The right use of cast iron pots and pans in your kitchen

posted in: Cookware, Kitchen Products | 43

This post may contain "affiliate links." This means if you click on the affiliate link and purchase the item, I'll receive a commission. I disclose this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255. I only recommend products that passed my strict criteria. Read about my research methods in the Start Here page.

Last updated on February 22nd, 2018

Years go when we learned how toxic non-stick cookware is, we immediately switched to a safer alternative – stainless steel cookware. We love our stainless steel cookware except that it does not work as well for things like frying eggs or making pancakes or making hash browns. At the time that we switched, I spent a fair amount of time to find a safe frying pan that would work well. I ended up using what was commonly used in Europe (and still is): cast iron frying pans. We have owned these cast iron pans by Lodge for many years now and we enjoy using them. I’d like to share with you what I learned about cast iron pots and pans.

 

Cast iron pots and pans

 

What is wrong with non-stick cookware?

 

Non-stick cookware is coated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The problem with PFOA coating is that while you cook, toxic fumes are released into your home and may cause people to feel flu-like symptoms. Babies, kids, and pets are the most vulnerable to the fumes. PFOA is a major environmental pollutant. Even if you have stopped using non-stick pans a while ago, most likely you have PFOA in your blood, which may lead to cancer, reduced infertility, and thyroid disorders, to name a few. We get exposed to PFOA as a result of their manufacture and the disposal of products that contain them. (To read more about them, visit here.)

 

Are cast iron pots and pans safe for cooking?

 

Cast iron is known to leach iron into food during the cooking process. Studies show that the amount of iron varies from 1.7 mg per 100 g to 26 mg per 100 g. Acidic foods, high moisture content, and the long duration of cooking increase the release of iron significantly.

 

Is iron toxic for us?

 

Iron is a necessary substance for our health. Cast iron pots and pans may be very helpful to help with iron deficiency when the diet is poor or when iron is not absorbed well. For more information on how to increase your iron, visit here.

 

My mom grew up in Europe during World Word II and endured post-war hunger. Cast iron cookware was probably helpful to her survival. But despite using cast iron pans, she still had the iron deficiency, so it should not be considered one’s only source of iron.

 

Too much iron is toxic and may lead to an iron overload called Hemochromatosis that may even cause death if not treated. The symptoms of iron overload are similar to iron deficiency and include joint pain, fatigue, general weakness, weight loss, and stomach pain.

 

How much iron do we need?

 

The amount of iron we need daily depends on age, gender, and whether a woman is pregnant or breastfeeds. The range is between 7 mg to 27 mg daily, with pregnant women needing the highest amount. For more details, visit here.

 

If you use cast iron pots and pans a lot for cooking, Dr. Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH (my favorite doctor!) recommends taking a serum ferritin test that is available for only $10-20 if your doctor won’t order it. She says that the official normal is 10-300 but the ideal range is probably about 40-70. I have recently taken the test and my result is 61, which tells me that the way I use cast iron is safe for me. However, I am concerned that if I use cast iron cookware for acidic foods with extended cooking time, I might push my iron over 70. For cooking acidic foods, I use a Xtrema ceramic pan that I recently purchased and reviewed.

 

Are cast iron skillets non-stick?

 

Cast iron pots and pans are not marketed as non-stick but they definitely have non-stick properties. In this short video, you can see that you can fry an egg in a cast iron pan without any problems. Make sure that the pan is heated well before you drop an egg on it. A few drops of water are a good way to determine if the pan is ready – they should dance across the surface as they boil off.

 

 

About the cast iron cookware I use

 

I use cast iron pans by Lodge. Lodge has a long history dating back to 1896. They are one of the rare companies that did not move their manufacturing to China. All their cast iron cookware is made in the USA. The cast iron pans come pre-seasoned with vegetable oil. The only disappointment I have with Lodge is that the vegetable oil they use is soybean, which means it is most likely genetically modified. The exposure to GMO is minuscule in this case. But it makes me sad that Lodge indirectly promotes the production of GMOs.

 

How I season my cast iron pans

 

I learned that the best practice is to season cast iron pots and pans after every use. I wash it first (with only water or mild soap depending on what I cooked, I do not soak it because it will rust. I then heat it for a few minutes and then spread a small amount of vegetable oil on it. When the pan is heated, it absorbs oil better. I was also told by Lodge that well-seasoned cast iron pans leach less iron into food. I have not found any scientific studies to back this up though.

 

Where I bought Lodge cast iron pans

 

Amazon. These are the models we own. You can find many others.

