. However, you should always wait for a cast iron pan to heat up to the desired extent before you start to cook.
Some people may encounter eggs or a few other foods sticking on the cast iron surface, despite a thorough seasoning. These issues are avoidable if the cast iron is adequately hot and you wait a fair while for the food in contact with the surface to cook properly.
Additionally, the seasoning may wear out over time if it is not replenished. Therefore, many chefs season cast iron cookware twice or thrice per year.
There are two ways to tell if cast iron needs seasoning: stickiness and loss of sheen. A properly seasoned cast iron pan, skillet, or pot appears darker, and there is a slight gloss on the surface.
3. You’ll Need To Use Less Oil and Butter
Non-stick cast iron cookware after seasoning enables you to use less oil or butter for many recipes. You won’t need to worry about the food sticking and getting burnt as a result. Additionally, cast iron provides more radiant heat than other materials, meaning foods will cook evenly and thoroughly.
Of course, oil or butter usage is a subjective issue. Besides, recipes have distinct requirements. However, you can expect a noticeable reduction in your dependence on oil or butter without any adverse effects on your cooking.
4. Can Serve as a Natural Iron Supplement
Cast iron cookware can be a natural supplement for you and your family. Most foods made in a cast iron skillet, pan, or pot will profit from a bit of iron infused during the cooking process. As a result, you’ll get a natural supplement, which is especially valuable for those with iron deficiency and anemia.
Having said that, cast iron is not a substitute for the various foods rich in this micronutrient. You must eat iron-rich foods if the objective is to cure its deficiency and increase hemoglobin concentration. On the flip side, you should watch the total iron intake of your kids.
Keep in mind that children aged three and younger are vulnerable to iron toxicity. Additionally, some people may not benefit from the extra iron. Adult men and post-menopausal women with preexisting high levels of iron in their blood do not need such supplementation.
On the other hand, growing children and healthy adults, both men or women, can benefit from the micronutrient supplementation through cast iron cookware.
5. It Has a High Emissivity Value
Cast iron can cook your foods more thoroughly and evenly than other materials, like aluminum, stainless steel, and copper. This attribute of cast iron cookware is a direct result of the material’s emissivity.
- Aluminum – 0.2 to 0.4
- Stainless Steel – 0.35 to 0.55
- Copper – 0.2 to 0.8
- Clay – 0.9
- Cast Iron – 0.6 to 0.9
The specific emissivity value of a cast iron skillet, pan, or pot depends on its quality and the manufacturing process. Likewise, the other materials’ emissivity values will vary. However, cast iron outperforms aluminum, stainless steel, and copper, irrespective of the variable factors.
The heat radiation measured for emissivity is essentially infrared energy. The emissivity concept fundamentally states that a blackbody is a perfect emitter of infrared energy, and its capacity of heat radiation is 1, the maximum attainable score.
As you already know, cast iron is as close to blackbody as you can get for cookware, certainly in comparison with aluminum and stainless steel. Neither aluminum nor stainless steel can attain the emissivity of cast iron, regardless of their treatments or manufacturing processes.
Copper can get close to cast iron’s emissivity, but only if it is oxidized to black. Of course, clay or stoneware is highly emissive, and such cookware can be as effective as cast iron in this regard.
In the context of aluminum, stainless steel, and similar materials, cast iron is the undisputed winner when it comes to cooking with radiant heat. Now, combine this attribute with the non-stick feature, and you can visualize how easy and effective cast iron is at cooking thoroughly with less oil or butter.
6. It Provides Excellent Heat Retention
Cast iron takes longer to heat than aluminum and stainless steel. This slow warming process is why you need to preheat a cast iron skillet before searing, frying, grilling, poaching, or broiling. The sole exception to this rule of thumb is when you use cast iron cookware for baking.
This demerit of cast iron may appear to be an impediment; however, in reality, it is an advantage. Most cast iron cookware is much denser and heavier than the typical stainless steel or aluminum utensils. Moreover, cast iron is much thicker than other materials.
The increased thickness is primarily due to the brittleness of cast iron. Additionally, cast iron is not as expensive as aluminum or stainless steel. Therefore, manufacturers can use more material for their cookware. All these factors make cast iron cookware excellent at retaining heat.
