Saturday, February 19, 2011

Weekend Cooking- Now This Is a Frying Pan!

I am sure we all have a variety of frying pans in our kitchens and, no doubt, a couple of them may be nonstick pans. Great when they work..not so great when they start not to. I remember when nonstick pans first appeared and they were pretty bad. Very easily scratched, and after a time the nonstick surface would start to peel off. Yes, peel off. Not to worry, the manufacturers said, it is not dangerous. Really?? Oh really??
Now, they have come a long way since those early days, but regardless, even with state of the art new materials, the nonstick surface start to deteriorate from the first time you use it. In fact, according to a manufacturers group, a nonstick surface can only be expected to last a year and a half to two years. So what to do?

Well, my friends at Cook's Illustrated, who love to test and rate kitchen equipment, have a suggestion. Buy a good nonstick pan, but a not too expensive one and realize you will have to trash it after awhile. The pan they have recently recommend is the T-Fal Professional Total Nonstick. I looked around and you can find them in the $25-$40 range depending on size. So 2 years for $40..not too bad I guess.
Of course, there is also the issue of a very hot pan giving off deadly fumes..enough that they can kill a pet bird....but don't worry...probably won't hurt you...probably...
Even though I don't have a bird, I am cheap and hate to spend $40, knowing I will have to replace that pan is a relatively short period of time. I have enough suggestion, one that I have starting using, or actually reusing,since I read that article.

Cast iron.

You see that pan in the picture? It was my mom's. That is one of the pans she used all the time when I was a kid. That pan is at least 50 years old and as good today as it was then. To quote my friends at Cook's Illustrated again....

"Over the past 30 years, nonstick skillets have taken the place of cast iron in most homes. But with disturbing reports about the effects of nonstick coatings on the environment and our health, we decided to take another look at cast iron to see if it's worth bringing back into the kitchen.

Cast iron has always been known to have a few advantages over other types of cookware. Its material and weight give it excellent heat retention for high-heat cooking techniques such as frying and searing. You can use it on the stovetop or bake with it in the oven. Its durability is legendary—many people are still cooking with cast-iron pans handed down for generations. Unlike most consumer products, cast-iron pans actually improve with time and heavy use."

Nothing holds heat like cast iron, nothing sears like cast iron. Nothing last like cast iron. Use it on the stove, or the oven, or a grill...or even an open fire. They are pretty cheap. You can probably get a good size pan...Lodge is the most available brand I think...for about $15-20 bucks. And remember, it will last forever.

Yes, it is a bit heavy. I also have a cast iron Dutch oven and it is substantial. You could hit someone with a cast iron pan and most likely kill them..
And yes, cast iron requires a bit of maintenance. You have to keep it from rusting, by keeping it dry and 'seasoned'. But the funny thing is, the more you use it, the better it is and easier to take care of. 
The surface needs to be 'seasoned', but if you use it regularly, and wash it properly, it will be fine. Don't use soap or very hot water when washing it. Once the pan has cooled and is just warm, I wash it with warm water and a scrubby sponge. If the surface seems too dull, re-season every once in awhile by heating it, applying some solid shortening and sticking in a warm oven for 1/2 hour and then wipe it dry or any excess oil. I will probably always keep a small, not too expensive nonstick pan for things like eggs..or crepes, if I even make a crepe. But for 95% of the times I need a frying pan, I will reach for my trusty old cast iron.

And I promise you that you will have a great pan that you can hand on in your will when you are long gone.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


  1. No kidding heavy! I usually can't manipulate a cast iron pan very well. Which probably means I should spend 5 years at the gym before being one...

  2. My mom always used a cast iron skillet too, but I just don't like them. I have one and rarely use it - don't tell any of my Southern neighbors!

  3. I rarely use my cast iron pans. For me I think it's that don't use soap part. I just don't feel comfortable without giving it a real washing (which of course takes off the seasoning).

  4. I've never been a fan of cast iron, but my mom has one that's been around for ages. She loves it, but It's become too heavy for her to manage now. I'm hoping one of my sisters will continue using it....

  5. I'm all about cast-iron. As I noted when I wrote about the book, Consuming Passions -

    -I have a stainless steel one for just scrambled eggs. Everything else is cooked in one of the three sizes of cast which I have. Somewhere I read that you actually get some iron from them, so if that's true what in h%&* does one get from the chemical ones? Nothing good, that's for sure.

  6. I only use non-stick pans, the ones I have at the moment aren't very expensive (20 dollars max), but I have also heard disturbing news about the non-stick layer being bad for one's health. I just never thought about buying cast iron pans before. Can they be used on every cooking surface? Also on electric? :s

  7. you know how we like to survey our area for weapons? .........

  8. some of you are wimps. you know who you are and names will not be given. soap is overrated. and I assure you the pan is great and plenty clean without it.

    Yes, I believe you do actually get some iron from the pans...and yes that makes me wonder what you get from the nonstick.

    I use mine on an electric range, a smooth surface electric range in fact. hope I never drop it though...eeek!

    MK...weapons are always good. ya never know.

  9. I love my four Lodge cast iron skillets. They are heavy (good workout in ) and no big deal to clean. My grandmother used to say "lots of hot water and elbow grease." I hate the idea of nonskick skillets peeling off and leaching chemicals into my food.

  10. I have to admit to a bit of "pan envy!" I love my small cast iron pan, but would love a full-sized model. I only clean mine with Kosher salt.

  11. ....or you could use those binoculars. that would make for an interestting post

  12. I have written many times about the dangers of non-stick plastic coatings like Teflon. I am always happy to see they are among the most read posts on my site. One is up to over 25,000 visits. That is one beautiful pan by the way!

  13. lovely old frying pan you have there. burglars should watch out!

  14. I love my mom's cast iron pans...I've bought a couple of cast iron pans over the years but they just don't measure up to the ones passed down from my mother and her mother :)

  15. Wow, the pan in that picture looks brand new! I remember my mom making corn bread and pineapple upside down cake in her cast iron.

  16. will, maybe I should change that post title to the 'danger of nonstick" and get more searchable

    ali, but co-inky-dink I am reading a book right now where a murder was committed by a cast iron frying pan.

    peppermint,as usual that made things better then. of course you can often find old cast iron pans at garage sales and flea markets.

    jac, I remember my mom make those same dishes in her's!

  17. Those cast iron pans are the best. I have a broken-in blackened wok that makes the best tasting food.


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