Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Healthy Non-Stick Skillet

Do Teflon coatings on cookware cause cancer or not? That's a hot question right now. A news report from yesterday says that a chemical used to make it is likely a carcinogen. A friend who has kept birds for years told me that if Teflon is heated too high, it gives off a gas that can kill them. I think I've ruined every Teflon skillet I've ever had, because I've heated them too high. I didn't learn that until recently.

So, Teflon skillets are picky about heat, they're made with nasty chemicals, and when they get hot they can release other nasty chemicals.....Doesn't sound like something I want to cook with. But nonstick skillets are so much easier to use, right? Do what I do, use an old cast iron skillet! As long as no one in your family has problems with too much iron, cast iron is safe to cook with, it's lots easier to use, and it's a good way to get extra iron.

I said old cast iron, and here's a picture that shows why.

Old cast iron pan inside a newer one

See how the old iron is much smoother than the new skillet? That's what you need to make sure your cast iron can be nonstick. I've read that you can make a new skillet nonstick by using it, and seasoning it, alot, but I've never been able to do it. Maybe I just don't have enough patience since the food makes a big mess because of all those bumps!

I have several old cast iron skillets of different shapes and sizes, and I love them. I use them every day, and I don't let anybody else clean them because if they're cleaned wrong the seasoning (that's what makes them nonstick) gets ruined. Here's how my mom taught me to clean my cast iron. It works great and is so easy!

First, clean the skillet while it's still hot from cooking. Here's a picture of my square iron skillet, just after making a huge batch of meatballs.

Dirty cast iron skillet, still hot

Using an oven mitt and being very careful not to get it wet, carry the hot skillet to the sink and put enough hot water into it to cover the bottom. It has to be hot water! Cold water could make your skillet crack, which would ruin it.

Hot water deglazes the iron skillet

The hot water added to the hot skillet deglazes it, just like making a sauce or gravy. I let the water bubble for just a bit, then pour it down the sink, and then add fresh hot water, but less this time.

A sponge without soap will get off stubborn food

Using a sponge with no soap in it, I gently scrub out any stubborn food bits. Notice that the cast iron is still so hot that the top of my skillet is evaporating the water away. Then that water goes down the sink.

Clean skillet just needs a final rinse and wipedown

Now the clean skillet gets a final rinse of hot water to wash away any remaining residue. Then I use a paper towel to wipe the skillet dry. If it looks like it needs it, I'll get another paper towel and put a bit of oil on it, and wipe all the inside, and outside bottom of the skillet with oil. Not enough to leave a sticky residue, just enough to cover the surface and get absorbed as the iron cools. That helps keep the skillet seasoned and nonstick. Here's my pan all ready for another use, and still pretty warm!

Clean, seasoned cast iron skillet

Its seasoning still looked good, so I didn't oil it. If it looks "dry," not as shiny as normal, then I oil the skillet after it's clean.

Researchers have found that increases the iron in the food. As long as there's no rust in the skillet, the food shouldn't taste funny because of the extra iron. For women, too much iron generally isn't a problem until maybe after menopause. For men and young children, as long as they're not getting a lot of it in vitamins or other sources (like cereals and breads which are often fortified with it), a little extra from your cookware shouldn't be a problem either. , so if you're not sure if you're getting enough, do some research and maybe see a nutritionist about it. Most people can probably use cast iron cookware. Why not give it a try?

Wow, that's some great information (and what a helpful set of pictures! that must have taken some good balancing on your part!). I've always wanted to get a cast iron skillet - my mom always cooked from the same one and I've always envied it. Where did you get yours? Was it already seasoned when you got it? I've thought of buying them secondhand since they might already be seasoned but I've always been a bit wary.
Hi Michelle! No balancing needed with the pictures, hubby's camera has a tripod. I answered your other questions in a separate post, which you've probably already noticed. I just kept going on and on, so I decided to make the most of it and put it separately!
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