Materially, aluminum retains heat slightly better than cast iron. However, the typical thickness of aluminum cookware is 2 mm to 3 mm (0.08 inches to 0.11 inches). In contrast, any cast iron cookware has a thickness of at least 4 mm (0.16 inches).
For this reason, cast iron cookware retains heat much longer than aluminum and stainless steel. This heat retention can keep your food warm inside the cookware. Additionally, cooks don’t have to worry about dramatic temperature drops in the cookware when they add more ingredients.
Keep in mind to not allow the food temperature to drop below 140 °F (60 °C) to prevent bacteria growth. Try to avoid the danger zone as cooked food naturally cools to room temperature.
7. It’s Easy To Maintain
Cast iron cookware does not require much maintenance. Even cleaning is a cakewalk if you’re prompt with the routine. If your cast iron is impeccably seasoned, your cookware will not pose any teething issues. However, you must abide by the best practices while cleaning.
Here’s how easy it is to maintain cast iron cookware:
- Season the cast iron twice or thrice before cooking for the first time. However, you do not need to season enameled cast iron or the pre-seasoned variants.
- Reseason cast iron three to four times a year or as required, except for the enameled variants. Also, use the sheen and stickiness tests to gauge the need for reseasoning.
- Cleaning is as simple as applying some water and brushing off any residue. Do not use steel wool or anything abrasive. A normal brush with stiff bristles should suffice.
- You may use some ordinary soap, diluted well in water. However, do not soak or leave your cast iron cookware in soapy water or other cleaning agents.
- You don’t need a special cleaning or maintenance routine if you use cast iron regularly. Just clean with water after each time you cook, and give a short tryst with soap if necessary.
Note: Pre-seasoned cast iron cookware requires reseasoning depending on its condition.
Regular cooking does not wear down the seasoning of cast iron. Instead, frequent cooking enhances it. However, what you cook and how you clean or maintain the cookware will affect how frequently your cookware needs to be reseasoned.
For instance, cooking acidic foods will often wear the seasoning quickly. Likewise, abrasive cleaning agents or excessive soap use will have the same effect.
8. The Material Is Healthy and Safe To Cook On
Cast iron is a healthy and safe cooking substitute for cookware with non-stick coatings made of polytetrafluoroethylene, also known by the popular brand name Teflon. Non-stick coatings are synthetic products containing various chemicals. Therefore, there’s always a potential health risk.
Inhaling Teflon or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) fumes may cause body aches, headaches, chills, fever, and chest discomfort.
Substantial exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) can reduce vaccine efficacy in children, raise blood cholesterol, and alter the secretion of liver enzymes. Furthermore, PFOA may lead to lower childbirth weight and enhance the chances of preeclampsia in women during pregnancy.
PFOA became a serious issue due to its possible effects on various cancers, including kidney, bladder, ovary, testicle, and prostate. Therefore, due to these health and toxicity concerns, the non-stick coatings manufactured in the U.S. no longer have perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
However, cookware with non-stick coatings manufactured in other countries may contain PFOA and PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances). Not to mention, any old cookware with non-stick coatings you may still have or use probably contain PFOA and PFAS.
The regular cast iron cookware does not contain any chemicals.
9. The Material Is Reliable and Strong
Cast iron is heavier than aluminum and stainless steel. Additionally, most cast iron cookware is thicker than other equipment to neutralize the material’s natural brittleness. Therefore, what you get is a tough and reliable utensil.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to worry about damaging cast iron while cooking. You can safely use stainless steel spatula, ladle, and tongs. However, avoid using utensils with immensely sharp edges.
Unlike Teflon or PTFE coatings, you won’t chip cast iron or the seasoning. The polymerized oil bonds with the cast iron, it’s not like a film glued on the surface.
Moreover, normal strokes, such as stirring, sauteing, sliding, flipping, tossing, and scraping, do not have any adverse effects. However, never strike cast iron with the edges of cooking utensils at sharp angles using unnecessary force.
10. It’s Long-Lasting
Cast iron cookware can last decades. Aluminum pans and pots don’t last anywhere near as long. Inexpensive aluminum cookware lasts a few years at most, while premium-quality aluminum may last longer than five years. In contrast, cast iron can easily outlive a person.
