Go back to first love: the cast iron pan

My slow-paced quest to Organicanize my kitchen circled to the cupboard with all the skillets in it.

I love my skillets. I do my best work in them. But like an old romance gone stale, I’ve lately noticed all the things about them I don’t like. Cancer, for starters.

That wonderful “non-stick” surface that has shown signs of wear and tear is a source of consternation in the blogosphere over how safe it really is. I never really wanted to take a hard look at this. I had a crush on those silky smooth surfaces that let the food glide right out.

But the romance has faded. The more I looked into the issue, the less enamored I came to be.

Here’s the central question: What’s the point of buying high-quality organic food only to cook it in a chemically heated and treated hotbed of contamination?

I decided to look deeper into the matter. I found compelling evidence that Teflon poses both health and environmental hazards.

Click here for a teflon guide in plain English that makes a fairly convincing argument. For those that like the mumbo-jumbo argument, I haven’t forgotten you (even if I can’t understand you! I nearly failed science):

Non-stick surfaces are metal pans (such as aluminum pans) coated with a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE), also known as Teflon, a DuPont brand trademark.

Toxic fumes from the Teflon chemical released from pots and pans at high temperatures may kill pet birds and cause people to develop flu-like symptoms (called “Teflon Flu” or, as scientists describe it, “Polymer fume fever”). Ingesting particles that flake off scratched non-stick cookware isn’t toxic because solid PTFE flakes are inert.

Manufacturers’ labels often warn consumers to avoid high heat when cooking on Teflon. But EWG-commissioned tests conducted in 2003 showed that in just two to five minutes on a conventional stove top, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces could exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases.

So, let’s boil this down: Teflon is fine if it doesn’t scratch and doesn’t get over-heated.

Uh… is it just me or am I the only one using my skillet over FIRE?

“There’s a whole chemistry set of compounds that will come off when Teflon is heated high enough to decompose,” says Wolke. “Many of these are fluorine-containing compounds, which as a class are generally toxic.”

That can’t be great if you ask me.

So what alternatives are out there?

Stainless steel is a terrific alternative to a non-stick cooking surface. Most chefs agree that stainless steel browns foods better than non-stick surfaces.

Cast iron remains a great alternative to non-stick cooking surfaces. Lodge, America’s oldest family-owned cookware manufacturer, refers to its cookware as “natural non-stick.” Cast iron is extremely durable and can be pre-heated to temperatures that will brown meat and will withstand oven temperatures well above what is considered safe for non-stick pans.

I’ve always loved my cast iron. It has its limitations (don’t even try to make an alfredo in it) but its the old standby that never leaves my cook top. I got it from None along with my hand crank grinder and I use both all the time. Just one more thing my grandmother knew far more than all the innovators around.

I opted for one concession. My egg pan. I’ll stick with non-stick for this only and be careful to use lower heat on a pristine surface and discard at first sign of imperfection.

The quest to organicanize moves on!


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