Safer Cooking: All Sources Point To Cast Iron

By Kristie Turck •  Published 01/20/12 •  5 min read

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to green my kitchen.  I go through the trouble and expense to buy organic food and use safer dishware, but that  all goes out the window if I’m using a pan that could be leaching harmful toxins into the food I’m preparing. (I am no Eric Ripert but I do fry an egg or two around here.)  I, like you, am skeptical of all the new “green” cookware on the market.  Which ones are really safe? Which brand is the best?

Logic Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet by Lodge Cast Iron

Are they really that safe at all?  One of the safest cooking surfaces is cast iron.  But I’ll be honest here… I tried it and failed miserably.  I had one small cast iron skillet to try out and I was clueless on how to season it or store it… it rusted and our food started to taste weird.  I knew I was doing it all wrong.  I decided to ask Kristen from MightyNest to clear my head on all of it, and she did.  They recently added an entire Kitchenware section to their store so I knew they’d be able to help.  I’m sharing with you my mini-interview with MightyNest.

Q. There are a lot of “green” pans and cookware on the market. How does a consumer know which ones are truly safer?  

This one is tricky as well.  The first step is to avoid Teflon, or other conventional non-stick coatings  a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE), also known as Teflon. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is a chemical used to bond the coating to the pan. Toxic fumes released from heated teflon-coated pans (at medium to high temperatures) cause enough air pollution to kill a pet bird!  These fumes can also cause people to develop flu-like symptoms called “Teflon Flu.”

The “green” pans we have researched say the information is proprietary and won’t disclose what the polymer they are using is.  It is still a synthetic coating, although a better option that teflon, I don’t feel like I can fully recommend it since I don’t understand exactly what they’re using. At MightyNest we only sell products that we know everything that is in them, so we haven’t pursued these products.   Many companies explain the coating as “ceramic.”  You would still want to verify that the pan has no PFOA’s or PTFE’s, and they didn’t simply add ceramic particles to the coating.  If you find a “green” pan you are interested in contact the manufacturer and try to ask as many questions as you can and see if you feel comfortable enough with the responses to make a purchase.

Q. What are the best alternatives to nonstick cookware?
Good old-fashioned cast-iron is the best alternative.  It it has great heat retention, affordable and is extremely durable.

Q. Do you have any tips on using cast iron? I have a small one and it rusted, what did I do wrong?
Cast iron is a safe alternative to conventional non-stick, but it does require a little more maintenance and it is heavier.  We use Lodge cast iron pans.  They are made in the USA and come pre-seasoned (with Kosher certified soy-vegetable oil) so they are ready to use.  Before cooking, apply a vegetable based oil to the cooking surface of your pan and pre-heat the pan slowly (always start on low heat, increasing the temperature slowly).  Another tip is to avoid cooking very cold food in the pan, as this can promote sticking.

Cleaning Tips: After using it,  clean your pan (don’t let it sit there for a couple days!) using hot water and a stiff bristled nylon brush (no soap!) – We have a separate brush just for cast iron pans, that way it doesn’t have any soap on it from washing other things.  If you have some really stuck-on food you can put some water in the pan and boil it a bit to loosen it up (although I have never had to do this).  Also to prevent rust, dry the pan with a towel before putting it away.  You may need to re-season your pan if it is not releasing food easily.  To remove rust – scour off the rust using a very fine grade of sandpaper or steel wool and then follow re-seasoning steps below:

To re-season a cast iron pan: 

  1. Wash the cookware with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. (It is okay to use soap this time because you are preparing to re-season the cookware).
  2. Rinse and dry completely.
  3. Apply a thin, even coating of MELTED solid vegetable shortening (or cooking oil of your choice) to the cookware (inside and out).
  4. Place aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any dripping.
  5. Set oven temperature to 350 – 400 degrees F.
  6. Place cookware upside down on the top rack of the oven.
  7. Bake the cookware for at least one hour. After the hour, turn the oven off and let the cookware cool in the oven.

THANK YOU Kristen from MightyNest for these great tips and advice on safer cooking. MightyNest carries a wide variety of safer cooking products and accessories.  Check out their cast iron selection and their somewhat new Kitchenware section on MightyNest.com.  Stay tuned for part of of our interview where we discuss utensils and bakeware!