The non-stick pan dilemma

There’s been a lot of news lately about the possible dangers of some popular non-stick pan coatings. If you own these pans already, there are steps you can take to reduce the risks of having the coatings leach into your food, and there are a couple of new safer non-stick coatings on the market.

However, I have to say that I think it’s been pretty hard to beat my Gramma’s non-stick method, that old stand-by, the cast iron pan. You can heat them to the high temperatures not allowed by newer non-sticks, the cooking is perfectly even across the surface of the pan, you can brown meats in them, you can put them in the oven, on the bbq grill, take them camping. I’m not sure there’s anything you CAN’T do with them. The bonus for vegetarians is that they give you a little boost with your iron levels if you cook your veggies in them.

I know a lot of newer cooks can find cast-iron intimidating. If your mom never cooked with them, the thought of a pan you have to season and maintain can seem like a hassle. I mean, you can’t put these pans in the dishwasher, which can be a deal-breaker for some. However, the reputation for high maintenance is really undeserved, and the nature of these pans really means they don’t need the dishwasher.

When you first get your cast iron cookware, you do need to season it. Occasionally, during it’s lifespan (especially if it’s a size pan you use infrequently) you might need to re-season it. You’ll know because your eggs will stick. Since my smallest pan showed signs of needing a re-do, I thought I’d do a little tutorial for people who might have never seen the process. It’s super simple, absolutely nothing to be intimidated by.

Ok, so see this pan? My scrambled eggs stuck. This doesn’t happen in a properly seasoned pan, and since this one had sat unused for over a year (I rarely cook eggs for just me, so I rarely use this tiny pan) the seasoning kind of died. Next to it you see a properly seasoned pan, in which nothing stuck.

pan4 pan1

To re-season (or initially season) the pan, you’ll need two things. Paper towels, and oil. I use olive because everything I cook in the pans works just fine with olive oil. Some people prefer corn oil, or another lightly flavored oil like safflower. This is basically your preference.

Make sure your pan is clean. You may have to use a scouring pad to remove super-sticky bits, and if it’s new, be sure to use soap to remove any residue from the store/manufacture/shipping. Then, heat your pan over a medium burner and add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Once the pan gets hot enough to make the oil flow, spread it around the pan, including the sides. Then, put your pan into a preheated 250 degree oven and let it sit there for a couple hours.
pan2
when a couple hours have gone by, turn the oven off and let the pan cool in the oven. Once it’s cool, remove the pan and simply wipe out the excess oil. The pan will take on a dark sheen that will only improve with use.
pan3

To care for your pan, simply wipe it out with a paper towel after each use. If needed (say you cooked something really spicy and you don’t want the flavors to transfer), you can use a mild soap and a non-abrasive sponge to clean it up, but don’t use steel wool or harsh cleaners. They’ll strip your seasoning and you’ll have to repeat this process.

One additional tip is to let your pan heat up before you add any food. This helps prolong the non-stick surface, and is also a better cooking technique for most things. Enjoy!

pan5

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6 thoughts on “The non-stick pan dilemma

  1. Pingback: SuperCute! » Seasoning Cast Iron Pans

  2. The mistake in seasoning is with the skillet/brand. What you are using is a really poorly-made piece of cast iron from China. Cast iron from China is either non-seasoned, or, if seasoned, it is seasoned with a low-grade quality oil or what they refer to as FDA approved paint.

    All of Lodge Cast Iron’s skillets and other pieces of cookware are made in the USA and seasoned with a soy-based vegetable oil that is OU certified. Lodge produces over 100 different pieces of foundry seasoned cast iron, including Dutch Ovens, Griddles, Grill Pans and Reversible Griddles. To learn more about Lodge, go to our website at http://www.lodgemfg.com

    • Actually, Mr Kelly, my pans have been in the family for two generations. They are US made.
      I love them, but when they sit for long periods here in the south (read humid and hot) without being used, like my smallest pan often does, the seasoning needs to be redone.

      • Well, Mr. Kelly, you’re sure quick to jump in with your “the mistake in seasoning” post when you think someone is using a “really poorly-made piece of cast iron from China.” But there’s not a peep or an apology out of you when you’re proved wrong.

        Even good cast iron may eventually need to be re-seasoned. As it is explained over on your company’s web site which you posted a link to, “While maintaining the seasoning (as in Step 5 above) should keep your Cast Iron in good condition, at some point you may need to repeat the seasoning process. If food sticks to the surface, or you notice a dull, gray color, repeat the seasoning process.”

        So, have you even read your web site, Mr. Kelly?

        Another quote from your web site, “Lodge now imports two lines of enamel coated cast iron cookware from China.” Does your “poorly-made” comment apply to these, as well? I’m sure Lodge Cast appreciates the sales pitch.

  3. Yeah, gotta love those cast iron pans! The latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated (which rules) features a review of lots of “green” non-stick pans and basically concludes that they are all substandard compared to cast iron. It’s a delicious example of simplest being best.

  4. I have to agree, cast iron pans are the way to go. I have ‘proper’ old ones and dodgy modern Chinese ones, and they’re all fantastic. I’ve been wary of non-stick surfaces for years and years, my parents just used to roll their eyes- till now! Ha! Sour justice. 🙂

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