 

 

Conclusion about cast iron pots and pans

 

I believe cast iron pots and pans are a great addition to your safe kitchen. However, the fact that cast iron leaches iron should be taken into consideration. Be aware of it as you cook. I recommend you determine your iron needs and use cast iron pans accordingly. Let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.

 

Have you heard about ceramic non-stick cookware but have no idea if it is safe?  Head over here to learn more.

 

Check out easy ways to make your kitchen non-toxic!

 

Let's start creating a healthy home today!

I read labels for you

When you join the I Read Labels For You community, you'll receive weekly emails with inspiration, exclusive content and coupons to gain clarity and confidence to create a healthy home. Plus, you'll get the FREE guide: "5 Powerful Steps to a Non-Toxic Home You Can Take Today!"

"I find your knowledge so helpful, to the point and like a gold mine. You have saved me so much time and have taught me so much. Toni

Powered by ConvertKit

43 Responses

  1. Cassandra

    My cast iron was scrubbed with a stainless steel scrub pad – does that mean it now leaches “extra” iron?

  2. CAROLINE

    Thank you for all the information sharing that you do. I only use old cast iron pans that I fond in antique type stores. I have never trusted the Lodge “pre-seasoned” coating. It is bumpy and actually makes my things stick to them. I do not know what the pre seasoning is made from. My old pans are great as long as I use them for making eggs or sautéing. I do not use them for acidic things or making sauces – stainless steel for those. Also, along the lines of cookware, I have spent many years looking for a stainless steel tea kettle, inside and out, NOT made in China. Even the big stainless names that make their stuff in US import tea kettles from China. If you are able to locate a stainless kettle with a whistle not made in China, I would SOOO appreciate it. I just use a pot to heat my water right now.

    • Irina Webb

      Yeah… It might not exist. Most of stainless products are made in China. Even All-Clad makes their stainless steel kettles in China now. I use a ceramic kettle now instead, which I like but my husband hates.

      • Elena B.

        Irina, have you tried the Simplex Tea kettles? They are solid copper with chrome finish over, still hand made in England.

        • Irina Webb

          No, I have not. I believe copper without finish is toxic. I have not looked in-depth into chrome finish yet but I know there are some concerns… Thank you for the suggestion.

          • Julia E

            I’d love to hear about Simplex Tea kettles, as I have one…
            Also – what waffle maker do you use?? I’ve been trying to find one to replace my non-stick one. The only option so far is an old-fashioned cast iron with no timer that goes on the stove top and that you need to turn to cook both sides. I’m hoping there’s a good modern version out there! Thank you!!

          • Irina Webb

            Hmm… This is a really good question about a waffle maker. We do not make waffles so I did not think of that. Is there anybody else who is also interested in a safe waffle maker? Are the Simplex tea kettles made with copper? Copper can be toxic so normally it is lined with stainless steel. Is it the case with Simplex tea kettles? Thank you, Julia! ~Irina

  3. Kira

    I LOVE my cast iron pan! I switched to it for cooking most things a year or more ago, and haven’t looked back! I even bought cast iron muffin pans (on Amazon) and love those as well, as I am trying to move away from other non-stick cooking items! You do need to season them, but since muffins stick on my “non-stick” muffin pans anyway I figured it couldn’t be worse, and it’s very easy to clean up any bits left behind (I typically do not use muffin liners as I find they stick to some of my muffins).

  4. Caroline Moustache

    thanks for the all the great information, I recently got rid of all my non-stick cookware and have been searching for an alternative, eggs is our biggest challenge. I will get a cast iron to pan now that I know they do well with eggs.

  5. Elena B.

    Irina, thank you for not giving up on my “frying eggs” dilemma! 🙂 I have Emeril’s iron cast pan, but I haven’t had such luck with it, maybe I don’t warm it up long enough. I also don’t like the black smudges it leaves on the food I make. Is it normal? Thank you!

    • Irina Webb

      Yes – it is important to warm up the pan first. Try it and let me know if you are more successful. I don’t think it should leave black smudges… I am not sure what it is. Anybody? Do you season it the way I recommended in the post?