Of course, you need to season and reseason cast iron at the right times and do so generously. Additionally, you must follow the best practices when cleaning and storing cast iron cookware. However, a bit of care can make the material an heirloom that you can pass on to your next generation.
Most kitchen and cooking utensils are vulnerable to discoloration, deformation, and other evident signs of degradation. Cast iron does not deteriorate unless you make inadvertent errors.
Likewise, proper use can prevent scratches and other visible issues. The high volumetric heat capacity of cast iron and its durability make a formidable combination. In a nutshell, cast iron cookware is not just another utensil in your kitchen but an asset that you’ll treasure for years to come.
11. It’s Relatively Affordable
The popularity of cast iron waned in the 20th century as aluminum & stainless steel cookware flooded our markets. The paradigm shift was also evident at the yard sales, often the only place for some enthusiasts to find an old cast iron pot, pan, or skillet. That is no longer the case today.
Cast iron’s resurgence in the 21st century has also made it affordable. You don’t have to spend two hundred bucks to buy a cast iron pot anymore. You can get premium-quality pots at much less than a hundred dollars. Pans and skillets made of cast iron are even more affordable.
The cheapest aluminum pan costs a little less than the most inexpensive cast iron variant. However, the latter has a much longer lifespan.
A premium-quality aluminum pan may last 10 years, and I’m being pretty generous with this estimate. In contrast, a standard-grade cast iron pan or skittle will last at least 50 years (provided you properly care for it).
Cast iron is neither expensive nor confined to a few types of cooking techniques. You can now shop for everything from cast iron frying pans to griddles, skittles, woks, dutch ovens, waffle irons, grills, presses, kettles, etc.
Furthermore, you can choose between ordinary and pre-seasoned cast iron. Another option is enamel cast iron cookware. Consider your priorities, such as the recipes and cooking methods you utilize most, to decide among the available models.
12. It Gets More Efficient With Use
Unlike other materials, cast iron gets even better with time. The material is known for its castability. However, cast iron is popular because of its unmatched strength, hardness, damping capacity, machinability, thermal conductivity, and resistance to corrosion and wear among castable alloys.
Take the seasoning aspect, for example. Cast iron’s non-stick characteristic improves when you use the cookware regularly. Compare this attribute with the Teflon or other non-stick coatings on pans and griddles. Those coatings wear out over time, meaning you’ll have to throw them out sooner or later.
The durability and unmatched qualities of cast iron are best demonstrated and evident in the hospitality sector. Even when home cooks had abandoned cast iron for other materials, the professional chefs at restaurants, hotels, and commercial kitchens kept using their assets.
Why Cooking With Cast Iron Is Better
Cooking with cast iron is better because it does not leach any toxic chemicals and heavy metals into your food. Additionally, cast iron, with its non-stick surface, cooks thoroughly using more radiant heat than aluminum and stainless steel.
You can use cast iron cookware on an outdoor grill or campfire. Inside your home, you can use cast iron on a stovetop, induction cooktop, or oven.
You can use the same cast iron utensil to keep the food warm for some time as you set the table and prepare to serve. Moreover, cast iron is stovetop-to-oven cookware, equally fitting for baking.
Furthermore, the high emissivity of cast iron makes many foods tastier. The heat radiation and retention enable the distinct flavors in your recipes to flourish and enrich the eventual dish.
Does Cooking in Cast Iron Have Health Benefits?
Cooking in cast iron has a few health benefits. The all-natural non-stick surface does not leach any chemicals or heavy metals, and there are no toxic fumes. Additionally, the cookware may improve the health of growing children and adults with anemia and iron deficiency.
Furthermore, cooking in cast iron can be healthier if you reduce your oil or butter usage. The non-stick surface of seasoned cast iron will allow you to easily slide out or scrape off cooked foods.
Buy a cast iron, season it well, and always preheat before cooking (except when baking). Afterward, you can scrub cast iron cookware with a stiff-bristled brush and clean it with water. Avoid steel wool and abrasive soaps. In due course, reseason cast iron cookware as and when necessary.