  6. Safe Cookware: Is it Safe? | I Read Labels For You

    […] Cast iron leaches iron into food during cooking. Iron is an essential nutrient; however, in this case, you can get too much of a good thing: iron overdose is toxic. Like with stainless steel safe cookware, acidic foods, high moisture content, and long durations of cooking increase the release of iron significantly. Studies show that the amount of iron varies from 1.7 mg per 100 g to 26 mg per 100 g, while the upper intake level for pregnant women, those who need iron the most, is 27 mg. So if you cook tomato sauce for long period of time, it is possible to overdose on iron. There is an inexpensive blood test to take to determine your iron level. For more information, check my post here. […]

  7. fatima

    Thanks for the info!wish i knew this before i soaked my cast iron pan after pan frying fish. It rusted. Any way to get rid of the rust or is it best to dispose of it?

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Fatima: I do not know how severe the rust is but I believe you can get rid of the rust. You can scrub it with something like a nylon sponge, wipe it, and season it. Let me know.

  8. Alice

    I have just purchased a cast iron tea kettle and am wondering your thoughts on them as I was planning on using it on top of the fireplace for chai and other tea. Thank you

      • alice

        Thanks Irina, I have never used the tea kettle for tea as it does not even have a name/brand (thanks for your great info by the way!) I got the tea kettle from a vintage local Facebook selling page.. i thought maybe just to use it on the fire top to diffuse essential oils in? but maybe thats emitting toxins into the air too?
        Also I read the comments about oil, I use Coconut oil to cook and to season our cast iron camping oven, i believe it to be able to be heated to the highest temperate without turning toxic.. thanks so much

  9. AV

    Hi Irina,

    I just switched back to cast iron after my husband finally agreed (he does much of the pan using). We’re loving our Lodge.

    I did want to mention that hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder affecting iron processing that leads to iron overload. People without this disorder can still overload on iron, however.

  10. madelyn

    Hi,

    I have cast iron pans (Cuisinart) that were made in China. Think these are safe to use?

    Also have an enameled cast iron dutch oven gifted to me. It is from the Christmas Tree Shop, which is a bargain store so I am concerned about its safety as well as I have learned it was also made in China.

    Worried about lead contamination…any insight?

    • Irina Webb

      Hi, Madelyn: Regardless where they are made, cast iron pans do not contain lead. As for the enameled cast iron dutch iron, you will have to contact the manufacturer. The best way to get a peace of mind is to ask if their products were tested to Prop. 65. ~Irina

    • Madelyn

      Ok thank you!

      Most of our cookware is stainless steel – do you consider this a safe alternative in terms of leavhing lead and other heavy metals?

      I saw that in one of your posts above you mentioned cooking tomatoes and other acidic things in stainless steel and how it causes metals to leach…I’ve been cooking my tomato based things in my stainless steel because I thought cast iron was bad for that type of thing. What do you think? What should I be cooking my tomato based things in?

      Thanks so much! Just feeling very overwhelmed today with all the possibly toxic things out there 🙁

  11. Cynthia

    Hi, I use my lodge cast iron skillet and I see your recommendation on how to season it after each use. I wanted to know what kind of vegetable oil you use? I can’t seem to find organic vegetable oil. I see you use the organic high heat sunflower oil, do you use that to season the pan and what kind of oil do you use for your cooking? I have the Spectrum expeller-expressed high heat organic canola oil but is that good for cooking? Thank you for all this wealth of non-toxic healthy living choices!

    • Irina Webb

      You can use any high heat cooking oil. Sunflower oil is a good one. Recently, I’ve switched to avocado oil as I think it is the healthiest for high heat cooking. We buy it at Costco. ~Irina

      • Martie

        I have been doing some research as we just bought a Lodge 2 sided griddle and we own bigger cast iron pots we use to make “potjie” in, a very South African dish made on an open fire… And my husbands pots have a really sticky feel to them from him using vegetable oil previously. We are trying out the Spectrum Sunflower oil now and will also try out the Avocado oil soon, but I read somewhere that it is best to season with lard (which we struggle to get here, like Crisco), or with Flax Seed Oil. The opinion on using Flax Seed is quite mixed at the moment, and I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on it’s safety etc? Also, been seeing a lot of companies have Cast Iron Seasoning Oils or Sticks, but I am scared it might not be safe enough to use as one never knows what goes into it. Is it also wise to bake the cast iron item in the oven for 1 hour after every seasoning, or is that not necessary? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

        • James

          Cast iron takes a lot of abuse and is very flexible in its use. Traditionally cast iron is seasoned with lard, an animal fat and assuredly not Crisco. If a brand new, unseasoned pan, or a rehab project scrub with soap and water to remove unknown oils and detritus, make sure all rust is removed. Rust can be removed with sandpaper, as well as the occasional manufacturing defect, but be careful not to be too aggressive as to create an uneven surface. Once clean, completely dry by wiping down, coat all the way around with lard or high temp vegetable oil, (avocado works well) and allow to sit in oven for 2 hours at low temp (250f). Recoat/spread about every 1/2 hour. (Expect drips) After initial seasononing plan on using extra fats for a little while and avoid acidic foods.
          After every use clean with plain water, dish soap if absolutely needed, and dish rag, nonmetallic scrubber if needed. Finally recoat food contact surfaces with fat, not thick just glisten, and store for next use. I use avocado oil on a paper towel that I leave in the cast iron and then reuse. I prefer avocado oil as it is non animal, is high temp, low flavor, and does not cause stickiness. I will occasionally cook acidic foods in my cast iron, but will not do so on consecutive uses. If I notice that things are sticking a little I’ll use that as an excuse to fry something with that pan. When storing I place my cast iron on something that I don’t mind absorbing a little oil.
          Cast iron is heavy and takes a while to heat up and cool down. Cast iron can go from stove top to oven. Cast iron is generally not recommended on ceramic/glass cooktops, but I use it on mine. There is concern about scratching plus there may be concern about oil tranferring from the pan to the cooktop.
          You may also get enameled cast iron which is not seasoned and can handle all the marinara sauce and other acidic foods you can throw at it. (Enameling is basically melting glass to cover the surface.) It also supposed to be okay for ceramic cooktops. With enameled be careful of chipping. I only use wood/bamboo utensils to reduce this possibility. I’m also careful not to throw a bunch of cold liquid into the pan as that can be hard on the enameling. Finally some enameled cast iron, have handles that can’t handle the oven. I do not have data on the pigments that are used with enameling.

  12. Cynthia

    So do you season the pan after every use with the avocado oil? Thanks!

  13. Cynthia

    Is there any brand or avocado oil you recommend? I can’t seem to find any organic avocado oils

    • Irina Webb

      Avocado oil does not come in organic. Because avocado is protected by the skin, non-organic is okay. The brand name is Chosen Foods. ~Irina

  14. Martie

    Wow, this post has been so interesting to read… I will have to share it with the hubby. Will using olive oil to season it also work or is sunflower or avocado oil best? Wait, I also wanted to ask, what type of utensils to you suggest to use with Cast Iron, Stainless Steel and or Ceramic etc? Going to start looking at where I can get your suggestions in the Middle East, otherwise I will have to improvise….

      • Martie

        Thanks for the tip. I picked up some untreated Birch Wood spoons and spatulas, not sure if I should treat them though. Don’t know if the untreated wood would harbour bacteria? Do you use the spatulas you recommend in your Kitchen ebook? Just curious as I know mineral oil should be avoided, although I think treated utensils will probably last longer.

        • Irina Webb

          I use untreated wooden spatulas. If you keep them dry, they will be fine. Again, because wood can get fully dry without pockets of moisture, bacteria won’t be able to grow as it needs moisture. ~Irina

  15. kathie

    I have cooked on cast iron cookware for 20+ years. This year I decided to buy a unique piece of cast iron for Hubby. It has holes in it to char veggies. Since I like to make fire-roasted salsa, I thought this would be perfect. I ordered the pan (Mr. Bar-B-Q skillet made in China) from Walmart. When the pan came, I noticed it was nicely pre-seasoned so I washed it lightly and seasoned it again. Then I put my skillet on the grill to warm up. The toxic fumes that emanated from the skillet was unbelievable. After a lot of research, I finally decided my cast iron skillet was safe…but not the chemicals they used to season it. I’m sure my cast iron was seasoned with cosmoline to keep it from rusting. It smells just like my rifles. I returned it to Walmart. Stick with USA brands!

  16. Cynthia

    So I have been using the avocado oil and I like it! I have it stored in the fridge per directions, but it solidifies in the fridge. Do I let it get to room temp each time I use it or can I just use the liquid stuff that comes out which is all collected on top of the solidified fat in the bottle?

  17. susan

    hi, Irina
    idk if you are still replying to comments here but i recently switched to using a cast iron, and was wondering about the enamel do they all have that now and is that safe.. also i noticed it dramatically made the colour of my tea and coffee alot darker then before, im assuming that is normal for cast iron? any info or tips you could give me about this would be appreciated, Thanks, susan

  18. Akshay G

    Hi Irina,

    Have you had any success with using cast iron to make pancakes? Is there a particular trick to get pancakes to not stick on cast iron? Thanks so much!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.